Seeks Lott`s Ouster," blared the Washington
Post`s lead headline Monday morning. "GOP Agenda at
Risk, Senator Says."
The good news is not that Senate Republicans have
decided that their Majority Leader must go – but that
there is a GOP agenda at all. From the way in which the
Republicans and their neo-conservative allies have
responded to the
"crisis" created by Sen. Trent Lott`s positive
remarks about Strom Thurmond`s 1948 segregationist
presidential campaign, you would not necessarily know
The initial reaction to the Mississippi senator`s
words from his counterpart, Senate Minority Leader Tom
Daschle, seemed almost sympathetic. Mr. Daschle
noted that Mr. Lott had explained himself to him,
and "I accept that."
Mr. Daschle, no fool, understands that when the
Majority Leader feels the need to explain himself to the
Minority Leader, it`s pretty clear who really calls the
shots in the Senate.
And as the Senate goes, so went what remains of the
"conservative movement," as defined by the
neo-conservatives who have come to dominate and speak
for it. Almost to a man, their spokesmen damned Mr.
(David Frum), "indefensible"
"ludicrous" (William Kristol), "appalling"
"shameful" (a public statement issued by four
Republican appointees to the Civil Rights Commission),
Neo-conservative ex-football star Jack Kemp
ranted that "until [Mr. Lott] totally
repudiates segregation and every aspect of its evil
manifestation," the Republicans would continue to
suffer damage from his remarks. He demanded that Mr.
Lott, as the Post reported, "go before a civil
rights group and make a major speech about race and
racial reconciliation in the New South to help clear the
What is remarkable about this reaction from the
“right” is that it is entirely indistinguishable from
the reaction from the left—except perhaps that the left
was a bit less outraged.
What the reaction of the “right” reveals is that the
neo-conservatives who today have come to define the
American “right” share precisely the
same views as the left. And what that means is that
the “right” does absolutely nothing to challenge the
left. The left can "up the ante"—
its political demands—as far to the left as it
wishes, and the “right” will
tag along behind (or perhaps even run in front).
This is why there is and can be no Republican
"agenda" – despite what the wannabe Majority Leaders try
There can be no Republican agenda because as long as
the left defines the
boundaries of American politics, any agenda the
Republicans or the “right” comes up with will merely
reflect what the left allows it to support. Any dissent
from what the left allows will be denounced—as
"racist" or some other sort of "extremism." And you
can bet your armband it will probably be the
neo-conservatives who will do the denouncing.
By the middle of last week, with the neo-con pack in
full bay at Mr. Lott`s heels, the left "upped the
ante" a bit more. It soon became clear that the real
target was not what in the most extreme interpretation
was a bland and certainly unintentional endorsement of
segregationism but rather the real conservative position
on race and civil rights. Both the
New York Times dug up Mr. Lott`s voting record
and brayed the news that he had voted against the
extension of the
Voting Rights Act in 1982, against the
Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in 1983, against the
Civil Rights Act in 1990.
Not one of these or other votes Mr. Lott has cast
means he supports segregation, and he was hardly alone
in casting them. What they tell us is that he has
consistently embraced an authentic conservative position
on these issues. Among Mr. Lott`s many sins that the
Post discovered: In 1998 he praised Confederate
President Jefferson Davis in helping dedicate a
library in his honor in Mississippi and said that
Davis “rightly understood [the U.S. Constitution]
was created to restrain government, not constrain the
Having conceded the "evil manifestation" of
segregation, the “right” opened the door for the left
to denounce any expression of authentic conservatism—and
not only by Mr. Lott.
The dominance of the American “right” by
neo-conservatives—ex-liberals who continue to exude
liberal premises and values but who for some reason
insist on calling themselves conservatives—means that
ideological hegemony is ceded to the left, that the
“right” must always explain itself to and seek sanction
from the left, that the “right” can and will do nothing
whatsoever to challenge the left`s monopoly of politics,
culture, and discussion.
What good therefore is accomplished if a Republican
president sits in the White House, a Republican majority
sits in Congress – and neo-conservative commentators
dominate the public dialogue on television and
December 16, 2002