The Trent Lott Affair

The Anatomy & Context Of A Smear


A whimsical tribute at a birthday party, and a contrived uproar. What were the issues in 1948, and what is their relevance to the present day. Abandoning any pretense at civility, the Left avoids the debates it cannot win, and advances its agenda. How not to answer a smear; and how to turn the table on the demagogues. Racial agitation as a substitute and metaphor for class warfare. The consequences for avoiding the real issues.

Harmless Whimsy At A Birthday Party & Unleashing The Hounds Of Hate

In early December, 2002, friends and close associates of South Carolina's Senator Strom Thurmond, now retiring from the Senate after an unprecedented 48 years of service, gathered to celebrate the Senator's 100th birthday. As might be expected, the mood was happy but whimsical. And the tributes were many. Thurmond's political career--at the upper levels of American politics--has spanned the entire period since the end of World War II, and his importance in the major political shifts of the past two generations can scarcely be overstated.

South Carolina and Virginia are the two Southern States with the greatest cultural impact upon the cultural, political and social traditions, of those Americans who consider themselves Southerners, as well as others who identify with the South in either historic or contemporary controversy. But Thurmond's personal importance to post World War II Conservative politics has been largely a reflection of his own intensely practical dedication to achievable objectives. He gave an example of this, very early in his almost legendary career, when he ran for President in 1948, as a third party candidate--an event that has suddenly been made to appear contemporary by reason of the animosity of lesser men, but not one that is well understood.

As leader of the break-away States' Rights Democratic party, in 1948, the then Governor Thurmond did not seriously expect to be elected President of the United States. His campaign had two important objectives, both of which were well within the realm of possibility. Qualifying in only 13 States, but carrying four with a very strong showing in a fifth, the plan had been to try to throw the Truman-Dewey election into the House of Representatives, where Southern Democrats would have had immense bargaining power to obtain the respect that they did not feel they were getting from the major parties. Had the Dewey campaign--taunted as a "Me Too" endeavor for not challenging the Administration on anything but personalities--not faded quite so fast, that objective would have been achieved. Failing that, the fall back idea was simply to telegraph loud and clear, how unhappy the South was with the Truman "Civil Rights" program, announced a year earlier.

While Thurmond and his supporters returned to the Democratic fold after the 1948 election, they continued to make their presence felt as advocates for a more Conservative direction. Finally in 1964, Senator Thurmond, then in his tenth year in the United States Senate, took a pragmatic step towards unifying Conservatives by switching parties, to demonstrate his solidarity with the Republican Conservatives under Barry Goldwater. This started the trend, which over the next 16 years would achieve a major shift in the political balance. It was this realignment, which made the election of Ronald Reagan and the later "Contract With America," possible.

Over the next 38 years, Thurmond proved himself a Republican stalwart, best known for consistently pushing each Republican Administration towards naming Conservative ("Strict Constructionist") Judges to the Federal Bench. Indeed, it was widely understood, during the Nixon Administration, that that was the price that had to be paid, for Thurmond to keep those Southern Conservatives, whom he could influence, voting Republican. There is, also, little question that part of Thurmond's very considerable influence among Southern Conservatives, flowed from his having stood boldly into the breach, as it were, in 1948. Under such circumstances, it is not unreasonable to suggest that the present President Bush owes the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, which ended the Florida vote count debacle and secured his Presidency, to Strom Thurmond.

This was the background to the party on December 5, 2002, when the Republican leader of the Senate, Mississippi's Senator Trent Lott, rose to honor his fellow Southerner. Lott's tribute noted the fact that his own State had provided Thurmond's running mate in 1948, and that they had supported the ticket in November. He went on to express the thought that America might have avoided a lot of problems, suffered since, had Thurmond actually been elected. That this was pure whimsy--a flight of fantasy, and fantasy that most Conservatives, North or South, should have been comfortable with--was attested by the fact that Thurmond was not even on the ballot in enough States to have had the possibility for actually winning. (The best that could have been achieved would have been to broker a positive commitment from one of the other parties--much as Thurmond brokered a commitment from Nixon, as to the Federal Judiciary, 20 years later.) There was certainly nothing unreasonable in Lott's tribute, however whimsical. The claim of Thurmond on the gratitude of Conservatives, in general, should have been evident from his lifetime of dedicated service to common values. The claim of Thurmond on the gratitude of the new Administration should have been equally obvious.

