When saying 'I'm sorry' is not
By John Bragg
Last Thursday, at Senator Strom Thurmond’s birthday party, these were Trent Lott’s comments: “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 of followed our lead we wouldn't of had all these problems over all these years, either.”
On Friday, Senator Lott’s office tried to dismiss the reaction to his comments: “Senator Lott's remarks were intended to pay tribute to a remarkable man who led a remarkable life. To read anything more into these comments is wrong."
Not only was this feeble statement not an apology, it placed the burden of wrongdoing on those who read or saw Lott’s comments. The Friday statement says that Lott’s critics are wrong. The Friday statement doesn’t say that Lott’s comments didn’t reflect Lott’s views. They say that anyone who saw Lott’s comments as anything but a tribute to a remarkable man is “wrong.”
Are we wrong? Is there another interpretation to what Lott said? Lott said “we voted for him. And we’re proud of it.” Lott’s comments were susceptible of only one reading, that Lott regretted the failure of Governor Thurmond’s campaign. The meaning of a bumper sticker “Don’t blame me—I voted Dixiecrat” is clear and unmistakable, it means regret for the end of segregation. No one is proud of voting for a losing candidate unless voting for that candidate is seen in retrospect as a noble or a wise cause.
Furthermore, Lott said that “…if the rest of the country had of followed our lead we wouldn't of had all these problems over all these years, either.” What problems was Trent Lott talking about? Competitive imbalance in baseball? Basement flooding? Lack of a Grand Unified Theory in particle physics? Exactly what “problems” did Trent Lott have in mind? Trent Lott was obviously thinking of certain other “problems” in his mind, which a Thurmond victory would have prevented. Problems like black people voting. Problems like black and white people going to the same schools. Problems like black men marrying white women. Problems like the end of lynching. Problems like the FBI stopping Klan violence. Problems like the integration of the armed forces. You know, “problems” like that.
Trent Lott’s office on Monday released a new statement: “A poor choice of words conveyed to some the impression that I embrace the discarded policies of the past. Nothing could be further from the truth, and I apologize to anyone who was offended by my statement.”
“A poor choice of words” implies that had he expressed his sentiments more exactly, no one would have taken exception to his comments. This is falsified, however, by the fact that Lott has never explained what nice, innocuous sentiments he meant to express. The premise of Lott’s few defenders has been that he misspoke, that he did not mean what he in fact said. The evidence indicates that he in fact misspoke, and accidentally said what he meant.
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