When Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, the Democrats, the editorial-page columnists of The Washington Post and the New York Times all the wonderful folks with the interests of the Grand Old Party closest to their hearts tell the Republicans it’s time to sack their leaders, George W. Bush listens.
Maybe he can’t help it if he’s a conservative, but George W. wants everybody to know the Republicans aren’t as bad as they think they are.
“Any suggestion that the segregated past was acceptable or positive is offensive and it is wrong,” the president told an audience yesterday in Philadelphia. “Recent comments by Senator Lott do not reflect the spirit of our country. He has apologized, and rightly so. Every day our nation was segregated was a day that America was unfaithful to our founding ideals.”
So far, we’ve had two explanations and an apology from Mr. Lott, three denunciations by the president, and several revisions of revised statements from Democratic leaders. Any warm and fuzzy feelings George W. expects to get from the Democratic constituency, however, will be diluted because the president waited for nearly a week to point with fervor and view with alarm. What he did accomplish was to give legs to a dying story, and pour a little blood in the water.
Some of the usual suspects who organized the high-minded inspection team retired quarterbacks, frightened congressmen, McCainiac columnists and such are making the ritual invocations of Lincoln, suggesting that the Southern roots of Strom Thurmond and Trent Lott explain everything. (Since this indictment rests on decades-old evidence, they ought to be careful about invoking Old Abe, whose tribute to white supremacy on the eve of the Civil War (“I am not nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races”) might have made Strom blush in 1948.)
The chronology of this episode speaks volumes about who cares about what, and why, and when. The most interesting part is still ahead.
Mr. Lott, who has a gift for putting his foot in his mouth, spoke the evil words at Strom’s birthday party on Wednesday. Recalling that Mississippi was one of four states that cast its electoral votes for Mr. Thurmond in 1948, Mr. Lott said: “We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all the problems over all these years, either.”
This was bad. Not only bad, but malicious, spiteful, malevolent, caustic, mordant, harsh, astringent, unkind, inconsiderate, heartless (but coldhearted, too), callous, cruel, savage, inconsiderate, fiendish and maybe even, in Teddy Kennedy’s denunciation, “irresponsible.” (Teddy would know about irresponsible.)
Not only bad and all those other things, but foolish. And stupid, silly, asinine, dumb, dizzy, fatuous, inept, witless, goofy, loony, batty and even spoony (you could look it up).
Have we left out anything?
But nobody in Washington noticed or cared until Jesse Jackson read about it in the Chicago papers and went gleefully to work. When Jesse speaks, Al Sharpton listens, and he went to work, too. The NAACP then joined in, but Democratic outrage, selective as always, was on hold, and none of them said anything until Mary Landrieu, to mild Democratic surprise, won re-election in Louisiana. Tom Daschle, the leader of the Senate Democrats, and Dick Gephardt, the leader in the House, even then offered only a mild rebuke, understanding that politicians, of all people, are in the business of manufacturing effusion, particularly in eulogies. A sweet gassy odor nearly always floats over the occasion when a senator speaks, and a birthday toast to a 100-year-old man is as close to eulogy as you can get this side of the graveyard.
Certain conservative and neo-con pundits, who don’t like Trent Lott much, anyway, leaped on the incident as an opportunity to canonize themselves. George W. held firm for a day or so with a Daschle-like rebuke, and Republicans had begun to rally around Mr. Lott, understanding that if the Democrats knock him out of the leadership all the bubble, fizz and enthusiasm from the stunning November elections will evaporate overnight.
With one stroke, the president yesterday cut the ground neatly from under the men he expects to get his agenda through the Senate.
There could be a sweet irony here. If Trent Lott is forced from his job as majority leader, as now appears likely, the Democrats will be foolish to stop there. They can demand that he resign from the Senate as well (“erase the Mississippi stain on the heaving bosom of the fair Republic”). Does anyone believe the Republicans won’t cave on that, too? Ronnie Musgrove, the Democratic governor, would appoint his successor. Voila! The Senate is deadlocked again. Karl Rove is Man of the Year.