Jewish World Review Dec. 20, 2002 / 15 Teves, 5763

Edward Blum

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http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Like the wind that comes sweepin' down the plains, Oklahoma Sen. Don Nickles has decided to prove to his party and the nation that stupid remarks have consequences. We should all be thankful he did.

Of course, the stupid remarks were those that were made by Sen. Trent Lott when he proudly noted at birthday party for former- arch-segregationist Strom Thermond that his own state of Mississippi had convincingly voted for him in the 1948 presidential election. Lott then concluded his little history lesson by stating that the country would be in better shape today if Thurmond had been elected to the highest office in the land.

Although dozens of thoughtful and respected political analysts have called for Lott to resign his leadership post because of these observations, as of this writing, the only two congressional Republicans who has publicly questioned his leadership abilities are Sen. Nickles and Sen. Chafee.

But now Nickels and Chafee may find some additional public GOP support for his position after Lott's dreadful primetime interview a few nights ago on Black Entertainment Television. This was supposed to be Lott's mea culpa, version 5.0, but instead, he proved himself to be nothing more than pandering Babbitt when he announced about fifteen minutes into his interview that he was now in favor of affirmative action.

"I'm for that," Lott said when asked by BET interviewer Ed Gordon if he supported affirmative action.

Even "across the board?" a stunned Gordon asked.

"Absolutely," Lott responded.

So now Lott has not only repudiated his remarks about Thurmond, he has upped the ante by repudiating all of the votes he cast against race-based preferences. In essence, he has told his senate colleagues and the American public that his opposition in the past to federal policies that give minorities preferences in education, contracting, and employment were as bad as his recent enthusiasm for the Dixiecrat platform.

Good job, Senator. Really heartfelt, this sudden burst of bilge.

What is it with affirmative action that makes politicians so pathetically ignoble? In 2000, the nation watched the specter of Democrat V.P.- nominee Joe Lieberman fall in line like a chorus girl behind Maxine Waters after she wood-shedded him over his support of colorblind public policies. Now comes Trent Lott, who, just as a moth will never learn to avoid a flame, has opened his mouth once again, this time with the result of jeopardizing a decade's worth of work conservatives have done in making the Equal Protection Clause and U.S. civil rights laws apply to everyone, regardless of race.

It's bad enough that he's imperiled the President's domestic and foreign policy agenda. Nearly as bad is the fact that he has picked the scab off the conservatism's most glaring scar---it's early misguided opposition to integration.

So now Lott tells us, his past support for replacing racial set-asides in government contracting with ones designed to help all small- and emerging- businesses (an amendment to a 1998 highway bill offered by Sen. Mitch McConnell and supported by nearly 40 Republican senators) was wrong.

No, Sen. Lott, it wasn't wrong. You made the right vote back then. Same as your vote against the first version of the Civil Rights Act of 1991, your opposition to the foolish gerrymander-friendly reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act, and your opposition to quota-supporter Bill Lann Lee. These were principled votes that had wide support in the senate.

But now you have repudiated all of that. You now support affirmative action. You now support campaign reform so "everyones's vote will be counted." Really Sen. Lott, did you think this disingenuous bootlicking would save you?

Meanwhile, it is still unknown if Republican ideas were victorious in last month's elections, or if the electorate voted for their current, and perhaps temporary, interests. This is a distinction with a real difference. Political ideas, it has been said, are permanent and universal, whereas interests tend to fluctuate and are intemperate.

Fairly and mostly, unfairly, conservative, and therefore, Republican ideas about race are planted in shallow top-soil, and what we have suffered from Sen. Lott's birthday party remark, and now his embrace of racial preferences, threatens to uproot those fragile ideas.



Edward Blum is director of legal affairs at the American Civil Rights Institute. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Edward Blum