Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Dick Durbin vs. Trent Lott

Remember some time ago, when Senator Trent Lott (R) said something complimentary about Strom Thurmond’s run for the presidency as a segregationalist? It was during a celebration for Sen. Thurmond (who had significantly changed his politics in the intervening 30+ years), and Sen. Lott was merely trying to honor his achievements. His remark was unintentionally offensive to some, but it was at worst a gaffe. However, he was drummed out of party leadership by the uproar from the Democrats (among other groups), who demanded his resignation on the basis that, even if it was unintentional, it was proof that he really had racist tendencies at heart.

Now we turn to a much more recent comment made by someone in party leadership. This time it is Senator Dick Durbin, the Democrat senator from Illinois. His statements comparing Guantanamo Bay to the concentration camps, the gulag, or to Pol Pot’s regime have caused an uproar in many circles. What does this say about his closely-held beliefs? That he believes our servicemen and women are comparable to some of the worst regimes in recent history? Although he has issued a statement regretting—not the comparison, he firmly stands by that—but any misunderstanding that has resulted from his comments, many believe that is not enough. There are calls for a better apology, his resignation from the party leadership, and even (apparently) Senate censure.

How is this situation different from Sen. Lott’s? Well, for one, Sen. Lott was speaking at a party honoring his colleague, and his remarks were (if I remember correctly) unscripted. He also apologized repeatedly and disavowed any racist meaning. Compare that to Sen. Durbin, whose prepared remarks were made on the Senate floor, and have not been retracted.

It seems to me if you believed that Sen. Lott should have been punished for his remarks (as many, many Democrats did), then you should also believe that Sen. Durbin should be punished for his. But, as of today, he is still the Senate’s assistant minority leader—the second-ranked Democrat. Excuse me if I don’t think that is a little hypocritical.

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