Within a couple of days after the birthday party, the all out assault was underway. A vast array of radical race agitators, "Liberal" media outlets and politicians, as well as those "Conservatives" who always try to distance themselves from anything seen as "politically incorrect," in the most inane sense, engaged in a frenetic race to be the most strident in reminding us that the Thurmond campaign in 1948 was in defense of the segregated South; that the platform of the States' Rights Democratic party specifically challenged a proposed general Federal attack on traditional segregation, while opposing with particularity, a proposed "Fair Employment Practices Commission," a proposal to outlaw the poll tax, as well as a proposed Federal law "outlawing" lynching. Virtually without exception, those who now demanded Lott's humiliation and removal from Republican leadership, simply assumed--ex cathedra-- that the 1948 Thurmond platform was wrong--indeed "evil," "shameful," "bigoted, " and "racist." In brief, we were told that Thurmond had been opposed to "Civil Rights," as though that must end all argument.

No one, in these attacks from the Left or the "politically correct" panderers, even felt the need to explain the issues referred to. It was enough to merely hurl the adjectives of revulsion. No one even suggested that there might be any point to actually discuss further or debate. One unfamiliar with the historic techniques of the Left might have thought that Trent Lott had committed a major felony on coast to coast TV.

Men of good will might disagree among themselves over many of the social or political issues, relevant to the Thurmond campaign. It is difficult to conceive of any justification for the total abandonment of civility, as evidenced by the hue and cry over a whimsical reference to the consequences of a battle that took place over 54 years ago, as part of a birthday tribute to a 100 year old statesman/warrior. That the media were among the worst contributors to what can only be described as an unleashing of pure hatred--and hatred clearly with a sense of seeking vengeance--says a lot about the absolute lack of objectivity among many who report our news. To understand just how distorted the whole affair has been, it is necessary to look a bit closer at those 54 year old issues; closer than any of those, who have made such a mountain out of them, have yet deigned to look.

The debate over "segregation," in 1948, was multi-faceted. Most Americans, North or South, were to some extent segregated. Most Americans have always been at least voluntarily segregating themselves, both before and after 1948. While the pros and cons of such social patterns may be debated, as so certainly can the former State policies in the South, which required rather than merely permitted segregation of the races; the sort of fanaticism that would act as though it is beyond the realm of tolerable historic discourse to even challenge the merits of a Federal intervention intended to remake local society, is clearly indefensible. The implication not only flies in the face of every principle of Federalism--as well as the feigned toleration for "diversity." It is also, in the context of this particular historic issue, frankly, just plain silly. The Federal Government was itself still largely segregated in 1948--in the military, in the District of Columbia school system, etc.. Moreover, the Administration of Franklin Roosevelt, which had immediately preceded that of Harry Truman, had at one time segregated the White House domestic staff. Was there really any virtue, then, in a sanctimonious over-reach?

Yet if the generalized attack on the traditional separation of the races in the South was an over-reach, the specifics of the proposals actually advanced, were even further from the clearly virtuous. The center-piece of the Truman program was his call for a Federal F.E.P.C. law, a proposal similar to that adopted by Congress 17 years later as the E.E.O.C.. We have dealt with this issue, specifically and in some detail, in Chapter 19 of the Conservative Debate Handbook, linked below. At the least, it should be obvious what the Conservative position on this type of legislation is and was. To be sure, Thurmond opposed it in 1948, as Barry Goldwater opposed it in 1964--just as anyone who believes in the normal attributes of private property must oppose it today.

It is not "evil" to believe, even to believe passionately, that it is the employer's, not the Government's decision, whom that employer should hire, and on what basis. It is the employer, after all, who is responsible for that worker's wages or salary; the employer who must meet that payroll, who will be responsible for that employee's actions in the scope of his employment, including responsibility for any torts that may be committed. To hold otherwise, is to effectively appropriate some of the most important attributes of private property, in order to further a collectively determined purpose--as opposed to the individually determined purpose of him whose own labor or capital made that employment possible. It is a difference between personal liberty, and Statist regimentation.

