Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Open Mouth, Insert Foot

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You remember a few weeks ago, I was describing the hilarious journey of Florida Republican senatorial candidate Wacky Kathy Harris.

Harris seems to be on a quest to run the absolute worst campaign ever, which has included statements like "if you don't elect Christians, they'll legislate sin." For some reason, Jewish people in Florida (and there a few of those, I hear) didn't think that was a real cool thing to say.

Now, however, it's not just Wacky Kathy making with the outrageous statements. Republicans in general seem to have fallen prey to a veritable epidemic of foot-in-mouth disease.

The most famous gaffer is, of course, Virginia senatorial candidate George Allen. Allen's running against James Webb, former secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan.

A Webb campaign staffer, an American citizen of East Indian descent, was videotaping Allen at a campaign stop, perhaps waiting for Allen to say something stupid. Allen was happy to oblige. He referred to the dark-skinned staffer as "Macaca or whatever your name is" and sneered "welcome to America and the real world of Virginia."

Now, I would have thought that telling a native-born citizen "welcome to America" because of his skin tone would be the offensive part, but that shows how little I know. People began concentrating on what the heck "Macaca" meant. Some pointed out that it was a derogatory term used for dark-skinned people in North Africa, where Allen grew up. Others said it means "monkey." Allen apologized, but insisted he hadn't meant anything by it and it was just a nonsense name. You know, like "Sambo."

Macaca-gate was just beginning to die down when Allen put his foot in it again. A local news reporter brought up the fact that Allen's grandfather was Jewish and asked, somewhat snidely, "when Jewish identity ended."

Now, this was undeniably a stupid question. And Allen, by golly, gave a stupid answer. He started off OK, pointing out how irrelevant the question was and talking about religious freedom. If only he'd shut up there.But then he lit into the reporter for, in his words, "casting aspersions on people for their religious beliefs."

Uh, wait a minute, people said. Mentioning Jewish ancestors is "casting aspersions"? Was Allen saying Jewish heritage really was something to be ashamed of? The debate over that continues to rage, and it's costing Allen in the polls.

Then there's Montana Sen. Conrad Burns, a crusty old bird who's being challenged in a tight race by Democrat Jon Tester. The first signs of the Burns meltdown appeared when he cornered a group of Virginia firefighters who'd flown 2,000 miles to help fight a forest fire in Montana.

"You're doing a piss-poor job," Burns sputtered at them, showing what might be called a Pre-911 attitude towards first responders. (He later apologized.)

Then things got a little bizarre. On several occasions, Burns started talking about Hugo, a "nice little Guatemalan man" who worked for him, about how he'd asked Hugo for his green card, and how Hugo had refused. Burns later said he'd been joking, obviously forgetting that Republicans are not currently known for their sense of humor about immigrants these days.

Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for Federation for American Immigration Reform, sniffed, "If you have the very people who are responsible for making the laws mocking them, it's a pretty good indication of why we have 12 million people breaking the law."

During a fundraiser with first lady Laura Bush, Burns said the United States is up against a faceless enemy of terrorists who "drive taxicabs in the daytime and kill at night." Bet Conrad's going to have a little trouble finding a taxi next time he lands at Dulles.

(Actually, cab drivers can be a little scary. I had one in Philadelphia that I'm convinced was trying to kill me, and that was just the way he drove).

But the real prize for stupid, oh-my-God-he-didn't-say-that-did-he statements has to go to Illinois House candidate Peter Roskam. In a recent debate, Roskam, the designated heir apparent to the egregious Henry Hyde, charged that his Democratic opponent, Tammy Duckworth, wanted to "cut and run" from Iraq.

So what, you say? Isn't that a standard Republican response to anyone who dares ask questions about why we're still bogged down in Iraq, when are we leaving, and how?

Well, maybe. But in this case, the comment was in stunningly bad taste. See, Tammy Duckworth won't be doing much running from anything. She can't. She lost both legs fighting in Iraq when an RPG hit the helicopter she was flying.

Now, do I think that Roskam meant to poke fun at Duckworth's injuries? Naaah. If he'd really meant to denigrate the service of a wounded veteran, he'd follow the Republican playbook by passing out purple Band-Aids and getting Ann Coulter to claim that Duckworth was really just on the way to drink beer when she was shot down.

No, Roskam was just mindlessly spouting off standard Republican catchphrases without really thinking about what he was saying. You know, sort of like the Bush administration.

Those crazy Republicans. What will they say next? Stay tuned.

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