I called Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam Monday afternoon to ask him what he thought of the Trent Lott affair. He told me he was “totally disgusted” with the way Lott was being treated, especially by black leaders who should know better. “He apologized for a remark he made at a party that was taken in a way he clearly did not mean. They should leave the poor man alone and let him go back to work in trying to deal with the really serious problems that face this country, the economy and this talk of war with Iraq.” He said he was surprised at Jesse Jackson for demanding Lott’s resignation when Jackson got into such trouble with his “Hymietown” remark in 1984. Farrakhan says he knows what Lott is going through because in 1985 he was the object of a US Senate Resolution that passed 95-to-0, condemning him for saying “Judaism is a gutter religion,” which he never said. I still offer a $1000 reward to anyone who can find the quote in a Farrakhan speech or statement. The race card is so easy to play.
Min. Farrakhan observed that very few white politicians who have been around for the last several decades could withstand the scrutiny now being focused on Lott. I noted that when I came to Washington as a reporter in 1965 I did not know a single white politician who would not be considered a racist today. That’s only 37 years ago, when it was still conventional wisdom that Negroes were genetically inferior to the white race in intellect. To find that a young man from Mississippi -- the most Southern of the Southern states and the home of Jefferson Davis -- held segregationist views way back then is no surprise. It was only 25 years ago that I could not find a white man who believed there would ever be a black quarterback in the NFL. Blacks could run and jump, but they could not quarterback. Jack Kemp, a quarterback for the Buffalo Bills in the 1960`s, remembers that when it became clear black QB’s would soon make it to the NFL, the word was that they still would not be able to call their own plays, but would get instructions from white coaches on the sidelines. It was only in the last decade that “The Bell Curve” was published, a scientific study hailed by the Wall Street Journal editorial page for its insights, which included the idea that blacks were on average at birth limited in their IQ potential.
Lott’s critics in the political world know full well he was making a joke about Strom Thurmond at his 100th birthday party – a running joke between Lott and Thurmond dating back 20 years. Nobody really believes Lott was serious in saying the world would be a better place if Thurmond had won the presidency in 1948 when he ran as a segregationist. The comment was initially taken as a joke by the nine reporters at the event and by former Sen. Paul Simon, a liberal Democrat from Illinois whose career overlapped Thurmond’s in the Senate for decades. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a distinguished African-American lady who has worked with Lott on District of Columbia matters for many years, announced that there was not “a scintilla of racism” in Trent Lott, and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus brushed off reporters with no comments. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle at first laughed off the incident, but as happens in the political world, a variety of politicos saw an advantage in playing the race card.
Jesse Jackson got the ball rolling demanding Lott’s resignation. Jesse Jr., a chip off the old block and a congressman from Chicago, then demanded that Lott be impeached either before or after being boiled in oil. On signal, the other members of the Congressional Black Caucus saw an advantage in getting air time. And Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, running for President and eager to collect the black vote, also demanded Lott step down. The Democrats as a whole then joined the lynch mob. Even earlier, the entire neo-conservative wing of the GOP caved in on Lott, on a signal from the hawks who wants to have a war with Iraq in the worst way and who sees Lott as being less hawkish than they would like him to be. In unison, in the same news cycle, the Wall Street Journal editorial page and the Weekly Standard and the other publications controlled by Rupert Murdoch or Conrad Black competed in stridency with calls for Lott’s head. The Senator was just too willing to work out a resolution with the Senate Democrats in October that gave the Warriors less than they wanted. It probably did not help Lott that I have noted on our website that Lott personally promised me he would not support military action against Iraq until he saw a smoking gun. If Lott is drummed out of his post, the hawks will no doubt advise getting behind Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who is the most fanatical hawk in the GOP leadership, and the most ill-informed. Santorum believes the United States should ignore the Congress and the United Nations and start bombing tomorrow afternoon. By mentioning the knee-jerk response of the neo-cons in his syndicated column Monday defending Lott, Bob Novak did not see it appear in Murdoch’s <I>New York Post</I>, which has been promoting war with Iraq for years.
Of course the reason Wall Street did so well Monday is that Saddam Hussein had a good weekend on the Sunday talk shows. The full-court press by Baghdad in permitting the UNMOVIC inspectors to peek into Saddam’s toilet looking for weapons of mass destruction is giving the War Party fits. And Tariq Aziz is all over the place, giving interviews to the world press on how nobody will find anything no matter how hard they look, but also that AlQaeda and Osama bin Laden are bad guys who are not welcome in Iraq. The last hope the Pentagon has for war is if Iraq shoots down an American jet bomber while they are engaging in target practice in the no-fly zones. This is not an editorial comment on my part. General Tommy Franks Sunday gave a press briefing aired on CNN, saying the bombing runs are good practice for the pilots for when the war actually starts. If Iraq actually shoots down a US or British plane, it could lead the President to reach for the trigger, although it would also inspire a political debate on the legality of the no-fly zones.
The decision by Vice President Al Gore was a disappointment, in that he was the first of the Democratic presidential hopefuls to question a unilateral US military attack in Iraq. By standing aside, though, he does seem to have left himself open to playing Party Elder, without having to worry about being impolitic. The other possible Democratic contenders seem sophomoric by comparison, constantly checking with their pollsters and focus groups to look for niches to develop. By comparison, President Bush is looking better than ever, as Secretary of State Colin Powell seems to be in control of foreign policy and allowing the democratic process to work at home and at Turtle Bay. He still needs to get John Snow some supply-side help at Treasury’s No. 2 spot, and there are several good possibilities available. I’m being called by administration people and by business reporters for recommendations, but if I named them openly, they would of course be doomed. President Bush is today signaling the GOP Senate he wants Lott to quit, but as Lott has done nothing wrong, he should fight it out. Rep. John Lewis [D GA], one of the most influential members of the Black Caucus, has now come out in support of Lott, no doubt realizing how the GOP hawks are manipulating the issue for their own ends. Nothing really serious is going to happen before the New Year, I don’t think, so we should be able to enjoy the holidays with Peace on Earth, including the Middle East.