I, having stopped watching the news somewhere mid-O.J., was barely aware of the uniquely graceless name (or person) of Trent Lott--does the man sound and look like a heavy in badly written Western, or what?--except as Ed ran across references to him in The New York Times over breakfast. These were usually of the "Trent Lott. Ooh, I hate that guy" variety. (For "guy" substitute something more likely to come out of a real person's mouth.)
Ed--unlike some of his very nearest and dearest--is not a big hater, so I got curious sometime back and asked him why he had it in for Lott.
"The Clinton thing. The impeachment. That [guy] is completely disgusting."
I don't know any of the Clinton stuff, either. I slept through Civics and never found out how it was my duty to watch a sitting U.S. president--who struck me as an fairly competent person, and well-spoken, as politicians go--get crucified for, as I understand it, tapping the help. (Back in Tempe in 1973, this was not illegal. Sue me for failing to keep up with ethical fashion.)
But, then, I'm so out of it. I started a strict regimen of seeing and hearing no evil early in the Monica scandals. I do not know what the deal is about the blue dress or the cigar, and I never will, unless someone ties me down and toothpicks my eyelids open and runs videotape while Beethoven's Ninth blares from the sound system.
That's because I come from that Stanley Kubrick wrinkle in time when all the world was young and profoundly suspicious of what it was being fed. These days I live in a media-saturated environment which I admittedly enjoy and profit from in a multitude of ways, but I still get to say no, and one of the things I'm keenest on saying no to is revelations of other people's sex lives. As far as I could make out from here inside my chosen cave, the whole Clinton scandal was fueled by a profound, tribal wish among the right-wing males of America to be able to refer to oral sex in public without getting slapped. That's my impression, anyway, from walking several times a week through the weight room at the Racquet Club.
However, thanks to my husband, I know that Trent Lott led the charge, and that he forever irritated Ed in the process. So we've been following Lott's trials--sounds biblical, somehow, doesn't it?--with intense glee. Oh whoops. I meant sorrow.
It's heartbreaking. One teeny little mistake and a great man falls. It's an old, old story, and such a sad one, but heck this is a great, great nation and we can't be embarrassed by leaders who get caught.
The moral, I think, begs to be drawn, and the moral--surely we all agree--is supplied by the very first Uncle Remus story in the cheesy Disney collection upon which I, for one, grew up. That story would be "The Tar Baby," in which the very old precept that one cannot touch pitch without being defiled is graphically illustrated.
Since you insist. Strom Thurmond, that vile old sinner, is pitch, tar, asphalt. His past is sticky and nasty and very hard to get off, but by virtue of being 3000 years old--a wildly overestimated virtue--the tacit approval of many of his fellow citizens and some fancy ideological footwork executed back when his brain cells were still firing, everyone has more or less let him slide. Of course, no one thought he'd live so long. He's embarrassing, but harmless. No teeth at all.
So here comes Trent Lott, who is on some level a patent fool. He not only praised the man--he praised the policies. And while on videotape, he goes on to envision an alternative present, in which the Dixiecrats won. This is the stuff of horror fiction.
And then he starts apologizing. Segregation was "a shameful moment" in our nation's past? Moment? Things have changed so much in the U.S. in the last 40 years that kids today cannot bring themselves to believe that all that drinking-fountain/lynching JimCrow crap actually occurred, and that's a good thing. But it did happen, and not in a "moment."
So Lott was toast. That's not even the good part. The tasty bit, the part that gives a knee jerk liberal the will to go on in this dark, war-shadowed season, is the legend of the Clinton Curse.
Bill Clinton has serious juice, karma-wise--that's what drove his enemies foaming, eye-popping, testament-chewing insane. The memory of his sheer good fortune accounts for much of their more aberrant behavior even today. So, what if every politician who tempted fate by portraying Clinton as a threat to virtuous females everywhere were to get nailed by fate for his actual, seen-by-heaven infractions?
What if every Clinton-hating adulterer, bully, liar, thief, racist, jerk, hypocrite and hatemonger in Washington stood revealed and gulping in the thin, cold light of mid-winter? Oh, what a new year it would be.