Let's disentangle the Trent Lott controversy.

First, Trent Lott isn't a racist or segregationist. I know the guy. Trust me on this.

Second, his comment was idiotic. To praise Strom Thurmond's 1948 candidacy is to praise its defining issue, segregation.

Third, Democrats have demagogued skillfully and shamelessly. Segregation was a Democratic creation and some who now hoist the party banner have skeletons -- or burning crosses -- in their own closets.

Fourth, there's a double standard at work. Left-wing reporters assume Republicans are racists and cast a blind eye at liberal bigotry, including the insulting insistence on racial quotas.

Nevertheless, the presence of a double standard doesn't eliminate the need for standards. Trent Lott has an often-endearing habit of shooting off his mouth. But this time he also shot off his foot and maybe his claim to leadership. His comments undermine a Republican president who wants to reverse his party's 30-year record of deliberately ignoring black voters -- of being "Caucasians R Us."  The quip also revived the race-huckster industry -- witness Al Sharpton's latest gusts.

Senator Lott says he was winging it and into the moment when he said we'd be better off if the Dixiecrats had won. But what does it say about him that such a moment could have existed at all -- or about party elders, that with the exception of the president, can't bestir themselves to say it was unconscionable and wrong -- or to take the next step of courting aggressively all voters, regardless of race?