Whistlin’ Dixie

Virginia Postrel is the latest right-blogger to demand Trent Lott’s resignation (Daniel Drezner and Glenn Reynolds beat her to it). She really means, it, too, and proposes a serious campaign to make it happen:

Why isn’t every reporter, at every press conference, asking Lott or his spokesman what the Senate leader meant when he said a Thurmond victory in 1948 would have meant “we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years”? Exactly which problems? How would Thurmond have been better?

Hector the man. Make him answer. Again and again. Ask every other Republican elected official whether he or she agrees. Ask Ari Fleischer what the president thinks. Every day.

Make the White House embarrassed to be associated with a party leader who appears to wax nostalgic for lynching and segregation.

I doubt that either the press or the Democrats are up to it, but let’s give it a try. It could help energize both the ideopolitan and African-American elements of the Democratic coalition, and perhaps peel away some of the suburban women who broke Republican at the last minute this fall. If the folks at National Review want to complain that criticizing Lott’s nostalgia for lynching and the poll tax is “playing the race card,” they can be my guest.

But actually replace Lott as the Senate Republican leader? Dream on. Embarrass George W. Bush by associating him with the Confederate-flag crowd? That’s his base. To his credit, he’s spoken out against Muslim-baiting post 9-11. But has he ever spoken out against race-baiting? No, and he never will. (It’s not as if his co-partisans hadn’t given him enough opportunities.)

Republicans win elections by winning the South, and they win the South because whites perceive them as the party less friendly to blacks. [No, dammit, I didn’t say that everyone who votes Republican is a racist; but every (white) racist knows which party to vote for, and that gives the Republicans a bunch of votes they couldn’t otherwise touch. Not just in the South, of course.]

I predict that no Senate Republican will so much as suggest that Lott step down. If the Democrats and the press make enough of a sh*t storm, Lott will issue some lame non-apology apology; if not, he won’t even do that much. [Small hedge here: With Landrieu winning, any two of McCain, Chafee, Snow, and Collins could shift the Senate back to the Democrats by crossing the aisle. The Lott fiasco could give them an excuse, if that’s what they wanted to do. But I’m giving 20-to-1 against it.]

Democrats like me have to deal with the fact that the teachers’ unions’ hold on the party makes it impossible for us to do what would be needed to provide decent educational opportunity for poor urban kids, or world-class schools for the ‘burbs. Similarly, libertarians and others whose commitment to lower taxes, less redistribution, looser gun control, and less regulation — or simple inability to tolerate the Democrats — leads them to coalesce with the Republicans have to deal with the fact that they’re voting to put substantial, if not dominant, power in the hands of a bunch of folks who really do wish that the Second Reconstruction hadn’t happened. It’s worth it, or it’s not. But there it is.

So far, I haven’t seen any libertarians saying, “I voted Republican this time, but if Trent Lott is still Senate Majority Leader in 2004 I won’t vote for Bush or my local Senate candidate.” Whether they ought to be saying that isn’t, of course, for someone like me to decide. But unless and until they do, their outrage will have approximately zero weight in practical Republican politics.

[earlier post on this topic]

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: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com