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Selective intelligence

William Saletan, writing on Slate.com last Friday, offered a thorough analysis of how the sins Trent Lott's accusers have lately been attacking him for (in regards to his remarks at Strom Thurmond's retirement party) are sins that many of them have also committed. "If Lott has to step down for those sins," Saletan says, "then so should others."

Of course, this is quite true. But what's strange is that a political thinker as sophisticated as Saletan is apparently pretending to believe Lott is being forced out (as it seems he will be) because of his actual political views. Lott's politics are an asset to the Republican party, and everyone knows it, including Saletan. He's being pushed out because he looks bad. Lott's sentimental praise of Thurmond's long-past presidential aspirations has hurt him not because we all of a sudden discovered Lott isn't a member of the NAACP, but because it makes him look like an insensitive oaf at best, and a bigot at worst. And everyone — including Saletan — knows that, too.

Slate is right to call Lott's accusers hypocritical, in a sense. Their public indignation is indeed two-faced; it's not a question of whether Republican candidates will continue to pander to a demographic of anti-civil rights (to put it nicely) voters in the South, but which candidates will. Lott's supposed sins are too valuable for the party to forsake (even if he himself isn't). And of course the accusers know that. They're hypocrites, sure, but it's how they as politicians play the game, and that ain't exactly breaking news, either.

Saletan's a smart guy, and his analysis is good. But he and his readers alike would be better served by him working to tell us something we don't already know, instead of something we do.

Addendum: TalkingPointsMemo.com has published a CNN transcript of Bill Clinton similarly accusing Lott's accusers of being hypocritical: "How can they jump all over him when they're out there repressing and trying to run black voters away from polls and to run on the Confederate flag in Georgia and South Carolina. Look at their whole record. The others, how can they attack him? He just embarrassed them by saying in Washington what they do on the back roads every day."

(I add this just because it's well put, and related. Clinton, of course, is making a political point, but it's not like he doesn't know why the Republicans in question have become such obvious hypocrites; as he says, Lott embarrassed them. Embarrassment isn't good for a political party, doesn't everyone already know that?)

December 18, 2002 12:48 PM

Comments (and TrackBacks)

Those GOP critics may be hypocritical, but I think they probably have a point, as well. Lott, as Majority Leader, has a higher obligation to be aware of the power of his words than a run-of-the-mill Senator. He should resign as Leader or be voted out if necessary, not because of his views of the past or his subtle attempts to encourage the "anti-civil-rights" crew to vote for him, but because his lack of awareness of the negative power of that viewpoint and his seeming lack of understanding of his mistake in the immediate aftermath. Strom at least was smart enough to just keep quiet about such things for the past quarter-century.

If I were a GOP Senator, such a bumbler would not be the kind of person I'd want leading the Senate.

Posted by Dave A on December 19, 2002 10:30 AM

If I were a GOP Senator, such a bumbler would not be the kind of person I'd want leading the Senate.

Agreed -- I don't mean to say I think Lott himself is anyone the GOP wants to keep around now, just that the views he's purportedly being attacked for aren't views the GOP actually wishes to attack. It's just that he's made those views look bad -- so he's got to go, even if the political views that are his supposed downfall are going to stick around for quite some time yet.

[I added a paranthetical in the main entry to try and make myself a little less vague: "Lott's supposed sins are too valuable for the party to forsake (even if he himself isn't)".]

Posted by M on December 19, 2002 12:40 PM

It's better now, but the Clinton quote bothers me now. I dislike the device of presuming that the people criticizing Lott are the same people who try to trick black voters into staying away from the polls, or that support flying the Confederate flag. Lott, as a leader of the GOP, is worthy of harsh criticism. The overzealous losers who leave flyers with incorrect polling information in black neighborhoods don't represent the core of the GOP. At least, I hope not.

I guess that's what you're saying afterwards anyway though.

Posted by Dave A on December 20, 2002 10:34 AM


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