The issue is no different than others which involve a clash between the American tradition, based upon individual liberty and personal responsibility, and the Socialist attack, seeking to redistribute wealth, or (here) the accoutrements of wealth, in order to equalize human society. The fundamental issue remains, in each case, who is to make the decision in question, who is to have the use of the wealth created; and it does not change, simply because you throw in a racial, ethnic, religious or other factor, in place of the traditional Marxist cry for a revolution of the Proletariat.

Nor was the balance of the Southern opposition to the Truman "Civil Rights" program any less defensible. The opposition to a Federal Anti-lynch law was hardly based upon any State's acceptance of vigilante justice. Far from it! South Carolina under Thurmond, certainly did not tolerate lynching. It was a crime. If it resulted in a death, it was murder. But it is a fundamental principle of American Constitutional Law, that the Police Power--that complex of powers to define and deal with crimes against the public peace and order and against the person and property of the individual--was left to the States, when specific powers were delegated to the Central Government, under our Federal Constitution.

Thus murder, rape, robbery, arson, burglary, etc., outside of specific Federal Reservations, are always prosecuted in State, not Federal, Courts. The proposal that the Federal Government should take over this Police Power, as it pertains to lynching, was considered as insulting as it was unnecessary. We would suggest that it involved more political grandstanding than jurisprudential substance. Surely opposing such legislation 54 years ago, is not something that should define one's candidacy as "evil" or "bigoted"; hardly something that should discredit one's supporters, ever after.

And much the same might be said about a proposal to abolish the poll tax. This, of course, required a Constitutional Amendment--because the Constitution specifically tied Federal voting rights in each State to those granted by that State for elections to its State Legislature (Art. I, Sec. 2);--and after a prolonged push was incorporated into the XXIVth, adopted in 1964. That Amendment provided that the right to vote in a Federal election should not be denied "by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax." While the poll tax has been denounced as a device to keep Southern Negroes from voting, that is not really an accurate or fair description. In fact, in most States, it was held to a nominal amount--often as little as one dollar. What it did do, however, was to require a certain level of personal responsibility. It had to be paid at an appropriate time, forcing a conscious interaction with the system. The idea, basically, was to weed out those "voters," Caucasian or Negro, who were unwilling or unable to demonstrate such a simple token of personal responsibility. Is it wrong to seek a more responsible electorate?

We do not suggest that the poll tax laws were always fairly or perfectly administered. One suspects that just as aggressive political organizations today, shepherd their voters to the polls, show people in nursing homes how to cast absentee ballots, and even allow multiple voting, and voting the dead, that some people got special reminders of when to pay, and perhaps even the money to pay, in some places. The attack was not on cases of corruption, but on the very idea of restricting the suffrage to the more responsible. As such, it was properly denounced as an intrusion into States' Rights to control their own franchise.

There are other issues, which appear in hindsight, to have been relevant to the Thurmond campaign in 1948, although they actually were not. The Brown vs. Board of Education decision, which declared the separate public schools for White and Negro students that had been maintained in 17 States and in some communities in a number of others, unconstitutional, was still 6 years away. School assignment policy was not an issue. However, it should be noted, in order to put the actual attitude of the Thurmond leadership at the time into better perspective, that both in South Carolina and other Southern States, there were major building programs underway, to upgrade the Negro schools. With the return of a level of prosperity in the deep South, not seen since the Civil War, many Southerners of good will sought to share the improved availability of public funds with all of the residents of their respective communities.

It should also be noted that South Carolina, in the era discussed, was the one American State--the only American State--where year after year, the Negro per capita felony crime rate was no higher than the White. No other State came even close. If Trent Lott, or anyone else, wishes to speak with fond nostalgia of the Thurmond Presidential candidacy, is it unreasonable to demand of those who wish to denounce them, that they be able to demonstrate that what has replaced the old system is, in fact, a fairer and kindlier system than that which they so viciously assail.

