November 27, 2007
Trent Lott sure picked a strange time to announce his resignation from the U.S. Senate, given that he just won his bid for reelection last year and his term won't end until 2012. Or maybe it's not so strange ... if what he is doing is putting his own ambitions first. Having painstakingly rehabilitated his image after his infamous gaffe regarding Strom Thurmond in 2002, he can now command a higher consulting fee in the juicy D.C. lobbying "industry," for which he is quite well suited. He cited his desire to get full funding for Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts in southern Mississippi, which may be part of it as well. But that doesn't explain why someone would leave the Senate with 5/6 of his term yet to go.
It was nearly five years ago that he praised Sen. Strom Thurmond, implying that American would have been better off if we had remained a segregated society. Back then, I was mad at Lott for his apparently tactlessness, but the more I think about it, I think his gesture to Thurmond was essentially an earnest (if misguided) attempt to reconcile ancient divisions in the South. If there is one thing he was good at, it was back-slapping, good-ole-boy smooth-talking, a sort of countryfied version of the hippie ideal of "peace, love, and understanding." In some circumstances, such an attempt at bridging divisions is perfectly appropriate. Nevertheless, it's one thing to forgive enemies who have trespassed against oneself, and quite another thing to let someone off the hook for an offense committed against a third party. Lott should have known better than to do that.
Even though Mississippi is reliably Republican, so there is little chance of losing that Senate seat to the Democrats, Lott's departure is seen as a setback for the Party of Lincoln. (!) In the Washington Post, Chris Cillizza observes that this announcement comes in the midst of a wave of similar retirements or "career switches" by GOP legislators on Capitol Hill. Why the exodus? Is faith in the Republican Party and/or conservative agenda really that weak these days? Time will tell.