Maggie Gallagher
With a new year almost here, and a new majority leader in place, what have we learned about America and American politics in the last few weeks?

Hillary Clinton thinks she knows: "I mean, what (Lott) did was state publicly what many of them have stated privately over many years in the back roads and back streets of the South. I'm looking to see what kind of new leadership the Republican Party will have, not in terms of names and faces, but in terms of commitment to equal justice under the law."

Call it the Archie Bunker syndrome. Many people, right and left, would like to believe that their political opponents are not only misguided or wrong, but also evil and ugly. To many, Trent Lott's remarks were not an aberration, but a revelation. If you do not support a particular left-wing political agenda (critics presented everything from Lott's vote against protection for sexual orientation to his votes on tort reform as evidence of his bad faith on race), you are mean-spirited at best, and probably racist.

Expect to see this liberal nostalgia repeated endlessly every time a GOP political leader stands up for equal justice under the law and against racial preferences.

But before the history of recent events is cast in the stone of endless media repetition, let us note for the historical record: Two groups were the earliest and most vocal critics of Trent Lott -- African-Americans and conservatives, especially social conservatives, aka the Christian right. Huh? For people who have not been paying close attention, this may seem deeply counterintuitive. Are not white, Christian evangelicals the very racist voters to whom Lott was trying to appeal?

No, actually. Not at all. Racial reconciliation has been one of the leitmotivs of Southern evangelicals for the past decade, but because it does not take the shape of a political agenda, the press has been slow to recognize it. At the end, nearly every responsible GOP leader recognized that Lott had to go. But what about at the beginning, when most commentators believed Lott would survive and that criticizing the Senate majority leader carried real political risks?

Maggie Gallagher

Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.