A Lott to learn 


"I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either." — Incoming Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), Dec. 5, 2002

Good evening, I'm Senator Trent Lott. And welcome to FOX-TV's "It Might Have Been." On tonight's program, I'll be your guide to several pivotal moments in the history of these United States, moments when we as a people were guilty of egregious lapses in judgment. I'll show you just where we went wrong, and how more a prudent course of action might have saved us from all of these problems we've instead had to suffer over all these years.

On Sept. 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all persons held as slaves in the rebellious states. It was a calamitous miscalculation, one that thrust the black man into a maelstrom of responsibilities and choices he was ill-equipped to navigate. Had this rash declaration been postponed for a reasonable period -- say, 500 years -- nonwhite Americans would have had ample time to learn the ins and outs of good citizenship, and how to resist the temptations of an open society. And as a result, a young man named Martin Lawrence would be the picture of health today. Food for thought, my friends, food for thought.

In late August 1920, my predecessors in Congress passed the 19th amendment to the United States Constitution, guaranteeing their womenfolk the right to vote. While this decision had some ephemeral benefits -- (a), peace; (b), quiet -- it ultimately proved to be just like a gal itself: more trouble than it was worth. Women's suffrage gave us women's lib, which led to some terrible atrocities, including Roe v. Wade, the halter top and "The First Wives' Club." Had the good people of Tennessee refused to ratify the amendment (they were the last state to do so), us fellas of the modern age might be able to walk into a titty bar now and then without getting guilt-tripped into funding somebody's next semester of med school.

The year: 1945. The place: a bunker in Berlin, Germany. The players: Adolf Hitler and a 76.5 mm Walther pistol. At the time, it must have seemed vital to our national interests to bully der FŸhrer into an early grave. But had our government taken the high road, and insisted on peacefully removing him from power, we could have used his brilliance to bolster our postwar infrastructure. (Just look at the goodies we got from Werner von Braun.) With Hitler on our side, no American would ever have been late for his job because his morning train didn't arrive on time. Come to think of it, that damn Joe Lieberman might not have learned to act so uppity around the high holy days, either.

Where were you on the night of Feb. 9, 1964? Most likely, you were at home watching "The Ed Sullivan Show," and being shocked out of your slippers by the crazed antics of a Liverpudlian combo called the "Beatles." With this one little booking error, Sullivan and his people unknowingly inaugurated an entire era of youthful energy, free expression and social engagement -- a cultural wildfire it took years of police action and seven seasons of "My Three Sons" to put out. Had the Beatles' air time been devoted to a more wholesome act, like the Johnny Mann Singers or Topo Gigio, the nation of Vietnam would have had a Jack-in-the-Box franchise by '67 at the latest. And not a single American would ever have wasted his hard-earned money on a Nehru jacket.

Just 12 months after the Sullivan debacle, black activist Malcolm X was murdered in a Manhattan ballroom. Three years later, the reverend Martin Luther King Jr., was likewise shot dead in Memphis, his soul-stirring voice silenced forever.

Que sera, sera.

Most recently, on Dec. 9 of this year, Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle was asked to comment on my poorly received statement about Sen. Thurmond.

"There are a lot of times when he and I go to the microphone and would like to say things we meant to say differently," my esteemed colleague sympathized. "And I'm sure this was one of those cases for him, as well."

So where's the error, you ask, the lamentable gaffe destined to send our way of life speeding off its rails? There was none that I could see -- at least, not at first. Tom's considerate support was among the kindest treatment I've received from any of my friends in the "new Democrats." (Heh heh ... don't you just love that term?)

The tragedy, I'm afraid, came just a day later, when the good senator caved in to pressure and abruptly changed his tune, calling my words "offensive to those who believe in freedom and equality in America." It's a sad day indeed when powerful Democrats start talking like powerful Democrats, and an even sadder one when a bigot can't trust a coward to watch his back. What it all means for the country, who knows? I'm a historian, not a mind reader. But I do know one thing, Tom: I want my lawn jockey back.


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