The Self Made Pundit
Tuesday, December 10, 2002
WHAT (IF ANYTHING) WAS ON LOTT'S MIND?: Now that Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott has issued a half-hearted apology for his love note to Senator Thurmond’s racist campaign for president in 1948, America’s media can return to more pressing issues such as pinning down Senator Kerry on the price of his haircuts.
Before we leave Senator Lott on his own magnolia lined memory lane, however, a few points are worth considering.
Lott’s statement was a classic gaffe. My definition of a gaffe is slightly different from Michael Kinsley’s, who has defined a gaffe as “when a politician tells the truth.” I’ve always thought that definition, while clever, misses the mark. For example, Ronald Reagan’s idiotic statement that trees and other plants are the main cause of air pollution was both a gaffe and untrue. I think a better definition of a gaffe is when a politician does not let the limitations of his mind prevent him from speaking it.
Lott’s statement was a gaffe in that sense. I have no doubt that Lott was speaking his mind when he waxed nostalgic about Thurmond’s pro-segregation 1948 race for president.
The question is what was on his mind. As Lott was waiting to speak at Thurmond’s party and staring at the Centenarian, was Lott really musing about how much better America would be if we didn’t have those pesky laws against lynching and denying the vote to blacks? Probably not. (Though lacking President Bush’s ability to look into the eyes of a man and see his soul, I can’t say for sure.)
While we can never be sure exactly what Lott meant – especially since he refuses to say – even the most charitable view of what he meant is actually quite damning.
To be more charitable to Lott than he probably deserves, he may not have been thinking about anything specific and was expressing some vague resentments about federal enforcement of civil rights laws. To be even more charitable, Lott may have just been trying to honor Thurmond and wanted to praise him as a states’ rights prophet before his time without even reflecting that the cause he was celebrating sought to perpetuate the subjugation and degradation of black Americans. Yet, the denial of civil rights to blacks was so central to Thurmond’s 1948 campaign, such a lapse on Lott’s part would indicate that the denial of civil rights to black Americans is an issue that never crosses his mind.
Thus, even this most charitable view paints a sorry picture of Senator Lott. For the most charitable thing that can be said of the man leading the Republicans in the Senate is that he does not give a rat’s rump about black Americans.