To be fair, Senate Republican leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) is a walking sack of contradictions just like the rest of us. But he's chosen a career in politics, a field that naturally tends toward the Manichean: A law will fix everything or it will fix nothing. Yay or nay. A man is scumbag or he's a saint.
Seen in that light, his interview on Black Entertainment Television has to be considered a failure. It didn't take a Nostradamus to see it coming, but Lott stumbled spectacularly. To those who believe he isn't a racist, he now seems a coward knuckling under to pressure from race baiters. And to those who believe he is a racist, his performance is unlikely to change their opinions. As BET anchor Ed Gordon suggested to Lott, it looked like "contrition because you're in a rough spot." In other words, he's now either a scumbag—or he's a scumbag.
During the 20-minute interview, it was clear when Lott was following the script prepared by his handlers—"I'm sorry…my comments were insensitive and repugnant…I will not make excuses…this is an opportunity"—and when he strayed. His announcement that "my actions don't actually reflect my voting record" was one of those times.
But the moments when he suggested that his "wicked" ways were the fault of the society into which he was born into were the most impressive peregrination for the ostensibly staunch Republican. The wave of hypocrisy coming from somewhere beneath Lott's toupee should have knocked the interviewer straight out of his chair.
If the Republican Party is thinking purely politically, it will vote "scumbag" on the record—that is, it will ask Lott to step down. Because after the BET interview, Lott will be one of two possible "faces" of the GOP: The one who looks like David Duke, or the one who looks remarkably like a Democrat, now on record as supporting affirmative action and society as an excuse for "repugnant" behavior. Would the Republican party choose either?