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Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Trent Lott eats a little Jim Crow: In case you missed it (easy enough, given how the mainstream media ignored it), Lott made the following remark at Senator Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party: "I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years." The thing is, when Thurmond ran for president in 1948, the only plank in his platform was "segregation forever, equality never." So Lott's statement seems to say that the country would have been a lot better off with a blatantly racist president who would never have allowed civil rights legislation or school desegregation to happen. Now I'm probably willing to cut Lott a tiny bit of slack on this one: when you're attending a birthday party for some old coot, no matter how nasty he was, you feel a little compelled to say something nice about him. So Trent didn't think too clearly about implications and tried to come up with something nice to say about Thurmond (we've got to realize that that's a pretty difficult task), so he blurted out the nonsense quoted above. Besides, Trent says mean-spirited things just about every day which have a greater impact on people than this. However, I am glad that others, like Al Gore and Jesse Jackson, have jumped all over Lott. Last night, Lott apologized:

"A poor choice of words conveyed to some the impression that I embraced the discarded policies of the past," Lott said in a statement. "Nothing could be further from the truth, and I apologize to anyone who was offended by my statement."

With that, I say, let it drop. There are lotts of good reasons to throw Lott out of the Senate, but I don't think that one retracted statement should be one of them. Public figures in the past twenty years or so have gotten into more trouble by saying one or two controversial sentences than they do by a lifetime of bribe-taking and shady dealing. Think of the German minister who compared Bush to Hitler, or Jimmy the Greek. While I agree that words do matter, by jumping on controversial statements we cause public figures either to talk in public without saying anything (Tom Daschle, for example), or not to talk in public at all (Dick Cheney). Better to question someone if he says something outrageous, and if he properly clarifies or apologizes, leave it at that.