Back to the Cotton Fields

I’m a little surprised this isn’t getting more press — it certainly would seem to deserve it:

As you may or may not already know, senatorial fossil Strom Thurmond (R-SC) turned a sprightly 100 years old last week. Thankfully ol’ Strom is (finally) stepping down from his Senate seat, so while D.C. was shut down by snow his colleagues threw a little party for him, to celebrate his birthday and send him off.

Naturally, at that party, some of Strom’s colleagues said a few words in appreciation of the old fellow. One, incoming Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS), even looked all the way back to 1948. And in doing so, he spit out some words that should have people in an uproar.

1948, you see, is when ol’ Strom ran for President (against Harry Truman — yes, he’s that old) on the “States’ Rights/Dixiecrat” ticket — which explicitly endorsed racial segregation as the key plank of its platform.

In his remarks, Lott said the following:

“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.”

You heard that right, folks: the Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate thinks that everything would be hunky-dory if it hadn’t been for those uppity Negroes!

Strangely, the mainstream press has been almost completely silent on this issue; other than the Post story I linked to above, nobody seems to be reporting it. The only two people calling Lott out for it are, even more strangely, ideological polar opposites: liberal blogger Josh Marshall, and conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan.

  • From Marshall’s blog: “Oh, what could have been!!! Just another example of the hubris now reigning among Capitol Hill Republicans.”
  • From Sullivan’s blog: “[I]t seems to me that the Republican Party has a simple choice. Either they get rid of Lott as majority leader; or they should come out formally as a party that regrets desegregation and civil rights for African-Americans.”

I can hear what you’re thinking: so what, the guy probably misspoke, he’ll come out with a retraction and that will be that. Not so fast, bucko. Once the story broke, Lott’s spokesman made a statement that was quoted in that Post story. The statement in its entirety? “Senator Lott’s remarks were intended to pay tribute to a remarkable man who led a remarkable life. To read anything more into these comments is wrong.”

“To read anything more into these comments is wrong”? That’s not a retraction. It’s hardly reading anything into anything to note that, if Lott says he wishes that the segregationist ticket had won in 1948, Lott is expressing a wish that integration had never happened. It’s not as if Thurmond’s position on the issue back in ’48 was unclear or ambiguous: he thundered on the campaign trail that “[a]ll the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negro into our homes, our schools, our churches.” Doesn’t take much parsing to figure out what that means.

Back in 1948, the Democratic Party took the first step away from its shameful legacy as the party of the Confederacy by putting support for civil rights into its platform. That step led Thurmond, then a Democrat, to bolt the party and eventually bring his insular racism to the Republicans, who had traditionally been the party of integration and equality (remember, Abraham Lincoln was a Republican). Ever since, there have been two strains of Republicanism, one tolerant and egalitarian, the other poisoned by bigotry. For Congress’ leading Republican to come down on the side of the latter is truly tragic.