Lott's Second Chance
Colbert I. King
Saturday, January 16, 1999; Page A25
Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company
to Washington, sometimes known as the District of Conversions.
This is the place where voting records and party affiliations
have been known to shift with the political winds, where the most
partisan political appointees of the losing party can miraculously
reinvent themselves as apolitical careerists, where even an Alabama
senator who once took the eternal oath of loyalty to the Invisible
Empire of the Ku Klux Klan was transformed into the U.S. Supreme
Court's greatest civil libertarian.
now conservative Mississippi senator and Republican majority leader
Trent Lott who, because he stiff-armed his rabid House GOP counterparts
on their terms for President Clinton's impeachment trial and now
bears the persona of sweet bipartisan reasonableness, is being
likened to Saint Paul (who experienced a conversion of his own
en route to Damascus).
which I must respectfully shout: "Whoa!"
is the same Trent Lott who has maintained relations with leaders
of the Council of Conservative Citizens, the pro-white, anti-everybody-else
group spawned by major figures of the segregationist White Citizens
Councils and the John Birch Society. The same Trent Lott who not
only allowed the prestige of his office to legitimize the council
until he got caught but whose affiliation with segregationists
includes devoted service as administrative assistant to an arch
civil rights foe and former Mississippi congressman, the late
William Colmer. (Lott then was a Democrat, the winds having not
Lott, heralded today as an even-handed pragmatist and everybody's
pal, is the same ardent defender of Confederate symbols and protector
of southern "heritage and traditions" who reportedly opposed civil
rights bills and argued against making Martin Luther King Jr.'s
birthday a holiday. Yes, he's a banner waver for the Sons of Confederate
Veterans and the big-time Republican who proclaimed his party
to be the party of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate
States of America.
today there are people who believe that they can fly the Confederate
flag as a tribute to gallantry untainted by the white supremacy
for which it stood," wrote Henry Mayer in the preface of his William
Lloyd Garrison biography, "All On Fire." "They are deceiving themselves
and playing false with history." Said Mayer: "It seems to me indisputable
that the defense of slavery was the fundament of the Confederacy,
and to expunge slavery from the history of the Civil War is to
produce 'Hamlet' without the Prince."
this is not about Lott's love of the Confederacy. The question
simply is where the Senate's leader stands on the Council of Conservative
the story broke about Lott's ties to the council, the public has
been told repeatedly that Lott has renounced his association with
the group. In fact, Lott originally claimed to have "no firsthand
knowledge of the group's views" and doesn't think of himself as
"Uncle Arnie," a k a Arnie Watson, former Mississippi state senator,
member of the council's executive board and Lott's "favorite uncle,"
according to the New York Times. Said Uncle Arnie to that paper,
"Trent is an honorary member" of the council, adding, "he's spoken
at meetings." Found out, Lott said in a statement this week, "I
have made my condemnation of the white supremacist and racist
view of this group, or any group, clear. Any use of my name to
publicize their view is not only unauthorized it's wrong."
truth, the challenge to the Council of Conservative Citizens has
been spearheaded by human rights groups, enterprising journalists
and a few columnists. Congressional leaders, especially Republican
southerners such as Lott, have come under little pressure to repudiate
the repugnant council. But if this GOP-led Congress is really
opposed to racism and antisemitism, it has an obligation to speak
out whenever those evils rear their ugly heads. Besides, shouldn't
Lott and his Capitol Hill colleagues hold white racists to the
same standard as black bigots?
recall: When Khalid Abdul Muhammad, then a top lieutenant in the
Nation of Islam, let fly with a repulsive and hate-mongering two-hour
diatribe against Jews, Catholics, gays and African Americans at
Kean College of New Jersey in November 1993, Congress hit back
mattered not that Khalid Muhammad's vile and vicious remarks had
been repudiated by leaders of the African American community and
the Congressional Black Caucus after the Anti-Defamation League
brought the speech to light. Neither did it matter that Congress
usually doesn't officially evaluate and censure individual racist
rantings or take up matters so far from the works of government.
Rep. Henry Hyde, then floor manager of the debate on a House resolution
condemning Khalid Muhammad's remarks, said: "Certainly actual
speech ought to be protected, and it is protected. However, we
do not have to turn the other cheek and become accessories by
silence, by inaction, ratify through inaction."
sentiment echoed the views of Republican Sens. Jack Danforth and
James Jeffords, who earlier cosponsored a Senate resolution condemning
Khalid Muhammad's speech. It was adopted 97-0. Following suit,
the House voted out its resolution 361 to 34, with 29 members
leave out the council? It promotes friction between people of
different races and religions. It stirs hatred and anger. Its
search for scapegoats separates our country. The council's racial
chauvinism puts it in a league with that other rabid color-line
advocate, Khalid Muhammad.
childhood pastor used to preach that sometimes a stumbling block
is a stepping stone in disguise. The council is Lott's chance
to show the nation where he stands to show that he doesn't
try to run with the rabbits and bay with the hounds.
of issuing statements, Lott should resort to actions that speak
louder. A Senate resolution censuring the council is the answer.
The measure should not seek to interfere with the group's legal
right to express its repulsive and offensive views. But the resolution
should affirm that the race-baiting and divisiveness the council
peddles do not enjoy an aura of respectability in Congress and
are a moral affront to the country.
Lott's Republican colleagues such as Jeffords, not to mention
his party's two most prominent African Americans J. C.
Watts and Colin Powell would want their party to show its
abhorrence of the council through a censure resolution. House
and Senate Democrats should sign on, too, thus making it a universal
let's not bathe Lott in public goodwill. His association with
the council is a problem, and it's one of his own making. It was
Lott, after all, who lent council leaders the respectability they
craved. He should now take it back.
Washington, hold your applause. Trent Lott's rebirth is still
a ways off.
writer is a member of the editorial page staff.