By Scott Tibbs, December 17, 2002
Incoming Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) stirred up a controversy with his recent remarks praising former Senator Strom Thurmond (R-SC). At a celebration of Thurmond's 100th birthday, Lott said, "When Strom Thurmond ran for president, (Mississippi) voted for him. 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."
In 1948, Thurmond ran on a "Dixiecrat" platform supporting racial segregation and opposing federal civil rights legislation. Lott's comments have been attacked as indicative of a closet support for the discarded policies of the past, and of lingering racist tendencies.
But this controversy has been blown out of proportion to its real significance. In reality, Lott was simply praising an elder statesman who has served his country for decades. Lott and Thurmond served together for 14 years in the Senate and are good friends. Lott's comments were not an endorsement of the segregationist views Thurmond has since renounced, but a show of respect for a colleague and a friend.
But Democrats, seeing an opportunity to gain political advantage in the wake of stunning electoral defeats last month, have demonized Lott for his comments and engaged in shameless race baiting. The Congressional Black Caucus has called for a censure vote on Lott, and Leftist advocacy groups like People for the American way have also attacked the Mississippi Senator.
Even President Bush has distanced himself from Lott and criticized Lott's remarks in a speech last week. Bush, who received only 10% of the black vote in 2000 despite strong showings among minority voters as governor of Texas, hopes to build more support for Republicans in minority communities.
But Bush's chiding of Lott was inappropriate. By throwing Senator Lott under the bus, Bush pandered to the Leftist political class that isn't going to support him anyway. Bush's words also won't insulate him from accusations of racism. But most importantly, giving in to the shameless race baiting practiced by the CBC, PFAW, and national Democrats only emboldens them and encourages similar behavior in the future.
Instead of giving in to Leftist pressure, Bush should have stood by Lott, reaffirming that Lott's remarks were not a statement of support for segregation but a tribute to a public servant in his twilight years. Instead of backing down and profusely apologizing when specious allegations of "racism" are made, Republicans should correct the record and strike back at the race baiters. Republicans should point out how irresponsible and wrong it is to intentionally deepen America's racial divide and exploit the emotions of minority voters to score cheap political points. If a genuine misunderstanding exists, Republicans should clarify the error and move on. While Democrats launch personal smear campaigns, Republicans can play the role that Bush campaigned on in 2000, to be "uniters, not dividers."
It's not as if Democrats are squeaky clean on race issues. Democratic West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd was a member of the Ku Klux Klan, a racist hate group that has perpetrated a reign of terror on blacks, Jews and others for over a century. As syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin pointed out, Byrd was an active member of the Klan: he "was a 'Kleagle' -- an official recruiter who signed up members for $10 a head". Byrd is often referred to as the "conscience of the Senate". But Senator Byrd's days of expressing racist sentiments isn't something of the distant past: he used the term "white nigger" twice on Fox News Sunday in March of 2001. So are Democrats who praise Byrd white sheet wearing fascists? Of course not, and neither are Republicans who praise Thurmond.
The fact of the matter is that this country has a shameful racial past. From the stain of slavery, the brutal treatment of American Indians and the internment of Japanese Americans in World War II to segregation, the KKK, and discrimination against immigrants, America has a lot to be ashamed of. Wallowing in our past sins isn't going to fix the racial issues we face today. Cynically exploiting race issues as a political tool is counterproductive to healing our nation's deep racial wounds. Republicans bucked historical trends and made gains nationally because they offered a positive vision of where to take the country. Democrats and the political Left, after losing ground last month, are desperate to find something to gain ground with. There is no need to help them by caving in to their despicable tactics.