After losing the House and the Senate in the November 7 election, Republicans have been talking about how to create a new and more appealing public image for the Congressional party that has suffered from its association with corruption scandals, crude policies and divisive statements.
Well, the search for the fresh face of the Grand Old Party is done.
Senate Republicans have elected as their “new” whip Mississippi Senator Trent Lott.
The Dixiecrat-defending southerner will now be the No. 2 man in the Republican leadership, serving at the side of Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell – the chamber’s leading opponent of campaign finance and ethics reforms – who was unanimously elected to replace outgoing Tennessee Senator Bill Frist as majority leader.
Lott’s return to a leadership position comes four years after the Mississippian, who was then the Senate Majority Leader, stood at the side of South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond and recalled the aging legislator’s 1948 bid for the presidency as a defender of racial segregation on the State’s Rights (or Dixiecrat) ticket.
“I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it,” Lott told a crowd gathered in Washington to mark the South Carolinian’s 100th birthday. “And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years, either.”
The seeming suggestion that the progress toward racial equality achieved since the late 1940s was problematic for the country reinforced concerns about Lott’s sensitivities – especially among those who recalled that, as a congressman, the Mississippian had voted against renewal of the Voting Rights Act and opposed establishing a national holiday honoring slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. There was also the matter of Lott’s long association with the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), an outgrowth of the White Citizens’ Councils that in the 1960s led the fight against integration and voting rights in the Deep South. The Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Anti-Defamation League had all identified the CCC as a hate group, but Lott continued to meet with its leadership and appear at its events.
So troubling were Lott’s remarks, especially when placed in the context of his record, that President Bush declared, “Any suggestion that the segregated past was acceptable or positive is offensive, and it is wrong. Recent comments by Senator Lott do not reflect the spirit of our country. He has apologized and rightly so. Every day that our nation was segregated was a day our nation was unfaithful to our founding ideals.”