YOU'RE FIRED: Young men are confused. Things obvious to slightly older men have yet to become clear. Our administration has decided that these confused young men should know that "observed measures of condom effectiveness may be inaccurate. Most epidemiologic studies of STDs, other than HIV, are characterized by ... methodological limitations, and thus, the results across them vary widely--ranging from demonstrating no protection to demonstrating substantial protection associated with condom use."
Such ambivalence about condom use comes from no less an authority than the CDC -- on its HIV-prevention site of all places.
An article in the Times examined several changes in public health literature provided by our government. As it happens, the previous administration was more resolutely behind the efficacy of condoms. The assurance to teens of rabbittish sexual energy that yes, it is actually worth the hassle; yes, this will protect you in all likelihood; yes, you're a damn fool for not using one has been tempered in favor of emphasis on abstinence. As if the data and research can be set aside for a moment to tell the kids that the only sure way to stay disease-free and childless is to have no sexual contact. Do they really need a guy in a labcoat to tell them this? Is the above quotation really the right message for the teen so seriously considering sex that they visit the CDC HIV-prevention web site?
Of course this line of argument is obvious. I have essentially regurgitated the argument made in the Times piece, a fine example of the increasingly ideologically-driven news that paper has been providing.
The blogworthy bit of the article came not from its content but from Dorie Hightower, a spokesperson at the National Cancer Institute, another agency making similarly obfuscatory changes to the scientific reporting in its literature. When pressed on the recent shift in government stance on linkage between abortion and breast cancer (from "no association" to the evidence being "inconclusive") and the omission of a Danish study that the American Cancer Society had hailed as the most authoritative on the issue (and which was specifically praised by the previous version of its literature), she "said there was no scientist available to explain the change." We can only speculate as to the wideness of her eyes and extent of her fidgeting.
"WE'LL BE MORE DISCREET ABOUT IT": From the Times' article on Sen. Frist's unanimous election as Republican leader: "'I think that these several weeks have been transformative for our caucus,' said Senator George Allen of Virginia, who proclaimed a Confederate History and Heritage Month when he was governor of the state. 'I think there's a unity of resolve. I think we all have learned. I think there's greater understanding.'"
BACK INTO THE WOODWORK: The media let out a collective, postcoital-sized sigh today when Trent Lott resigned as the Republican leader in the Senate. The nation is glad to be rid of him, they say. He is a relic, they say. We showed that his views on race have no place in our national dialogue, they say.
Well, he still has a vote in the Senate. When Senate Majority Leader Lott becomes Just Senator Lott he will be the same man with the same views. Only then he will be in enough of a crowd for us to lose interest. Thus the true nature of this media phenomenon of the past few days: Trent Lott's views on race do not, apparently, undermine his integrity to serve in the U.S. Senate. They only preclude him from keeping a leading role in the national political soap opera that cable news, newspapers, and this blog chronicle.
Sarah Wildman exposes -- is expose really the right word for calling to our attention something we willfully ignore? Sarah Wildman reminds us about Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama in the latest TNR. Among other non-revelations, Wildman returns to the testimony during 1986 Senate confirmation hearings for Sessions, then a Reagan judicial nominee (Sessions was only the second judicial nominee in 48 years whose nomination was killed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, according to Congressional Quarterly). At those hearings, Wildman reminds us, "a black former assistant U.S. Attorney in Alabama named Thomas Figures" testified that Sessions, who had been his boss as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, "had called him 'boy' and, after overhearing him chastise a secretary, warned him to 'be careful what you say to white folks.'"
Wildman also reports that Sessions' "voting record in the Senate has earned him consistent 'F's from the NAACP." The NAACP legislative report card grades like an actual report card: A = 100-90%, B = 89-80% ... F = 59-0% based on Members' position on 33 "key civil rights votes." Jeff Sessions came in with 18%. Trent Lott: 12%. Strom Thurmond: 12% (that number, of course, is for the 107th Congress; not a lifetime assessment).
So, if we plan to hypocritically let all this end here, let us at least be clear that people who vote the same as Lott and Sessions (and Thurmond) on race are hiding in plain sight:
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Alabama): 18%. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska): 18%. Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska): 18%. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Arizona): 15%. Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colorado): 15%. Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho): 15%. Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Indiana): 18%. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas): 15%. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas): 18%. Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Kentucky): 15%. Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Montana): 18%. Sen. Robert Smith (R-New Hampshire): 15%. Sen. Judd Gregg (R-New Hampshire): 15%. Sen. Pete Domenici (R-New Mexico): 18%. Sen. Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina): 15%. Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio): 18%. Sen. Don Nickles (R-Oklahoma): 15%. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma): 12%. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pennsylvania): 18%. Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tennessee): 12%. (Former) Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas): 15%. Sen Robert Bennett (R-Utah): 18%. Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wyoming): 18%. Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming): 18%.
