Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Trent Lott's racist past. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman this morning doesn't hesitate to remind readers that incoming Senate majority leader Trent Lott -- under fire for praising the racist 1948 presidential campaign of Strom Thurmond -- has a, uh, history with this sort of thing. Krugman notes that, as recently as the 1990s, Lott, a Republican from Mississippi, was involved with the Council of Conservative Citizens, a notorious white-supremacist group.

In fact, the CofCC's website -- festooned with a Confederate flag -- was full of praise for Lott even before Lott's surprising endorsement of segregation (surprising in the sense that he said it out loud). The site was last updated on Friday, before Lott's racist words had hit the fan. But there's a big smiling photo of him, labeled "A LOTT of Courage! Sen. Trent Lott calls for the Army to PROTECT U.S. Borders against the Illegal Alien Invasion." That, in turn, leads you to the transcript of a radio interview Lott recently gave to the Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly in which he did, indeed, suggest the use of troops to keep illegal immigrants out, and to a resolution that the council recently passed in support of Lott.

So what is this racist group with which Lott is so closely associated? Click on "Editorial," and you'll find this essay by someone called "Beauregarde," titled "Deconstructing Liberals." Every sentence is a hate-filled gem, but it all comes to a head here:

When liberals extol tolerance, they do so with haughty distain for anyone who does not concede to the liberal mantra on the subject. Liberal tolerance is not a matter balancing opposites without losing the liberal perspective, but is instead a freeze-out of nonliberal views; particularly those ideas concerning white racial consciousness. Due to prevalent liberal attitudes on race, many otherwise rational white people have a superstitious aversion to racial self-awareness. Whites, when confronted by racial hostility, automatically deny being racist. Chief among these superstitions is the notion that all races are created equal.

The Anti-Defamation League says of the Council of Conservative Citizens that its ideology is "Christian Identity, white supremacy, neo-Nazi, paramilitary," adding:

Advances its ideology by inflaming fears and resentments, among Southern whites particularly, with regard to black-on-white crime, non-white immigration, attacks on the public display of the Confederate flag, and other issues related to "traditional" Southern culture.

Now, it's only fair to note that Lott claims the CofCC's love for him is unrequited. But it's equally fair to point out that Lott seems not to be telling the truth. Consider, for example, this, published in the New Republic in January 1999, when Lott's racist associations briefly became an issue:

According to a number of CofCC members, ... Mississippi Senator Trent Lott is a dues-paying member of the group, which is particularly strong in his home state.... The Citizens Informer [the CofCC newsletter] occasionally carries Lott's freely distributed newspaper column. Moreover, despite Lott's claim that he had "no firsthand knowledge" of the CofCC, Edsall [Thomas Edsall, of the Washington Post] reported on December 16 that Lott addressed the group in 1992, telling the audience members that they "stand for the right principles and the right philosophy."

And there's this, from CQ Weekly, published around the same time as the TNR piece:

No matter how hard Lott tries to distance himself [from the CofCC], questions remain because his uncle Arnie Watson, a former Mississippi state senator and current member of the council's executive board, remembers Lott being an "honorary member." Watson and others find it hard to fathom that Lott could be uninformed about a widely known political group in his own state.

"In Washington, they like to use the word 'disingenuous,'" said Bill Minor, a political columnist in Mississippi for 51 years, when asked about Lott's assertion that he was unaware of the council's beliefs.

"He had good reason to know what was going on, but if he didn't, he was like the piano player in the house of ill repute who didn't notice what was going on all around him."

The big question remains: will President Bush do the right thing and demand that Trent Lott step down as the Senate Republican leader before the GOP assumes the majority next month?

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