So now it looks like Senator Lott is going to face consequences for his off-color remark at Strom Thurmond’s birthday celebration. It seems that he is now unlikely to retain his post as majority leader.

It’s funny what a little gaffe will do to a man’s political career. Ever since his admittedly controversial statement, both the professional media and a litany of home-grown analysts have come out with compiled lists of Lott’s voting history on civil rights, previous statements as they relate to segregation, and other related facts. In fact, it’s rather interesting that the current journalistic firestorm didn’t start brewing until days after the comment was made. Could it be that the majority of America took it for what it probably was — a simple mistake — until the vocal minority pounced on the opportunity to oust the Senator from his position?

Let’s get some facts straight here. Yes, Thurmond ran on a segregationist platform in 1948. He managed to carry a small number of states, and Lott’s Mississippi was among them. But Jesus Frickin’ Christ people, that was FIFTY FOUR YEARS ago. Martin Luther King had not yet become a household name. I was not alive in that era, but I bet that Thurmond’s politics did not seem as outrageous then as they do now, regardless of whether you lived in New York or Georgia. Even Thurmond himself has repeatedly and loudly denounced his previous political and ethical stance, which everyone would agree is about as un-American as it gets today. If Lott was truly dedicated to the cause of segregation, would he have survived as a U.S. Senator as long as he has? And yes, Lott did in fact utter similar comments in 1980. 1980. Twenty two years ago. This is the only other time that anyone can provide a public record of any sort of consistency to what he said on December 5 this year.

Furthermore, people are going through great pains to draw the conclusion that Lott supports segregation. Lott’s exact words on 12/5 were, “I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years, either.” The inference being made is that Lott supported Thurmond’s presidency, which featured support for segregation….Thus, Lott supports segregation and believes that the U.S.A. would be better off had such a policy been enforced from the Oval Office.

Have you ever been asked to speak at a wedding, or a similarly emotional and important event? I would ask if you’ve ever been invited to speak at a senator’s 100th birthday celebration, but I doubt you have. I was asked to speak at my best friend’s wedding last June. I spent about two weeks brainstorming over what to say. The night before the ceremony, I scribbled down some notes to make sure I remembered what to cover. Two minutes before I spoke, I reviewed those notes. The second I started to speak, the notes went out the window. Yes, I hit most of the things I had written down….but I’d forgotten parts of it already, and I added to what I did say off the top of my head. I said some things that were completely unplanned and unrehearsed. As a result, I did not convey to the audience exactly what I had in my mind and my heart. Even with my best intentions and preparation, I still fell short of a bullseye. I wish I could go back, polish my wording, and re-deliver that little speech in a way that would let me share exactly my feelings and wishes for my best friend and her new husband, but I can’t.

I realize that a senator speaking in a very public forum is different from a man speaking at a wedding reception, and that Senator Lott undoubtedly has more experience with public speech than I do. But under the spotlight, even experienced speakers will slip. Is Dan Quayle really as silly as he looked to the media in ’88 (“potatoe)? Does George Bush really have the level of intelligence suggested by his occasionally unusual vocabulary (“strategery”)? The answer is no. Mistakes happen. In the heat of the moment, you may let something slip out that doesn’t reflect you and that should have never been said. On December 5, Trent Lott made a comment that was intended to compliment his fellow senator on years of public service. His word choice was regrettable. And now, it looks like he will pay for it.

Perhaps that’s the right thing to do, at this point. At this point, Lott’s credibility has fallen to the point where another Republican might better fill the job of majority leader. But Trent Lott should not be remembered in the negative light that bathes him today. He is many things, especially to those who oppose his politics, but I firmly believe that he is not a segregationist. Mississippi is not so full of cultural cave dwellers that a segregationist could continue to support such a ridiculous policy in the 21st century.

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