On Dec. 5, 2002, former Republican Mississippi U.S. Sen. Trent Lott – then the Senate Republican leader and weeks from resuming his post as Senate majority leader – took part in the 100th birthday celebration of then Republican U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina.
Back in 1948, Thurmond had run for President on the State’s Rights Democratic Party or “Dixiecrat” ticket – a political party predicated on racial segregation.
Running against eventual winner Democrat Harry S. Truman and Republican Thomas Dewey, Thurmond carried Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and South Carolina and picked up one electoral vote in Tennessee in one of the closest presidential elections in U.S. history.
But in 2002, Thurmond was an old man celebrating his 100th birthday. At Thurmond’s party, Lott said: “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 the years, either.”
The remarks launched a career-changing national political firestorm that cost Lott his post as rising Senate majority leader within his own party.
Then-President George W. Bush left Lott to die on the political vine.
Fellow Senate Republicans denounced Lott’s remarks and went along with his ouster from the GOP leadership. The media fire was simply too hot.
Four years later in 2006, Senate Republicans elected Lott to a Senate leadership position when he was named Minority Whip after defeating Tennessee U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander by one vote. Now comes a reputable new book, “Game Change,” that reveals racially tinged remarks made by Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada about then-Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign.
The remark quotes Reid as saying privately in 2008 that Obama could succeed as a black candidate partly because of his “light-skinned” appearance and speaking patterns “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.”
The context of Lott’s remarks mattered and ultimately cost him his GOP Senate leadership post. The context of Reid’s remarks matters, too. His remarks suggest that political opportunity at the highest levels doesn’t exist for African-Americans with dark skin or who exhibit Negro dialect – whatever Reid defines that to be.
It is downright amusing to watch some of the same people who called for Lott’s political head on a platter – including Reid and Obama themselves – dance the PC hokey-pokey in defending Reid’s remarks as somehow less racially offensive than Lott’s.
It’s downright sad to watch some of the same media outlets who called for Lott’s political head on a platter now strain at gnats to tell us why Reid’s remarks don’t rise to the same level of offense as Lott’s.
There is the pithy suggestion that it is possible to “know the heart” of Harry Reid and pronounce it pure on race, but that Lott’s heart was somehow weighed and known and found wanting by the same judges.
The bottom line, what was sauce for Lott’s goose should be sauce for Reid’s gander. Otherwise, let’s just admit that there’s a media double standard at play here for a conservative Mississippi Republican and a liberal Nevada Democrat.
Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at (601) 961-7084 or e-mail