Those twenty-four senators make up just under half of the Republican majority. Other than Don Nickles, who spoke out for apparently opportunistic reasons, virtually all of them were among the conspicuously-silent when it came to commenting on the nature of Trent Lott's remarks. (See yesterday's post for the Inhofe exception that proves the rule.) To be sure there were some party-line votes among those the NAACP measured, no Democratic senator scored below 58% (Zell Miller of Georgia). But the numbers above tell the story of a race to the bottom, a race into the arms of the racist far-right which retains dangerous influence in certain Republican circles. A world of difference separates the "F" Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania) receives for his 48% from Jeff Sessions' conviction that the NAACP is "un-American" and "Communist-inspired" (more from the confirmation hearings, courtesy of Wildman). The clusters of scores around these two represent a significant divide in the Republican Party.
And just so we are clear about the new and supposedly improved leadership expected to come from the Lott controversy, one more score: Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tennesse): 15%.
SHHHHHHHH, JIM: Who let him say this? Where are his handlers?
From today's Times: "The Mississippian's 'ability as a leader dissipates on a daily basis,' said Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., in one of the sharpest barbs a Republican has aimed at Lott. Inhofe, one of the Senate's most conservative members, said he believed Lott had a 30 percent chance of being majority leader when the new Congress convenes next month, but predicted Lott would not step aside. He also criticized Lott's apology for voting against a federal holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr., saying it was a responsible conservative position."
Does the fact that this comment seems so wincingly wrong just speak to the present mood? Or does this mean that the jig is up on all of the anti-MLK sops to the racist right? "Lee-Jackson Day" my ass.
OH-BY-THE-WAY OF THE WEEK: In an otherwise yawny article, Michael Crowley of TNR reports GOP intimidation of black voters on the day of the Louisiana run-off. Crowley aims to paint Sen. Mary Landrieu as the "wobbly pin" that might have completed "the strike Republicans had bowled in the 2002 elections." He argues that her victory was a fluke that hinged on a last-minute attack ad and massive GOTV efforts.
Buried in the third-to-last paragraph -- and set off by dashes as an aside -- is the revelation that "GOP voter suppression tactics in black areas, such as an insidious flyer explaining that voters could cast late ballots the following Tuesday" were the Republican counterpunch to Democratic GOTV efforts.
I won't degrade that information with a sweeping accusation or pithy remark that goes too far. It stands on its own.
TYPICAL MAN: I remarked earlier today to another voter intrigued by the Vermont Governor, regarding Al Gore's decision not to run, that: "the longer the media can hold itself back from ejaculating the 'front-runner' label all over one of the candidates, the better it will be for Howard Dean."
Just now, in Howard Kurtz' column, I learn that: "It took about 12 seconds for CNN's Bill Schneider to declare that John Kerry is now the front-runner in New Hampshire – indeed, must win New Hampshire."
KOOL-AID DRINKER OF THE WEEK: From an article by Dan Balz in the Washington Poston the Gore decision not to run in 2004: "There was no official comment from the White House, but a senior Republican official said Gore 'wants to keep his position in history as the guy who should've been president' and that 'to run again and get trounced would diminish that.'"
I wonder if that guy was among the mob of angry GOP staffers in Florida intimidating the recount schlubs.
BEWARE OF THAD: Today's Post has a a pretty comprehensive review of the potential Lott successors. Besides McConnell, Nickles and Frist, Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania is on the first-string.
More entertaining was the list of dark horses for the leadership job if it becomes available: "Several others have been mentioned, ranging from veterans such as Richard G. Lugar (Ind.), Pete V. Domenici (N.M.), Ted Stevens (Alaska) and Thad Cochran (Miss.) to Chuck Hagel (Neb.), who was just elected to a second term." Yes, that's the same Thad Cochran who was a late-comer to the McCain-Feingold effort and was so bewildered by his fleeting fame that he donned a giddy old-man grin for the duration.
I'm for anyone named Thad for pretty much any office. And his last name is Cochran. That is a no-joke-needed name.
CHAFEE WATCH: From today's Washington Post: "Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee, a moderate Republican, told the Providence Journal that Lott's remarks smacked of 'stupidity.' But he did not call for Lott to step aside because he worries that potential successors might be more conservative."
Well, well. What might Mr. Chafee of Rhode Island do if a Lott successor were more conservative? Let's not get ahead of ourselves. Surely there is a moderate candidate for majority leader. What names are being mentioned?
