Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., on Dec. 5 waxed nostalgic about the "good old days" at Sen. Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party as he recalled Thurmond's 1948 race for president. "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 the country had of followed our lead we wouldn't of had all these problems over all these years, either."
Lott neglected to note that Thurmond was nominee of the white supremacist Dixiecrat Party, and he glossed over the fact that the "problems" he was referring to included the 1954 Supreme Court ruling that struck down school segregation, the Civil and Voting Rights acts and other affronts to the sensibilities of white southerners who liked their segregated regime just fine, atrios.blogspot.com noted.
Tim Noah of Slate.com pulled a Thurmond quote from 1948 (which must have filled Lott's heart with pride): "I want to tell you, ladies and gentleman, that there's not enough troops in the army to force the southern people to break down segregation and admit the 'Nigra' race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches."
After President Harry Truman came out for civil rights in 1948, Thurmond bolted the Democrats and ran for president on the Dixiecrat Platform, which among other things stated, regarding opposition to the poll tax, "The negro is a native of tropical climate where fruits and nuts are plentiful and where clothing is not required for protection against the weather ... The essentials of society in the jungle are few and do not include the production, transportation and marketing of goods. [Thus] his racial constitution has been fashioned to exclude any idea of voluntary cooperation on his part."
The establishment media largely ignored Lott's comments, which were broadcast on CSPAN and reported Dec. 6 in ABC News' widely-read website, The Note. Pundits instead focused on Sen. John Kerry's spending $75 for a haircut. When Lott appeared on CNN's Inside Politics the evening of Dec. 6, Jonathan Karl interviewed Lott about what he thought about the firings of O'Neill and Lindsey; whether being majority leader made him happy; and whether or not he was going to gloat about the November election wins. There were no question about the segregation comments, Josh Marshall of talkingpointsmemo.com noted, although the program reviewed the John Kerry haircut flap. While the Washington Post reported reaction to Lott's comments on Saturday, Dec. 7, the New York Times ignored the story until Tuesday, Dec. 10, after Lott on Dec. 9 issued a non-apologetic statement: "This was a lighthearted celebration of the 100th birthday of legendary Sen. Strom Thurmond. My comments were not an endorsement of his positions of over 50 years ago, but of the man and his life." Later, after somebody apparently told him the "A-word" was in order, Lott released another statement: "A poor choice of words conveyed to some the impression that I embrace the digarded policies of the past. Nothing could be further from the truth, and I apologize to anyone who was offended by my statement."
Conservative pundits made excuses for Lott, who was criticized in 1998 after disclosures that he had spoken at meetings of the Council of Conservative Citizens, an organization formed to succeed the segregationist white Citizens' Councils of the 1960s, and had written for its magazine. In a 1992 speech in Greenwood, Miss., Lott told CCC members: "The people in this room stand for the right principles and the right philosophy. Let's take it in the right direction, and our children will be the beneficiaries." Asked to comment on Lott's remarks at the Thurmond celebration, Gordon Baum, CEO of the Council of Conservative Citizens, told the Washington Post, "God bless Trent Lott."
While Democratic senators were circumspect about Lott's remarks, not wishing to ruffle the vindictive pol who stopped action in the Senate last year when the Judiciary Committee busted a former segregationist pal who was up for an appeals court seat, Jesse Jackson didn't hesitate to call for Lott's removal as majority leader. "Shame on the Senate for having him as majority leader," Jackson said. "Shame on the Republican Party if it does not demote him for promoting this mean-spirited and immoral propaganda." And Al Gore spoke up in a Dec. 9 interview with CNN's Judy Woodruff, saying, "It is not a small thing, Judy, for one of the half dozen most prominent political leaders in America to say that our problems are caused by integration and that we should have had a segregationist candidate. That is divisive and it is divisive along racial lines. That's the definition of a racist comment."
[Editor's Note: As this was posted, Democrats were piling on in criticism of Lott while Republicans were distancing themselves from the Majority Leader-elect as more instances arise of Lott's public admiration for Thurmond's segregationist past. Blood is in the water.]
LOUISIANA LOSS STUNS GOP. Not only did Sen. Mary Landrieu buck George W. Bush's popularity to win re-election Dec. 7. State Rep. Rodney Alexander (D) also rebuffed the Bush White House in an apparent backlash against negative campaigning by GOP favorite Lee Fletcher. Alexander won by 518 votes in the 5th Congressional District in northeast Louisiana. The insurance agent, who had trailed in polls by as many as 8 points days before the election, campaigned as "pro-business, pro-life and pro-gun," a conservative platform for a Democrat, but the Shreveport Times noted that the district favored conservatives. Alexander championed health insurance for poor children and a bill that mandates that HMOs include rural doctors. In addition to the turnout from the Senate race, Alexander benefitted from criticism of Fletcher by former US Rep. Clyde Hollowell (R), who finished third in the primary.
