Harry Reid’s Gaffe Pales.
Gee. Harry Reid said Obama is “light skinned” and speaks “with no Negro dialect unless he wanted to have one.” The wonder of this thing to me is that it has caused such an eruption. I ask my outraged Republican friends who are demanding Reid’s resignation: Whaaaa? Number one he IS light skinned and number two he CAN rattle off poor black talk with the best of them…as he once did on my radio show when he answered his then congressional opponent Bobby Rush’s charge that he was unconnected to people of the street.
But then I’m inured to saying the wrong thing myself. Early in Obama’s career I wrote that he is a mulatto. Merriam-Webster defines mulatto as—first-- “the first generation of a black person and a white person” and second “a person of mixed white and black ancestry.” Well to the self-anointed arbiter of political correctness The Tribune’s Eric Zorn, that was an outrageous thing for me to say about Obama. By which he meant what? That Obama ISN’T half white and half black? Oh, well, Eric and I have had a friendly (I hope) bantering back and forth for years. Believe it or not, he encouraged me to start this blog—which I’m sure he now sorely regrets.
Change of subject: Now I hate to zap my own political party but to me Trent Lott’s comments about Strom Thurmond DID warrant serious objection…but could have been defended…but the dumb Republicans yielded to Democratic pressure and made Lott resign as majority leader.
Lott evidently had gotten hold of some bad ice at a testimonial and serenaded 100-year-old Strom at a gathering by saying that if Uncle Strom had been elected president in 1948 (meaning instead of Harry Truman) the country would have been a lot better off. But those who know the history of the civil rights movement know that as governor of South Carolina, Thurmond was indistinguishable from people like J. William Fulbright of Arkansas and Georgia’s Dick Russell in modest language usage of race—meaning he was by no means a race-baiter. Unlike that venerable 92-year-old bogus constitutional fraud Bobby Byrd (and Harry Truman for that matter) he never joined the Klan. He never used the regrettable “n” word in speeches although others of his time did—a word Byrd utilized as late as March 4, 2001 in a television interview when he was 85 years old (he blistered white liberals as “white n-----s.”
In fact as South Carolina governor, he led the fight to abolish the poll tax there and hike conditions that liberals generally believe help the little guy like raising the minimum wage, desegregating his state’s national guard, outlawing lynching. He was regarded as a southern moderate and even by October, 1947…almost a year before the presidential election…he was a publicly professed supporter of President Truman for election. In southern councils in 1947 Thurmond was the one who would constantly advise easing up on anti-Truman attacks.
He DID stalk out of the 1948 convention in Chicago after Hubert Humphrey’s passionate address not because Thurmond declared it was wrong to allow those then called without derogation negroes equal rights and certainly not because Truman was integrating the military (which Thurmond had done himself with the Guard earlier)…but because—and let no one forget it—the civil rights movement was demanding abrogation of constitutional regard for states rights. At age 20 then, I favored Humphrey’s speech…and I suppose I’d agree with my younger self today if nothing could be done to remedy the conditions of blacks…but I understood then and do now what the southerners were talking about. My intellectual lodestar, Bob Taft, a constitutionalist, understood it as well.
Thurmond went home and decided not to go to the Dixiecrat rump convention in Birmingham. On a spur of the moment, he DID go. It was so impromptu that he brought not a single major aide or policy adviser with him. The Dixiecrats were intent on nominating the governor of Arkansas who was in fact a real racist, Benjamin Laney for president. Laney turned it down. Disappointed, the convention turned to Thurmond. By the time he returned to South Carolina, Thurmond’s friends were stunned at his decision to run.
Thurmond’s campaign against Truman in 1948 was almost meticulously waged on constitutional grounds vis-à-vis the states. If Lott had had sufficient stomach for a fight, a little bit of history would have been an invaluable “teaching moment” for his own defense where he could cite the wide differences between Thurmond a non-Klan member and Bobby Byrd and Harry Truman, both Klan members. But Republicans had no heart for the fight—nor did Lott. Actually, getting rid of Lott was, on other grounds, advantageous for the GOP. As one who knew Lott when he was the Democratic chief of staff to pro-segregationist House Rules Chairman Bill Colmer (who represented Pascagoula where Quaker had a major plant), Lott was always too much of a sharpster for me. As a lobbyist I found Colmer easier to negotiate with than Lott who frequently asked what would be in it for ol` Trent.
Ultimately, he allowed himself to be cowed by the Man with Bad Breath into preventing the conviction of Bill Clinton for the justifiable claim that he lied under oath…cowed because the Bad Breath-ster claimed he had something on Lott from the days when Trent was a male cheerleader at Old Miss.
As we all know, old man Thurmond fraternized so completely with at least one African-American woman that she conceived their child…who proudly announced her lineage to him, Mr. Zorn…and who, a mulatto, boasted of her connection with the old man for years afterward.
As one who nurtures real political gaffes, neither Harry Reid’s nor Trent Lott’s impressed me as significant. I’ll share some with you now that really were. These are gems from “The Little Giant Encyclopedia of Leadership Gaffes” compiledby David MacFarlane [Sterling Publishing, NY].
Here’s one I truly love. The best I ever heard. From the Rev. Al Sharpton, 1994:
“White folks was [sic] in caves while we [Africans] were building empires. We taught philosophy and astrology and mathematics before Socrates and them Greek homos ever got around to it.”“Why has Jesus Christ so far not succeeded in inducing the world to follow His teachings? It’s because He taught the ideal without devising any practical means of attaining it. That’s why I am proposing a practical scheme to carry out His aims.” Woodrow Wilson addressing the Versailles Peace Conference, 1919.
“Have you stopped wearing your wife’s lingerie? Have you stopped messing around with little boys?” Rep. Gus Savage (D-IL) to the media retorting to their questions about whether or not he propositioned a Peace Corps volunteer.
“There are instances where it is in the best interest of the nation not to vote the will of the people.” Thomas P. [Tip] O’Neill, Speaker of the House on whether or not the House should vote itself a pay raise without making it a record vote.
Now THESE are gaffes worth getting mad about!
*: St. Felix of Nova [died AD 530] should be recognized as the patron of anti-ego temperament and humility. Born on his Roman soldier father’s estate at Nola, near Naples, he distributed his entire inheritance to the poor on his father’s death, becoming an assistant to the Bishop, St. Maximus. When soldiers under Emperor Decius the Persecutor came looking for the bishop who had fled, they grabbed Felix and imprisoned him. An angel released him and directed him to the ailing Maximus. When the persecution ended, the people clamored for Felix to become their bishop—and elected him. He declined the honor, conferred it on a more senior priest, retiring to till a small piece of land he shared with the poor. His tomb became famous for the miracles received there.