Georgia representative offers example of Christmas spirit: forgiveness

Learning from Trent Lott ordeal

Posted: Thursday, December 26, 2002

Fortunately in this holiday season, the spirit of Christmas can help serve as an antidote to the squalor and bitterness surrounding the recent ousting of Republican Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott as Senate majority leader.

By now, most know that Lott more than once praised the 1948 segregationist presidential candidacy of Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C. And most agree that Lott's comments were inappropriate and rendered him unlikely to remain effective in his leadership role. In fact, some GOP senators, such as the ambitious Don Nickles of Oklahoma, felt that Lott's misguided words justified an immediate vote for new Republican leadership in the Senate.

Perhaps Nickles, who styles himself a Christian, should pause during his political chess game long enough to consider the comments of Rep. John Lewis of Georgia. Lewis -- by any definition a hard-core, left-wing Democrat -- is also the only bona fide hero of the 1960s civil rights movement now serving in Congress.

Lewis first criticized Lott for his statements, but soon forgave him and suggested that others do the same. Was Lewis trying to weaken the GOP by keeping Lott in position as a compromised party leader? I don't think so. While Lewis often takes positions that are tough for the mainstream to swallow, he nevertheless speaks from a heart sincere in its sentiments.

And that's where the spirit of Christmas should enter the stage. Like many who are of the Christian faith, Lewis recognizes that his religious beliefs are grounded in the simple but everlasting concept that Christ died so that those who believe in him and his teachings might receive forgiveness and redemption for their wrongdoings. This is particularly instructive when we consider that many who claim a like allegiance to Christianity often focus too much on the failures and shortcomings of others.

But there are exceptions, even in politics. When Bill Clinton lied to his family and his nation, many chose to forgive him. In fact, on the day the House of Representatives voted to impeach Clinton, many Democratic members of Congress gathered at the White House to demonstrate their support for the embattled president.

Some conservatives point out that the media and much of the public seem to have more tolerance for the misdeeds and verbal gaffes of Democrats than those of Republicans.

Case in point: Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., who remains a powerful lawmaker long after the 1969 Chappaquiddick incident, in which he behaved mysteriously after his car plunged into water and drowned his female companion. Or Florida Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings, who in 1988, as a federal judge, was convicted of perjury and conspiracy to accept a bribe and removed from the bench.

Yet former Republican Rep. Newt Gingrich of Georgia had to step down as House speaker simply because he allegedly used taxpayer money to fund a partisan college course he taught.

In the case of Lott, the truth is that he was cast overboard by certain Republicans who wanted him gone from the majority leader's post. Yes, some were motivated by the defensible desire to move the party toward more progressive racial and social postures, but some simply wanted to advance their own careers.

All that aside, the rest of us should focus on the simple sentiments of John Lewis that Lott should be forgiven and the matter put behind us. How telling that it takes a man who faced the bricks and blood of the civil rights movement to remind the rest of us that forgiveness is divine.

The Trent Lott ordeal is over. The new majority leader, Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee, offers the fresh face and articulate views that many feel the Republican Party needs. As for the holiday season, in which so many celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, may all of us -- Christians and everybody else -- have the courage to recognize our own and other's failings, and truly to move on.

Matt Towery writes a syndicated column based out of the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville. He can be reached at

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