The President, having stood by Trent Lott until the heat got to be too much, now deftly slips him the shiv to win applause from a black audience:
“Any suggestion that the segregated past was acceptable or positive is offensive, and it is wrong. 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. And the founding ideals of our nation and, in fact, the founding ideals of the political party I represent was, and remains today, the equal dignity and equal rights of every American.”
And Lott, after days of pretending he’d just been misunderstood, follows the John DiIulio model by making an abject apology when Big Brother says to: “Senator Lott agrees with President Bush that his words were wrong and he is sorry. He repudiates segregation because it is immoral.”
This is good for the country. It would have been better if Bush had spoken out before the sh*tstorm hit, leading the country rather than following the mob. It would have been better if Bush had said those words to an audience of white Southerners rather than black social workers. But it’s good for the country nonetheless: the political price of raw racism just went up, and it’s not coming back down.
This may mean that Lott is gone, though Fleischer is still saying that Bush stands behind him. (On current form, I wouldn’t want Bush standing behind me unless I had armor plate under my jacket.) The awful stuff about Lott keeps coming out: there’s reportedly another tape of Lott saying Thurmond should have won, he worked hard to keep his fraternity segregated, the list of his links to the CCC keeps growing, people are looking back at his voting record, and on and on and on. As a patriot, I hope he does go, though the sheer partisan in me wants him to kick around in 2004. And I agree with Al Gore that a motion of censure would be a good way to help him find the door.
Nevertheless, today’s Presidential performance was an ugly one, with Bush showing utter disregard both for the personal dignity of someone who has suddenly become a political liability and for any political interests but his own. He could have tipped Lott the wink, allowing him to make a real apology before being landed on by his leader. And his hesitation mousetrapped most of the Republican leadership on the Hill, which has spent this week defending Lott only to have the President say (what was obviously true) that his words were indefensible. This sort of disloyalty was Bill Clinton’s real besetting sin, and it cost him and the Democrats horribly. Someone who likes Bush as much as I dislike him ought to take him aside and tell him so.
PIDDLING PEDANTIC FOOTNOTE
“the founding ideals … was… and remains”?? Who write this crap? And which school did they attend?
UPDATE: NESHOBA COUNTY
Josh Marshall reminds us that Lott refused to sponsor a resolution honoring James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, victims of political murder by segregationists. But the Gweilo Diarist — a Mississippian by birth — tells me, at least, something that I didn’t know, and much more damning:
Lott convinced Ronald Reagan to begin his 1980 campaign in Neshoba County, Mississippi — the site of the murder of three civil-rights workers in the early 1960 and still a bastion of segregationist sentiment. No intelligent Mississippian can pretend not to understand the symbolism of and history associated with Neshoba.
That speech has always seemed to me a conclusive argument against the proposition that Reagan, whatever you think of his policies, was actually a decent human being: he chose to start his run for President with a gesture to murderers and their friends. (Reagan’s speech was all about “states’ rights,” the seggie battle cry, making no mention of the murder victims.) But I hadn’t known Lott was the evil genius behind that move.