Trent Lott (R-MS) just got chosen to be minority whip. He’s the former majority leader who stepped down in 2003 after a bit of a fuss over his remarks at Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday party. Just so nobody forgets, his exact words were:
“I want to say this about my state — when Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over the years, either.”
To clarify: Strom Thurmond ran for president in 1948 with the short-lived Dixiecrat party. This party formed when, at the 1948 Democratic convention, the party decided to put an anti-segregation plank into their platform; a coalition of 35 delegates stormed out and promptly formed the “States’ Rights Democratic Party,” more commonly known as the Dixiecrats, and ran their own candidate – Thurmond – on a strong pro-segregation platform. To quote him from this election,
“I wanna tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that there’s not enough troops in the army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the nigra race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches.”
After this party collapsed, he switched to the Republicans, who had swept up control of the South basically by opposing the Democrats on desegregation.1
In his favor, Thurmond changed his mind — by the 1970’s, he repudiated segregation and ultimately did things like support black candidates for federal judgeships, something that Southern politicians of the day were loathe to do. Trent Lott, on the other hand, apparently never did.
So when you start hearing about how the Republican party just chose this guy to be their whip, because they need a good legislative tactician (and he certainly is that), just remember what they’re in bed with.
1 There’s a whole fascinating story here, about the political realignment in the late 40’s that basically reshaped American politics; and I didn’t hear word one about it until I took a fairly specialized course on the history of the American presidency in college. Amazing, what they don’t tell you in school.