Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Good Riddance to Trent Lott.

Political observers throughout the United States are in for an unexpected treat this December. Senator Trent Lott (R.-Mississippi) is finally retiring. He plans to "pursue something else" (i.e. get a job as a lobbyist). Lott first achieved political prominence when he was elected to the US Congress in 1972. He was swept into office by a rising tide of Southerners making the transition from lifelong Democrats to southern Republicans. Democratic efforts to bring about civil rights during the 1960's had poisoned their popularity among racist Dixiecrats. It's clear that Lott never forgot the reason why he had early success. He made a consistent effort to let his constituents know exactly where he stood on issues of race. His journey through Congress to the Senate was a foregone conclusion as he perfectly represented the charm and attitudes of the anti-progressive state of Mississippi.

In his early career he distinguished himself while on the House Judiciary Committee. He famously voted against the impeachment of disgraced president Richard Nixon. For his loyalty he would eventually garner the honor of becoming House Minority Whip. Later on he would make a successful bid for the US Senate, and eventually become Majority Whip and Majority Leader. As the head of his party he pushed hard for the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, despite the fact that there wasn't enough support for a conviction. Apparently he had idiosyncratic, but quite deeply held, ideas about what constitutes "high crimes and misdemeanors" on the part of the Executive. Of course he was highly lauded by the extreme right wing for his hard anti-Clinton stance. Although he failed his quest to slay the great enemy of the GOP, he continued to assume authority in the Senate.

It was Lott's race-baiting legislative stances and commentary that would ultimately culminate in his fall from grace. As a US Congressman he had voted against the renewal of the Voting Rights Act, the continuation of the Civil Rights Act, and the establishment of a federal holiday to commemorate Martin Luther King. He even had regular associations with white separatist groups. But it was only with his comments at a dinner celebrating Strom Thurmond that he was publicly outed in the media as a singular bigot. He spoke of his deep respect and appreciation for what Senator Thurmond had fought for when the elder politician made a run for the presidency in 1948. Many observers saw this as a thinly veiled promotion of Thurmond's single platform- racial segregation. Although the mainstream media was ready to bury the controversy, online bloggers continued to apply heat until Lott's colleagues on both sides of the aisle made him step down from his formal leadership position.

Some speculate that Republican party insiders were grateful to get the opportunity to remove Lott from his privileged seat in front of the Upper House. Apparently he had been tagged as a failure for his inability to bring Clinton down. Additionally, his support for ending the ban on using federal funds for stem cell research and a willingness to seek comprehensive immigration reform have further split his pool of possible defenders. It can't be especially rewarding for an increasingly marginalized politician of ample experience to hold on to public office. Lobbying holds out the promise of both huge financial gains and minimal public exposure. If Lott had decided to complete his present Senatorial term, he would have been forced (by new legislation) to wait an additional two years before claiming a spot along K Street. If he had honored his previous commitment (after Hurricane Katrina) to represent his state at this crucial time, he would have likely found himself increasingly disenfranchised- both within his own party and by the Democrat-controlled Congress.

It makes sense that Lott has decided to flee to the private sector. Besides the more obvious reasons, there are whispered rumors about impending troubles that could have also affected this move. A NYC radio talk show host (Brian Lehrer) supposedly reported today that Lott may have been involved in a "gay sex scandal". While this may sound bizarre, there is an online source suggesting that Larry Flynt has Lott's number on this issue, and was promising revelations by the end of the year. It will be interesting to hear what his political allies have to say about Lott if any of this proves to be true. Mississippi isn't known for its open-minded acceptance, especially when it comes to African-Americans or homosexuals.

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