Readers respond to "Caught Whistling Dixie" by Anthony York, and "Joe Conason's Journal."

By Salon Staff
Published December 11, 2002 9:49PM (EST)

[Read "Caught Whistling Dixie" by Anthony York and "Joe Conason's Journal: 12.10.02."]

When I heard for the first time -- four days after the fact -- Sen. Trent Lott's comments regarding Strom Thurmond's failed 1948 presidential election bid, I was equally sickened by both the comments and the failure of the media to pay them the appropriate response.

Living as I do in a small Alaska city with no roads in or out, I must go out of my way to try to stay abreast of current political events. I receive and duly read my "daily headlines" from the New York Times. I listen, like a good liberal, to "Morning Edition," "Evening Edition," "Weekend Edition" and all the "editions" in between.

So imagine my surprise when I heard today (again, four days after the fact) NPR reporting on Lott's remarks. I started running through a mental checklist: Did I see this in the Times? Did I see it in our local paper? Did I see it on Yahoo, hear it on PBS or NPR? Nope. And if I actively try to get as much information as possible on current events, what of the millions of Americans who float along in a hazy miasma, oblivious to the failing economy, the pending war on Iraq, and the erosion of 225 years' worth of civil rights?

Even worse, in an apparent bid to make the national Democratic Party seem even more pathetic than it already is, Sen. Tom Daschle hams it up as the biggest, spineless patsy I've encountered in years: ("There are a lot of times when he and I go to the mike and would like to say things we meant to say differently ... "). But wait -- there was more waiting around the corner! Andrew Sullivan, who as a good young gay man I have tried (and increasingly failed) to loathe and distrust, comes out demanding Lott's removal as House majority speaker.

Kudos to Sullivan and Salon for their respective responses. Shame, shame on the New York Times, my local rag, PBS and NPR!

-- Joshua Edward

While I agree with Joe Conason's assessment of Tom Daschle as a complete bee-atch (personally, I think he's a Republican plant), I think this Trent Lott thing is a no-go as an issue. It really does look like Lott was just looking for something cute to say about Thurmond at their little party. And let's face it, he can always say that he was unaware of specific quotes like Thurmond's declaration that the "Negro" would not be forced on the South at "bayonet point" during his 1948 presidential bid. Any time Trent Lott begs ignorance of history, or anything else, people are going to tend to take him at his word.

Indeed, focusing on these types of symbolic issues is bound to be counterproductive in the end. The Democrats need to focus on presenting a vision and a plan for America's future. They have to offer a viable alternative to Bush, and they have to articulate exactly what this president is all about: handing over the federal government to a select group of his corporate cronies.

-- Patrick Harley

I was interested to read your article about Sen. Trent Lott's statement expressing his deep regret for the passing of Jim Crow. This statement came as no surprise to those of us who know Sen. Lott as a lifelong racist and hatemonger. Basically, I agree with everything you said on this subject including the inexcusable failure of the media bring this to the public's attention. And, as a lifelong Democrat, I especially agree with your criticism of the Democratic senators' silence on this issue and I have written some of those senators to say so.

My purpose in writing you, however, was to call your attention to a very curious omission in all of the media accounts of both Strom Thurmond's life and Sen. Lott's remarks. In every instance except one, the famous quote from Sen. Thurmond's speech has been edited by substituting the more neutral term "Negro" for the much more deeply hateful (and revealing) word "nigger". I did a "Google" search and found many of these "Bowdlerized" references to the 1948 speech, but none to the words which Thurmond actually spoke.

I can understand a certain amount of sentimentality -- or at least a willingness to pull one's punches -- when dealing with a 100-year-old man, but the truth is that he didn't say "Negro". He said "nigger" because he meant "nigger" -- with all of the Jim Crow, pro-KKK, segregationist, pro-lynching baggage which that word carries. Thurmond's 1948 speech was an important historical event and it should be reported accurately.

-- Mitch Guthman

Trent Lott should apologize; he should resign as majority leader, and he should resign from the U.S. Senate. There is simply no place in the U.S. Senate for such racism. One does not have to be a person of color to be incredibly offended by Lott's outrageous statements. If the parties were reversed you can bet that Republicans would be calling for a congressional investigation and an independent counsel! Lott should do the right thing and apologize and resign.

-- Marion McClain

This African-American thanks you for your splendid courage. Wow! America's slaves have been restless for a long time and Lott has the solution. Apparently there are a bunch of us who give our tacit approval to his comments.

To hell with the Times; where were all those white-sounding pundits in black skin?

Don't give Lott a pass this time. Ignorance is no excuse and insulting 30 million Americans is far from a joke.

-- George Bradford

Democrats such as myself aren't outraged by Trent Lott's remarks because they are consistent with what we know of the man. He is a bigot who is consistently elected to the Senate on the votes of Mississippi bigots.

We aren't outraged by the Republican Party's ongoing decision to keep him in power because we know that bigotry is not a net minus in the Republican tally book. And, since the American people have seen fit to re-elevate him to power, apparently there is widespread sympathy for his views.

It's hard to be outraged when a man points out an unpleasant fact of life. Trent Lott, a white conservative senator from Mississippi, is an unreconstructed racist. This is news?

-- Michael Kimmitt

I'm not going to be agreeing with that faction anytime soon, but does it completely fail to occur to anybody at Salon that maybe Thurmond's politics at the time were, say, a product of the times and the world he grew up in, and not of some malevolent evil he's managed to hide all these years?

More than a few of us have grandparents and great-grandparents who believed, at some point or another, that blacks were "inferior" or at least to be avoided. If my great grandparents were alive today, they'd be about Thurmond's age, and it wouldn't surprise me in the least to discover that they didn't believe in civil rights originally.

What is remarkable is that, as you'll notice, he's no longer championing segregation. He's not making remarks about how Colin Powell would be better off picking cotton, or anything like that.

I may not agree with Republican politics, but I have enormous respect for people who are willing to change. From all appearances, Thurmond has. I strongly suspect those conservatives waxing nostalgic about his earlier days probably don't even remember what he was for, back then. Part of nostalgia is forgetting the negatives, after all.

Just let it go, already. Please. I love Salon, and I'm a subscriber, but this is embarrassing. The fact that he wasn't a civil rights leader doesn't mean he's a bad person--just, in that respect, an ordinary one.

-- Susan Tussing

I have been on fire since hearing about Lott's words on Thursday, but I am not surprised that other politicians are not jumping to criticize him -- he is hiding behind a screen that they have all used: "I misspoke." It's almost as classic as "I cannot recall."

Let the comment go, because you just can't use it to prove he's a segregationist. And while it's certainly suspicious and aggravating that it took him days to do it, he did end up putting out an apology (albeit an ambiguous one).

Look, instead, to his CCC connections and activities.

And once that is uncovered, don't demand censure because -- given the current makeup of the Senate -- he'll win out and, right or wrong, the issue will die and he will be "vindicated." Instead, plaster it everywhere! And when he runs for reelection -- or president in 2008 -- let his words and deeds come back to haunt him.

-- Phillip Clark

Salon Staff

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