Saturday, December 14, 2002

Okay, I have avoided talking about the whole Trent Lott thing, because I am not in America, and the blogosphere is full of it already. However, I can't help but read a lot about it, and at this point, my jaw is starting to drop in horror. My comments in a moment, but first a few repeated quotations explaining why my jaw is dropping in horror.

Start with Andrew Sullivan.

MORE ON LOTT: Let's recap a tiny bit. He fought integration of his college fraternity; he has hobnobbed with white supremacists; he submitted an amicus brief defending Bob Jones University's right to prohibit inter-racial dating; he has twice regretted the fact that Strom Thurmond didn't win the 1948 presidential election on an explicitly segregationist platform; he voted against the Voting Rights Act extension in 1982; in 1983 he voted against the Martin Luther King Jr holiday; last year, he cast the only vote against the confirmation of Judge Roger Gregory, the first black judge ever seated on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In these last three instances, even Strom Thurmond voted the other way. I don't know. What do you think? Again, much of this was already well known about him.

Josh Marshall has the following to say.

In 1989," according to a March 29th, 1999 article in The Washington Post, Trent Lott, "refused to co-sponsor a congressional resolution designating June 21 as Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner Day after the three civil rights workers murdered 25 years earlier in Mississippi."

And, by the way, there is this lovely Council of Conservative Citizens which Lott is close to. In the brief this group has recently filed in a case defending the lovely practice of cross burning, we get this

The particular emphasis of the Council is the protection of the expressive rights of the millions of Americans of British and European descent who hold to conservative views on matters of racial and ethnic relations.

Yum. As Josh said, you can defend cross burning on free speech grounds as you would defend flag burning (which I personally will defend on free speech grounds) but I am not sure that is exactly how I would go about it. And as Brink Lindsey points out, these are really lovely guys.

So I decided to check out the group's website. Let's put it this way: It ain't subtle. At the top of the homepage is a Confederate battle flag. Elsewhere there's a link to an anti-Martin Luther King Day tract, a link to a headline "Caucasian Skull Oldest Found in Americas," and a photo of a black Vanderbilt professor, identified in the caption as an "affirmative action hireling," posing in front of a Che Guevara banner, under the headline "Vanderbilt University 'Professor' Shows His Colors!"

As pointed out by Brink and Andrew Sullivan, here is how these guys defend Lott now.

Sad, sicko raciopaths rule the day, dear friends, and they roil about like maggots in a garbage can eating the flesh of aracial whites who are too stupid to even know they're being repressed and exterminated by those who hate all whites and who seek high profile examples such as Trent Lott to condemn any expressions of white identity. And, the whites who have been weakened by years of trying not to be white, lest any non-white people be offended by their whiteness and white ways, go happily to their genocide rather than standing up and demanding the right to their own self-determination and identity.

And this is all just the start. It goes on and on and on.

You do have to ask one question here, and that is "Given that almost all of this was known already, why did this man become senate majority leader in the first place?"

My own politics here. I come from the left. I was brought up to favour social justice. I was brought up to dislike poverty. I was brought up to loathe and detest racism. When I was 19, I would have described myself as a socialist. When I was 19, I would have described myself as a Green. I changed. I realised that government is not the solution to the world's problems, that large government is inefficient and effective, and that the left wing caricature of big business as a group of greedy capitalists out to exploit the third world and rape the world of its resources is largely wrong. I discovered that the mainstream Green movement's cries of impending doom are largely wrong, and I grew tired of the movements undemocratic nature, anti-technology bias, and refusal to listen to clear thinking. I became aware of the fact that free trade, and capitalism, and not aid that enriches corrupt officials and builds pointless dams is the best way to help the poor world become less poor. I became annoyed by the political correctness of the left, and its unwillingless to listen to views other than its own. I found its attitude that "Because we so obviously care and everybody else doesn't, we are morally superior to everyone else" to be tiresome. It's corollaries that "Because we are morally superior, we don't have to listen to your arguments" and "Because you use economic arguments, you are using the language of the enemy, and so you are one of them" are really tiresome. (This is obviously a caricature, and I am ranting about the people who annoy me the most. There are plenty of moderate lefties who don't fit it, but you can find people who fit the entire caricature pretty easily. The key reason I left the left is essentially that I concluded that large government is not the solution to the world's problems).

