December 17, 2002
Profiles in Presidential Courage, Number 376

The American Prospect muses over the "character" displayed by George W. Bush, who doesn't want to say that a--at least three times repeated in public that we know of--nostalgia for segregation expressed in a wish that the Dixiecrats had won the 1948 presidential election should disqualify someone from leading the Republicans in the Senate, but who also desperately doesn't wish to say that such nostalgia for segregation should not disqualify someone from leading the Republicans in the Senate.


TAPPED: December 2002 Archives: DIE ANOTHER DAY. This Washington Post article is somewhat shocking. Not because we're so surprised that President Bush is going to allow Trent Lott to be dumped as Senate Majority Leader, but because the decision seems to have everything to do with tactics and strategy and nothing at all to do with whether or not dumping Lott is the right thing to do:

"The president is allowing the process to work itself out in a way that will seem natural and doesn't have a lot of fingerprints on it," a senior Republican official said. "When the inevitable happens, the president can be in a position where he hasn't coerced the process but also hasn't stood by someone who will create problems."

This is incredibly cynical of the White House, although we can't say we didn't expect it.

The Post piece, co-written by Dana Milbank, also features some classic Milbankian torture of Ari Fleischer:

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer did not directly spurn Lott yesterday. But asked several times to repeat an endorsement of Lott as majority leader, Fleischer noted that Bush made clear last week "that he found the remarks to be offensive and repugnant."

"Yes or no -- can you say whether the president wants Senator Lott to remain as majority leader?" a reporter asked.

"I go right back to everything that I said last week about the topic and the president's focus on improving race relations throughout America," Fleischer said.

Fleischer said he had not changed his position. "The president does not think he needs to resign," he said at his televised briefing. "I repeat what I said last week, what I've said every day."

So much for "moral clarity."

Posted by DeLong at December 17, 2002 12:30 PM | Trackback

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The Bush administration is trying to allow Trent Lott the opportunity to save face. It's adamantly clear that he must resign. There's simply no reason to push his face into the mud.

It's peculiar to observe Democrats acting so self-righteously. Why aren't they demanding the scalps of Al Sharpton or Jessie Jackson? These two race card panderers almost make Lott seem like an angel.

Posted by: David Thomson on December 17, 2002 12:44 PM

Every day, I pray for the scalp of Al Sharpton, and for the retirement from politics of Jesse Jackson...

Posted by: Brad DeLong on December 17, 2002 12:53 PM

The Bush Administration doesn't care a fig about helping Trent Lott save face. It simply wants to get rid of him while alienating southern whites as little as possible.

And to what office have the Democrats elected Sharpton and Jackson, both of whom I too would be glad to see depart the public arena?

Posted by: Bernard Yomtov on December 17, 2002 01:33 PM

Besides, Jesse and Al (Sharpton, not Gore) aren't the ones who said 'you are either with us or against us'

So, is Bush 'with' Lott as majority leader or 'against' Lott as majority leader?

Why is the 'with us or against us' so admirable in terrorism support but not so in segregation support?

Posted by: Suresh Krishnamoorthy on December 17, 2002 01:46 PM

“The Bush Administration doesn't care a fig about helping Trent Lott save face. “

George W, Bush is a decent man who doesn’t like hurting people’s feelings. And yes, I concede that he is also concerned about alienating some of Lott’s followers who believe that he is being unfairly treated. Not all of Lott’s backers are racists. Lott should not resign because there’s proof of his being a racist. He should quit because he’s too stupid to hold the post. Lott is definitely guilty of being brain dead!

“And to what office have the Democrats elected Sharpen and Jackson, both of whom I too would be glad to see depart the public arena?”

Why is it important they be elected officials before action is taken? Jessie Jackson ran for president a number of years ago. Sharpton promises to run in 2004. They are definitely leading voices of the Democratic Party.

PS: I am also very well aware of Jim Sleeper and the other Neo-Liberals wo speak out against these rascals. Nonetheless, guys like Sleeper are not officials of the Democratic party.

Posted by: David Thomson on December 17, 2002 02:12 PM

So wait, anyone who runs for office in a given party is instantly a leading voice of that party?

Jackson was (maybe is) in fact a major Democrat, for a variety of reasons, including real civil rights leadership. Al Sharpton is and was a nutcase, and every Democratic leader keeps him away with a 10 (or more) foot pole.

Trent Lott was selected by his fellow elected Republicans to run the Senate. It should be noted that the same group of solons chose Strom himelf for President Pro Tem a few years back.

Furthermore, the "race-baiting" of Sharpton & Jackson generally consists of squawking loudly about real and perceived prejudice (including non-racial forms). Lott (and Thurmond, and Ashcroft, and Nickles, and Inhofe, and DeLay...) pines for the days of actual, legally-enforced prejudice.

Let's say it one more time: Thurmond ran on a pro-lynching platform. That's not alleged - taht was an issue chosen by his party. I wonder what Al & Jesse have done that David thinks is worse. And I wonder what he'd like to do with them, if he could only get his hands on them.

