IN AMERICA / By
Mr. Lott's 'Big Mistake'
I asked Gordon Lee Baum if he felt black people
were intellectually inferior to whites.
"My personal belief is that the overwhelming,
almost unanimous belief of the professionals, the academia,
if you will, in the field, say that is the case -- that there's
a difference between black and white intelligence. My personal
inclination is to believe that 'The Bell Curve' is not too far
off the mark."
He went on: "You will have a hard time finding
somebody in the field -- I'm a lawyer, I'm not a scientist or
an applied psychologist or psychiatrist -- but you would have
a difficult time finding anybody in academia who would dispute
that. Try it."
Mr. Baum is the chief executive officer of the
Council of Conservative Citizens, a right-wing, pro-white group
that until recently was a favorite stop of the Senate majority
leader, Trent Lott, who is from the right-wing, pro-white state
of Mississippi. Now that some of the openly racist contents
of the council's publications have gotten national attention,
Mr. Lott is trying to keep his distance. It's not working. He
can try to present himself as a statesman in the impeachment
proceedings, but the smell from this dismal group is all over
"The Council of Conservative Citizens is the
reincarnation of the racist White Citizens Councils of the 1950's
and 1960's," according to a report compiled by the Southern
Poverty Law Center, an organization in Alabama that monitors
hate groups. The council's main publication, Citizens Informer,
offers what the law center described as "a steady stream of
anti-black and anti-homosexual columns."
The law center's report, released last month,
said: "The Informer's subscribers are continually encouraged
to study biological determinism, eugenics and other racist views
packaged as 'scientific.' Last fall, for instance, the magazine
carried a glowing review of Gerald M. Spring's 'The Philosophy
of the Count de Gobineau,' a book about a French 19th Century
writer on race and biology."
An excerpt from the ecstatic review followed:
"His 'Essay on the Inequality of Human Races' . . . advanced
the thesis that each of the three major races plays a distinct
role in history. . . . The whites were the creators of civilization,
the yellows its sustainers and copyists, the blacks its destroyers.
We need to know more about this great thinker. . . . The enlightenment
truly began in France."
For years, nothing about the council seemed
to bother Mr. Lott. He once told a gathering of its members,
"The people in this room stand for the right principles and
the right philosophy."
But the majority leader experienced some discomfort
recently when stories in The Washington Post and elsewhere spotlighted
the council's repugnant views and the fact that speeches had
been delivered to the group by Mr. Lott and Representative Bob
Barr of Georgia.
Mr. Lott claimed he had been completely in
the dark about the race stuff. Didn't know a thing. Said through
a spokesman that he had "no firsthand knowledge of the group's
views." No awareness at all.
Spare me. Trent Lott is immersed from his wingtips
to his forehead in the culture of the South. He is an unabashed
admirer of Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy. He's addressed
the council. He's been photographed hobnobbing with its leaders.
His syndicated column has appeared frequently in the Citizens
Mr. Lott is nervous about the potential reaction
to his association with the council, but in fact he is receiving
very little criticism. Black racism is a big no-no nowadays,
but white racism largely gets a pass. Imagine the outcry if
a mainstream black politician gave a rousing keynote address
to the Nation of Islam, and declared that Louis Farrakhan's
philosophy and principles were the right ones.
What little heat Mr. Lott is taking is coming
from the right. "We're not real happy with Trent because we
don't think he's conservative enough," said Mr. Baum during
a telephone interview on Tuesday.
When I asked if he was upset that Mr. Lott
was keeping his distance from the council, Mr. Baum said no.
"He's gotta do what he's gotta do. We're not going to badmouth
But he added: "Trent's probably making a big
mistake. It isn't going to help him back home, I can tell you
that. It isn't going to help him in Mississippi."
©Copyright 1999 The New York Times