My guess is that, in the wake of Assistant Senate Democratic Leader Dick Durbin’s apology on Tuesday for his remarks comparing the alleged treatment of a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay to that of worst tyrannies of the last century, I expect the controversy to subside. The media will cover this less and less and only a few conservatives will continue to comment on it.
Two-and-a-half years ago, however, when another Senate leader made a similarly offensive comment, the controversy did not subside in the wake of his apology. At the one-hundredth birthday party of then-U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond, then-Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott said that our nation would have avoided “all these problems” had it followed the lead of his state (Mississippi) in voting for Thurmond for president in 1948. That year, the man from the Palmetto State had run as a segregationist on the Dixiecrat ticket. Mr. Lott’s comments thus suggested that desegregation had caused many of “these problems” in the ensuing years.
Eight days after making the remarks, Lott apologized. “A poor choice of words conveyed to some the impression that I embraced the discarded policies of the past. . . . Nothing could be further from the truth, and I apologize to anyone who was offended by my statement.” Later, he said, his words were “terrible” and stated that he rejected segregationist “policies of the past.” Yet, many believed Mr. Lott’s contrition was not enough. The NAACP thought he should resign his leadership position.
And it wasn’t just liberal organizations calling for him to step down. Conservative columnists thought he should relinquish his leadership post as well (here, for example). Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s ethic entity, agreed. A few days later, Oklahoma Senator Don Nickles, the then-second-raking Republican in the Senate, suggested that Lott be ousted as party leader. As the chorus of criticism increased, encouraged in large part by conservative bloggers, pressure on the Mississippi Senator to relinquish his leadership post continued to build and a few days later, he stepped down as the GOP leader in the United States Senate.
Let me stress, the pressure for Lott to step down continued after he had apologized. Since Senator Durbin has apologized, not one single elected Democrat, has called for him to resign his position as Assistant Senate Democratic Leader. Democratic bloggers are not calling for him to step down. Left-of-center columnists are sidestepping the issue. Just as many of them had been before Durbin’s apology.
It wasnt because his fellow Democratic senators urged him to do a mea culpa. They were shamefully silent on the issue. And it wasnt, as some commentators are saying, because Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley criticized him on Tuesday, becoming the first Democrat to do so.
Indeed, the Chicago Mayor was the only prominent Democratic to fault Durbin. New York’s junior Senator Hillary Clinton declined to comment, even after a reporter read the remarks to her. “The offices of Democratic Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut did not answer calls for comment.” New York’s other Senator, Charles Schumer, “turned his back on reporters” who pressed him on the issue.
Contrast this to President Bush’s 2002 remarks in the wake of the statement of his party’s then-Senate leader:
any suggestion that the segregated past is acceptable or positive is offensive and it is wrong. . . . Every day that our nation was segregated was a day that America was unfaithful to our founding ideals.
To make sure that Americans understood that the President had criticized Mr. Lott, then-White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters:
The president thinks that what Trent Lott said was wrong, and the president found those remarks offensive. And the president said that Trent Lott was right to apologize.
Beyond Mayor Daley, did any prominent Democrat call the remarks of their party’s Assistant Senate Leader “wrong” and “offensive” in such unequivocal terms?
And President Bush was not the only Republican leader to so strongly rebuke another leader of his own party. GOP leaders, columnists and bloggers all faulted him, with many (some in very strong terms) calling for Lott’s resignation as party leader.
Thus, we see most clearly the differences between Republicans and Democrats today. When a Republican leader makes an offensive statement, his fellow Republicans (and their allies in the media) join Democrats (and their allies in the media) in criticizing the remarks and requesting an apology. Durbin, like Lott in December 2002, is a leader of his party in the Senate. Whereas Lott’s deputy Don Nickles faulted him in public, a spokesman for Senator Harry Reid, the Senate Democratic leader, faulted not his deputy (the man who made the offensive remarks), but the Republican leader for demanding an apology, calling this request “pathetic.” Instead of answering the criticism of a Democrat, Reid’s spokesman Jim Manley attacked Republicans. (Hat tip: Best of the Web.)
Just as Republicans and conservative columnists were among the first to fault a tabloid-style book trashing Mrs. Clinton, the GOP’s reaction to Trent Lott shows that Republicans are willing to take issue with offensive statements made by leaders of our own party. Instead of making similar criticisms of similarly offensive statements of their own leaders, Democrats respond by attacking Republicans.
Even after the Republican apologized, many in his own party felt that his statements had so compromised him; they insisted he step down. After the Democrat apologized, his Senate colleagues rose to say that that apology brought the issue to a close.
This is just another sign why today’s Republican Party is better than our Democratic counterpart. In the case of Senator Lott, prominent Republicans publicly faulted his offensive statement while all but one prominent Democrat remained silent when a Democratic leader made a similarly offensive statement. We Republicans understand that words have consequences. Even some of the most extreme supporters of the GOP refused to tolerate a leader who had made such a statement. Democrats seem content to let the issue slide.
Mrs. Clinton’s words notwithstanding, our party does indeed have a sense of shame. To paraphrase her, it is her party, far more than ours, which has no shame about they are doing. Someone who has a sense of shame admits it when he does wrong and suffers the consequences. But, instead of admitting that one of their own has done wrong, Democrats tend to respond by attacking Republicans.
It seems that Democrats determine right or wrong in terms of party affiliation. More often than not, Republicans hold their fellows accountable for their words. If you don’t believe me, just have the Assistant Senate Democratic Leader ask Senate Majority Leader Lott.
-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest): GayPatriotWest@aol.com
(1) On pp. 7-17 of his book, Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That’s Changing Your World, (which I recommended here), Hugh Hewitt details the role of bloggers in bringing down Mr. Lott.
(2) To note that while some call Mr. Durbin’s statement an apology, his own office merely calls his statement one of regret. Instapundit notes the “iffy” nature of the apology. Law Jedi offers his version of what Sen. Durbin needed to say here. (Hat tip for the last link: Patterico)