- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 28, 2002

Deep in a hole, Trent Lott keeps digging. It's a natural enough mistake, but it's sad to see him keep on making it. It's as if from so great a fall he had learned so little.

Now, in a mirror image of Hillary Clinton's explanation of her spouse's problems, the suddenly former leader of his party in the Senate has decided he's a victim of a Great Left-wing Conspiracy not just against him but against his state, his political philosophy and his faith. And probably against apple pie and motherhood, too.

In nonsenators, they call this kind of thing paranoia. In public figures, it's just the usual, self-absorbed, historically unconscious, morally tone-deaf politics. Just listen:

"A lot of people in Washington have been trying to nail me for a long time. When you're from Mississippi and you're a conservative and you're a Christian, there are a lot of people that don't like that."

Then, having blamed others, Sen. Lott dutifully concluded: "I fell into their trap and have only myself to blame."

The man really has a way with words an awful way.

In Trent Lott's shoes, I would be sorely tempted to blame others, too, and wallow in a little paranoia and lots of self-pity. But it's a temptation that one would think a man of faith, which the senator proclaims himself to be, could resist. Because he must know, deep within, that he came a cropper not because he was a Mississippian or a conservative or a Christian. But because in one moment, with a few hurtful words, he undermined the faith a political leader should inspire in himself and in his party. And he alone, not some dark conspiracy, was responsible for what he said and, by his words, did.

It wasn't the state of Mississippi that expressed a nostalgic yearning for Strom Thurmond's segregated (and economically depressed) South.

And no one outdid conservatives in denouncing his comments, which was understandable because (a) we were the most shamed by his being one of us; and (b) the Jim Crow system he seemed to be defending was a profound violation of the twin pillars of American conservatism: the Constitution, which guarantees the rights of all, and the great Declaration, which asserts that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights.

It certainly wasn't Christianity the senator was expressing when he said we wouldn't have had "all these problems" if the Dixiecrats had triumphed in 1948.

That last assertion of the senator's about his being targeted because of his faith rang hollowest of all. It further obscures the deeply Christian roots of the civil rights movement, one of the great, peaceful revolutions of American history, and which the senator had dismissed with one thoughtless comment.

No one can read Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous speech before the Lincoln Memorial, which was more a sermon, and deny its Christian roots. Just as no one can read, again and again, Trent Lott's encomium to what Strom Thurmond stood for in 1948, and confuse it with the Christian faith.

It was another Mississippian, Walker Percy, who pointed out back in 1965 that it was not those who proclaimed their Christianity loudest who were practicing it in those mean times, but the Yankee interlopers of no particular religious denomination who had come South to appeal to what remained of the Southern conscience. To quote Walker Percy's still reproving words:

"The default of the white Southern Christian was revealed in its proper ironic perspective by the civil-rights movement itself. In the Deep South of the 1960s, the men who nursed the sick, bound his wounds, taught the ignorant, fed the hungry, went to jail with the imprisoned, were not the Christians of Birmingham or Bogalusa but, more likely than not, the young CORE professionals and COFO volunteers Sarah Lawrence sociology majors, agnostic Jewish social workers like Mickey Schwerner, Camus existentialists, and the like."

Walker Percy's words still sting, maybe because the Trent Lotts haven't yet come to terms with them. Instead they try to rewrite history and, when caught out, stew and squirm and look for others to blame.

A rabbi once told me that faith is the realization, on looking at what seems only strewn before us, that it has instead been set before us, and that it doesn't block our way but is our way.

Just now a resentful Mr. Lott may think there has been some mistake. He's not where he's supposed to be, and he's not who he's supposed to be, namely the coming majority leader of the United States Senate. But maybe he's right where he's supposed to be just now, right where he can do the most good, right where he can demonstrate the most faith. Just as if he had been placed there.

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