IN DEFENSE OF LOTT
By Dick Morris
NYPost, December 16, 2002 -- Bob Crandall, the former president of American Airlines, once told me the difference between New York and Washington. He said that New York was "tough but not mean" and that Washington was "mean but not tough."
"In New York," he elaborated, "they'll fight you for every last dime and then, afterwards, you'll go to dinner together and become friends." But in Washington, "They'll give you everything you want to your face - and then, as you walk away, they'll shoot you in the back because it's fun to watch you die."
Now, one month after he led his party back to the majority in the Senate, the rites of cannibalism, Washington style, are being visited on Sen. Trent Lott for his inappropriate comments on Strom Thurmond.
Let's start with the fact that I have known Lott for 15 years and have had, perhaps, a hundred or more meetings with him. I got to know him better than any American politician other than Bill Clinton. He is no racist. There is not a racist bone in his body. That's why one third of Mississippi blacks vote for him, year after year.
He took the lead in doubling funding for historically black colleges in Mississippi, sponsored the bill to make racially motivated arson a federal crime, broke the filibuster to get the Africa Free Trade bill passed and brokered the deal that led to a vast increase in federal Title I education aid and earmarked it for poor schools.
And he helped get the Congressional Gold Medal voted for Rosa Parks.
He made his comment about Strom Thurmond - for which he has apologized three times - just because he was trying to be nice to a 100-year-old man. Lott was 7 years old when Thurmond ran and was not a particularly active politician back then.
He didn't mean that Thurmond should have won in 1948. I'll bet even Thurmond, today, doesn't think he should have won in 1948. Lott meant that Thurmond's current agenda - less government, lower taxes and stronger defense - would have been welcome over the past few decades. He undoubtedly meant the same thing in 1980 when he also praised Thurmond.
I personally think Thurmond is an abomination. His current senility is a vast improvement. He should never have been in the Senate in the first place and what he did in 1948 should have barred him from political life. (He broke with President Harry Truman over anti-lynching legislation, for God sakes). But in his current incarnation, he is no better or worse than the average Republican right-winger in the Senate.
If anybody wants an indication of how the Republican Party views blacks these days, refer them to the White House, where two pf the top positions are filled by African-Americans, not because of their color but because of their minds.
The Democrats are just using Lott's remark to get even for losing the Senate. And if they want Lott to resign, why not ask Sen. Bob Byrd (D-W.Va). to resign because of his former membership in the Klu Klux Klan and his recent use of the "N" word on television? And how about Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.), who voted against civil rights early in his career?
As for Bush, every president would like to have his man in the majority leader's chair. It makes controlling things much easier. But the Republican members of the Senate want their own person controlling the floor so they can have an independent voice. (A number of Lott's ambitious peers on the GOP side are using this flap to try to move up one notch in the Senate pecking order.)
If this were June, Lott might not survive. He'd have to be in Washington every day, getting hit and picked at. But it's December; everybody will leave that hateful place and go to their homes for Christmas. When they reconvene in January, Trent Lott will still be there for one good reason: The Republican senators don't want him to go.