Good for Andrew Sullivan. Andrew and I disagree about a lot. But he's right on the mark in not only taking exception to Trent Lott's outrageous comments in favor of racial segregation but giving them the full measure of outrage they deserve. As he says, the real question is why this incident is still being treated as no more than a minor embarrassment or a simple gaffe.
What really strikes me is not only the original comment but Lott's unwillingness to take it back or even explain it. To the best of my knowledge his only response came in a terse two sentence statement from his flack Ron Bonjean:
Senator Lott's remarks were intended to pay tribute to a remarkable man who led a remarkable life. To read anything more into these comments is wrong.
That's the flack's equivalent of 'go jump in a lake.'
The fault isn't with Lott; it's with evil commentators who are reading too much into what he said. On its face the statement makes no sense, since the simple logic of Lott's remarks went well beyond this 'remarkable life' mumbo jumbo. More to the point, however, there's a simple -- if disingenuous -- way of dealing with this sort of thing. Lott or his flack immediately comes forward and says something like this ...
I have great respect for my retiring colleague Strom Thurmond. But some of my comments at his Birthday party last week may have been unclear. Everyone should know that I believe segregation was wrong. And as incoming-Majority I'm very proud of the progress our nation has made in guaranteeing civil rights and voting rights of all Americans, regardless of race, creed or color.
Simple. Short. Almost certainly
dishonest. But in such situations honesty isn't always the most important virtue. Trent Lott may not believe in civil rights for blacks. It's a disaster for the country if he doesn't. But if he doesn't, it's still important -- given who he is -- that he say
he does, that he genuflect publicly to the ideal. It's important for him to say something like this if for no other reason than to underscore the fact that anyone who doesn't support racial equality -- even in this most general sense -- is politically beyond the pale.
The mystery is why he hasn't even said something like that. He doesn't even think it's a big enough deal that he has to address it publicly. An even bigger mystery is why his unwillingness hasn't generated more controversy or a serious push to make him resign as Majority Leader.