The Founders' purpose in establishing the United States Senate was to elevate the characters of its members so that, following deliberation, it could act on behalf of the whole nation. This is the real, constitutional issue in the furor concerning would-be Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. At a celebration for his centenarian colleague Strom Thurmond, he stupidly praised his segregationist Dixiecrat party presidential run in 1948. Besides being hectored by the expected liberal chorus, many conservatives, some of whom have regarded Lott as a timid leader for conservative principles, have berated him. His demotion to the backbenches would not only shore up conservative policies but affirm constitutional principles as well.
Alexander Hamilton and James Madison both regarded the Senate as a chamber that would reinforce the virtues of Senators and suppress many of their vices. Thus, without requiring a standard of wealth or family lineage, the elected American Senate would take on the best features of the ancient Roman Senate, while avoiding its flaws. Such a public-spirited body could truly consider what was good for the nation as a whole, as seen most notably in its advise and consent responsibilities. Whatever good Lott has achieved in his career he plainly owes to the demands of the chamber that force legislators to consider the public interest.
When Lott acts on behalf of Mississippi, however, he resembles more his rapacious colleague Democratic Senator Robert Byrd than he does past giants. Here Lott is simply following the twisted priorities of the redistributionist bureaucratic state. More troubling is that when he spoke on behalf of Senator Thurmond, he repeated his odd judgment that if America "had followed [the] lead" of Mississippi in having voted for Thurmond, "we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years." Evidently the racial segregation of the 1940s South would be the solution for "all these problems." The principles of the Declaration of Independence, fought over in the Civil War, and disputed ever since, are the real confrontation of these problems. But they were not Lott's reference point. Here he failed America by becoming Senator for a South from an era whose injustice is manifest. He no longer spoke for America, as the Senate's majority leader invariably should do.
Conservatives have rightly bemoaned the unwillingness of the Bush administration to eliminate some of the most exasperating and unjust aspects of contemporary bureaucracy. High on the list is racial preferences. Lott's stupidity will make it all the more difficult for his principled conservative colleagues to bring our laws in line with the Declaration of Independence, and make current racial classifications and preference policies as scorned as the segregationist policies of the young Thurmond. This appeal to the Declaration must be the basis on which Lott steps down.
Lott's musings on Thurmond's presidential campaign, whether mean-spirited or merely silly, were suppressed or transcended by the constitutional qualities of the office he occupied. But when he speaks on his own, he is too often Lott the lost. In his apologies he has played the late Senator Paul Wellstone card and all but said his heart was as black as Jesse Jackson's. What would he really be like if he were not restrained or uplifted by his post? I would be interested in finding out.
- Thanks a Lott, by Lincoln fellow Steven F. Hayes
- The 1948 Dixiecrat Party Platform, on FreeRepublic.com