Same article: "While there's no clear leader in waiting, Republicans said Sen. Don Nickles (Okla.), who is leaving his current post as GOP whip, wants to run for majority leader but is unlikely to challenge Lott unless it becomes clear he can win. Nickles, a fiscal and social conservative who's expected to chair the Budget Committee, has strong support among conservatives." And from another article in the Post: "There long have been rumblings that Nickles, spearheading some of the more conservative Republican senators, might someday mount a challenge to Lott. Lawmakers have described the two men as having a cool relationship, and Lott has sometimes been seen by conservatives as too willing to cut deals with Democrats."
So Nickles won't be carrying the moderate mantle. Who else?
From the first article: "[Incoming Majority Whip Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky] would be a strong contender, though he's closer to Lott than any other GOP senator. McConnell, a feisty conservative who led the charge to defeat the new campaign finance laws, has been aggressively defending Lott. If Lott were to leave, McConnell would likely run, his friends say."
Probably not McConnell either. Incidentally, now is a good time to get in an installment of:
McCAIN WATCH: Presuming he doesn't already plan to leave the GOP in order to run for president in some surreal and probably-doomed effort, the best prospect for Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, to leave his party would be if Lott were to step down from the leadership and McConnell to succeed him.
McConnell was the main obstacle to the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill since its inception several Congresses ago. His dogged opposition has not faded; his loss in the Senate has shifted the battle to the courts, where he is coordinating the effort to undermine or completely invalidate the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act (an already-watered-down version of the original McCain-Feingold proposal). If there is one colleague that John McCain would like to shove down the steps of the Capitol -- you know he's thought about it -- it is probably McConnell.
But back to Chafee. Unless some moderate -- Susan Collins or Olympia Snowe of Maine, for example -- enters the race for leader or is given the number-two job, this could be the beginning of the end. Conservatives are likely to be in the driver's seat should an election for a new majority leader occur; any moderate will have to make a compelling case to be elected. The best Republican for the job is probably Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee, but as TNR's &c. blog points out, he's not likely to choose to bear that cross; he has bigger things in mind (look for him as a potential Cheney replacement if anything happens -- though I think it will be Condi Rice).
A WHOLE LOTT OF WORDPLAY: Surely the efforts of headline writers to lure you in with such gems as "BUSH: HE HAS A LOTT TO BE SORRY ABOUT" (New York Daily News), "NOT A LOTTA LOVE" (Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post) and other variations have made you aware of recent controversial remarks made by incoming Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Republican of Mississippi.
The trouble with comments isn't the hurt they cause. The sticky part -- and the part that merits attention -- is the position the comments reflect. As Michelle Cottle in TNR put it: "The problem with Lott's little birthday tribute wasn't that he thoughtlessly misspoke. It's that, as even the most cursory review of Lott's history on racial issues suggests, the senator's toast was a textbook gaffe as defined by former TNR editor Michael Kinsley: The case of a politician accidentally saying what he really believes." (Click that link for the most comprehensive history of Lott's record on race that I have read since the flap began.)
Repeated Republican "gaffes" on race are instructive. The GOP has become a master at obfuscating its racism. The formula:
[racist policy to energize racist base]
+ [bizarre, obtuse and/or veiling justification in press release and floor speeches]
= an emerging Republican majority
An example from Lott himself: Opposition to making Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday a holiday "because of the economic cost involved." Another: Opposition to expanding the Voting Rights Act to include penalties on states who fail to protect the right of blacks to vote because "it was always aimed at one region." He fights discrimination in his own way. (Both of those are from a piece in today's Times.)
I would make the argument that someone with such dangerous views on race should not hold the most powerful position in the Senate. But there is a larger problem here. We cannot even have that discussion; even Senator Lott knows which side would prevail. So we have apologies for the "misunderstanding."
I sure wish we had some outspoken racists in Congress. We would see the roll calls on their bills. They might inspire Lott and others to really speak their mind. I would have more respect for an overt bigot; at least you know where he stands.
And so again we arrive at the problem with American politics generally: a bunch of people saying what they don't believe. I voted for John McCain in the 2000 Republican primary not because I agree with him but because I believe him. He pulls no punches about the environment, abortion, war with Iraq, or anything else. I don't agree with him on any of those issues -- but I trust him to have an honest debate about them. I probably would have voted for him over Al Gore. I'd rather have someone I trust who I mostly disagree with than someone I don't trust but who might do more of what I want.
I look forward to casting a vote or two sometime in 2004 for Howard Dean, the Vermont Governor who doesn't force that choice on me.