But, then, there has been almost nothing in the two weeks of invective, hurled at Lott over a momentary bit of whimsy, that would suggest that those engaged in this pursuit have any real interest in the actual facts, or in any honorable or idealistic motive. That the ideological--as opposed to the purely political-- aspect of the attack on Trent Lott is motivated, in large part, by a combination of pure hate, and a fanatic desire to regiment American private thought--rather than the sanctimonious idealism being feigned--may be clearly demonstrated by some of the side issues, now being explored by the same ideological mob. Lott has been pilloried because he defended the racial exclusiveness of his College fraternity; because he has been supportive of the tax exempt status of Bob Jones University; because he worked to have Jefferson Davis' citizenship restored posthumously, a Century after his death, etc., ad nauseam.

Do these people actually believe that it is a disqualification for high office, that one preferred members of his own race for his close personal associates, in a private social organization in College? No one in 1948, Left or Right, was suggesting an attack on the clannish quality of College fraternities and sororities. Nor was there such an attack, at the time Lott joined his fraternity, or defended its policies, over a decade later. The fact that today's social attitudes are more outgoing and more inter-racially gregarious is wholly beside the point. If the mob were just caught up in a spirit of inter-group good will, they would be happy with the more easy going attitudes, not seeking to engage in witch hunts against anyone who ever had a different attitude--which, incidentally, would be most of the adult population.

The "issue" concerning Bob Jones University--itself set up by an old friend of Strom Thurmond's--is rather similar. A fundamentalist Protestant denominational College, it has been attacked in recent years for its rather strident doctrinal differences with the Catholic Church, and for a policy--abandoned officially in 2000--which forbade interracial dating. Generally, religious and educational institutions enjoy tax exempt status. Only fanatics determined to dictate theological and social views to others, would even seek to challenge the tax exempt status of a private sectarian university. One who rose to defend it, would simply be defending the American tradition.

What is really chilling about the invective of hatred being spewed both as to the fraternity and University, is that the focused antagonism directed at their perceived exclusivity and clannish sentiment, conceptually parallels that vented in Communist Russia, towards landowners who resisted being collectivized, and in Nazi Germany, against Jews who dared prosper by cooperation, while preserving an ancient identity. Unchallenged, fanaticism of this sort can get very, very ugly. Targeted, here, are not just rooted White Southerners, who still dare to be proud of their heritage. There are also many other groups, which even in the face of a popular mood, being actively and aggressively promoted, almost in the manner of a Pavlovian experiment, by much of the mass media, still seek to preserve a traditional, distinct and separate society: For one obvious example, the Amish; for another, many Orthodox Jews. Preserving not only the right of free association--which includes a right not to associate--but also respect for those who choose to exercise that right, is essential to the preservation of civility among the widely differing peoples who share this Sub-Continent.

The issue as to Senator Lott's seeking to have the "citizenship" of the long dead Senator from Mississippi, and President of the Confederacy, restored, is best answered by recalling the avowal of Davis's Union opponent, Abraham Lincoln, of a guiding spirit to govern future dealings among Americans. Lincoln promised to go forward, the month before he was murdered, With Malice toward none, with Charity towards all. For the Century between the 1890s and the Clinton era, that sentiment dominated the thinking of most Americans, North or South, in determining how to treat each others' customs, heroes and celebrations. Northern kids sang "Dixie" and Southern kids sang the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," and most of us respected one another's heroes. But now, even this is being treated as an unforgivable outrage against all that is decent and holy.

Here again, is the face of pure hatred! Understand it. Those who spew this venom, want to dictate how all Americans will think--a monolithic mindset, a reprise of the great Nazi rallies, where German "oneness" at the expense of all local sentiments and previous class traditions, was decreed and demonstrated with terrifying efficiency. Of course, the social history of mankind attests that what is socially fashionable, one day, may seem intolerable the next. And those who so vociferously sow hatred today, may not like the harvest they reap with the next swing of the social pendulum.

The Political Aspect--How Not To Handle A Smear

Politicians who gravitate to the Left have long embraced the tactics of the fanatic; one who will not even consider the possibility that there might be another side to a favored issue. This is especially true as to all issues where they know that the can not actually win a rational debate. This truculent approach may explain, in part, why many "moderates" who seek the support of those, whom the Left claim to represent, will give lip service to the sort of smear tactics discussed in the first part of this essay. In addition, even as we suggested above, the Academic Left learned long ago that they could use race and ethnicity as an effective metaphor for the rejected slogans of class warfare; that by playing on the desire of affluent Americans to appear always fair minded, they could introduce the emotional justification for a forced egalitarian pursuit without triggering the sort of middle-class reaction, which would certainly follow were they to call for a revolution of the "Proletariat."

