Shadows on a cave wall

Buzzflash looks at the Trent Lott’s ongoing troubles and sees Karl Rove manipulating the puppet strings:

Quite simply, the Bush right wing political pundits that Karl Rove has on his leash are suddenly glorifying America’s great tradition of civil rights and telling Trent Lott to walk the plank. You would expect these hack journalists to be choking on their words, since they have regularly spewed venom on civil rights, prominent black elected officials — and unrelentingly advocated for the racially code worded issue of “states rights.” But Rove is worried silly that if Bush is revealed for leading the anti-minority, anti-civil rights jihad that he is really undertaking, the suburban women and independents will jump to the Democratic candidate in 2004, giving the Democrats a shot at picking up one of the smaller marginal red states and winning the presidential election.

That’s why we are now seeing so much right wing red ink about the “horrible misdeeds” of Trent Lott. That is why the story is staying alive as a mainstream media issue. That is why the White House journalistic “amen choir” is all over Trent Lott like a wet blanket.

That is also why Bush participates in so many photo opportunities with young black school children. It is not to win over black votes; it is to convey the image of a man who cares about minorities to women, suburban males and independents.


Of course, if the “dump Lott” blastfax went out, Limbaugh and Hannity clearly didn’t get their copies. The GOP seems to have a split personality on this issue, for reasons Paul Krugman detailed pretty well the other day.

The Republican Party’s longstanding “Southern strategy” — which rests on appealing to the minority of voters who do share Mr. Lott’s views — is no secret. But because the majority doesn’t share those views, the party must present two faces to the nation. And therein lies the clue to Mr. Lott’s role.

To win nationally, the leader of the party must pay tribute to the tolerance and open-mindedness of the nation at large. He must celebrate civil rights and sternly condemn the abuses of the past. And that’s just what George W. Bush did yesterday, in rebuking Mr. Lott.

Yet at the same time the party must convey to a select group of target voters the message — nudge nudge, wink wink — that it actually doesn’t mean any of that nonsense, that it’s really on their side. How can it do that? By having men who manifestly don’t share the open-mindedness of the nation at large in key, powerful positions. And that’s why Mr. Bush’s rebuke was not followed by a call for Mr. Lott to step down.

There’s also a rumor going around that Lott is blackmailing Bush — threatening to resign from the Senate entirely if he is called upon to step down as Majority Leader, which could place Republican control of the Senate in jeopardy.

Only one thing is really certain: there’s always more going on than we know.

Update on Sunday: the New York Times reports that many of Trent Lott’s fellow Republicans are headed out to the various talking heads shows to speak out in his defense. There’s no unified strategy here — just battling factions within the party struggling to gain control of the story.