Joe Conason’s Journal

Only Gore responds to a senator's racist smear, as other Democrats -- led by the morally deaf and politically dumb Tom Daschle -- keep quiet.

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Gore’s moral victory
Al Gore proved his moral courage yesterday. He didn’t hesitate to say that he opposed Trent Lott’s racist speech, that Lott had to withdraw those remarks, and that if Lott failed to do so, the Senate should censure the Republican leader. Having endured so many venomous attacks from a press that is openly biased against him and would surely relish another chance to sting him, Gore spoke out fearlessly. (It is also a triumph for him over his tormentors in the press. With some honorable exceptions, they waited too long to speak up against Lott’s nostalgia for the barbarism of his political forebears.)

I wish Gore’s former colleagues in the Senate had displayed equal bravery. Unfortunately, he didn’t have any competition for this laurel.

The silence on both sides of the aisle was appalling — if not quite as bad as Tom Daschle’s decision to break it by making excuses for Lott (who has issued a dishonest, mealy-mouthed “apology”). In a fashion entirely different from the Mississippian, Daschle has earned a permanent vacation from leadership. This episode was the final affront from a well-meaning but incompetent and pusillanimous man who doesn’t know how to defend himself or his party, let alone fight back for the principles he is supposed to uphold.

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It was truly sickening to hear the Democratic leader shield his adversary from criticism. Worse yet, he did so two days after black voters in Louisiana saved his candidate Mary Landrieu from defeat, which is more than Daschle did for any Democrat this year. Unbelievably, he complained about Rush Limbaugh but defended Trent Lott. Presumably he didn’t want to upset their negotiations over committee assignments, or some such bureaucratic priority.

Now we know that Daschle is morally deaf. He’s also too dumb to learn from experience. Why doesn’t he understand that putting Republicans on the defensive is also the way to win? That’s what the Republicans have done to him, over and over again. That’s why he’s the minority leader now. When Democrats demote Daschle, we will know that they want to be in the majority again and have a clue about getting there.

Sadly, nobody in Daschle’s caucus had the guts to protest, either. The Senate’s pretenders to leadership and presidential stature — Kerry, Lieberman, Edwards, Dodd, Feinstein, Boxer, Bayh, Clinton, Harkin, Kennedy (!)  either said nothing of consequence or nothing at all. And where was the Republican leader’s nemesis John McCain? Along with Lott, they are all losers today.

Many readers wrote in to suggest (quite strongly) that I should endorse Gore because he alone measured up to my final sentence yesterday. I did write that the candidate who confronts Lott is the one who “should be running for president.” And five hours later, Gore did exactly that. But while I don’t conceal my political preferences, I don’t “endorse” candidates. Anyway, what I say matters far less than what you, dear readers, think and say and do. By doing the right thing, Gore energized his supporters and won new friends. And he deserves them.

[9:37 a.m. PST, Dec. 10, 2002]

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