These tactics have been perfected by stages, starting with the early successes, a century past, of the Academic Left in instilling guilt complexes in the sons and daughters of some of the great achievers in American industry and commerce. This led to the phenomenon known as the "Limousine Liberal," as wealthy, guilt ridden, Leftist icons came to be glamorized as role models for slightly less affluent echelons of those apologizing for Capitalist success. A useful refinement--useful from the standpoint of those who seek to destroy the traditional ethos of America, the heritage of the Founding Fathers--was in the adoption of what might be described as the "WASP gambit." This was a device of those who knew how to suggest the traditional Socialist class demonology by subtler means, in which those descended from the original settler stock--to whom all of us are really beholden for there even being a modern America--were disparagingly referred to as "WASPs" (the cutesy shortening of White Anglo-Saxon Protestant); and, thus disparaged, were identified as objects for envy and resentment by everyone who was not a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant.

A further refinement of these tactics came in the works of Gordon Allport and others, discussed in the essay on Myths & Myth Makers In American "Higher" Education, linked below.

That such tactics have succeeded in introducing guilt into the American mainstream, is certainly to our discredit. Civilization derives from the same concept as that represented by the Fifth Commandment. It is in the respect of each generation for the ones that came before and those that will follow, and in an understanding of responsibility for an ongoing dynamic, that human progress is made and retained. It is a building process; not the tearing down, so loved by the deniers of reality who populate the Leftist jungle.

It should be beneath contempt for any beneficiary of the magnificent culture, which the founders of America created--and all of us, whose families came afterward, are among such beneficiaries--to resent the affluence or influence of those founders' heirs and progeny. And it is a tragic weakness in some of those heirs, that they have allowed despicable, hate-filled propagandists in academic gowns, to make them ashamed or apologetic for their familial traditions and achievements. Were the successes of these and similar tactics a factor in the way some Republicans from old families fell all over themselves in apologizing for Trent Lott's flight of fancy? We think that they were. We also see them as part of a pattern in the ranting of some of those on the attack.

Reasonable men may debate how best to handle a smear campaign launched by a determined adversary. But there are certain basic concepts that must invariably come into play. For one, you should seldom debate the degree of your own alleged culpability, even if you really are guilty of something wrong.. And while this is obvious in seeking to project positive images, in general; it is all the more certain, when the alleged culpability is in merely having a different ideological perspective; having a completely defensible point of view--whether or not that view is controversial. To concede the moral high ground to an unprincipled foe, bent upon reviling you and destroying your reputation, is pure madness. To compromise your position by apologizing for your heritage, will only undermine your base of support. It will never convert a determined foe. Nor should it please anyone devoted to the truth. It has never been immoral in a free society to have a difference of opinion.

The correct response to any smear will be found in a multi-faceted analysis of the subject matter--an analysis that should never be limited by a mindless or knee-jerk acceptance of your foe's premises. (It cannot possibly be in your interest to increase the perceived credibility of those trying to destroy your reputation, by giving the impression of having to apologize or appease;--by acting as Senator Lott responded, once the pressure got to him.) This private, personal, pre-response analysis, should address not only the strengths and weaknesses of your foes' factual assumptions and his ideological slant, but the actual relevance, and the context of every aspect of the subject, as such may impact the concerns, perceptions and focus of an interested public. Your response should focus attention on factors which induce acceptance of your points--not on those that would imply credibility to the points of your foes.

The classic example of pure pragmatism, in dealing with an extremely embarrassing scandal, was in the way Lyndon Johnson handled the arrest of his closest personal aid for a homosexual act in a public rest room, a couple of weeks before the 1964 election. Virtually anything that he could have said would only have drawn more attention to the incident. So Johnson, unlike the intellectually dysfunctional who felt a need to distance themselves from Trent Lott's flight of fancy, totally ignored the incident--and it went away! We are trying not to be cruel. But words keep popping up in our head: "Washington Republicans: No sense, no guts, no future!"

