A Lott of corruption

When Republicans lost control of Congress in the 2006 mid-term election and scandal-scarred Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist went back home to Tennessee, the party of the elephant had a chance to prove it could learn from its mistakes and correct the corrupt abuses of the past.

Instead, the party turned to one of its most corrupt, disgraced former majority leader Trent Lott, as its new minority whip in the Senate.

Lott’s re-emergence as a power broker in the GOP showcases how Republicans still believe in the old-boy system and couldn’t care less about reform, decency or rule of law.

Lott fell from grace, if only briefly, in 2002 when he praised Senator Strom Thurmond at the longtime South Carolinian’s 100th birthday party:

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.

Thurmond ran for President on a racist platform in 1948, calling for continuation of segregation in the South. The controversy that followed Lott’s praising of that campaign forced him to step down as Senate Majority Leader.

Lott claimed the comment was a “slip of the tongue” and did not “reflect my true and long-held views on racial equality.”

He’s a liar.

On December 11, 2002, The Washington Post reported:

Twenty-two years ago, Trent Lott, then a House member from Mississippi, told a home state political gathering that if the country had elected segregationist candidate Strom Thurmond to the presidency “30 years ago, we wouldn’t be in the mess we are today.” The phrasing is very similar to incoming Senate Majority Leader Lott’s controversial remarks at a 100th birthday party for Thurmond last week.

The Jackson Clarion-Ledger reported Lott’s earlier comments in a Nov. 3, 1980, report about a rally for the presidential campaign of Ronald Reagan in downtown Jackson at which Thurmond was the keynote speaker.

Thurmond, according to the story, told the gathering of 1,000 people that the country “cannot stand four more years of [President] Jimmy Carter. . . . We’ve got to balance the budget. Jimmy Carter won’t do it, but Ronald Reagan will do it.”

Then Thurmond declared: “[We] want that federal government to keep their filthy hands off the rights of the states.” For many supporters and opponents of civil rights, the phrase “state’s rights” stood for the right of states to reject federal civil rights legislation.

After Thurmond spoke, Lott told the group: “You know, if we had elected this man 30 years ago, we wouldn’t be in the mess we are today.”

Lott is not only a liar but, like so many other members of Congress, his vote is for sale. When I worked as a Congressional chief of staff in the early 1980s, Lott’s office was a gathering price for lobbyists and power brokers and he kept a list who gave enough money to gain access to him and his staff.

Lott would counsel younger Republican members of Congress on how to milk the system for money and how to get vacations and invitations to speak at special interest group gatherings at exotic locations. More than once my boss would come back from the Republican Cloak Room with a note and say “Trent gave me this guy’s number. He said he’s good for a golf weekend.”

In 2003, Lott led a Senate effort to limit big media ownership of local television stations, a move that threatened the expanding empire of Fox Corp. Rupert Murdoch.

So Murdoch’s publishing house, Harper-Collins, suddenly decided to sign Lott up as an author, giving him a $250,000 advance on a new book. A few days later, Lott – in a late night meeting with his colleagues – backed off his opposition and agreed to a new provision that would let Murdoch keep his stations.

As Jo Becker reports in today’s New York Times:

An aide to Mr. Lott said the book deal had no bearing on the senator’s decision, and a spokesman for Mr. Murdoch chalked it up to coincidence. Still, the ownership fight showcases the confluence of business, political and media prowess that is central to the way Mr. Murdoch has built his global information conglomerate.

Rupert Murdoch also owns Fox News, the most pro-right-wing news channel on cable and satellite TV.

Just another coincidence?