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For now, Trent Lott should have our support

By Paul M. Weyrich
web posted December 16, 2002

The feeding frenzy over Trent Lott's comments continues, perhaps temporarily abated by Trent's most fulsome apology to date. But the Left had sensed that they were closing in for the kill and are unlikely to be deterred by Lott's apology last Friday. Let's hope they do not get the satisfaction of bringing him down because of this flap. Because if Lott goes down, this will only encourage more expeditions by the Left to bag conservatives for making statements deemed to be Politically Incorrect, no matter if they are just off-the-cuff, ill-considered remarks. Such statements will be given far more meaning than they should be accorded by an opposition intent on engaging in the politics of personal destruction and egged on by a news media dominated by Politically Correct thinking.

Trent LottI know Trent and whatever he meant or whatever views he held in his youth, he did not mean segregation was acceptable when honoring Strom Thurmond. I believe he was trying to be gracious to an aged, retiring senator who has always been a consistent anti-Communist. That being the case, we should defend Trent Lott to the end of the earth when he is being unfairly attacked as he is now.

In today's media age, whatever you say can be held against you. It does not mean that it always will. Otherwise, why weren't the politicians and organizations now outraged over Lott's remarks meant to honor a Senator on his 100th birthday, denouncing Sen. Bob Byrd (D-WV) for saying last year on national television that there are "white niggers," a remark with an indisputably racist connotation? When Byrd made that remark last year, he received a pass from the PC Left given his party affiliation and the power he wields in doling out Federal money, something that is evidently
appreciated by Democrat powerbrokers.

Let's hope Trent Lott finds the guts to stand his ground in the wake of the media firestorm that he now faces and that he discovers the mettle that is within him to be a better leader. That is the real issue for conservatives in determining who will be the Majority Leader in the United States Senate.

What should be our litmus test for determining Trent Lott's ability to lead is how committed he is to stick to conservative principles and not give in to Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle and the Democrats. Remember that despite their now diminished status in wake of the November election results, the Daschle Democrats still have the numbers to frustrate action on key items essential to enacting the conservative agenda.

Imagine the disappointment expressed when conservatives learned the day after the election, after it was clear the GOP would retake control of the U.S. Senate, that Trent Lott had already made an agreement with Daschle that the transfer of control over Senate committees would not be start until January. A stronger leader would have made sure it started earlier, at least as soon as Jim Talent (R-MO) took office in November as the winner of a special election, putting the GOP back in control.

Trent should have played hardball with Daschle over the Democrat tactics of stonewalling and personal destruction that were employed against President Bush's excellent nominees for Federal judgeships, some of whom had received the highest rating from the American Bar Association, once considered by Senate Democrats as representing the `gold standard.'

And that's only some of the complaints movement conservatives have about Trent for this session, and there have been plenty in the past too.

Knowing Trent as I do, I understand that he had a tough childhood, growing up in a home in which his father had a drinking problem. Who would not be affected by the tenseness of family life in such a situation? Perhaps because of that background, like Bill Clinton, Trent is someone who needs to be liked. But this current flap should teach Trent something about his colleague in leadership and the party that he leads. Tom Daschle, at first, came to Trent's defense, then backtracked under pressure from his caucus, and attacked him. There just are no real friends on the other side of the aisle. Trying to accommodate Daschle and the Senate Democrats by always playing the nice guy will bring the Republican Party and conservatives nothing. The use of that tactic by Trent hasn't worked in the past, and it won't in the future. I hope that lesson has finally become clear once and for all to Trent.

There will be important issues coming up in the Congress during the next session such as welfare reform and school choice. It will be easy for the Left and the Senate Democrats to resort to the race-baiting tactics that they are known for employing when issues like that hit the Senate floor. Millions of women, black and white, trying to raise families, have received the helpful hand they needed from conservative-sponsored welfare reform policies, enabling them to stop receiving government checks and to start receiving real paychecks. On the issue of school choice, conservatives have a chance to help Americans by opening the long-closed doors of opportunity that left inner-city students trapped in failing schools.

In order for those doors to open, the Senate Republicans, led by Trent Lott, will have to hold firm to conservative principles. The movement has to watch what Trent does very closely and to hold him accountable. My concern is that Trent will silently give away things to Daschle to burnish his image as having gotten bills passed while seeking to avoid having his fingerprints on the dirty deeds. We need to be on the lookout for any hint of undue concessions having been made and blow the whistle loudly when we spot them.

President Bush spoke out on the statement that Lott has made, making clear his disappointment with the thrust of the remarks, however unintended. Once again, he demonstrated his willingness to use the bully pulpit that he has for the good of his party, our movement, and the nation.

The President said, "Every day our nation was segregated was a day that America was unfaithful to our founding ideals. And the founding ideals of our nation, and in fact the founding ideals of the political party I represent, was, and remains today the equal dignity and equal rights of every American."

What the President said was not done for reasons of Political Correctness. He wanted to make clear once and for all that his party and the modern conservative movement are working to make sure we have a society in which the old racial divisions are rendered irrelevant because the opportunities to succeed are there for any American willing to do their best. Trent may have come to that vision later than some because he grew up in the Deep South during an era where segregation was struggling to retain its loosening grip, but he made that transition and so did Mississippi and the South.

The President spoke for those conservatives who have spent years reaching out to African-Americans. I did that as a conservative activist in Wisconsin forty years ago and on Capitol Hill as a Senate aide and at the Free Congress Foundation. At National Empowerment Television, we were able to help build support and awareness for conservative reform policies that have benefited black Americans. Our efforts should not end up going for naught just because the purveyors of Political Correctness have deemed one ill-considered remark to represent the definitive statement about the relationship between blacks and our movement.

There is a challenge to Trent, conservatives, the GOP, and the Bush Administration. It is this: we must redouble our effort to reach out to black Americans and demonstrate that we are ready to roll up our sleeves, have some frank talks, and work together voluntarily to push aside the divisions of the past and to advance an agenda for the future. There won't be any immediate payoff. But we need to keep at it, working harder than ever before to move forward in building a lasting conservative majority that ensures the doors of opportunity are open to all Americans. We can't just rely on the PC-dominated media to carry our message for us, we've got to personally reach out to show Black Americans that we have their best
interest at heart.

Trent Lott should not resign, and he should receive conservative support at this time. When Trent shows he is not going to do what he should be doing -- fighting as hard as he can to advance a GOP agenda centered upon conservative principles -- then that is the time that conservatives should call for him to step down. That day will come if he puts the best interest of the conservative movement, the President, and the nation second by courting favor with the Daschle Democrats. If that day arrives, then the conservative movement will have been forced to take sides against Trent because of his own lack of leadership.

As we fight a War on Terrorism while working to promote a conservative reform agenda, now is not the time for the movement to get sidetracked by the detour that the Left wants us to take. Conservatives know the direction in which we should be heading. Let's stay on that course. Only if we find our agenda veering off to the left because our leader in the Senate has lost his sense of direction, should we take action.

Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.

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