December 26, 2002
by Chris Feeney
What if a little slip of the tongue cost you your job? Granted a politician suggesting that our nation would have been better off with a pro-segregation president is a quick pass to the unemployment line. However, I'm sure most of us have made a slip or two of the tongue at some point in our lives as well. I'm not trying to defend Trent Lott, because what he said was wrong, dead wrong, I'm just staying that plenty of folks have said something, possibly a little out of character, to please our audience. We're just fortunate we are not in the limelight like Lott, with thousands of people out there just waiting for us to make a slip up.
This is actually what Lott said while speaking at a retirement party for 100-year old Senator Strom Thurmond. He commented that Mississippi was proud to have voted for the segregationist in the 1948 presidential election. He was quoted next as saying "And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either."
Was he trying to say that we would be better of today with segregation or was he simply trying to be a little lighthearted and heap praise on the honoree of the party? Then again, all these problems, over all these years could have meant the economy, the military or any other hotbed of politics. I find it hard to believe that the Senate Republican Leader is stupid enough to make a bigoted statement while standing at a podium. He has seen how a racist platform didn't help Jessie Jackson, so surely he wasn't trying to pick up those stray votes from the Nazi households in his constituency. I'm convinced Lott wasn't trying to say our nation would have been better off with segregation. I think he was just bidding goodbye to Thurmond by reminding him in front of the home crowd that they had supported him in his ill-fated run for president.
However in our world today it seems like the national press revels in the mousetrap. Throw enough tape recorders and video cameras out there and ultimately someone is going to say something a little questionable. If you're lucky enough to have it be a big wig, such as Lott, then the media can blow the issue up as big as possible. Toss in the race card and we have a four-alarm fire.
I'm just lucky I guess that I'm not a national figure or I suspect all of California would have been after my job following my little gaff a few months ago. I shot a little public barb at my sister-in-law saying nothing good comes out of California. It was tongue-in-cheek, but if I had been the Memphis Big Cheese, I suspect the League of Good Things Coming Out of California likely would have sued me for liable. I wonder if my colleagues in the Missouri Press Association would have abandoned ship as quickly as Lott's fellow Republicans? I guess it depends on how many California subscribers they have?
What I really don't understand about this issue is how Lott can be "forced" to resign his leadership role because of his comment while no one really mentions the fact that Thurmond was elected to the senate and remained there until his 100th birthday after he actually ran for president on that segregation platform.
Do you suppose we could get lucky enough for Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle to say something controversial enough to get himself ousted? (I would have voted for that after his blabbering trying to politicize the homeland security issue.) Wander what Daschle said at Bill Clinton's retirement dinner? Do you suppose he praised Slick Willy for selling political favor to the highest bidder, cheating on his wife and then committing perjury about it? No he probably made some positive comment about a man whose actions he really didn't care for, just like Lott did.