Monday, 16 December 2002

Lott: GOP leader or sellout?

The picture of Trent Lott that's emerging this week isn't all that flattering. If I were a Republican — and I'm not, thank goodness — I'd be begging the GOP to get rid of the guy. Why? Well, read this gem:

Lott picked up support yesterday from an unlikely source. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), an African American and leader of the 1960s civil rights movement, said after talking with the senator: "I believe his apology is sincere and I accept his apology. . . . Senator Lott has committed to come back in January and work with Democrats and Republicans to implement an agenda that benefits all Americans of every race, ethnicity, gender and income."

In yesterday's BET interview, Lott said he has been "changed" by his recent experience and will pursue legislation to "make amends." "The important thing is to recognize the hurt than I've caused . . . and actually do something about it," he said.

That's right, boys and girls: it's not just pork for Mississippi any more; everyone's going to get some. Free prescriptions for seniors? Try free prescriptions for everyone. Say “adios” to any pretense of social security reform, even though that would actually help African-Americans more that it would hurt. Free trade: no. Free money from Washington (er, I mean, taxpayers): yes.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

I also like Jim Henley's take: “I've made it pretty clear over the past year that I have little use for the Republican Party. But if Trent Lott hangs on, Republicans won't even have any use for it themselves.” Gene Healy's comments are also worth a read: “I get the distinct feeling he’s going to demonstrate his spiritual growth by lightening my paycheck.”

Daniel Drezner translates parts of the Lott interview into English. Meanwhile, Rand Simberg has a dispatch that hasn't quite hit the wires (although I'd expect to see it in a Chinese newspaper soon).

Radley Balko makes much the same point in his column.

Who would Musgrove appoint?

If Trent Lott does make good on his supposed threat to quit the Senate if he's forced out, who would Ronnie Musgrove appoint in his place?

The pickings are pretty slim, at least in terms of nationally-recognizable names:

  • Mike Espy, the former congressman from the Delta (and ex-Ag Secretary under Clinton) would be a possibility; however, his past legal troubles might be problematic. But appointing an African-American would be a good way to shoot the bird at Trent Lott and his pals.

  • U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-2nd): Unlike Mike Espy, however, he's a bit of a lightweight. But he's African-American, which means at least he'd probably not defect to the Republicans when he got to the Senate, and the special election for his House seat would probably be won handily by the Democrats.

  • U.S. Rep. Ronnie Shows, who's out of a job come January, might be a sensible choice. He's reasonably popular, but lost a race against fellow incumbent Chip Pickering by a wider-than-expected margin. If I had to say anyone, I'd pick Shows.

  • U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor (D-4th): Taylor is a hardcore conserative Democrat (one of four to vote for Clinton's impeachment); he's probably been courted by the GOP to switch for years, and the chance to do so in the Senate might be tempting. Plus, appointing Taylor would open the House seat up; it's unclear if a Democrat could keep the seat.

  • State attorney general Mike Moore: Best known for his tobacco lawsuit (and subsequent enrichment of college roommate Dickie Scruggs), Moore is believed to have ambitions for higher office, and has won statewide elections in the past as a Democrat. Relatively unlikely to jump ship. Probably #2 behind Shows.

  • Ole Miss Chancellor Robert Khayat: Sort of a dark horse candidate. Probably a Democrat, but nobody's really all that sure. Being a part of a legendary Ole Miss football team (and the Redskins) gives him the benefit of the Jack Kemp factor.

  • Finally, my out-of-left-field suggestion: Morgan Freeman. Believed to be fairly conservative, but still has the “cool factor” of wearing an earring (something none of these other candidates share).

I don't know that any of these names are on the “short list”, or even if it's time for a short list.

It's also possible a deal could be made: Lott promises not to run for governor against Musgrove if Musgrove appoints a Republican in his place. And the perfect Republican for the job: everyone's favorite district court judge, Chip Pickering's dad, none other than the widely-vilified-outside-the-state Charles Pickering. Now that, my friends, would be good politics.

Jonah Goldberg notes that Mississippi Code Section 25-15-855 requires a special election to replace any departing U.S. Senator; a Musgrove appointee would have to face the voters either in early 2003 (if Lott resigns by the end of 2002) or November 2003 (if Lott resigns in January). That strongly indicates in favor of appointing a Democrat who could win a special election from a standing start, again favoring either Shows or Moore (and perhaps favoring Moore to a greater extent; Shows isn't as well-known state-wide).

Ed Gordon 1, Trent Lott 0

BET Tonight host Ed Gordon asked most of the tough questions, but I'm not all that sure he got straight answers out of Trent Lott. It seems to me he's still in that hard place: not contrite or sincere enough for the national audience, but still making comments distancing himself from the Council of Conservative Citizens that are going to earn him more rebukes from his erstwhile friends back home. (I'm sure my boss, Robert Khayat, enjoyed getting dragged into the discussion, too.)

Now he's being savaged by Rep. Gregory Meeks from the Congressional Black Caucus.

And by Robert George and Julianne Malveaux. (I'm behind live TV on TiVo.)

Incidentally, Trent only addressed one of the six points that he didn't address last time (repudiating the Council of Conservative Citizens), and he only did that by generally saying he'd review his other associations.

Glenn Reynolds points us to Phil Bowermaster's full list of Trent Lott supporters. Now compare it to Funditry's list of, um, shall we say, “non-fans”. Sucks to be you, Trent!

