What U.S. papers say about Lott

Dec. 12, 2002 at 12:02 PM
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New York Times

There are 51 Republican members of the United States Senate. Surely they can find someone to be majority leader besides Trent Lott.

Mr. Lott was in full-bore apology mode yesterday, trying to explain why, at Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party last week, he publicly bemoaned the fact that Mr. Thurmond had not won the 1948 presidential election, when he ran as a segregationist protest candidate. We have since learned that Mr. Lott said much the same thing in 1980, at a campaign rally for Ronald Reagan in Mississippi. Mr. Lott, at that time a congressman, said that if America had elected Mr. Thurmond president "we wouldn't be in the mess we are today." ...

No one has put more effort than George W. Bush into ending the image of the Republican Party as a whites-only haven. For all the disagreement that many African-Americans have with his policies, few can doubt Mr. Bush's commitment to a multiracial America. But unless the president wants to spend his next campaign explaining the majority leader's behavior over and over, he should urge the Senate Republicans to get somebody else for the job.

Chicago Tribune

Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi couldn't apologize enough Wednesday, even going so far as to borrow an old mea culpa from Rev. Jesse Jackson. Lott's offensive comments at a birthday party last week for Sen. Strom Thurmond were, Lott said, a "mistake of the head, not the heart."

Eloquent, perhaps, but not convincing. The Republican Party has an enormous problem on its hands, and the way to resolve it is to choose another leader for the U.S. Senate. Lott has forfeited his claim to the role. ...

Lott may not, as he says, have a racist bone in his body. But he has a strange way of expressing that. As long as Senate Republicans prop him up as their leader in the Senate, it will be difficult for them to say with a straight face that they represent the party of Lincoln.

Washington Post

On Tuesday we wrote that Sen. Trent Lott's apparent endorsement of segregationist policies presented a test for the Republican Party and its leaders. Mr. Lott is not just a Republican senator from the Deep South, after all. He is the once and (according to current plan) future majority leader of the U.S. Senate, and thus one of the party's leading national spokesmen. So when he said last week that, if then-Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond had been elected president in 1948, "we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years," it raised a question for other Republican leaders: How do they feel about having Mr. Lott speak for their party?

Just fine, the answer seems to be. "The president has confidence in him as Republican leader, unquestionably," President Bush's spokesman said Tuesday. ...

If Mr. Lott does not, as he insisted in one of his apologies, "embrace the discarded policies of the past," then what did he mean? It's troubling that this question doesn't trouble Mr. Bush and his comrades.

Dallas Morning News

Republicans can show the country that they are ready to overcome their Achilles heel and talk about race in a mature and meaningful way. They can show us all that they mean it when they say that their party is a "big tent" that welcomes people of all colors and backgrounds. But first they have to show Trent Lott the door.

Mr. Lott cannot be allowed to ascend once again to the position of Senate majority leader when the new Congress convenes. He should resign from the position. And if he won't go, the Senate GOP Caucus should remove him. Several Senate Republicans, including Bill Frist of Tennessee, could serve ably. ...

Ironically, of the two major parties, Republicans have the prouder legacy on civil rights. The party was founded on the ideal of individual rights. It is that legacy that Republicans must now protect while laying the groundwork for where they want to lead the country. Republicans must govern from a position of strength and moral authority. The first step is for them to back away from the precipice of bigotry and demonstrate that they don't share Mr. Lott's nostalgia for lost elections gone by.

Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot

The words were stunning, unbelievable -- and repugnant.

Yet the comments by Senate Republican leader Trent Lott probably reveal the heart and soul of the Mississippi lawmaker. At a 100th birthday party/retirement celebration last week for Sen. Strom Thurmond, Lott said: "I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president (in 1948), we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either.''

You mean, "problems" like equal rights? "Problems" like treating blacks as something other than second-class citizens? "Problems" like ending separate but equal conditions in schools, employment and society? ...

Thurmond, then-governor of South Carolina, was the presidential nominee for the breakaway Dixiecrat Party in 1948 against Democrat Harry S. Truman. The party ran on a platform of racial segregation, preservation of the status quo, and keeping blacks less than equal in America. Though recently a more beloved, grandfatherly figure in the Senate, Thurmond was at one time an unabashed segregationist. In 1957, he filibustered more than 24 hours against civil rights legislation. He later changed his stance and supported civil rights, and Thurmond was the first senator from the South to hire a black staff member.

But that wasn't the case when it mattered most, when some of the bloodiest battles for racial equality were being waged across the South. It's downright despicable that Lott would wax wistfully on "what might have been" had Thurmond been elected president.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Here is what Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) actually said last week in his tribute to Strom Thurmond, the retiring South Carolina senator who ran for president in 1948. As a Dixiecrat. For segregation. Against Democrat Harry Truman, the incumbent. Against New York Gov. Tom Dewey, the Republican challenger. Lott, in 2002: "I want to say this about my state. When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either." The sentiment, it turned out, was quite similar to something Lott said about Thurmond 22 years earlier.

Does Lott really believe such garbage? He has apologized for his "poor choice of words" regarding "the discarded policies of the past." It's also true that Southern Democrats once championed states' rights -- code for all the indignities and inequities visited on black Americans until the modern civil rights movement began less than a half-century ago. Even so, Democrats, and African-American Democrats in particular, are properly letting Lott have it with both barrels -- many of them saying Lott should resign his position as GOP leader in the Senate. "This is a Democratic Party issue," says Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.).

No. It's a Republican issue. George W. Bush ran in 2000 as a "uniter, not a divider" and managed to get only 10 percent of the African-American vote. As president, Bush still maintains that he is a "big-tent" Republican interested in inclusion, not exclusion. ...

Republicans say they want to convince African-Americans that their party really does represent educational opportunity, economic growth and other good things for one and all. But many blacks remain skeptical that the party of Abraham Lincoln has their interests at heart. Trent Lott's insensitive harking back to the bad old days of enforced segregation, Jim Crow and worse is a very peculiar way to win African-American friends and influence them to consider the GOP. Bush and other Republican leaders ought to be very angry -- and say so publicly.

Philadelphia Inquirer

Even if Sen. Trent Lott (R., Miss.) had offered a more contrite apology for praising Sen. Strom Thurmond's (R., S.C.) racist run for president in 1948, it would have been hard to swallow.

There's no way to stomach the majority leader's lame excuse that he made "a poor choice of words."

He has dishonored the high post he holds in the U.S. Congress. If he does not offer to step down as majority leader, the Republican Party should insist on it. If the GOP doesn't, it will reveal something disturbing. ...

The senator says he would have chosen different words had he thought about it more carefully. That doesn't wash. First, this wasn't an impromptu event or ambush interview. Second, that alibi leaves the implication that the senator let his heart speak before his brain could stop it. Cold comfort, indeed.

It's distressing that any national leader could feel comfortable publicly expressing a nostalgia for segregation. It would be even more distressing if he got away with it.

Biloxi Sun Herald

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott surely owes an apology for suggesting at Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday bash that America would have been better served had it followed Mississippi's lead in voting for Mr. Thurmond for president in his 1948 Dixiecrat campaign.

The real story here is that in ultimately accommodating himself as gracefully to integration as he did, Strom Thurmond made it easier for others to follow. We wish we could say the same for Mr. Lott.

(Compiled by United Press International.)

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