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Jewish World Review Dec. 17, 2002 / 12 Teves, 5763

Laura Ingraham

Laura Ingraham
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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 Mississippi.

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 country today?

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 entirely avoidable.

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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