Bored pundits, outraged public. All-purpose quote machine Larry Sabato makes some smart observations about Trent Lott on Newsweek's website. The most important is that the media are so bored and cynical that they had to be reminded by the public that Lott's racist remarks were truly outrageous. Says Sabato:
Public officials frequently say things that are out of the box and those who are covering it can slough it off and say, "there he goes again." Average people have a different, much more human reaction which is to take a more genuine offense.
David Brooks's contribution to the Newsweek package is an assertion that Republicans really don't wax nostalgic about cross-burnings and segregation when they get together and no one else is around. I'm sure that's true of Brooks's well-educated neoconservative crowd. But the question remains: what do Southern Republicans such as Lott talk about among themselves? Lott's comments are racist enough even when the cameras are rolling.
The problem with the Republican Party today is not that it is racist -- the genuine outrage over Lott's remarks expressed by George W. Bush and a range of conservative commentators is evidence of that. The problem is that a cadre of hardcore racists make up a small but important part of the Republican coalition.
Put it this way: the reason that 95 percent of African-Americans routinely vote for Democratic presidential candidates is not because they don't want a tax cut.