Lott deserves a second chance

Each of us must access our thoughts on Trent Lott’s troubles on an individual basis. He made a mistake. A big mistake, for which he has apologized. Several times now.

So, we must ask, was the magnitude of his offending statement too grievous to be forgiven? There certainly are acts committed or words spoken of such gravity that while they may be forgiven on a personal level they require severe penalty _ something we might call retribution. Were his remarks delivered on the occasion of Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday of such a grave scale that they would be considered unpardonable, and beyond forgiveness?

A great many have said they are that great an offense, and for them Sen. Lott’s continued service will always be considered an outrage. A great many more, especially Republicans, examine the matter through a political microscope and are angry beyond public expression because Sen. Lott’s words reached the height of political boneheadedness and have at least temporarily stalled his party’s significant momentum coming out of the November elections, which gave the GOP a mandate and the control of both houses of Congress, for which they have so long dreamed. For them it would be convenient if Sen. Lott just went away.

Then consider the dilemma of the people of Mississippi. Our large black population is greatly pained by their senator’s insensitivity to their feelings, and almost every Mississippian is embarrassed that Sen. Lott has renewed national prejudices that we are all bigots. His comments have confirmed the very low opinion so many have about Mississippi, dating to the bloody days of struggle for civil rights in the Magnolia State. On the other side of that scale is balanced an enormous “other” truth. For a poor state in the midst of hard times, Trent Lott has been our greatest asset, and there is no close second. His political acumen and power has delivered more in terms of jobs and real value than all of the rest of our politicians combined. The loss of Trent Lott as majority leader would be staggering for the state.

Indeed, under the current circumstances, if he does not ascend to the leadership position in January, it would probably be better if he were to resign, for in truth he will have been relegated to the back bench and likely suffer the indignities of a pariah, a position that a proud and once-powerful man could not, and probably should not, suffer. There is still a thin reed of hope, and if he can survive this crisis and hold on to the majority leader position there is reason to believe this period of tribulation would actually make him a much better man and leader, for his great trial will have tempered his sometimes arrogant disposition with a better understanding of the downtrodden and challenged in society. The Biloxi Sun Herald has considered all of the questions through not only the prism of individual thinking, but also against a set of civic and journalistic principles that transcend personal whim. We have concluded the following:

��1. We do not know whether Sen. Lott is a racist, but we accept his statement that he is not, and we accept his apology for the awful remarks that offended so many.

��2. We believe he should be given a second chance to serve as majority leader of the U.S. Senate. If he is allowed to do so, we believe he has the unusual opportunity to lead his party toward significant accord with blacks. We would expect him, in partnership with the president, to begin a national dialogue and process that will help to heal the wounds that divide the nation.

��3. We believe that all people should forgive him for the sins of his past, even as we all seek forgiveness. Americans have accorded their leaders _ from Abraham Lincoln to George Wallace to William Fulbright to Jesse Jackson _ forgiveness for past grievances, and we believe Trent Lott should be accorded a similar atonement and be allowed to live in the here and now and be judged for all of his future actions.

��4. And finally, if he survives this ordeal, he will have used up all of this newspaper’s editorial forgiveness. If we become aware of any abuse of the powers he has been privileged to hold, if he ever again engages publicly or privately in words or deeds that cause such pain to our people, we will be the first to demand his resignation.

��Each of you will have to determine your personal accordance of charity toward the senator, but we have given him ours.