One problem a Thurmond presidency might have avoided

From the bizarre juxtaposition department: It's 6:58 p.m. Central, and Trent Lott is following an Eminem rap video (with an Elvis impersonator) on BET. I think it's safe to say any white guy adopting African-American culture in 1948 would have had a late-night visit from the white sheet brigade.

Reforming Britain's second chamber (updated)

One of the world's oldest legislative bodies — the British House of Lords — is on a slow, but sure course to extinction. Its importance has been diminishing for centuries; the importance of the Commons was greatly increased by the 1689 Bill of Rights, and the 1911 Parliament Act stripped the Lords of most of their powers. In 1999, the House of Lords Act removed the voting rights of all hereditary peers (excluding 92 who retain their voting rights until the reform is complete).

Since 1999, the effort to reform the Lords has stalled. Some have speculated that current Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair likes the Lords the way it is — emasculated and without any democratic legitimacy. Its current composition is most similar among democracies to that of the Canadian Senate: dominated by the “life peers” who are appointed by the prime minister of the day with the assent of the monarch.

In the past week, the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform issued its First Report. The report recommends a chamber of 600 members serving 12-year terms, most likely with some proportion of the membership appointed and the remainder elected (there are also options for a fully-elected and fully-appointed chamber). The report does not envision giving any additional powers to the chamber; it would still be limited to delaying “money bills” no longer than one month and other legislation (except that extending the duration of a government more than five years) no more than one year.

The lack of additional powers for a more representative upper chamber is troubling; the reason the Lords lost most of its powers in the first place is due to its lack of democratic legitimacy. If the upper chamber is to be more legtimate, it ought to have powers commensurate with that legitimacy. At the very least, the reformed upper chamber ought to have power to indefinitely block any legislation that amends the “constitution” — whatever that may be. More importantly, it ought to have oversight powers over the executive, similar to the investigative powers of the U.S. Congress over the bureaucracy and presidency.

As to the upper chamber's composition, I believe a smaller, fully-elected chamber is appropriate. The Commons functions with over 600 members mainly because (a) the Commons largely functions as an electoral college for the executive and a ratifier for its decisions and (b) the business of the Commons is largely orchestrated by the government of the day. The upper chamber would neither choose the prime minister nor would it largely operate in the interests of the prime minister. An upper chamber of 160–240 members seems appropriate.

The chamber should also be fully elected. Assuming a twelve-year term, my recommendation would be to elect a quarter of the membership every three years via party list proportional representation (as Britain already uses for “top-up” seats in the Welsh and Scottish parliaments and for elections to the European Parliament). Vacancies arising through death or resignation could be filled by appointment by the prime minister, or by nomination of the departed member's party.

An upper chamber reformed in this way would be an effective bulwark against overreach by the government of the day while still retaining the prerogatives of the Commons as the primary legislative chamber.

Iain Murray has also discussed Lords reform in his blog.

Maybe Trent had this in mind...

James Haney writes (via Virginia Postrel):

WHY MY MOM THINKS AMERICA WOULD HAVE BEEN BETTER WITH STROM THURMOND AS PRESIDENT: He would have been a disaster as President and would have thoroughly discredited the segregationist cause. He would have been a one-termer, and the very first thing his successor would have done would be to sign the Civil Rights Act of 1953 (as opposed to 1964).

I wonder what would have happened if Trent Lott had made this argument.

That would be the most politically astute thing Lott had ever said, so I doubt anyone would have bought it.

James' take on Ari Fleischer today is also worth a read.

LottWatch Day 10 Roundup (updated)

Not a lot of real news today; the Clarion-Ledger editorializes on the Pickering nomination, noting:

Last March, the then-Democratic-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee split along party lines 10-9 in rejecting Pickering's nomination, unfairly painting Pickering as part and product of Mississippi's troubled racial past.

The hearing was a hatchet job, reviving old Mississippi stereotypes that had nothing to do with the competent, fair, veteran jurist that is Pickering or his qualifications. The race issue was just a cover to kill the nomination.

Slandering Mississippi is easy when you have the world's most famous living Mississippian (with the possible exceptions of Morgan Freeman and Faith Hill) making a complete ass of himself.

Meanwhile, the unofficial capital of the Delta weighs in, in the person of Washington correspondent James W. Brosnan:

Lott has been a dutiful public servant and an artful leader in the House and Senate. Some conservatives here don't like him because he has pragmatically cut deals with Democrats when necessary. After Sept. 11, 2001, Lott's maneuvering led to the federalizing of airport screening and the creation of the Homeland Security Department.

But Lott also has gotten away with wearing two faces, one for the press, politicians and the public, and one for the few remaining bigots in Mississippi.

People should not have to carry the baggage of the beliefs they held in college for their entire lives, but the choices we make do matter.

Brosnan also contrasts the political careers of incoming Tennessee senator Lamar Alexander and Our Man Trent.

Finally, you have to wonder what planet Mississippi black Republican Clinton LeSueur is from:

What's happening to Senate Republican leader Trent Lott is one more example of how the Democratic Party has used black people. Every time Democrats become desperate, they incite African-Americans, and we in the black community foolishly rush to their aid.

That doesn't really explain all those white people both inside and outside the state who found Lott's remarks equally objectionable, but why let the facts get in the way of a good paranoid rant...

The AP and CNN are reporting that the GOP caucus in the Senate will meet in January to discuss the leadership situation.