honorary Hose Monster:
I've contemplated writing about the whole Trent Lott thing that the media have turned into their darling love child over the last week for a little while now, and as I finally sit down to throw an opinion out, it appears that a lot of what I wanted to say is now somewhat moot.
In the wake of the idiotic comments Lott made at Senator Strom "I'm not sleeping, just resting my eyes" Thurmond's 100th birthday celebration a little over a week ago that a few people jumped on as segregational in nature and caused the media to fall all over themselves with the scent of blood in the water, the pundits have been screaming for Lott's ouster from his position as the Senate Majority Leader. Interestingly enough, just about every story I have read regarding the matter makes a prominent point of mentioning that the Senate Republicans had just reconfirmed Lott as the Majority Leader only days before the whole incident.
Since the stories hit the paper, pundits and bloggers alike have been clammoring for Lott to step down. But I think the smartest response to the entire matter, and I'm shocked that I am going to say this, has come from the White House. W sharply rebuked Senator Lott for the comment and immediately distanced himself, and in his hopeful mind the Republicans, from the comments made my the Mississippi senator, but he did little more, and did not really address the issue of Lott's departure. [Sidebar: Eric McErlain seems to think the White House is leveraging a more subtle campaign to support the idea of Lott's ouster, and he may be right.]
I'm no Trent Lott fan (I wouldn't say I'm a detractor of his either, and in fact, I truly don't know enough about him or his politics and history to form a legitimate opinion of him at this time), but all of this screaming for him to go by anyone with a editorial position on a newspaper, a keyboard and a blog or a place in Congress and political power to gain strikes me as a little unfair and an example of the self-righteous quickness to judge that we as a collective seem to effect the moment any public figure makes a misstep. Working on the grounds that the implication of Lott's offensive comments was in fact an inadvertant potential meaning, it seems to me distinctly unfair to hold Lott to such a high standard such that his right to commit occasional errors and mistakes is divorced from his person.
From a common sense perspective, ask yourself when the last time was that you said something and someone else misunderstood you and took your statement the wrong way. Over the last few weeks, I've probably inadvertantly suggested that you're fat or she's stupid or that I hate Irish people or something dumbass like that when none of it would in fact be true. One of the great drawbacks to language is that, because we come to understand the meaning of words through different experiences, and we all attach subjective meanings to words and statements such that we simply cannot share them with others, and as a consequence we will always have to suffer through the occasional language hiccup because I will say something and you will hear something else, even though we both hear the same words, because those words mean something different to us. These bumps in the road are common occurrence, and I think the logic of this speaks for itself. We all make people understand things we don't intend sometimes, and the truth is that sometimes there simply is no way to control that. Based on this, I feel like each of us has the occasional right to say things we don't mean and apologize for that unintentional meaning.
However, this whole Trent Lott thing suggests to me that when we throw someone in the public eye, we require them to become less human and more robotic than Dick and Jane on the corner. We forget the fact that the senators and presidents and athletes and movie stars are ordinary people too, just ordinary people doing extraordinary things. But to infer from that they don't have the right to occasional mistakes and the right to apologize for, and where possible correct, those mistakes is an extremely self-righteous point of view. I occasionally get a little miffed when people take my statements the wrong way in the first place with, but when they refuse to let it go after I apologize for unintentionally upsetting them, I feel like they expect me to be more, or less perhaps, human than the next guy. It seems awfully unfair to me to expect that just because another is in the public eye that he or she should not receive the occasional benefit of the doubt when they too unfortunately cause a misunderstanding.
The irony of it is that we sit back and criticize the Al Gores and Tom Daschles and Trent Lotts for being robotic and always pandering to the camera or the paper by trying to say the right things or what certain groups want to hear, and we decry the fact that we don't have real people on the Hill or in the White House representing our interests, only a bunch of people following the little feet on the ground and refusing to try and create some dance steps of their own. Yet when one of those students suddenly misses a step or tries to improvise to the tune, we cry out that he or she veered off of the black footprints on the ground and we start hollering to throw them out of class.
It's not as though Senator Lott lied straight-faced to the camera, recalling shades of Clinton during the Lewinsky festival of fun. It's not that he purposefully breached a trust and then tried to either cover it up or distance himself from that mistake. He possibly made an error of judgment and suggested something he meant not to suggest. To hold him to a higher standard because of that belittles some of the fundamental principles of democracy on which our political system was theoretically established. To hold him to an impossible standard belies the idea that any man can represent his fellow men, that our government is (very theoretically) not composed of elites and elitists, but of people just like you and me, people who have answered a call to service of people just like themselves. Hose Monster's Note: I don't really believe any of this crap is actually true, but I do think it's still a fantasy principle of our nation, and at the very least, it makes for a good argument.
These thoughts came filtering through my head throughout the last week as I listened to the pundits scream for Lott to step down from his position, and I nodded a silent nod of approval when I heard Lott say that he would not step down and would continue to pursue the interests of the privileged by whom he was elected. I did agree, and continue to agree that Lott jeopardized his leadership effectiveness and put the Republican Party in something of a bind, but I figured that if the GOP continued to back the Senator, as it seemed they did during the last week, then that support should stand. I thought that if everyone was so enraged as to want Lott out, then either the Republicans in the Senate or the voters of Mississippi should have the responsibility of removing Lott from his leadership position, not the pundits and the editorial staffs around the country who seem to forget that they too make errors, just like everyone else does.
Today however, I see that Republicans in the Senate are starting to build around a position of meeting to determine whether Lott stays or goes as the Majority Leader. If his party wants to remove him because they feel he has jeopardized the party and weakened their political position, that's their prerogative. Same goes for the voters of Mississippi. If they are that upset, they can throw Lott out (not that this would ever happen, see Strom Thurmond).
On the other hand, if the Republicans throw him out, it will likely be more to pander to the audience and quiet the scandal than anything else, so in that sense, maybe it does not make a difference whether Lott abandons the position or the Republicans throw him out of it. I suppose that when, which seems to be the case now rather than if, the GOP tosses him, then the ouster will at least have a stronger air of legitimacy.