Whopper of the Week: Remembering Strom
While trying to forget.
"Though his opposition to integration was a hallmark of [former South Carolina Senator Strom] Thurmond's early career, his segregationist past seems all but forgotten."—Lee Bandy, "There'll Never Be Another Like Strom Thurmond," in the State of Columbia, South Carolina, June 27, 2003.
"In the interest of pursuing the best possible agenda for the future of our country, I will not seek to remain as majority leader of the United States Senate for the 108th Congress, effective January 6, 2003."—Trent Lott, Dec. 20, 2002. Lott's resignation came after he stirred a hornet's nest by speaking warmly, at a 100th birthday party for Thurmond, about Thurmond's segregationist third-party presidential campaign of 1948.
Discussion. Bandy's statement would have been (sadly) accurate had it been published a year ago. It would even have been accurate for a day or two after Lott made his now-famous remark that, had Thurmond won in 1948, "we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years." Most news outlets initially ignored Lott's gaffe. But ABC's The Note and other Web sites picked it up, reminding readers that Thurmond's 1948 campaign on the breakaway "Dixiecrat" ticket was focused almost entirely on maintaining segregation between blacks and whites. Thurmond has never retracted, let alone apologized for, the many racist comments he uttered in that campaign. Indeed, when interviewed for a Charlotte Observer story commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Dixiecrat revolt, Thurmond defended the campaign, saying, "I don't have anything to apologize for," and, when asked if he thought the Dixiecrats had been right, responded, "Yes, I do."
Once the public had its memory of all this refreshed, Lott tried desperately to maintain his Senate leadership with a series of escalating apologies. But in the end, he had to fold. After that, the only person to whom Thurmond's previous segregationism was "all but forgotten" was Thurmond himself. (In later years, Thurmond routinely denied that his 1948 campaign was about race at all.)
Lott certainly had Thurmond's segregationist past uppermost in his mind when he issued a statement today on Thurmond's death. Chatterbox doesn't envy Lott this assignment. The challenge was to write respectfully about Thurmond while carefully avoiding any mention of his beliefs or political accomplishments. Note that Thurmond broke three digits, that he fought bravely in World War II, and that he held many government posts. Then over and out. Had Lott followed this roadmap back in December he'd still be majority leader. But Lott isn't one to make the same mistake twice. Here is his statement in full:
Strom Thurmond was a dear friend, and I shall miss him.
For American politics, the death of Senator Strom Thurmond brings to a close the Twentieth Century.
Last September when the Senate paid homage to our longest-serving colleague, I dubbed Strom Thurmond "our Centennial Senator" whose life was part of the tapestry that is America. A school teacher, a judge, a governor, a philanthropist, he was, above all else, a patriot. Even in oldest age, he still had the spirit of the man who parachuted into Normandy to do his part in the fight to save Western Civilization.
Strom has passed into history. His work here is done, but ours is just beginning. The rest of us can learn from his experience, build upon his accomplishments, and emulate his decency and his dedication to the land he dearly loved.
Love to say more, but I gotta catch a plane to Pascagoula. Kiss-kiss.
Got a whopper? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org . To be considered, an entry must be an unambiguously false statement paired with an unambiguous refutation, and both must be derived from some appropriately reliable public source. Preference will be given to newspapers and other documents that Chatterbox can link to online.
June 20, 2003: Billy Bulger
May 30, 2003: Ari Fleischer
May 23, 2003: Donald Rumsfeld
May 19, 2003: Un-Whopper: Ari Fleischer Tells Truth!
May 2, 2003: Peggy Cooper Cafritz
April 17, 2003: Eason Jordan
March 7, 2003: John Kerry
Feb. 28, 2003: Ari Fleischer
Feb. 14, 2003: Bill O'Reilly
Feb. 7, 2003: Saddam Hussein
Jan. 31, 2003: Karl Rove
Jan. 23, 2003: Bill Frist
Jan. 17, 2003: Naji Sabri
Jan. 10, 2003: Rod Paige
Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.