Lott, you'll remember, was widely condemned after observing, at the birthday of then-Senator Strom Thurmond, who ran in the 1948 presidential race as a segregationist:
We voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over the years, either.But that wasn't all.
As the controversy snowballed, growing uglier and more humiliating by the day, the GOP found itself in crisis. There was no choice but to take decisive action to remove the stain: Lott was swiftly booted from his Senate leadership post.
Flash forward to 2006: Less than four years after exposing himself as a dabbler in racism and an ally of racists, Lott makes the surprising decision to run for Senate minority whip. And incredibly, he wins.
The hard-fought contest against Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) ends in a 25-24 vote among Republican senators.
Following Lott's victory, Republicans moved quickly to dispel the notion that his resurrection said anything about their racial attitudes. They denied that his elevation to the leadership amounted to tacit tolerance for racism and disputed that earlier repudiations of his behavior were political theatre.
What, you may ask, does any of this have to do with Maine's junior senator?
Sen. Collins cast the deciding vote in Lott's favor.
That's right: Faced with a choice between elevating Lott and freezing him out, the junior senator opted to make him the number two Republican in the Senate.
Now. Let me be clear. I'm not saying Collins is a racist--I have no reason to believe that's the case.
But both the vote for Lott and the support for Myers do suggest that when it comes to race, Collins is willing to tolerate conduct that crosses way over the line.
And that she's ready to forgive racism among her Republican allies even when letting them off the hook sends a depressing message to racism's victims.
Make of that what you will.