Saturday, December 21, 2002

Such a Sacrifice! Such a Burden!

Trent Lott stepping down as majority leader (but remaining a senator) means that Republicans take care of their problems and Democrats don’t, says Instapundit.

Really? Of course not.

First, if taking Lott out of leadership - but keeping him in the Senate - is “taking care” of the problem, then any criticism of Robert Byrd and Ernest Hollings for their segregationist past and, more recently Byrd’s use of a racial epithet when discussing his past, isn’t valid. They’re just as eligible to remain in the Senate as is Trent Lott - much less Strom Thurmond. They just can’t serve in party leadership like Lott was.

Byrd and Hollings are “merely” long-serving members of the U.S. Senate who have been around long enough to chair (or serve as ranking minority members) of powerful committees - which is apparently a perfectly acceptable outcome for Trent Lott. The office he “wasn’t fit to hold” was majority leader, not U.S. Senator.

Second, if the issue really was Lott’s leadership role and it’s up to voters in Mississippi to decide whether Lott can remain as a senator, then only residents of West Virginia and South Carolina get to decide whether Byrd and Hollings are fit to serve as senators today.

Actually, having voted for Strom Thurmond for so many years, South Carolinians are ineligible, so it’s just West Virginia residents who get to play. Any other Republican who accepts Lott remaining in the Senate, despite his comments, just forfeited his or her right to slam Byrd or Hollings.

Third, notice what “taking care of the problem” means in this case. Trent Lott is no longer majority leader, but he’s still a United States Senator, with his seniority, committee assignments, and stature.

The Republicans solved their problem by keeping him on stage, but moving him to the side so that the spotlight doesn't shine so brightly on him anymore. Cynthia McKinney had to leave Congress, but Trent Lott can stay in the Senate.

It’s usually liberals who get blamed for self-pitying moralizing, but check out this quote from the Peggy Noonan column that Mickey Kaus saluted:

Some of us have put our reputations in jeopardy by supporting programs like the school liberation movement because we want to help people who don't have much and need a break. Or we’ve put ourselves in jeopardy by opposing racial preferences, or any number of other programs, for the very reason that we believe completely in our hearts and minds that all races are equal and no one should be judged by the color of his skin.

How, pray tell, has Noonan “put herself in jeopardy” due to her personal support of the downtrodden and of equal rights? Does she mean that The Wall Street Journal would pay her more or run her stuff more often if she just didn’t care about other people? That she would have more stature in the conservative community if she didn’t believe in equal rights so very, very sincerely? That it really is a career-limiting problem for conservatives to believe in equal rights?

It’s must take such incredible bravery to be a conservative. You have to accept money, power, and prestige being showered on you -- such a burden! Oh, what a burden your reputation bears for supporting equal rights! It’s a terrible, terrible price to pay, but they pay it, because they know such sacrifice is worth it because of how it helps the less fortunate, or because of your firm belief in equal justice under the law for all citizens.

Of course, the “sacrifice” is supporting policies that oh-so-conveniently happen to benefit you personally, like tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the rich, like school voucher plans that will aid segregated private schools, like government spending devoted to GOP congressional districts.

In the real world, a “sacrifice” is when you give something up, or do something difficult, to benefit others and not yourself. But this sort of, yes, Orwellian abuse of language is necessary to believe that letting Trent Lott remain in the U.S. Senate is a sacrifice, “taking care of” a long-standing and shameful problem.

(Harold Ickes put himself in physical jeopardy and lost a kidney working for equal rights. Into exactly what jeopardy has Peggy Noonon put herself in the cause? Oh, yes, one more thought experiment. Imagine that Paul Krugman wrote a column so self-pitying and self-justifying as Noonan's. Would Kaus have called it "good"?)

Don’t sprain your shoulder patting yourself on the back, guys.

NOTE: I edited this post after initially posting in on Saturday.

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