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Bob Tippee

The oil and gas industry should support a rapidly developing effort in the US Senate to displace Trent Lott (R-Miss.) as majority leader.

Lott caused a political explosion with a comment at a Dec. 5 tribute to retiring Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-SC). He suggested the US would be better today if Thurmond had won his 1948 presidential bid with the maverick Dixiecrat party.

The Dixiecrat agenda pivoted on racial segregation.

In his subsequent apology blitz, Lott has insisted he meant to uphold only Thurmond's conservatism on other issues. Yet he has properly acknowledged the impossibility of isolating those positions from the Dixiecrats' racist core.

"I made a terrible mistake," he said in a Dec. 16 interview on Black Entertainment Television.

Well, terrible mistakes have consequences. Lott must go.

He's either racially hateful or injudicious, maybe both. Any combination disqualifies him from political leadership.

Lott can address suspicions about his racial attitudes by acknowledging that racism lurks in his thinking, as it does in everyone's, and describing how he handles it. He's made a respectable start.

But his party and his country can't wait out the expiation.

Whether hateful or merely careless, his comment is a matter of record. And it's gravely offensive.

On every question that comes before the Senate, Lott will be the issue.

One such question in 2003 will be energy policy, Republican proposals for which are far superior to Democratic ones.

What energy compromises might Senate Republicans feel obliged to make in order to atone for their leader's gaffe?

And with the country on the verge of war in Iraq, all branches of government need clarity of institutional thought.

Lott's mistake has turned the Senate into a political muddle and cursed his party with stereotypical suspicion—which no less a Democrat than former President Bill Clinton, in comments to CNN, already has eagerly exploited.

Only Lott's early exit can clarify things.

At this writing, Lott was insisting he would remain majority leader. But a campaign had begun to replace him with Bill Frist of Tennessee.

The oil and gas industry should hope the campaign succeeds.

(Online Dec. 20, 2002; author's e-mail:

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