Joe Conason's Journal

Is Trent Lott suddenly too liberal for conservatives? Plus: Frank Luntz spins himself silly.


Salon Staff
December 18, 2002 12:14AM (UTC)

That Mayberry shiv
The Trent Lott story will never qualify as tragedy but does have its farcical aspects. Somewhere in the White House basement, the minions of Karl Rove are monitoring public opinion. They may even be taking polls -- which the president will ignore, of course.

Subtlety isn't the strong point of the Mayberry Machiavellis. (That must be the Mayberry part.) Over the past week, their perspective has shifted in ways that will soon prove fatal to Lott's career. Where once our principled president thought Lott should and would survive, now he's not so sure. Anyway, that shiv sticking out of Lott's back this morning surely seems to have Rove's fingerprints all over it. (That's the Machiavellian part.)

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Why the right dumped Lott
The only thing Republicans dislike more than racism is doing something to combat racism. As George Will angrily points out today, the real reason that many conservatives now want to get rid of Lott isn't that he's too right-wing on race. It's that in his desire to keep his leadership, he's suddenly become too liberal on race.

The empty Lott surely infuriated many conservatives last night during his appearance on BET, when he told Ed Gordon, "As majority leader, I can move an agenda that would have things that would be helpful to African-Americans and minorities of all kinds and all Americans, but specifically aimed at showing African-Americans that they have particular concerns and needs that we have to advance an agenda that will help rural and urban areas, education, so that every child really does have an education."

The Clinton angle
Not all the conservatives have lined up to stick their knives in yet. Commenting after the BET interview on "Hardball," Frank Luntz flinched from the task. With affecting loyalty, or perhaps just out of habit, the Republican pollster searched his mind to find a new defense for his old master. You won't believe what Luntz invented:

Chris Matthews: What do you believe [Lott] thinks those problems are that we've avoided or that we've incurred because we didn't vote racist back in '48?
Luntz: It has to do with problems that we've had over the last eight or nine years. I don't want to speak...
Matthews: He said we wouldn't have these problems if we had voted for Strom Thurmond in '48 for president, a segregationist who ran against Harry Truman. What is he talking about there?
Luntz: I think that some of the issues that he's talking about, quite frankly, and I don't know if he would agree or disagree, but I think some of it has to do with Bill Clinton and the things that happened in the 1990s, the moral decay of the country. The acceptance of certain types of behavior. If ...
Unidentified male: Come on.

Luntz is paid handsomely for insights of this quality. Someone please send him a copy of the unexpurgated Thurmond biography, "Ole Strom," by Jack Bass and Marilyn Thompson, which revealed the energetic politician's paternity of a black daughter out of wedlock many years ago.

St. Louis Blues
Meanwhile, Lott's ideological soul mate sits by unscathed, running the Justice Department. Blogger Archpundit offers additional background on John Ashcroft's friends in the St. Louis branch of the CCC (scroll down): "For Ashcroft to not know what these clowns were about would be impossible. They had been a prominent story in the one of the two major state papers."
[10:10 a.m. PST, Dec. 17, 2002]

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