Not just conservatives: Dems have a dark side too

You all look alike to me.”

Such was the dismissive remark of Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., to a bewildered Roger Noriega, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, at a Feb. 26 briefing on Haiti. Brown had opined that the Bush administration’s Haitian policy was “racist” and dominated by a “bunch of white men.” When an indignant – and very Hispanic – Noriega objected, Brown snapped back with that trite phrase beloved by Klansmen, skinheads and, apparently, leading members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

In a subsequent interview on Jacksonville’s WJXT-TV, Brown explained that her observation “wasn’t meant to be a racist comment” and that she was only trying to express her outrage at an administration “totally insensitive to the government of Haiti.”

Imagine the outrage if Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, were to inadvertently address Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., as “Maxine Waters” during a heated House debate, only to subsequently remark that “they all look alike to me.”

Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., certainly knows the price of a racial gaffe. After retroactively endorsing the 1948 ticket of then-segregationist Strom Thurmond, Lott found himself at the center of a national controversy and was ultimately muscled out of his leadership position and replaced by the more temperate Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn. Yet Brown’s remarks have been entirely ignored by the same media that excoriated Lott.

A LexisNexis search reveals that Brown’s gaffe has been mentioned three times by the print media; within the first nine days following Lott’s comment, more than 200 articles addressed it. According to the press, racism is an exclusively Republican vice.

Former President Bill Clinton, farcically acclaimed as “our first black president,” rushed to condemn Republicans for “trying to suppress black voters” in the wake of the Lott controversy. However, only six weeks before Clinton had lavishly praised another leading segregationist, J. William Fulbright, as “utopian” in “values and vision.” Apparently only Democrats can praise with impunity the “utopian vision” of racist politicians who would rather see blacks swinging from trees than attending integrated classrooms. The media maintained its respectful silence while Slick Willy extolled the virtues of a leading advocate of the separate and unequal.

Another paragon of racial sensitivity is Sen. Fritz Hollings, D-S.C. In 1998, the liberal statesman opined that “potentates from down in Africa” were eagerly attending an international conference because, “rather than eating each other, they’d just come up and get a good square meal in Geneva.” Earlier in his career, the incorrigible Hollings had snidely referred to Jesse Jackson’s advocacy group as the “Blackbow” Coalition and Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, D-Ohio, as the “senator from B’nai B’rith.”

Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., however, managed to outdo even the staggeringly offensive comments of Hollings. In a letter to the late Sen. Theodore Bilbo, D-Miss., sent three years before Thurmond’s 1948 presidential run, Byrd inveighed against the integration of the armed forces: “Rather I should die a thousand times Ö than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds.”

Several years after formally renouncing his membership in the Ku Klux Klan, Byrd wrote an adulatory letter to the imperial wizard, claiming that “the Klan is needed today as never before and I am anxious to see its rebirth here in West Virginia.” Today Byrd remains a Democratic icon, most recently celebrated for his staunch opposition to the liberation of Iraq. And incidentally, despite Byrd’s objections, the military is now integrated.

Within a few months, the inevitable tarring of Republicans as reactionaries and racists will begin. Self-appointed civil rights leaders will haunt President George W. Bush with the specter of Lott while proudly hoisting the Democratic banner in their march against prejudice. Meanwhile, a complacent national media will ignore every eruption of liberal bigotry so that the Republicans remain indelibly cast as the fount of all hatred in the contemporary United States. In the end, Lott’s greatest failing was that he was not a Democrat.

Christopher Oster is a political science junior. He welcomes comments at [email protected]