Speaking at a 1984 convention of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Lott declared that "the spirit of Jefferson Davis lives in the 1984 Republican Platform." Asked to explain his statement in an interview with the extreme rightwing publication Southern Partisan, Lott said, "I think that a lot of the fundamental principles that Jefferson Davis believed in are very important to people across the country, and they apply to the Republican Party... and more of The South's sons, Jefferson Davis' descendants, direct or indirect, are becoming involved with the Republican party."
A THOUSAND SECONDARY RACISMS BLOOM. But Lott's passing from the political scene has mostly symbolic significance. The weight of political racism has passed from the "primary" segregationism racism of Lott, Jesse Helms, and Strom Thurmond to various forms of "secondary" or indirect racism. Shelby Steele's critique of Barack Obama as untrustworthy because he's "black" in the sense of being part of the black community is one example of "secondary racism." Steele is not making the direct claim that whites are superior to blacks. Instead, he's arguing indirectly that the politics of black culture make any (non-conservative) black person a suspect candidate. As an advocate of color-blindness, Steele's arguments about Obama are similar to the arguments of William Bennett and others who argue that black culture is handicapped by "race-consciousness." Conservatives have come up with a barrage of indirect racist arguments against affirmative action, school desegregation, and attempts to stop racial profiling among other things. Secondary racism rules on the right.
RACISM LOSING ITS WAY? One of the things that is happening to the Republican Party is that they're losing access to the narratives of secondary racism. Where the Republicans used to campaign against "black crime," affirmative action, the "ghetto drug epidemic," hip hop influenced popular culture, and other "black" phenomena, they've largely been unable to develop a racial narrative in opposition to African-Americans for the 2008 campaign. While hardly out of sight, the racist thrust of Republican campaigning has shifted from blacks to Mexicans and Muslims. They've also been careful to promote pedophiles as the new "other" in American society.
But none of these themes has the same appeal as secondary racisms used to have. It would be a mistake to view white voters as being less racist than they've been in the past. Think of the mountain of racial jokes and stereotypes directed by whites to black people in this regard. It seems, however, that the Republicans dipped into the well of racism one too many times with the publication of the campaigns against affirmative action and the publication of The Bell Curve during the 90's and have run out of good ideas for playing on white racism without seeming "racist." Political racism seems to be losing its grip.
Maybe that's why Trent Lott is leaving the Senate. He might know that the game is up.