Jewish World Review Dec. 17, 2002 / 12 Teves, 5763
Who is the better
leader: Gore or Lott?
Even if he lied about his reason for not running for president in '04 ("it's
for the good of the country" rather than "no Democrat breathing wanted me
to"), Al Gore at least knew when to step aside. Not so with Trent Lott, who
continues to confirm his own tin-ear approach to politics, by not
relinquishing his Senate Majority Leader's perch after a disastrous week.
Lott's days are surely numbered, but will the GOP learn the lessons he leaves
in his wake?
When Republicans were celebrating the day after their mid-term election
stunner, I urged Republicans to replace Trent Lott as Senate Majority Leader.
"You don't fire the coach in the middle of a winning season!" a high-placed
Republican operative sniffed. But the response from my listeners -- who
usually have more political common sense than Washington insiders -- told me
something different. Republicans didn't care much for Lott. Complaints
ranged from "he's a squish" to "he's terrible on television." The sentiment
favored giving someone new a chance to lead the Senate-like Senators Bill
Frist, Rick Santorum, or Don Nickles.
Lesson: Clear away the underbrush before a political fire begins.
My view then and now is that Lott, while a committed Republican, is simply a
lousy communicator of the conservative message. It's not because, as
comedian Darrell Hammond points out, he sounds shockingly like Foghorn
Leghorn. It's not because his hair doesn't move. And it's certainly not
because he's anti-black. It's because he doesn't have two things key for
credible leadership-good instincts and sound judgment. This most recent
blow-up is just one more example of Lott's stumbling.
When the story broke it was painfully obvious that it had legs, but Lott
ducked the press and hoped it would blow over. He released a short written
statement of apology. His reason for not appearing at a full-blown press
conference before Friday was that he was in a "remote location" most of the
week-but of course he wasn't hiking the Himalayas, he was hiding out in
Lesson: When you make a big political misstep, face the music early.
In the fourth episode of his Apology mini-series, Lott attempted to prove his
sensitivity and empathy toward blacks by reminding the country that he is
"the son of a sharecropper." He pledged continued "outreach" to the minority
community. He scheduled an hour on BET. Radio talk-show host Tom Joyner on
NBC's Today Show on Monday wasn't impressed, saying "I don't believe him,"
that the real Trent Lott was the one who spoke at the Thurmond celebration.
When the Administration wants to focus on tax cuts and Iraq, the country is
being bombarded by the Lott leadership challenge. Lott dominated the Sunday
shows this week. The New York Times is keeping the racial fires stoked with
front-page headlines like these: "In Lott's Life, A Long Shadow of
Segregation." Newsweek gave it the cover "Race and the Life of Trent Lott."
This won't end any time soon. The Left will continue to hit the Lott piņata
during debates about affirmative action, crime, and judicial nominations.
Some conservatives thought Lott wasn't aggressive enough in opposing
affirmative action (a.k.a. racial quotas) before this controversy. How
tough will he be now?
Republicans certainly are right to worry that tossing Lott to the race sharks
will merely make them hungrier and nastier. Lott isn't a racist and most
Democrats know he isn't. They are using Lott's lot as part of their battle
plan against George Bush, who was looking politically invulnerable until the
GOP's "race problem" began to dominate the headlines. Democrats have yet to
announce an agenda on the economy or health care so why not a race scare?
They are already on the verge of over-playing this hand. How many swing
voters really believe that racism is one of the biggest problems facing the
Lesson: Do the right thing, even if the other party is playing dirty.
The American Left has been frustrated and angry for two years now. The
public has rallied to support President Bush on the war and still doesn't
blame him for the economy. Even Bob Woodward thinks George Bush is smart!
But Trent Lott has given the Left an early Christmas present. Instead of
focusing their energy and resources crafting an ambitious legislative agenda,
Republicans will kick off the New Year still cleaning up a problem that was
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JWR contributor Laura Ingraham is the host of a radio show syndicated nationally by
Westwood One Radio Network and the author of "The Hillary Trap: Looking for Power in All
the Wrong Places". Comment by clicking here.
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© 2002, Laura Ingraham