The greatest weakness to the Lott smear--what should have been addressed by anyone who felt the need to comment--was that it was over a bit of whimsy at a birthday party--a feel good remark to a well loved, 100 year old, "birthday boy." There was no way that it was intended to refer to any present issue. It was totally non-specific, and could as well have referred to any of the many strengths that Strom Thurmond has shown in positions of leadership over the past 55+ years. Indeed, the only people in America who even remember what the issues were in 1948 are those enthusiasts, totally committed to one side or the other of the historic debate. Not even 1% of the general population--including the racial minority population--could have even told you what those issues were, before the weak kneed Republicans gave them currency, by varied forms of apology.

Lott should have answered any queries with a smile, and offered to discuss his views on any current issue before the Senate. He should have flatly refused to even try to recall what the issues might have been 54+ years ago. He was paying a tribute to a birthday boy. And he should have stuck to that. After a while, the ranters and railers, on a witch hunt, would have looked ridiculous.

Beyond, that, he and the rest of the Republican crew in Washington, should never have opened their mouths until they understood all of the ramifications of the issues they would end up discussing. In summary, the issues in 1948 were about the allocation of power; about public and private decision making. The question was never whether you agreed or disagreed with a particular social dispensation, but as to who should have the "call" in the matter. That is neither hard to understand nor hard to explain. Nor would it sound "evil" to any observer, not already totally committed, to explain that many Southerners, both White and Black, Liberal and Conservative, lament the present spirit of confrontation, which has replaced civility since 1948. Lott's whimsy may have far more support than many realize.

In apologizing--in falling all over each other to distance themselves from a harmless, whimsical tribute to Thurmond--Republicans insulted their base, gave credibility to what was never intended to be anything but a tactic against them, and looked like a pack of unprincipled and totally ridiculous moral cowards to any bemused or impartial observer. Worse, they seriously undermined their chance to be able to deliver on the one promise that kept the Conservative rank and file in the party fold, both in 2000 and 2002: The promise to appoint Conservative, "strict constructionists," to the Federal Bench.

It was Strom Thurmond who, more than any other Senator, pushed for more Conservative Judges over the past four decades. That was always understood to be the price Republican moderates had to pay, to have the benefit of the millions of Southern Conservatives, who followed Strom Thurmond's lead into the Republican Party. To apologize for Thurmond--to diminish his legacy in response to this completely contrived cry of "racism" and "bigotry," is only to rally and focus the forces of the Left. We will have these Republican apologies--these admissions of "guilt" in trying to undermine racial and social "progress"--hurled back into our faces, whenever a Republican President (if there even is another) attempts to appoint a Conservative to the Federal Bench for many years to come.

Hopefully, whoever and whatever emerges from this orgy of self-destruction, will at least learn from these mistakes. But anyone in Congress, who thinks that Lott's resignation, under these circumstances, is going to do anything but give stronger "legs" to this contrived outcry, is far too stupid to be entrusted with your children's future.


Note: There is also a notion in some Republican circles, that the key to attracting a larger minority vote, is to appear to be the party of "Civil Rights," the metaphor for Socialist class warfare discussed in the essay. This is typical of the actual lack of understanding--a lack of understanding which telegraphs loud & clear an actual indifference to the real problems & motivations in other communities.

While demagogues in certain neighborhoods may shout about "civil rights" and "discrimination," the real vote buying by the Left is done through various Government subsidies, from ADC for the Welfare mother, to housing subsidies, special programs, etc.. This is how the Democratic Left won Negroes away from the Republicans after 1932. The percentage increase in the Republican minority vote, which might follow a regained reputation as the party of "Civil Rights," whether in 1948, 1964 or today, is statistically insignificant. The percentage of the Conservative vote, they would stand to lose, is huge. To fully comprehend this + factor, the student needs to obtain a copy of the book by the former Publisher of National Review, William A. Rusher, The Making of the New Majority Party. This book, which was very significant in putting together the "Reagan Revolution," discusses in depth, the political realignment of Northern and Southern Conservatives, which was necessary to achieve that result.

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