Along the Tracks

Friday, December 13, 2002

Southern Partisans at arms length

Just finished reading Trent Lott’s Southern Partisan interview from back in 1984 (found on the superb Talking Points Memo blog by Joshua Micah Marshall). The magazine itself is a race-haters delight; what business any elected official had giving a warm-and-cuddly interview to it in the first place is beyond me (Lott was the new minority whip in the House at the time).

Lott talks about the kind of things you’d expect him to: Southern pride, state’s rights, Jefferson Davis as intelligent government official, the War of Aggression (also known as the Civil War, which the South started) etc., etc. But what really strikes me is actually something quite good. Lott is forced on the defensive about the Republican Party not being a “comfortable” fit for “Southerners.” They tick off their complaints: No Southerners in cabinet posts, White House disavowal of the more controversial planks in the 1984 GOP platform (which, as chair, Lott helped write), continued court control over Southern schools, colleges and local governments, GOP support of the Voting Rights Act, GOP support of a Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday. Lott offers a lot of shellack about how he knows the president’s views, how South Carolina’s Jim Edwards was energy secretary and, believe it or not, how some no-name from Gulfport, Miss., was appointed Ambassador to Barbados! Now I call that Republican commitment! Lott voted against the Voting Rights Act, and against the national holiday, so he gets his ‘props from the racists while claiming he is trying to change the GOP from the inside.

Two things come out from that 18-year-old interview: Lott’s unchanged willingness to roll in the mud with racists; and the clear effort by Ronald Reagan to keep such forces at arms length, when they were demanding real power inside the administration. The Bush (I) presidency pushed them even further away. What was in the ‘80s a real danger of segregationist takeover was maneuvered to the fringes, and time has done much of the work of eliminating those points of view. Lott and his fellow travelers are the remnants of a dangerous group which sought to control the GOP - and failed.

Nevertheless, the flirting did great damage to the party and the nation. There is still need for an intelligent, active conservative opportunity agenda to lead this nation out of color-conscious politics toward the unity necessary to lead the world. What do you say, George W.?

P.S. - Toward the end of the interview, Lott tosses out an early endorsement of Jack Kemp for the 1988 GOP nomination. Kemp was one of the early warriors for an expansive, inclusive GOP - not exactly a Southern Partisan’s dream. Tying this interview in with Lott’s long record of votes, interviews and statements, he comes across as a ... politician - a particularly disgusting one, but probably not an active hater himself. This truth (if true) of hypocrisy may be worse than if he had always been a racist; his efforts to legitimize, or at least wink at, such views have been damaging to the country.

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