WASHINGTON (BP)–Sen. Trent Lott should resign as Senate majority leader, the head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s ethics entity says.
Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said he has seen no evidence of racial bigotry in the Mississippi Republican but Lott’s recent comments about Strom Thurmond’s segregationist presidential campaign in 1948 reveal “an enormous and glaring blind spot in his personal understanding of just how wrong and evil segregation was and how horrific the privations were that were visited on African Americans during that period.”
“I agree with Strom Thurmond’s anti-communism and strong national defense policies, but it would never enter my cognitive grid to say that I was proud my state voted for him and if the country had elected him it ‘wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years,'” Land said. “To be able under any circumstances to say such a thing reveals a grossly inadequate understanding of the true injustice of that time and incomprehension of the civil rights revolution as the most important social movement of the 20th century. Such a lack of comprehension disqualifies one from national leadership, in my opinion, in the 21st century.
“Whatever the true case is, he has compromised his ability to be a national leader for the Republican Party, because he will be forever perceived at best as insensitive on these issues and at worst as prejudiced,” Land said. “And sometimes you have to put the good of your cause above yourself. If he does that, he will resign.”
Land’s call for Lott to step down as the Senate leader came during the Dec. 14 broadcast of “Richard Land Live!” a syndicated call-in radio program, and was repeated to Baptist Press Dec. 16.
“When Trent Lott brags about the state voting for Thurmond, he is only speaking for a majority of the white half,” Land said. “African Americans made up half of the population of Mississippi, but they were systemically and viciously denied the right to vote. If they had voted, Strom Thurmond would never have carried the state.”
Land’s initial endorsement of a Lott resignation came on the same weekend the second-ranking Senate Republican called for a new election of a leader.
ABC’s “This Week” television program Dec. 15 reported that Sen. Don Nickles of Oklahoma had said Lott is so weakened that it “may jeopardize his ability to enact our agenda and speak to all Americans,” The Washington Times reported.
At least two other GOP senators also have endorsed a Republican conference to discuss Lott’s fate. If Lott were to step down or to be removed as the leader, Sens. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Bill Frist of Tennessee, Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Nickles have been mentioned as possible replacements. Nickles is the outgoing majority whip, and McConnell is the incoming one.
Lott attended morning services at First Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist congregation in his hometown of Pascagoula, Miss., Dec. 15. The media gathered outside his home and outside the church, asking for comments regarding the recent controversy. Before entering the church, Lott refused to comment.
“Today is Sunday, and we don’t politick on Sunday,” Lott’s wife, Tricia, told reporters gathered outside the couple’s home, according to the Biloxi Sun Herald Dec. 16.
Lott is a member of Columbia Baptist Church in Falls Church, Va. He considers First Baptist Church in Pascagoula as his home church, however, a staff member said.
The remarks that have caused such a furor came Dec. 5 at a 100th birthday party for Thurmond, who is retiring as a senator from South Carolina.
“I want to say this about my state,” said Lott, who is in his third term in the Senate. “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 campaigned 54 years ago for the Dixiecrats, a movement that broke away that year from the Democrat Party over civil rights. 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.
Lott offered at least his third public apology of the week Dec. 13 in his home state.
“I’ve asked, and I’m asking, for forbearance and forgiveness as I continue to learn from my own mistakes and as I continue to grow and get older,” Lott said, according to The Times. “I was too much into the moment. But I only hope that people will find it in their hearts to forgive me for that grievous mistake on that occasion.”
Lott’s Dec. 13 request came a day after President Bush rebuked him, saying his comments “do not reflect the spirit of our country. He has apologized, and rightly so. Any suggestion that the segregated past was acceptable or positive is offensive, and it is wrong. Every day our nation was segregated was a day that America was unfaithful to our founding ideals.”
Bush was right, Lott said the next day.
The president did not call for Lott’s resignation as majority leader, and the White House said Bush did not think Lott needed to step down. The pressure on Lott has mounted since Bush’s remarks, however.
As would be expected, 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 and questioned his ability to lead the GOP in the Senate.
Former Republican administration officials William Bennett and Jack Kemp denounced Lott’s remarks, and Family Research Council President Ken Connor also has scolded the majority leader.
Land said he planned to spend a portion of the Dec. 14 radio program on the Lott controversy but ended up staying on the subject the entire three hours. A majority of callers, including numerous African Americans, agreed Lott should resign as the leader.
“Let’s give Trent Lott the benefit of the doubt — that he is not a bigot,” Land said. “In my personal and professional interaction with him over the last decade and a half, I have seen no evidence of any racial animosity or bigotry. Even so, saying what he said” discloses an obvious “blind spot,” Land said.