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Zero Lott Line - December 13, 2002

By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to

The Lott story has legs. They're big and growing meatier every day.

The beleaguered senator has recited his act of contrition numerous times to no avail. His apologies temporarily fill the news, but follow-up stories inevitably raise questions about other transgressions he may have committed in the past.

This is happening because the mainstream press is on a scavenger hunt. It's dredging up tales on Lott from the archives of history.

There's one from two decades ago about the then young GOP congressional leader. It seems Lott stated, "Racial discrimination does not always violate public policy." Lott was trying to help save the tax exemption of one of the left's favorite targets of higher learning, Bob Jones University. He filed a "friend of the court" brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in 1981, defending a dating ban between black and white students at the university.

Then there's another account that's four decades old. Karen Tumulty of Time magazine has dug up a story that alleges Lott helped to keep blacks out of his fraternity at Ole Miss.

Now even the president of the United States has rebuked the incoming majority leader. As a result of the Lott flack, the Republican Party and the Bush administration find themselves at a strategic fork in the road. But it's a no-win intersection. Either path they choose, they lose.

When one is faced with two bad choices, the rational thing to do is to take the loss that will hurt the least.

The first option is for Sen. Lott to resign as majority leader, knocking most of the air out of the story and focusing attention on which new face is going to be in charge. In this scenario, you can bet that salivating sharks on the left will declare victory and spin Lott's resignation as a valiant exorcism of racism. Lott's statement could still be used as a political mallet, but with less potency.

The second option is to keep Lott in place and defend his statement as a casual comment made at a birthday gathering, that was never intended to be perceived like it sounded. The hypocrisy of accusers, and selective outrage aimed at Republicans only, could also be pointed out.

But in this scenario, the Democrats get the tool they've been lusting for since George W. Bush was sworn into office ­ a polarizing figure that riles up their constituents the way Newt Gingrich did. The best "fiend" they've had at their disposal thus far has been Attorney General John Ashcroft. But he never really fit the bill. Trent Lott does.

In the final analysis, the conservative agenda is going to have enough obstacles to overcome without handing the Dems a powerful weapon like this, which they can use to stop any positive change. Neither of the above options is ideal, but it's time for Lott to demonstrate that what he cares about most is his party and his country.

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James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.

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