Published on Friday, December 13, 2002 by the Boston Globe
A Whole Lott of Silence from President Bush
by Derrick Z. Jackson
SO FAR, President Bush is sticking with a Senate majority leader who glorifies white supremacy. A week ago, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer was asked about Trent Lott's recent comment that if Strom Thurmond had won the presidency in 1948 on his segregationist platform, ''we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years.''
All Fleischer could muster then was, ''first of all, I haven't heard that statement before, so in terms of whether it's accurate or not, I'm not in a position to judge. ... I think this is a day in 2002 to celebrate Senator Thurmond's 100th birthday with pride.''
Four days later, after Lott's if-I-offended-anyone apology failed to quell criticism, Fleischer was asked by a member of the press, ''Does the president believe that Senator Lott, given this most recent action and given the fact that he published a regular column in a newsletter for years of the Conservative Citizens Council, an openly white supremacist group, is the best person to lead the Republican Party in the United States Senate?''
Fleischer's eventual answer was, ''The president has confidence in him as Republican leader, unquestionably.''
The next day Fleischer was confronted with the additional fact that Lott made a similar remark about Thurmond in 1980. At a rally, Lott had said if the nation had elected Thurmond in 1948, ''we wouldn't be in the mess we are in today.''
To that, Fleischer said, ''Nothing has changed from anything that I've indicated to you yesterday.''
Yesterday Bush opened his own mouth, barely. He said Lott's comment was wrong. That was it. He left it for Fleischer to continue his pro-Lott mantra, ''The president does not think that Senator Lott should resign.''
Bush is about to create a disaster for Republicans who are serious about moving the Republican Party past its stereotyped coziness with racist politics. Bush's problem is that he is not the only person who has unquestioned confidence in Lott. So do Lott's old friends.
Lott, for the sake of his personal image, renounced his ties to the Council of Conservative Citizens, a group that he had given speeches before in the early 1990s and said stood for the ''right principles.'' But the CCC still loves its good ol' boy Trent. When the head of the CCC, Gordon Baum, was asked about Lott's remarks about Thurmond, Baum said, ''God bless Trent Lott.''
The current CCC Web page has a picture of Lott and the headline ''A Lott of Courage!'' It goes on to say: ''Trent Lott calls for the Army to protect US borders against the Illegal Alien Invasion. We need to thank Senator Lott for his Courage and Honesty!'' The Web page of the St. Louis CCC says, ''Contact Senator Lott and Thank Him!''
Fleischer says nothing has changed about Bush's attitude toward Lott. Nothing has changed about the CCC's 1948 attitude toward citizens and immigrants of color, Jews, Muslims, and gay and lesbian people. The CCC still prominently features essays that warn of the ''oncoming doom of European America'' as ''America's diversity mania has spawned a seething swirl of irreconcilable differences among the races.'' The solution for one writer would be a racial partitioning where ''same-sex or same-race schools could be legalized or same-sex marriages banned.''
The CCC continues to link with other racist Web sites. One linked site posts a ''Bill of Racial Rights.'' One article in the bill gives white people the right ''to retain and defend their own lands, free from immigration, or habitation by members of other races, which includes the right to live in all-white neighborhoods and to send their children to all-white schools.'' Another gives white people the right to ''entertainment and advertising that is free from mention or depiction of members of other races.'' Another gives white people the right to ''place their interests above the interests of any other race or people.''
That is what Thurmond wanted 52 years ago when he said, ''There's not enough troops in the Army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the Negro race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches.'' That is the political platform Lott praised in 1980, again in the 1990s, and now 2002. Lott has not changed his position, and that means Bush must change his.
Yesterday Bush said America's segregated past ''was unfaithful to our founding ideals.'' But anything short of a public repudiation of Lott's words and a request for his resignation as Senate majority leader is a wink and a nod to the CCC and its like-minded voters.
If the CCC is saying thank God for Trent Lott today, you can imagine what it will be saying about him if he survives the latest slip of his inner thoughts. White supremacists will have good reason to think Lott is God on Capitol Hill. And sitting on his right hand, by his silence, will be Bush.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company