At last, the Trent Lott story has escaped from the blogosphere.

Monday, Al Gore and Jesse Jackson figured it was about time to catch up with Al Frum and Andrew Sullivan in criticizing Trent Lott for his nostalgia about the days of Jim Crow.

Lott helped give the story legs by denying that he’d meant what he said.

“A poor choice of words conveyed to some the impression that I embraced the discarded policies of the past,” Lott, R-Miss., said in a statement. “Nothing could be further from the truth, and I apologize to anyone who was offended by my statement.”

Lott’s record makes his denial a little hard to swallow. His connections with the Council of Conservative Citizens (successor to the White Citizens’ Councils) are old news. But now it turns out that segregation isn’t all that Lott is nostalgic for. Or perhaps he no longer claims Jefferson Davis as a political model? (Thanks to Josh Marshall for finding this delicious quote, albeit from 1984.)

Lott also needs to work on his sense of timing. If he’d backed off promptly, he might have made the story go away. Now he’s just helped it through another news cycle. How credible is it that he only figured out yesterday that what he’d said Thursday constituted an endorsement of segregation? But maybe he figured that with the Democrats — at last — starting to pile on, the story was finally going to get some ink, so it was time to back off just a little bit. (On the other hand, of the five politically aware people with whom I had dinner Tuesday evening, none had heard of the story at all.)

The New York Times, which never bothered to report on the speech itself, has a story about the apology. And Paul Krugman is on the case, too. I repeat: it’s pretty scary when your side’s best political columnist is an economist in real life.

Tom Daschle has decided to make nice. Does anybody recall Lott doing the same for Daschle when, e.g., Rush Limbaugh was calling him a traitor? Does anybody expect Lott to return the favor?

Previous posts on this topic:

Trent Lott Comes out of the Closet

Whistlin’ Dixie

Waiting for the Outrage

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: