Now that Trent Lott has been outed as a Dixiecrat, his confreres in the Republican Party are suddenly squeamish about him. But let's be clear as to why. It's not because they abhor his views. It's because they can't afford to have the rest of the party outed as well.
That's also why many Democrats suddenly love Lott, in a closeted sort of way, and would love for him to remain Senate Majority Leader. The recent mid-term elections proved that Democrats can't compete with President George W. Bush's popularity -- at least, not right now. But Lott's blunder (and his craven attempts to salvage his leadership position afterward) has given the Democrats a mighty sword.
One that might even work against Bush in 2004.
And that has the GOP faithful plenty worried. Talking in code words is fine. It's been a Republican tack in the South since Barry Goldwater. But overtly embracing segregation runs the risk of alienating the moderate whites that Bush and other Republicans need to stay in power. Those voters respond warmly to GOP claims of "compassionate conservatism," but they draw the line at bald-faced racism (not to mention stupidity).
Meanwhile, Lott's remarks about how America would have been better off if Strom Thurmond and the Dixiecrats had won the White House in 1948 dredged up all the racial tensions that constantly simmer just below the surface of Mississippi politics and culture. It doesn't take much for those tensions to come to the fore.
We in Louisiana have had a fine old time with that, too, smugly thinking (and thanking God) that we don't have those kinds of problems. No sir. No stars and bars on our flag. No Confederates in our attic.
Was it a coincidence that David Duke came back to town amidst all this? The unreconstructed neo-Nazi and former KKK leader quietly cut a deal that will allow him to pay a small fine and spend barely a year in jail for mail fraud and income tax violations.
Duke's indictment was conspicuously silent, however, on the subject of his sordid dealings with Gov. Mike Foster -- no one could be happier about that than Gov. Warbucks.
Back in 1995, when Foster was running for governor the first time, he needed to jump-start his campaign. So he switched from Democrat to Republican and "bought" Duke's mailing list of right-wing voters for more than $150,000. Duke, in turn, dropped out of the race and tacitly endorsed Foster.
Trouble is, Foster paid many times the going rate for the list. He also failed to report the purchase on his campaign financial disclosure forms. In fact, Foster took great pains to hide the transaction -- running it through his companies instead of paying for it with campaign money.
Here's the clincher: Foster never used the mailing list for any purpose.
So let's call the deal what it was: a sham.
When Edwin Edwards and his cronies engaged in the same kind of legerdemain, the feds had another term for it: money laundering.
Edwards is now doing 10 years in the pokey for his crimes. Duke is getting a slap on the wrist for mail fraud and income tax violations -- no doubt with a nod, a wink and the understanding that he keep his mouth shut about Foster, the mailing list and the $150K. What a fine signal for our federal government to send to tax cheats!
So, if you're breathing sighs of relief that Louisiana doesn't have a Lott of race-based political issues, get a good whiff of the Duke-Foster deal. Then try telling yourself that, while the Confederates are out of the attic in Mississippi, we in Louisiana keep them where they belong.
In the Governor's Mansion.