Strange fruit, indeed.

Posted by: JRoth on December 17, 2002 02:30 PM

dave:
blah blah blah. Bush: He's still my man for the Senate. Oh wait, people are really mad about this? I take it back, I don't care if he goes.

Posted by: Dennis O'Dea on December 17, 2002 02:34 PM

"George W, Bush is a decent man who doesn’t like hurting people’s feelings."

Lord God help us. Why not ask John McCain about the 2000 primary in South Carolina? He'll tell you first hand what a nice guy Mr. Bush can be.

Please, Mr. Thomson, you would do yourself a favor not to let your ideological zeal lead you to imagine that some quaint civility propelled the Bush family to where we find it today -- and that goes for granddad, pops, the prez, Jeb, and perhaps least of all, Barbara. A short, clear-eyed sprint through some basic history would quickly demonstrate otherwise. Nor should you imagine that the cloying innocence you wear as rhetorical cologne is convincing or attractive. It becomes neither you nor us.

Posted by: david m on December 17, 2002 02:54 PM

David:
Lott should not resign because there’s proof of his being a racist. He should quit because he’s too stupid to hold the post. Lott is definitely guilty of being brain dead!

So, let me get this straight: It is OK to be racist, as long as you keep your mouth shut and do not appear brain dead?

I wonder how many more closet racists are stalking halls of Congress...

Posted by: on December 17, 2002 02:55 PM

"So, let me get this straight: It is OK to be racist, as long as you keep your mouth shut and do not appear brain dead?"

That's not what I said. The phrasing of my sentence, though, leaves something to be desired. I see no conclusive evidence that Lott is currently a racist. However, someone who holds such a high position should be able to sense that saying nice things about the 1948 presidential campaign of Strom Thurmond is dangerous territory. In this cruel world, one often must pay a price for mere stupidity. I don't think there are any racists "stalking (the) halls of congress." You are living in the past. Also, you enjoy employing the race card. I doubt very much that you give a damn about the disgraceful behavior of Jessie Jackson or Al Sharpton.

Posted by: David Thomson on December 17, 2002 03:54 PM

The White House handling of this situation is totally predictable when viewed through the lens John DiIulio applied in his recent interview. Bush and Co. are only concerned with making this go away without damaging the president in any way. By staying ambiguously on the sidelines Bush can have his cake and eat it too.

Score one more for the Mayberry Machiavelis.

Posted by: Robert Olson on December 17, 2002 04:37 PM

George W. Bush is a decent man. When two incompatible belief systems roost in his rafters, he doesn't have the heart to tell one or the other it has to vacate.

Posted by: RonK, Seattle on December 17, 2002 05:21 PM

It seems to me that a big part of the reason Lott was not being driven out more forcefully, sooner, is because of the great deference Senators have for each other. I think Bush wants Lott gone, but knows that if he pushes too hard, it will bruise the egos of other Senators, and make it harder for Bush to work with the Senate afterwards. As long a Lott ends up not in Senate leadership, I think we came out where we should have from this particular mess. (If the voters of Mississippi vote Lott out at their next opportunity, even better.)

Posted by: Tom on December 17, 2002 05:31 PM

Dave: The phrasing leaves something to be desired? you regret how it was interpreted? You realized the pain it may have caused? Where have I heard that before?

Posted by: Dennis O'Dea on December 17, 2002 07:47 PM

Ummmm, the Senate Majority Leader is elected by . . . . (a) the President of the United States, (b) the PTA, or (c) the Senators of the majority Party?

There's a strange dance going on in Washington around the still-warm-corpse of former Majority Leader Trent Lott. If President Bush were to demand Lott's resignation and replacement with Senator Frist (which is what he definitely wants) Senator Frist would be toast. So Nickles or McConnell or some other buffoon would get the job.

It's bizarre but it's how the bizarre town works.

Posted by: Anarchus on December 17, 2002 07:47 PM

In this (exceptional) case, POTUS may be an indispensible agent in the necessary transition, because:
(a) he has too much to lose, and
(b) timing is everything, and
(c) he "owns" too many of the goodies around which threats and rewards are spun.

Click the signature link, read "Winter Games" for an overview of the possibilities.

Posted by: RonK, Seattle on December 17, 2002 08:11 PM

There are good reasons for Trent Lott to step down from his GOP leadership position that have nothing to do with issues of race:

1) He's a wimp. If he criticizes the political opposition at all, he does so in a milquetoast sort of way. Refraining from abrasive histrionics is fine, but don't be Ned Flanders, Trent. Grow a backbone.

2) During most of his leadership, GOP membership in the Senate shrank. And the slight improvement in 2002 is unimpressive, even when factoring in Lautenberg's illegal victory. With that many losing seasons, it's time to find a new coach.

Posted by: Alan K. Henderson on December 17, 2002 09:38 PM
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