GOP must act to dump Lott |

GOP must act to dump Lott

My independent-natured, outspoken Tennessee antecedents never did have any enthusiasm for sharing a common classification with southerners from the Deep South, although my irrepressible Aunt Mildred married a former bootlegger from north Georgia, and my mother was won by a truck driver from Arkansas. If you raise your children to be independent-minded, guess what you get?

My grandfather found solace in all this through his conviction that a family can be ruined no more than once. If he has been paying attention to national politics lately, he would point out with pride that the family has not joined with – and consequently been ruined by – anyone from Mississippi (with due apologies to all my friends from the Magnolia State).

The controversy over Trent Lott’s exhuming the corpse of segregation and resurrecting the spirit of intolerance in idle flattery of a former segregationist is as much a matter of accountability as it is anything else. If he has not done so by the time this is published, Mr. Lott should resign as Senate majority leader and George Bush should see to it, publicly or otherwise.

I was glad to see Mr. Bush condemn Lott’s remarks, but he didn’t go far enough. Mr. Lott may be the majority leader-elect in the Senate, but the president is the leader of the Republican Party. I would hate to see the president squander an opportunity to exercise decisive leadership in the pursuit of fairness and decency.

Whether Mr. Lott is a racist is not at issue. His intentions are not at issue. What is at issue is what he did, and for that he should be held accountable, regardless of his intentions. If we are unwilling to hold senior public officials accountable, what virtue do we claim to insist that our children or our fellow citizens take responsibility for their choices and actions? To paraphrase Feodor Dostoyevsky, if there is no moral or ethical authority, then anything is permissible.

It was disappointing that Republicans (and Democrats, for that matter) were so slow on the uptake in condemning Mr. Lott’s actions. The strongest critics so far have been Jesse Jackson, whose demagoguery reached its zenith in his 1984 anti-Semitic remarks about New York City, and Al Sharpton, whose career as a race-baiting opportunist sprung literally from a garbage can. Men and/or women of substance who consider themselves leaders must be willing to stand up and demand that Mr. Lott be held accountable.

If such is not the case, the condition of leadership in the political sphere is about as bad as I thought. It’s no wonder so few people turn out to vote if their choices are limited to ethical and moral look-alikes. Unless Republicans respond appropriately to Mr. Lott, any question of why they receive such a small percentage of black America’s votes in national elections should be forever and eternally put to rest. Leaders of character don’t hide from controversy and soft-pedal obvious assaults on their moral authority, particularly by one of their own.

Trent Lott is the stereotypical career politician. He is among the oily, backslapping slick talkers and empty rattlers of politics whose ethics are situational. He fancies himself a fiscal conservative, but not to the point of sticking a few unneeded and unwanted destroyers, built in his state, into the Navy’s budget.

Mr. Lott is the poster boy for open primaries at the national level and a good argument for them at the state level, although we have good arguments currently in office in this state. Open primaries are a career politician’s nightmare. Not only do they threaten the job security of “safe” districts and the acrobatics of job-hopping; they require political candidates to have a message that resonates with an increasingly restive and independent-minded electorate. Of course, it’s tough to have a message when you don’t get the message. I don’t like open primaries, but I like politicians like Lott a lot less.

Recent reports claim Mr. Lott has threatened to resign from the Senate if forced from the leadership position (what a guy!), thus presenting the Republican Party with a moral dilemma of sorts. Do they choose the moral and ethical high ground and erode their already slender majority, or do they cave in to political expediency and cede the high ground to the Democrats and their enduring criticism?

Nate Beason lives in Nevada City.

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