On Thursday, at the 100th birthday celebration for retiring Sen. Strom Thurmond, Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott said:
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.
Thurmond was the segregationist Dixiecrat candidate. Obviously, Lott’s remarks drew criticism (appropriately from the left and the right). His office issued this statement:
Senator Lott’s remarks were intended to pay tribute to a remarkable man who led a remarkable life. To read anything more into these comments is wrong.
Sorry, you can’t have it both ways. Paying tribute is not value free. Paying tribute, if it means anything at all, means highlighting some characteristic or achievement worthy of note. Lott chose to highlight Thurmond’s 1948 run for president, in which he specifically and purposefully endorsed a segregationist agenda. Thurmond said during that campaign:
I want to tell you, ladies and gentleman, that there’s not enough troops in the army to force the southern people to break down segregation and admit the Nigra race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches.
Lott would have us believe that one can praise the man without taking into account his actions or ideas–a rather strange concept of epideictic rhetoric. Without actions or ideas, I wonder: What is it that composes the man? We are our ideas and actions. Thurmond certainly amended his views over the years, but Lott was praising the 1948 Thurmond, not the 2002 Thurmond. Lott has much explaining to do.