I discovered that the political left is on its last legs, quite frankly, and I needed somewhere else to go. Many right wing parties support free trade and theoretically support smaller government, and so there there is a certain temptation to support them. And there are plenty of actual enemies out there to fight. If you want to actually help the poor world, there is a tremendous fight against agricultural subsidies to be waged. Free markets are about creating more competition and lowering prices, making the economy on the whole more efficient, and thus helping consumers, not about doing deals, protecting vested interests, and keeping the present rich as rich as possible. And the right wing political parties, the Liberal Party in Australia, the Republican party in America, and others, are also the parties of the traditionally wealthy, who in the South one imagines meeting at the Augusta Country Club to discuss how to get the Bush admistration to protect their hereditory wealth for them. In most cases, people who are already rich become quite conservative: they want government to protect their interests in particular, and not to foster a healthy competitive economy. This flows into true conservatives in a more literal sense: people who want to keep the values of the past. Racist values at times do get mixed into this. Christian Conservative values do at times get mixed into this.

In a sense, if there is a grain of truth in the left's caricature of the right, this is where it is. The vast majority of Republicans are not like this at all. If you come from the left but have moved right because you find the left silly, this is what you are sensitive about. The racist right is not large, but it is the demon you were brought up to loathe most. If you have moved, say, into the Republican party, and you find that your fellow Republicans loathe it too, and will not tolerate it, then fine. You as a former leftie haven't betrayed anyone. If, however, they are willing to keep its company, you find yourself asking questions about them. Do they secretly share its views. If not, why are they willing to tolerate it. Is it because they want to gain power or stay in power so much that they are willing to sign a pact with the devil? Why is the president prepared to tolerate it. (George W Bush is clearly anything but a racist. But still, why did he visit Bob Jones University? Personally I think it was no more than an error of judgement, as he only appears to have done this type of thing once. Plus he has appropriately rebuked Lott). Combine this with the Lott business, though, and people start asking questions about Bush's party, and inevitably some of the mud sticks to him. Was gaining power so important to him that he was willing to cosy up to people like this? If so, does he really have any principles?

What it comes down to is this very unoriginal conclusion. If the Republican party is willing to keep company with someone as loathesome as Trent Lott, and to keep him in a position of leadership, people like me will never vote for the Republican Party. (Of course, I am not American, so I wouldn't anyway). Probably younger people brought up Republican in a post desegregation society will see the Lott affair as a relflection on Lott in particular more than on Republicans in general. Their response is likely to be to hold their noses and vote vote for those Republicans who clearly do not hold Lott's views, but if Lott remains Senate leader, non-traditional potential Republican voters will see the whole party as contaminated by this stench.

In this case, the Democrats will campaign ruthlessly on the issue for the next two years, on a "Where there is smoke there must be fire" basis. The tactic won't even be particularly unfair, given that Lott has managed to get away with these revolting viewpoints in the Republican party, and has managed to actually become senate majority leader, with them. (I have been trying to avoid saying something about this being the party of Lincoln. Oops, failed). The Republicans will suffer very badly in the 2004 elections as a consequence.

However, this pragmatic reason is not why Lott must go. The reason why Lott must go is that the man's views are loathesome.

One of the joys of the blogosphere is that you can rant at length and then send it to the whole world, and nobody will tell you to stop.

Update I am very unconvinced by this William Saletan piece in Slate. There are simply too many instances of Lott having dubious connections and saying dubious things coming to light. His apologies are too half-hearted. It's easy to say something you don't mean in passing because you didn't think about it, but if you do, you simply come out and unequivocally apologise. "I believe that the end of segregation was a tremendous advance for this country. If what I said could have been construed to suggest otherwise, then that was not what I intended and I apologise". He has instead just waffled. Plus one thing that bothers me is the business of voting against the Martin Luther King Day holiday. That just seems a matter of spite. And check out Jake Tapper's piece (via Andrew Sullivan ) in Salon on Lott's friendship with segregationist Richard Barrett. (The piece is subscription only, but you can read it by clicking on some ads, plus Sullivan quotes the important bits. I wonder if his editors at Salon mind).

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