Monday, December 09, 2002
Okay, I'm the last person in the blogosphere to weigh in on Trent Lott's comments. (I'm not even going to both to link to any other blog's comments; pick one at random.)
I have hated Lott since before he became Majority Leader. He's awful on every count: morally, ideologically, politically, you name it. His history of flirtation with the worst relics of Mississippi's white-supremacist past is well-documented. His love of pork is far less odious morally but equally well attested and poses similar political problems. If his affinity for the days of segregation is an embarrassment to a Republican Party officially in favor of equal opportunity, his affinity for protectionism, subsidy and outright payoffs to favored local constituencies is an embarrassment to a Republican Party officially in favor of free enterprise and against government command of the economy.
That's a pretty damning indictment. I suppose it could all be offset if Lott was a key man to represent one or another conservative principle. Jesse Helms has a history of affinity with old-South white supremacy, as well as a history of supporting government intervention in the economy for his favored constituencies. But he stood for a key conservative principle - the defense of American sovereignty - and his country is better for his service in that area. What can Lott claim? So far as I can tell, he has never stood for anything beyond the promotion of Trent Lott's political career.
Perhaps, though I would argue not, Lott could be forgiven all this if he were a strong Majority Leader. But he's been a disaster. He catered to the vanity of Jim Jeffords, then lost him anyhow. He has been unable to frame legislative battles in a way that wins allies for the Republican side. He has always preferred to get a deal, however bad, to coming up empty, with the result that he has taken many bad deals and simultaneously lost the political debate. He's lousy at disciplining his caucus and lousy at wooing allies. The comparison with Tom Delay - not my favorite human being, but a strong legislative leader - could not be more stark. Lott can't count, can't talk, and has done basically nothing to advance Republican prospects nationally.
As for his actual comments, Strom Thurmond is indeed an extraordinary man. Extraordinary primarily if not exclusively for his longevity. I cannot think of a substantive accomplishment to which his name should be affixed. His achievement was to successfully navigate the transition from Dixiecrat par-excellence to post-Civil Rights Republican Senator of the "New South" without missing a beat or losing an election. The contrast to Truman - to whom our Republic owes a debt that is hard to measure; see my birthday appreciation here - could not be starker, and makes Lott's insult to the late President all the more gruesome. Lott is truly his heir. In a nutshell, that's why he has to be retired.
Bill Frist did a masterful job in the last elections. I'd be happy for him to replace Lott. Frankly, at this point, I'd be happy for anyone to replace Lott.