Trent Lott, wandering hero

A new report names the Senate majority leader the worst of the corporate sluts. But our slut may be the greatest living American.

Published May 10, 2000 4:00PM (EDT)

More than any other senator up for reelection, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., allows corporate lobbyists to bend his ear in exchange for flights on their companies' jets, a study by the Campaign Study Group reports.

We are kissing our spouses good morning and they interrupt to deliver this information.

Rather than fly with the hoi polloi and abide by the "schedules" of uptight airlines, the opponent of campaign-finance reform leads the Senate in the common practice of reimbursing companies after using their specially chartered airplanes. Since Jan. 1, 1995, he has spent $101,029 on corporate flights, money that comes out of his campaign account.

We are spooning our poor cats breakfast and they intercede to give us the news.

Companies leap at the opportunity to taxi a powerful politician from one place to another, staffing the flights with talkative lobbyists who take advantage of their captive audience. Over the last year, Lott has flown with U.S. Tobacco Co., R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris, among others, writing them checks that total more than $23,000. He has also opposed efforts to regulate tobacco as a drug and to raise federal cigarette taxes.

We are tying our poor children's shoes and they stop us to explain.

In an Associated Press report Monday, Jonathan D. Salant quoted Charles Lewis, director of the Center for Public Integrity: "Private corporate jet travel is still one of the biggest scams in Washington," he said. "The average American cannot afford to travel on a private jet and the face time it affords lobbyists with lawmakers is absolutely invaluable."

As usual, everyone has missed the point. The Campaign Study Group's report isn't about corruption, sleaze or dishonor. It's not about abusing the public trust or whoring one's self out for convenient transportation. It's about a man who loves to travel.

Trent Lott, bless his heart, suffers from the profoundly human disease of wanderlust. Rather than criticize, we must applaud this hero for his unassailably human instincts. The guy wants to see the world. He loves the world.

During his tenure in the U.S. Senate, Lott developed a reputation for the global perspective he brought to a variety of issues. From insufficient defense spending to the homosexual scourge, the great flier speaks with the panoramic wisdom of someone who has roamed the Earth.

"He's a truth-seeker," President Clinton has remarked. "Travel is the secret to his immense human breadth."

Clinton repeated the phrase "human breadth" after that.

It couldn't make more sense. As all travelers know -- and when I say traveler, I mean it in the deepest sense, which is to say there's an element of metaphor there -- standing still has never led to greatness. Lott is fond of quoting poet and fellow wanderer Walt Whitman on the subject:

"Going places is really aces/I like to visit a lot of places."

Many politicians don't value travel. They read fashion magazines and eat candy out of special candy holders. Do they care about our world? And the beautiful people in it? They do not.

"The Canadian people -- they are a beautiful people," Lott says. "And the Australians? Also beautiful, as a people."

Sometimes Lott is overcome. Who in this country can't relate?

"I would like to help pass this bill which holds the tobacco industry more accountable for its product," Lott is quoted as saying recently, "but I need to go to Zimbabwe, where they are having a cultural event."

Like many globetrotters, Lott is deeply misunderstood. Dismissed for his racism, homophobia and lack of political integrity, the senator often finds himself pigeonholed. Does this, perhaps, explain the ineffable joy he feels on foreign soil, away from the faultfinding and hostility?

"I believe that man is happiest in the bush, among his bushpeople friends," colleague Newt Gingrich once said.

Sometimes Lott can't talk about travel, because he cries. "Just a minute," he told me on the phone this morning, audibly choked up. "I'm thinking about a trinket that a beautiful Djiboutian man once gave me."

Whiny liberals would have us put a leash on this American leader, would have us coop him up like an animal. Don't compromise the future of our country just because you want to fly on corporate jets, which often serve fresh juice, the whiners chant. To this I reply, open your mind! Broaden your horizons! Grow your world!

"Sometimes I fly in my underpants," Lott says.

We suffer from a collective case of amnesia. Have we already forgotten such great American travel heroes as Christopher Columbus, Marco Polo and Droopy Dog? Fear not, compatriots, amnesia has a cure. It's called tobacco. Buy some refreshing cigarettes today!

By Chris Colin

Chris Colin is the author most recently of "Blindsight," published by the Atavist.

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