SOMEONE PLEASE STOP HIM. The damage from Trent Lott's offensive comments 12 days ago could hardly be clearer. His support among Senate Republicans is crumbling. Even fellow GOP leaders, his strongest backers, have begun to consider ways to oust the majority leader and allow him to save face.
But judging from his remarks on Black Entertainment Television Monday night, the first stop of his Repent with Trent tour, Lott is as clueless as ever. Lott mostly reprised his utterly unconvincing answers about the nature of his comments at Strom Thurmond's birthday party, as if the mere fact of doing so in front of a primarily black audience would make things right. Asked what he meant by "those problems" that could have been avoided by electing the segregationist Thurmond as president in 1948, Lott said, "I was talking about the problems of defense, of communism, and budget, of a government that sometimes didn't do its job." Now it may well be, as Lott's defenders suggest, that despite the rather plain meaning of the words he spoke, the majority leader was not pining for a return to the days of segregation. But if Trent Lott recalls the 1948 Dixiecrat ticket and thinks about budgets and defense, it can be said that he is the only one who does so.
Lott was asked yet again about his vote against a federal Martin Luther King holiday. And the Mississippi senator who never saw a piece of pork he couldn't support suddenly became a deficit hawk, pointing to the $300 million price tag. Right.
It's tempting to walk through each of his ridiculous answers and deconstruct them point-by-point. But that would be a waste of time. For the interview — and the extent of the damage Lott has done his party — can be summed up in his answer to one question.
BET host Ed Gordon asked the Senate majority leader about affirmative action. In that one moment, Lott cast aside years of principled Republican race-neutral policies to save his own ass. "I'm for that. I'm for affirmative action and I practice it," he pleaded, reiterating his painful claim of having many "good friends" who are black. "I'm an affirmative action participant."
This is nothing less than pathetic, blatant pandering. Lott would have us believe that although one week ago he was waxing nostalgic about the days of segregation, he is now in favor of racial preference programs for minorities. But there was more. Not content to embarrass just himself, Lott once again sought to make his problem the Republican party's problem. "It's not enough for me to do things differently," Lott said, when asked about the GOP Senate conference meeting scheduled for January 6. "I've got to get my colleagues to join me."
To that end, Lott said his promises are "about actions more than words. As majority leader I can move an agenda that would hopefully be helpful to African Americans and minorities of all kinds and all Americans." Lott's staff told BET that the senator is "talking with other congressional leaders about a task force for reconciliation to 'help bring America together along racial lines.'"
Republican senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, one of the Senate's brightest and most articulate members, defended Lott this past weekend. He said Lott's remarks were a "wake-up call" for Republicans. He's wrong. The Republican party has long had a solid civil rights agenda. Last night's BET appearance should have been the real GOP wake-up call. As long as Trent Lott is the Senate majority leader, the GOP's civil rights agenda — and perhaps the rest of the party's agenda, too — will go nowhere.