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Political Animal

Lott Of Bull

By Brian Morton | Posted 12/18/2002

If there's anything that has confounded the academicians in the history wing of Animal Control, it's the way the Confederacy is generally viewed in the modern era.

Let's grant that for the short duration of its existence, the Confederacy was a sovereign nation, not a breakaway set of states that seceded from a larger union. It had its own president, its own army, its own currency. And it went to war and lost. It surrendered and once again became part of the union from which it was spawned.

But the primary purpose of that nation, during its existence, was to maintain the way of life that it had claimed was essential to its well-being: that of owning other persons as property. "States rights" meant the right to own slaves. Period. If you don't believe this, go back yourself and read the entirety of the Supreme Court decision in the monumental 1857 case Dred Scott v. Sandford, penned by our own not-so-illustrious Maryland native Chief Justice Roger Taney. Everything else that happened after that point can be seen as an effort to preserve the world that Taney affirmed in that one decision--blacks as nonhuman and noncitizens, slavery, then segregation and anti-miscegenation laws, then de jure discrimination, then anti-affirmative action and the campaign to delegitimize the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as a civil-rights hero. A led to B, which led to C.

This nation long ago gave up on slavery, but there are large contingents that refuse to give up on any chance to fight back against what they see as the gradual erosion of their old views and that old way of life, no matter how archaic. They stick to the Confederate battle flag, a symbol of a losing and discredited side (do we greet Nazi flags and Japanese battle flags with such reverence?), they publish magazines longing for the "good ol' days," and they sell T-shirts at their conventions and rallies and gun shows featuring Abraham Lincoln's picture and the words sic semper tyrannis. (Let us note that legendary "patriot" and executed mass murderer Timothy McVeigh was wearing such a shirt when he was apprehended).

The subject of this column is Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, and before those who live to take things out of context start foaming at the mouth complaining that I am comparing Lott to Strom Thurmond, the senior senator from South Carolina, let it be clear that while I am not comparing one to the other, they are both descendants of a similar ideology. One was enamored of the means to return to the "old days" (guns and power), the other is still clearly an adherent to the principles those old days stood for.

In one week alone, we found out that Lott pushed against desegregation at the national levels of his college fraternity back in the 1960s. The outrageous statement he made at Thurmond's 100th birthday party--that the nation would have been better served if Thurmond had been elected in 1948 on the Dixiecrats' blatantly racist platform--is a virtual word-for-word repeat of a statement he made a Jackson, Miss., rally for Ronald Reagan in 1980. In 1998, Lott flat-out lied when he claimed "no firsthand knowledge" of the Council of Conservative Citizens, a racist organization founded, ironically enough, in St. Louis, the birthplace of the Dred Scott decision. (The Conservative Citizens' Web site in the past has called Martin Luther King a "depraved miscreant" and featured articles opining that America was turning into a "slimy brown mass of glop.") Six years previously, Lott had met with the group's members, saying (as was printed in their newsletter), they "stand for the right principles and the right philosophy." When called on the lie, Lott's spokesman conveniently omitted the obvious tense in his statement, "This group harbors views which Senator Lott firmly rejects. He has absolutely no involvement with them either now or in the future."

How much more evidence do we need? How much weight of accumulated actions and words is necessary to show that the leader of the Republican majority in the U.S. Senate is grossly beyond the pale when it comes to race?

He voted against the first black man nominated to the Fourth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals. He voted against the 1982 extension of the Voting Rights Act. He voted against the Martin Luther King holiday.

And the nut doesn't fall far from the tree: The New York Times reported last week that when Lott's local newspaper in Mississippi campaigned in 1963 against segregation, his mother, Iona, wrote a letter to the paper's editor saying that it would prove "you are truly an integrationist and I hope you not only get a hole through your office door but through your stupid head."

As it stands, Lott is unapologetically apologetic. At his press conference, when it was mentioned to him that he made virtually the same statements in the 1980s that he did at the Thurmond party, his reply was couched in the passive voice--that those statements "were made." If that's not an avoidance of responsibility, the definition simply must not exist.

Now, he will meet with conservative black apologists, like Roy Innis of CORE and black Republican millionaire Robert Johnson of Black Entertainment Television. The blinds are beginning to be pulled. And the majority of black America can sit back and be sure of one thing: Not one whit has changed.

Sen. Lott has now told us, "Contrition is bull."

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