Finally, there are Lott's appearances before the CCC in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He says he was just being nice. "It was one of those events that you have almost every two years," Lott told radio host Sean Hannity Wednesday. "You have them all over the state. You don't usually ask who's sponsoring this thing." Friday, Lott gave a similar account of his praise for Thurmond. "I was trying to make [him] happy," said Lott. "It was just an effort to encourage an elderly gentleman to feel good."
I believe Lott on all counts. He forgot about the civil rights movement. He was habitually oblivious to it. In his mature years, he's been driven not by racism but by a preoccupation with the sovereignty of states, neighborhoods, and private institutions. He spoke kindly to the CCC and praised Thurmond's 1948 campaign because he wanted to be nice, even if that meant overlooking bigotry. In short, he's guilty of all the sins that, in his view, add up to an alibi. And he's far from alone.
How many conservatives who denounced Lott this week appreciate the civil rights movement? How many have made careers out of deriding feminism, as though the women's movement achieved nothing? How many worship Ronald Reagan, who helped defeat the Equal Rights Amendment? How many defend Helms, who in 1990 defeated a black opponent by complaining in an ad that whites were losing jobs to blacks because of quotas? How many speak congenially to people who support them for what they know are ugly reasons? How many worry about the overlap between the positions of segregationists and the positions of people such as themselves, who defend the rights of states, neighborhoods, and private institutions? How many refuse to see that you can't be nice to racists without being callous to the people they despise?
If politeness to bigots, comfort with principles congenial to them, and amnesia about struggles for equal rights are now crimes worthy of ending people's careers, then let the inquisition begin. Lott's accusers will be sorry they started it.