It seems clear to just about every Republican other than Trent
Lott that the senator should step down as Senate majority leader. It is
clear to those of us in talk radio; it is clear to The Wall Street Journal
editorial page; it is clear to the editors of The Weekly Standard; it is
clear to black conservative thinkers such as John McWhorter.
Why is it not clear to Sen. Lott?
The answer is as unfortunate as it is obvious. Sen. Lott is a
career politician, and most career politicians have one overriding goal --
political power. This is normal and not necessarily injurious; some career
politicians do great good. But when a politician puts his career interests
ahead of his party's interests (let alone ahead of his country's), it is
Take the case of President Bill Clinton. Had Mr. Clinton put the
interests of his party (let alone his country) ahead of his own, he would
have resigned the presidency. Al Gore would then have become president, and
in all likelihood Mr. Gore, campaigning as an incumbent president and
without the ethically troubled legacy of his predecessor, would have been
elected president in 2000.
If Sen. Lott put his party's interests above his own, he, too,
would resign -- and with far less cost to his career. He would still be a
senator, just not majority leader.
The issue is not whether Trent Lott, the man, can be forgiven
for his awful comments. He can be forgiven. The issue is whether Trent Lott
can be an effective Republican leader. The answer is so obvious that only
Sen. Lott's preoccupation with Sen. Lott's political career can explain his
remaining as majority leader.
In case it is not clear why he should resign, let one more
Republican make the case:
For a senator to say in 2002 that he is proud of his state for
being one of only four states to have voted in 1948 for a man whose entire
presidential campaign was rooted in racism is simply unacceptable.
Yes, all public officials make verbal gaffes, and when they
properly apologize, and if their gaffe is inconsistent with their general
behavior, they must surely be forgiven. Had Sen. Lott immediately and
properly apologized, he might well have earned the nation's forgiveness. But
his initial apologies were meaningless.
What should Sen. Lott have said and done?
In the hope that it will help anyone, public or private, who
wishes to be forgiven for a sin, here are two guidelines taken from the
"laws of penitence" as codified by the 12th-century Jewish philosopher
The first thing a penitent must do is acknowledge precisely what
he did and precisely describe it to the injured party. It is entirely
insufficient to tell a business partner from whom you have stolen, "I'm
sorry for any thing I did that might have hurt you." You must say, "I stole
$10,000 from you while you trusted me as your business partner."
Second, a penitent must offer restitution. Therefore, Sen. Lott
should have said something like this: "My fellow Americans, I owe all of
you -- especially black Americans, my state of Mississippi, and the
Republican Party -- an apology. I said something awful. Though I did not
mean it in this way, I said that I am proud that my state of Mississippi
supported a third party in 1948 whose appeal was entirely rooted in racism.
The truth is that I am not proud of this. My state was wrong in 1948, and
while I am very proud of what Mississippi is today, I am not proud of that
part of its past. Those remarks hurt black America, insulted Mississippi,
and have given my party, which loathes racism, a bad name. In order to
demonstrate how strongly I repudiate these comments and sentiments, I am
willing to relinquish my role as Senate majority leader, if my party should
so decide. It is far more important to me to undo any damage these remarks
made to my country and to my party than to remain in this position."
Unfortunately, Sen. Lott did not say these things, but chose to
place his political interests over his party's and his country's. For those
who ache to see the Republican Party make inroads into black hearts and
minds, this choice may turn out as devastating to his party as the choice
made by another career politician, Bill Clinton, was to his.