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Everyone, it seems, has had their say about Trent Lott and Strom Thurmond in recent days.

I want to weigh in with yet another opinion – and, dare I say, it ought to be the last word on this matter.

When Senate Republican leader Trent Lott celebrated Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., at his 100th birthday party, he went too far. He suggested that if Thurmond had been elected president in 1948, when he ran as a segregationist candidate of the Dixiecrat Party, America “wouldn’t have had all these problems over the years.”

Lott was being a politician – which is what he is. He was telling a certain group of people, Thurmond friends, what they wanted to hear. He never calculated the furor his comments would raise when those remarks were inevitably broadcast for the world to hear.

Lott was wrong for saying what he said. Thurmond was not a good presidential candidate in 1948 any more than he is a good senator today. He is 100 years old. He is over the hill. He is out of touch. Even though his racist views may have moderated over the years, he is unfit to serve in the U.S. Senate. If he has been the best South Carolina could produce in all these years, the state is in dire straits.

Thurmond has been an embarrassment to the Republicans, to South Carolina and to the nation. His retirement is long overdue.

Did you see him at that celebration with Lott? He looked like a corpse. How has he managed to hang on this long?

But there is an issue more important than his age.

As long as people like Thurmond are around in public life, the idea of states’ rights will be forever tied to his former racist, forced segregationist views.

While “states’ rights” is a good thing, a constitutional thing, an idea that needs a resurgence in America if we are ever able to rein in the federal government’s illegitimate powers, as long as people like Thurmond are serving in office, states’ right will forever mean racism and forced segregation.

Thurmond is a barely walking, barely talking anachronism. He hurts his party. He hurts his cause. He hurts his country.

Forced segregation – which is what Thurmond stood for in 1948 – is no better than forced integration. Both are immoral. Both are unjust. Both require the heavy hand of the state. Both are coercive.

In other words, Strom Thurmond gives a noble cause a bad name.

And by suggesting otherwise, Trent Lott did the same thing.

Strom Thurmond may have been right about states’ rights in 1948, but he was right for the wrong reasons. And, sometimes, that’s just as bad as being wrong.

Strom Thurmond would not have been a good president. He’s never even been a good senator. And, at 100, it would be past time for even a good senator to call it a career.

What about Lott? He’s proven he’s not the brightest bulb. Time and time again, we’ve seen him taken to the cleaners by people like Tom Daschle – even when Lott was holding a better political hand.

I’m sure he’s a nice guy. I don’t think he’s a racist. I’m certain his remarks are not indicative of deep-seated bigotry. Nevertheless, he’s damaged goods.

It’s too late for more apologies. Just as I’m sure there are better, more qualified, more lucid people worthy of holding the Senate seat from the state of South Carolina, surely there must be other people qualified for the job of Senate majority leader.

It’s time for Lott to move on, too. Not just because of his recent slip of the tongue, but because the nation has too many important issues on the table to be debating whether the most powerful man in the Senate is a racist – or just dumb.

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