Trent Lott, recidivist

A joke? A mere gush of flattery at a mentor’s birthday party? An ad-lib that went wrong? An “unfortunate choice of words”? Not quite.

Turns out Lott had said virtually the same thing — how good it would have been if the Dixiecrats had won in 1948 — during the Reagan campaign in 1980. Tom Edsall, who’s a great reporter when he’s not being a thoughtful scholarly writer on politics, found the smoking gun.

The Jackson Clarion-Ledger reported Lott’s earlier comments in a Nov. 3, 1980, report about a rally for the presidential campaign of Ronald Reagan in downtown Jackson at which Thurmond was the keynote speaker.

Thurmond, according to the story, told the gathering of 1,000 people that the country “cannot stand four more years of [President] Jimmy Carter. . . . We’ve got to balance the budget. Jimmy Carter won’t do it, but Ronald Reagan will do it.”

Then Thurmond declared: “[We] want that federal government to keep their filthy hands off the rights of the states.” For many supporters and opponents of civil rights, the phrase “state’s rights” stood for the right of states to reject federal civil rights legislation.

After Thurmond spoke, Lott told the group: “You know, if we had elected this man 30 years ago, we wouldn’t be in the mess we are today.”

[Thanks to Virginia Postrel for the link.]

[And where the hell were Carter’s opposition-research people in 1980?]

The Gweilo Diarist, who, like many anti-racist conservatives, is much, much angrier about this affair than most liberals, says Lott is finished. I’m still betting he stays in office. But this hurts.


And he’s a liar, too. Scoobie Davis compares what he said about his Council of Conservative Citizens contacts on the Hannity show with the actual record.

[The CCC is the successor-in-business of the White Citizens’ Councils, which someone called “The Klan in neckties.” Byron de la Beckwith, the murderer of Medgar Evers, was a WCC member, and the WCC raised money for de la Beckwith’s legal defense. Lott keynoted one of the CCC’s national meetings, then denied he knew what the group stood for — only to be contradicted by his own uncle, one of the organizers.]


Lott even filed an amicus brief in the Bob Jones University case on behalf of a bunch of segregated private schools in Mississippi. He may have been right or wrong as a matter of statutory construction, but he makes it clear that he supports the substantive policy he says the statute implements: giving tax-free status to institutions that discriminate based on race.

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: