Thursday, 12 December 2002

Progress in the Land of Lott

Not all the news on race in Mississippi this week was bad. It turns out that an apparent racist incident at the University of Mississippi this fall was actually an ill-considered prank played on some friends by three African-American freshmen. While the incident didn't get much play outside the state, it did embarrass the university during the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of James Meredith's admission to Ole Miss.

Mississippi Politics and the CofCC

Rather than rag directly on Our Man Lott (I'll leave that to the Professor, Tacitus, and Daniel Drezner, among others), I thought I'd discuss Trent's cheering section over at the Council of Conservative Citizens.

The CofCC is a constant feature of Mississippi politics; its members played a prominent role in the FreeMississippi group's efforts in opposition to changing the Mississippi flag in 2001, and the group has landed some local officials in hot water for accepting awards from the group. Former governor Kirk Fordice, the only Republican governor of the state since Reconstruction, was proud of his ties to the group. In 1999, according to Thomas Edsall in the Washington Post (April 9, 1999, page A3), the CofCC claimed 34 of its members served in the Mississippi legislature. The group is strongly tied to the whites-only academy system that perpetuates segregation and underinvestment in public education in the state. (The group has also been tied to politicians of both parties throughout the South, including former representative Bob Barr and attorney general John Ashcroft.)

The truth is, cultivating ties on the sly to the CofCC is good politics in Mississippi. That was true for Kirk Fordice, it's true for Trent Lott, and it's true for a lot of other politicians who've been more careful in covering their tracks (or had less press interest in digging up the dirt). Saying the right things in the right way to the supremacist fringe — being a “wink wink, nudge nudge” racist — will help one get to Washington or Jackson, and hopefully not raise too much attention elsewhere. Even if Lott isn't a true believer in the CofCC's mission, it's good politics to convey the impression that he is.

Maybe Trent Lott's defenders outside the South don't understand that reality. Maybe Sean Hannity genuinely believes that Lott doesn't know what Strom Thurmond actually stood for in 1948. But Trent Lott does know. And whether or not Lott believes that America would have been better off had Thurmond been elected president, I'm sure it was an effective campaign line when he undoubtably used it in front of the CofCC in the past.

I've separated the Lott articles into a separate category, since “Politics” was getting overloaded.

And here's the smoking gun... Josh Marshall has done some additional Lott archaeology of his own, including finding this gem with more on Lott's CofCC ties.

Daniel Drezner notes that even Charles Barkley thinks Lott should resign. You can tell your political career is going to hell in a handbasket if it's being trashed on The NBA on TNT. But at least Trent's still got Sean Hannity on his side...

Editor & Publisher gives a roundup of editorial response around Mississippi; Lott leads Friday's Washington Post.

Fellow Mississippian Conrad at the Gweilo Diaries makes basically the same point:

I've known Trent Lott's ilk my entire life. He knows that the old-time racism of Bilbo and Barnett, with which he grew up, is no longer unacceptable. He'll put on a public mask because that's what's now required. He may even convince himself that he's tolerant. But no one is perfect, and every now and then the mask slips and we get a glimpse of the ugliness behind it. You'll never hear Lott say the word "nigger" in public . . . but he thinks it, of that you can be certain.

Now this is journalism

Well, it's taken the Clarion-Ledger six days, but they've finally stepped up to the plate on Trent Lott. Meanwhile, many Mississippians rally around the pork. (Both articles via Greg Wythe.) The Memphis Commercial Appeal has compiled its own list of embarrassments for Lott; meanwhile, their “Mississippi reaction piece” is an even better indication of the parallel universe Mississippi's politicos live in:

Even as the nation's talk shows and Washington's power set debate Sen. Trent Lott's motives and manner, the storm over the Senate Republican leader's remarks is drawing little more than shrugs back home.

W has publically rebuked Lott, according to the Professor. I've already given my advice for his fellow GOP senators elsewhere:

Let's face it: Lott is the Republicans' Fredo Corleone. Let him chair Appropriations or some other porkfest committee and find someone else to speak for the party.

I just listened to about two minutes of Hannity on the radio in the car (that was about all I could stand before feeling the irresistable urge to rip my SkyFi receiver off the dash and chuck it through my car windshield). Why on earth is he carrying water for Lott? Does Trent have nude photos of him and Colmes or something?