WASHINGTON (BP)–President Bush has rebuked Republican Sen. Trent Lott for comments that have brought calls for his ouster as Senate majority leader.
“Any suggestion that the segregated past was acceptable or positive is offensive, and it is wrong,” Bush told an audience of faith-based volunteers Dec. 12 in Philadelphia. “[R]ecent comments by Senator Lott do not reflect the spirit of our country. He has apologized, and rightly so. 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 [sic], and remains today, the equal dignity and equal rights of every American.”
The president included the rebuke in a 25-minute speech a week after Lott’s Dec. 5 comments at a 100th birthday party for retiring Sen. Strom Thurmond, R.-S.C.
“I want to say this about my state,” said Lott, who is in his third Senate term from Mississippi. “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 all these years, either.”
Thurmond’s 1948 presidential candidacy as a Dixiecrat had a segregationist platform. Thurmond has since turned from his pro-segregation stance.
Lott made similar comments about Thurmond when they spoke at a campaign appearance for Ronald Reagan in 1980.
On Dec. 9, Lott issued an apology: “A poor choice of words conveyed to some the impression that I embraced the discarded policies of the past. Nothing could be further from the truth, and I apologize to anyone who was offended by my statement.”
The criticism did not abate. In an interview with Fox News Dec. 11, according to The Washington Times, Lott said, “The words were terrible and I regret that, and you know, I can almost say that this was a mistake of the head, not of the heart, because I don’t accept those policies of the past at all.”
The White House said Bush was not calling for Lott to step down as majority leader.
While some civil rights leaders and Democrats have called for Lott to step down as majority leader, some conservatives and Republicans also have decried his comments.
“Senator Lott seems to have little appreciation for how such comments as this are received among black Americans,” said Ken Connor, president of Family Research Council. “[S]uch thoughtless remarks — and the senator has an unfortunate history of such gaffes — simply reinforce the suspicion that conservatives are closet racists and secret segregationists.”
Former Secretary of Education William Bennett called Lott’s words “offensive, repugnant and inimical to what the Republican Party stands for.”
“If Senator Lott can provide a satisfactory explanation for his statement, this entire episode should be forgotten,” Bennett said. “If he cannot, he needs to step down as the Senate majority leader.”