As a white man who grew up in Alabama and was raised as a Republican, I do not believe that Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) is a closet racist. He does not appear to be in the closet at all.

To my southern ears, his regressive stances on civil rights perfectly complement his aggressive defense of Jefferson Davis and his embracing of the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens.

If Mississippians want this man to speak for their values, that is their right. But Mr. Lott has no business being the Senate majority leader, because he is not in tune with our national values of tolerance, mutual respect and diversity.

JONATHAN HUTSON

Montgomery Village

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I am infuriated by the slow and meek response offered by Senate Democratic leader Thomas A. Daschle (S.D.) in the wake of Sen. Trent Lott's ridiculous remarks.

Mr. Daschle's failure to speak out more forcefully and promptly illustrates why congressional Democrats are in the minority.

Having worked on Capitol Hill, I understand the Senate's tradition of collegiality, but grace is rarely a proper response to barbarism. Senate Republicans are not alone in their need to find new leadership.

CHRIS MERGERSON

Seattle

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Although Sen. Trent Lott's comments on Sen. Strom Thurmond's birthday were racist, Mr. Lott's voting record in the Senate does not brand him as such. Opposing a holiday in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. or favoring a constitutional amendment to ban school busing does not make one a racist. There are valid reasons for holding those views.

Until liberals stop branding as "racists" people who hold views that liberals disagree with, there can be no honest discussion of racial problems.

LAWRENCE INK

Beltsville

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Are there now historical figures (and, at 100 years old, Sen. Strom Thurmond is surely that) of whom we must never speak well because they once espoused the sins of their generations?

Must we now remove Thomas Jefferson (owned slaves), Andrew Jackson (the "Trail of Tears") and Abraham Lincoln (opposed interracial marriage) from all honorable mention and castigate anyone who will not go along?

Then there's Franklin D. Roosevelt (shaky views on Jews and Catholics) -- and his monument hasn't even started to weather.

Let's get off Trent Lott's back and move on.

ROBERT HAMMOND

Laytonsville

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Sen. Trent Lott's recent comments most likely have set back the Republicans' efforts to cultivate black voters, alienated many moderate voters and made things more difficult for the Bush administration. As a consequence, he might be forced from his position as majority leader. Mr. Lott has reportedly hinted that, if this occurs, he also will quit his Senate seat, thereby eliminating the Republicans' Senate majority.

Such political blackmail speaks volumes about Mr. Lott's priorities and loyalties.

M. RICHARD SUSSMAN

Mount Pleasant, Mich.