Wednesday, December 11, 2002

The blogosphere (and now the real world, too) is up in arms over Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's fond reminiscences about Strom Thurman's days as a rabidly pro-segregationist "Dixiecrat". Some commentators have expressed surprise and even alarm at the slowness with which the public outcry has arisen. Sunny optimist that I am, I view this delay as a positive sign; in effect, it demonstrates that Lott's expressed sentiment is now so far beyond the pale that everyone simply assumed he'd gotten his tongue in a knot, so to speak, and ended up blurting out something whose plain meaning he couldn't possibly have intended.

Of course (he said, returning to cynical mode), none of this has any bearing on whether Lott actually gets to keep his job or not. As I've often pointed out, a political scandal rarely has much to do with the actual offense ostensibly at the center of it; rather, it's an occasion for the protagonist's allies and opponents to do political battle, with the offender emerging unscathed, alive but bloodied, or completely destroyed, depending upon the relative strengths of the forces engaged in the melee. I have no idea how strong Lott's support is in, say, the Republican Senatorial caucus, but if it's strong enough, he could tout Osama bin Laden for president and get away with it, whereas if it's sufficiently weak, his crummy hairpiece alone is enough to sink him.

That having been said (he adds, returning to sunny idealism), the outcry among conservatives at Lott's remarks (and the initial relative restraint among liberals) extends a building (and most welcome) trend against racial polarization in American politics. (The defeat of several polarizing candidates in 2002 also provided consipcuous evidence of this tendency.) I haven't seen it mentioned, but I suspect that one of its biggest accelerators was the WTC attack; nothing promotes national unity better than an external enemy, and racial animus post-9/11 now seems not only quaintly outdated, but arguably downright unpatriotic. Somehow, I suspect that improved racial harmony in America is not the effect the September 11th hijackers had in mind....

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