It’s What He Didn’t Say
A lot of fodder has been made over Trent Lott’s recent comments at Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday party, and the subsequent apology. Both sides are playing "fill in the blanks," and Lott comes up wanting, either way.
Let’s try giving Trent Lott the benefit of the doubt. Imagine this: You’re at a party for a centenarian who has made a very large mark on the world. You’re awestruck. You’re caught up in the moment, and you want to pour your adulation on the guest of honor. Instead of consulting with your speech writer, you have to speak off-the-cuff, and this is part of what you say:
I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of our country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years, either.
Well, as it turns out, during the time frame you’re talking about, your hero was an open racist! Oh no! Your face is red. You didn’t mean that, did you? You certainly didn’t say anything along those lines. Maybe it was just forgetfulness. You were just engaging in idle speculation about an alternate course of history.
Now, the press has caught wind of it, and you can’t just hunker down until the heat blows over. You have to apologize in a public statement, with something that will de-fang the opposition and bolster your own party’s support. You come out with something like this:
A poor choice of words conveyed to some the impression that I embrace the discarded policies of the past. Nothing could be further from the truth, and I apologize to anyone who was offended by my statement.
"Poor choice of words"? The words you chose left many blank spaces to be filled in. "Discarded policies of the past"? Just which policy do you mean by that?
Yes, it was a poor choice of words, because it left many with the impression that Lott was supporting an openly racist platform. But the lesson he should have applied from the first mistake is this: Address the mis-interpretation directly; don’t leave room for more mis-interpretation. Lott missed his best opportunity to counteract the speculation.
Unfortunately, the real Trent Lott seems to be unable to address his fumble directly, because it wasn’t that much of a fumble. His voting record is very spotty when it comes to boosting minority status, and he has a documented history of, as Andrew Sullivan puts it, "flirting with racists."
So now, I’ll raise my voice with the multitude, and call for Senator Lott’s resignation as the Senate Majority Leader. I won’t tell the voters of Mississippi that they should recall him, or force him to resign totally, although if they pursue that path, that’s their right. But a man who is so ill-prepared for what should be a simple, facile speech, is not a man who should be leading over half of a national legislative body.