Trent Lott

is the new Senate minority whip. We were critical of Lott when he made his infamous comment at Strom Thurmond’s birthday, and thought his removal from the top leadership at that time was the right move. However, I don’t think Lott’s remark warrants a lifetime ban from Senate leadership positions.
The real question is, was Lott a better choice for whip than his opponent, Lamar Alexander (with whom he apparently once briefly roomed in Washington). I’m not a Senate insider, so I don’t know the answer. By reputation and prior experience, though, few can match Lott when it comes to mastery of the ways of the Senate. And that is a core qualification for the job.
The other core consideration is ideology (probably too strong a word when discussing Senators, but you know what I mean). With one exception discussed below, Lott is a solid conservative, probably a bit more so than Alexander (a former Secretary of the Dept. of Education and something of a moderate when he ran for president) though their voting records are similar The exception is Lott’s fondness for pork. But there are very few Senators who don’t share that fondness. I suppose that Lott, because he’s pushed back a bit against the anti-pork crusade, can be held out as a symbol of “what’s wrong in Washington.” But I suspect that the Dems, who now run Congress, will get even less mileage out of trashing Trent Lott than the Republicans got out of trashing Nancy Pelosi. And I doubt that there will be more pork with Lott as minority whip than there would have been with Alexander.
In short, while I’m not qualified to say whether Lott was the right choice, his selection certainly doesn’t bother me.
UPDATE: There’s some sentiment that the selection of Lott proves that Republicans have “learned nothing” from their defeat last week. I guess the premise is that the defeat had something to do with pork. But I haven’t seen any evidence that pork (as opposed to bribery or sex) played any role in the thumpin’. Did Congress deliver appreciably more pork this term than in 2002 and 2004 when the Republicans did well? Did any challenger run ads criticizing an incumbent for delivering too many goodies to the state or district? Not to my knowledge. More typically, the incumbent (whether he/she squeaked out a victory or was defeated) would talk about his/her service to constituents, while the opponent attacked the incumbent for supporting President Bush on the war and other non-pork related issues.
The Maryland Senate race provided an interesting twist. Outsider Michael Steele attacked Rep. Ben Cardin (the de facto incumbent) as a career politician, business-as-usual, inside Washington guy. Cardin attacked Steele for agreeing with Bush on issues like the war. In the end Steele received the same thumpin’ so many other Republicans did, losing his race by 11 percentage points.
JOHN DEMURS, MILDLY: I think Lott’s selection sends the wrong message. It’s true that Lamar Alexander is not exactly a fresh face, and, like Paul, I don’t pretend to be able to judge these Senators’ respective back-room skills. But Congressional Republicans need to move forward, not backward. I’m afraid that selecting Lott may turn out to be one in a series of moves by Congressional Republicans that will send a message to the base that they aren’t interested in making serious changes in the wake of Tuesday’s defeat. Lott’s vocal opposition to the “Porkbuster” movement is especially unfortunate in that regard.
PAUL responds: I agree that there’s a down-side to selecting Lott. But there’s an up-side too. There are brutal battles ahead in this closely divided Senate, and having someone as skillful as Lott apparently is in the leadership should prove to be a substantial asset. I suspect that the up-side probably outweighs the down-side, but I don’t profess to know.


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