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.
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...
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.