This is just ugly. It’s all the uglier because Sen. Trent Lott claims now to support policies he still doesn’t believe in just to keep a job where the depth of his error will be rubbed in his face, and harm his party, for the rest of his days. The depth of Lott’s depravity is of Shakespearean proportions. Here is the naked face of power lust–a lust that would jettison ideology, partisan loyalty, and self-respect simply to hang on to power. I could almost forgive Lott his racism if he would follow his numerous apologies with a dignified exit from the political stage. (Click here for the BET transcript.)
UPDATE (10:00 a.m.): Earlier in the semester in my freshman class, I wrote on the board: “I am a patriotic American.” I then asked my students what that statement means. The point of the exercise was to have them demonstrate to themselves that the adjective “patriotic” and the noun “American” do not mean the same things to everyone. Yes, I acknowledge that there is for each word a dictionary denotation. What they discover for themselves is that their individual experiences color the connotations. With all that’s happening now, it’s easy to see how the liberals and conservatives in class clashed over the qualities that “patriotic” describes.
Sen. Trent Lott is quite mistaken if he thinks that, in uttering the words “affirmative action,” his meaning is either clearly communicated or universally understood. Quite simply, what we hear when we hear “affirmative action” differs depending upon our circumstances. The minority student in the inner city, struggling to get a good education under terrible economic, political, and social hardships, hears something quite different from what we may suppose Lott means.
And we can see from the following exchange during yesterday’s BET interview that what Lott means is not necessarily what many Democrats, liberals, or African-American activists mean:
GORDON: What about affirmative action?
LOTT: I’m for that. I think you should reach out to people…
GORDON: Across the board?
LOTT: Absolutely, across the board. That’s why I’m so proud of my own alma mater now, University of Mississippi, that obviously had a difficult time in the 60s and 70s, now led by an outstanding chancellor, Robert Khayat, that has gotten rid of the Confederate flag, that has now has an institute of reconciliation, that has a leadership…
GORDON: Yet your votes in the past have not suggested that you are for affirmative action.
LOTT: I am for affirmative action. And I practice it. I have had African-Americans on my staff, and other minorities, but particularly African-Americans, since the mid-1970s. I have had a particular program…
GORDON: But to have one on one’s staff–you understand the difference, though, to have a black on your staff and to push legislation that would help African-Americans, minorities across the board, are completely different.
LOTT: You know, again, you can get into arguments about timetables and quotas. Here’s what I think, though. I think you’ve got to have an aggressive effort in America to make everybody have a chance.
For many people, timetables and quotas are affirmative action. For Lott, it appears to be tokenism. We may eventually come to some consensus about what affirmative action really is and should be. I suspect its meaning will land somewhere in the pragmatic middle of these two positions.
UPDATE (6:55 p.m.): William Saletan, cogent as usual.