In The Moment

I don’t write a lot about politics. You know because i don’t feel superbly qualified to write about such things. And there are so many people who can do it so much better than me. Long treatises on my plants, on the other hand, i have a serious knack for. But this whole Trent Lott thing – wow. It has this unreal quality to it. Like deep down we all have a suspicion that this good old boy southern conservative senator is of course racist and of course a bigot and pines for the good ole days where people knew their places. But no one would think he’d actually say such a thing out loud. Ok maybe he would say as much, but only in dark rooms, or way out on the 17th hole where even the caddy was at a safe distance polishing the rods and what not.

But wait – he did say it. On tape. In front of hundreds. And there’s no room for interpretation here.

“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.”

Who here doesn’t know what that means!?! I must add the question marks and the exclamations points because it’s just almost too hard to believe.

So he just gave a brief and entirely unsatisfying news conference apologizing several times, saying he was caught up in the moment, and tacking on some patriotic i-come-from-poor-roots-i-was-the-first-in-my-family-to-go-to-grad-school crud to boot (grad school? give me a break.) But i’d like to know if he didn’t mean what it sounded like to everyone with ears, what exactly did he mean? What else was on Strom Thurmond’s platform but segregation and “racial integrity”? And what kind of moment gets you all riled up so that you turn from an open-minded compassionate conservative, or whatever they like to think of themselves these days, to a segregationist? It’s not like forgetting someone’s birthday or conjugating a verb incorrectly. It’s either in you or it’s not.

It reminds me of one ill fated night last spring in Paris. It was one of the first warmer days and i had been eating and drinking copiously on the banks of the Seine with my two good French friends. We ended up, several bottles of wine later, in my apartment drunk and embroiled in argument about the mid-east. And then a stream of anti-semitic and anti-American remarks flew out of my (former) friend’s mouth. My other friend Nils and i were stunned. There was a silence. And she said, “I guess i better be going”. And i said, ‘Yes, I guess you should.” Not surprisingly we never talked again. There was no explaining necessary. There’s no amount of alcohol, or revelry that can turn a person from being not racist to racist. It’s either in you or it’s not.

And i for one don’t care if he steps down as majority leader or not. Most of us know what he’s stood for all along. At least it’s now all in the open and pretty much undeniable. And it’s also an extra perk that many people are actually taking a good hard look at this man’s recent record on civil rights legislation. If only more politicians on all sides would get caught up “in the moment”.

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