The only openly systematic discrimination based on race done these days is done with the support of liberals, i.e., affirmative action, which in practical terms means that a white applicant to a major university has less than one tenth the chance of gaining admission than a black applicant with the same qualifications. And the situation is similar in hiring for jobs with major companies.
So why did Lott's gaffe hit such a nerve? Not because Lott has proposed pro-segregation laws, and not because any such laws would be supported by anyone currently in congress. And not because such paleo-Southern sentiments would have any purchase on any conceivable policy.
(The only segregationists pushing their agenda these days are black segregationists.)
No, these charges of crypto-racism coming out against conservatives are the result of the fact that the conservatives are now in power and do not support affirmative action, and they won't confirm judicial appointments likely to support affirmative action. Affirmative action in college admissions is very likely to be struck down or severely modified by the Supreme Court of the land, and certainly one cannot expect any legislation that is going to shore up affirmative action coming from the new congress. And, for that matter, one hasn't heard much about repariations since the last election, either.
And in the minds of the left wingnuts, opposition to affirmative action and reparations can only be due to crypto-racism. It couldn't possibly be due to discomfort over the idea that we are systematically discriminating against white and asian young people, young people that haven't done anything wrong, on the basis of race. It couldn't possibly be that the idea of reparations is seriously flawed with all sorts of problems of fairness, penalizing people who are blameless of the sins that reparations are supposed to address. No, it can only be because we are trying to keep blacks down. And this is due to the fact that whites are still all damnable, evil racists in their hearts. And what Lott said proves this.
But there is nothing that they can do about it for a while other than throw these tantrums whenever they get the chance.
And there is the fact that this all happens just as is appears that Republicans are making some progress in reaching out to minorities. I'm sure that it causes the Democrats some anxiety to see minorities respond to these feelers from Republicans, so they were eager to take the opportunity to say, "See? They're just racists. Nothing that they say or do can change that. You can't ever trust them, don't even talk to them." when they got the chance.