I am surprised at the lack of commentary today on Trent Lott’s surprising retirement announcement. It would be nice to focus on Lott’s first 28 or so years in Washington, when he was an original member of Jack Kemp’s “opportunity society” in the House, and a tremendously effective GOP Whip in the House, and then an effective GOP Whip in the Senate, all the while advancing conservative ideals. But something happened to him along the way, and for the past ten years or so he has been a big disappointment. We shoulda known something was wrong when he castigated those concerned about Kelly Flynn, the apparently rapaciously adulterous Air Force lieutenant, saying that those who agreed with her punishment should “get real.” By the end, he was ripping conservatives who criticized pork, ripping conservatives who criticized amnesty, going soft at times on judges, and of course embarrassing everybody with his racial insensitivity — not racism, mind you, but serious cluelessness on the issue, yes.
Still, when he came all the way back from his Thurmond-related embarrassment to recapture the Whip post he was so well suited for, I for one was willing to cheer at least a little for his resilience and for his second chance to do great things for the conservative cause.
My cheers were mistaken. I have no problem with Members of Congress who leave office early because of health reasons or because of controversies that make them a drag on their party, or because of serious family needs or concerns. If this is the case with Lott (despite his denials of anything like these), then I take back what I am about to say. But if the real reason he is leaving is just because, as he said, it is “time” for him to go — just that it feels right — or, even worse, if it is because he just wants to take advantage of weaker anti-lobbying restrictions that will be replaced by stronger ones at year’s end, making him merely greedy — then he is beneath contempt.
Here’s the deal: You run for office pledging to serve out your term, barring health or promotion (that’s another good reason to leave: higher office) or the other reasons I mentioned. You have established a compact with your consituents. Such a compact ought not be broken for light or selfish reasons. Trent Lott ran for re-election, and even put himself forth as Whip again, and now, just a year later, he is going to retire!?!?!? Sorry, but that stinks. It is indicative of the self-absorption that has been increasingly evident for the past decade or so, the same self-absorption that is an epidemic in today’s Senate. He owes the people of Mississipp the full term he ran for, and he owes his GOP caucus his services as Whip at least through the end of this Congress rather than throwing the leadership into another transition through only one session of the Congress.
Fie on Trent Lott. Absent some good reason we don’t know about, his retirement is DESPICABLE.
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