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January 7, 1999
IN AMERICA / By BOB HERBERT

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 him.

"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 Informer.

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 him."

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 Company

 

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