Trent Lott Revisited

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"Trent Lott Revisited"

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It’s obvious that conservatives complaining about Harry Reid aren’t actually interested in advancing the welfare of African-Americans. In part, there’s a kind of low partisanship out there. But it’s clear that to a large extent this is just a sort of revenge for Trent Lott, who after publicly espousing white supremacist beliefs was punished by being made the Chairman of a second-tier Senate committee. The fact of the matter, however, is that to even make the comparison simply re-states the right’s total cluelessness about racial matters.

Recall what Lott said:

When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over the years, either.

Now recall the history behind Thurmond’s Dixiecrat run. The year was 1948. Harry Truman issued an executive order ending segregation in the military. Southern delegates came to the Democratic National Convention upset at that. Minneapolis Mayor Hubert Humphrey delivered a speech urging the Democrats to go further and adopt a strong civil rights plank, arguing “The time has arrived in America for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of states’ rights and to walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights.”

Humphrey carried the day, leading many southern delegates to storm out of the convention, hold their own convention, and nominate Thurmond as their candidate. The party Thurmond ran on called itself the States’ Rights party in a direct rebuke to the Truman/Humphrey embrace of civil rights. Thurmond ran on a platform advocating white supremacy and illegal defiance of federal law, warning “there’s not enough troops in the army to force the southern people to break down segregation and admit the nigger race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches.”

So now to return to Lott, he said:

When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over the years, either.

This naturally raises the question what problems over the years could have been avoided had the rest of the country followed Mississippi’s lead and voted for Strom Thurmond?

This is not the phrasing of some point or other in an “insensitive” way. He’s saying, in what’s actually a very discreet and low-key way, that it would have been better had we never developed a bipartisan consensus in favor of racial equality.

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