Lottism Without Lott

During the 1999-2000 Congress, the NAACP gave one senator a near rock bottom rating in its scorecard on the votes of Senators on civil rights issues. That Senator was not Trent Lott. It was Oklahoma Republican Don Nickles. Though he has virtually called for Senate Republicans to dump Lott as Senate majority leader, at times Nickles has exceeded even Lott in his zeal to torpedo civil rights protections.

Lott agreed with the NAACP position on civil rights legislation in two of ten votes during that Congressional year; Nickles agreed on only one. In other Congress years, Lott and Nickles opposed the creation of a federal holiday for Martin Luther King Jr. and voted to abolish affirmative action in federal hiring. But on the King holiday, Nickles went further and insultingly suggested that the holiday should be an unpaid holiday, celebrated on a Sunday. While Lott has publicly recanted his opposition to the King holiday and affirmative action, Nickles has not.

But Nickles is not the only top Republican to wallow near the bottom on the Senate civil rights scorecard. Tennessee Senator Bill Frist and Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell opposed expanded hate crime protections, greater funding for minority owned businesses, job discrimination by sexual orientation, and for banning affirmative action in federal hiring. And both were cheer leaders for the confirmation of John Ashcroft. The three senators have drawn raves from the American Conservative Union. Nickles� lifetime ACU rating matches Lott�s. McConnell and Frist�s ratings are only marginally lower than Lott�s. If, or more likely when, Senate Republicans dump Lott, Nickles Frist or McConnell could succeed him.

Their respectable, gray flannel suit opposition to civil rights, in contrast to Lott�s crude, bellicose opposition is the big reason the Republicans have resuscitated the party from its century of near extinction in the Deep South to become the dominant force in national politics. The transformation came in 1964. Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater rode the first tide of white backlash. He opposed the 1964 civil rights bill, railed against big government, and championed states rights. Despite his landslide loss to Lyndon Johnson, Goldwater deeply planted the seed of racial pandering that would be the centerpiece of the Republican�s �Southern Strategy� in the coming decades.

In 1968, Richard Nixon picked the hot button issues of bussing and quotas, adopted the policy of benign neglect, and subtly stoked white racial fears. He routinely peppered his talks with his confidants with derogatory quips about blacks. He enshrined in popular language racially-tinged code words such as, "law and order," permissive society" "welfare cheats," "crime in the streets," "subculture of violence," "subculture of poverty," "culturally deprived" and "lack of family values."

Ronald Reagan picked up the racial torch by launching the first major systematic attack on affirmative action programs, and gutting many social and education programs. He refused to meet with the Congressional Black Caucus, attempted to reduce the power of the Civil Rights Commission over employment discrimination cases, and opposed the extension of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Reagan's attorney general Ed Meese complained that the bill discriminated against the South.

In 1988, Bush, Sr., made escaped black convict Willie Horton the poster boy for black crime and violence and turned the presidential campaign against his Democrat opponent Michael Dukakis into a rout. He branded a bill by Senator Ted Kennedy to make it easier to bring employment discrimination suits a �quotas bill� and vetoed it. He further infuriated blacks by appointing arch-conservative Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. In his autobiography, "My American Journey," Colin Powell called Reagan �insensitive� on racial issues, and tagged Bush�s Horton stunt, �a cheap shot.�

Republican presidential hopeful Bob Dole waltzed through his failed campaign against Bill Clinton in 1996 making only the barest mention of racial issues. He flatly rejected an invitation to speak at the NAACP convention.

In 1998, the Republicans had a golden opportunity to loudly denounce race baiting extremist groups when it was revealed that Lott and former Georgia representative Robert Barr had snuggled up to the pro-segregation states rights Council for Conservative Citizens. Like Nickles, McConnell and Frist, they were stone silent on the Council.

Bush has also subtly stoked the racial fires. He spoke at racially archaic Bob Jones University, ducked the Confederate flag fight and racial profiling, and refused to support tougher hate crimes legislation. Then there is his handling of the Lott debacle. When Lott attended a second Strom Thurmond birthday bash at the White House, there is no indication that Bush took the occasion to rebuke Lott for his remarks. It took nearly a week, and a firestorm of public outrage, before he finally condemned Lott.

Die hard Lott apologists worry that with him out as Senate leader, the Republican conservative agenda will go to pot. With Nickles, McConnell or Frist and Bush�s gate keeping of that agenda, there�s no danger of that.

HREF="http://www.thehutchinsonreport.com">Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and columnist. He is the author of The Crisis in Black and Black (Middle Passage Press).

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