W CUTS THE FAT? The Washington Post reported that Bush decided to get rid of economic adviser Larry Lindsey after the economist told the Wall Street Journal in mid-September that a war with Iraq could cost as much as $200 billion. Telling the truth about the war's cost apparently was not in the White House playbook. But Bush also felt Lindsey was too portly, the Post reported. "Bush blamed Lindsey for many of the administration's economic missteps in recent months and even complained privately about his failure to exercise physically, aides said."
FREELOADER AT TREASURY. George W. Bush's choice for new treasury secretary, John Snow, knows his way around the US Treasury, having raided it for $164 million in tax rebates to CSX, where he was CEO, during the past four years. CSX paid no income tax in three of those years, despite showing pretax profits of $934 million, according to Citizens for Tax Justice (ctj.org).
MINOR PARTIES and independent candidates had their best showing since 1934 this past November, Ballot Access News (ballot-access.org) reported Dec. 1, as 5.3% of the vote for the top office on the ballot (governor or senator) went for minor and independent candidates. That figure does not include votes cast for "fusion" candidates in New York, where parties may nominate candidates of the major parties; "none of the above" in Nevada; and write-in candidates. No minor party or independent candidates won the top offices, down from who in 1998 (Maine and Minnesota). Republicans polled 50.7% of the vote for the top offices vs. 44% for the Dems.
BAN noted that eight nominees of minor parties were elected to state legislatures on Nov. 5, the highest number of minor partisans elected since eight in 1992. Four Progressives won in Vermont, one Green in Maine, one Working Families in New York, one Republican Moderate in Alaska and one Independence in Minnesota (the latter two are state senators -- the first minor party state senators since 1944, when the Wisconsin Progressive Party elected one). Dean Barkley, appointed to fill the late Paul Wellstone's US Senate seat for two months, was the first minor partisan in the Senate since 1946, when Robert La Follette Jr. left the Progressive Party.
DEATH OF 'SUPERCAR'. The Chicago Tribune Dec. 8-10 published a three-part series on the $1.5 billion the federal government spent from 1993 to 2000 to develop a "supercar" that would achieve 80 miles per gallon and reduce US dependence on foreign oil, which now stands at 56% of our demand (twice the share of 20 years ago). Despite resistance from the auto industry, which prefers to build larger cars, trucks and SUVs that have higher profit margins, Ford, General Motors and Chrysler took the money and agreed to develop the cars. In 2000 they unveiled prototypes that would get more then 70 mpg. However, with the defeat of Al Gore, the most visible champion of the supercar, the Big Three pulled back and put their prototypes in storage. Meanwhile, the auto industry defeated an attempt to increase the fuel efficiency from the current 24.2 mpg for cars and 20.4 mpg for all vehicles while Toyota and Honda, which were excluded from the "supercar" program, are expanding production of low-polluting hybrid gasoline/electric cars that get more than 50 mpg and developing non-polluting fuel cell technology. (See chicagotribune.com.)
PHIL BERRIGAN died Dec. 6 at Jonah House, a community he co-founded in Baltimore in 1973, surrounded by family and friends. He died two months after being diagnosed with cancer. Berrigan's brother and co-felon, Jesuit Rev. Daniel Berrigan, officiated Nov. 30 at last rites, which expanded into a celebration of Phil's life. During his years of resistance to war and violence, Berrigan focused on living and working in community as a way to model the nonviolent, sustainable world he was working to create. An infantry veteran of World War II, later a Josephite priest, his activism started against the Vietnam war in 1967 and led to ongoing resistance to US nuclear policy, including Plowshares civil disobedience actions that aim to enact Isaiah's biblical prophecy of a disarmed world. He spent about 11 years in prison, and wrote and lectured extensively, publishing several books, including an autobiography, Fighting the Lamb's War. After leaving the priesthood in a dispute with his superiors, Berrigan married and had three children but James Carroll of the Boston Globe noted he "never stopped being an exemplary priest." Alexander Cockburn called him "one of [America's] senior weapons inspectors." The family asked mourners to make donations in Berrigan's name to Citizens for Peace in Space, Global Network Against Nuclear Weapons, Nukewatch, Voices in the Wilderness, the Nuclear Resister or any Catholic Worker house.