The Self Made Pundit
Friday, December 20, 2002
LOTT’S LEGACY: Whatever else Trent Lott has proved himself to be, he has demonstrated prowess as a vote counter in his three decades in Congress. Lott put that skill to use this morning and resigned as Senate majority leader after counting the horses’ heads in his bed.
While Lott’s resignation as majority leader may spare Bush and fellow Republicans some embarrassment, it may have come too late to put all the worms back in the can that Lott opened with his tribute to Storm Thurmond’s 1948 segregationist presidential campaign.
If Lott had resigned his leadership post a week ago – or even if he had not kept reviving the story with near-daily clumsy apologies – L’affaire Lott might have been quickly dropped by the news media as just another politician done in by a gaffe. By hanging on and staying in the public eye with his pathetic serial apologies, Lott has practically forced commentators to look for some larger context in which to place his transgressions.
Unfortunately for the Republicans, Lott’s statements retroactively endorsing a segregationist campaign for president – as well as his long history of opposing civil rights legislation – are reflective of the Republican Party’s Southern Strategy. For more than three decades, Republican candidates have won the votes of Southern whites by indicating that they would be far less sympathetic to the grievances of African Americans than the Democrats have been. Starting in 1968, when Strom Thurmond campaigned for Richard Nixon, the Southern Strategy has enabled Republican presidential candidates to rely on large blocs of electoral votes from the South.
Since hardcore racists are among the voters attracted by such Republican appeals, the Republican Party has always been skittish about discussing the Southern Strategy in the rest of the country. To a large extent the news media have obliged the Republicans on this point and have rarely focused on the Southern Strategy.
Lott, however, has performed an unintentional service to his country – and the Democrats – by keeping the story of his political demise alive and fresh. With each bumbling apology, Lott would revive the story and force commentators to look for new angles and eventually they focused on the Southern Strategy. The topic of the Republicans’ cynical and crass manipulation of white racial attitudes to achieve electoral success in the South has become a mainstream news topic. For a few examples, see what a leading newspaper, the last elected president and an insightful blogger have said about the Republicans’ Southern Strategy.
It would be a fitting tribute to Lott if his legacy is a continued sensitivity by the news media to the Republicans’ Southern Strategy. Perhaps, the major news media will turn the spotlight on the Southern Strategy the next time Republicans try to suppress black voter turnout – as they did recently in the Louisiana Senate race – or make veiled references to the Democrats as the party of criminal or unpopular blacks – as Bush the elder did in 1988 and Senator Frist (a leading contender to replace Lott as majority leader) did in 1994.
If a heightened awareness of the Republicans’ Southern Strategy is Lott’s legacy, the Democrats may want to give Lott the tribute he deserves. The next time Republicans try to profit from white voters’ racial resentments or suppress black voter turnout, Democrats might want to state the following:
When Strom Thurmond, Richard Nixon and Trent Lott ran for office, we voted against them. 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, either.