A distinguished columnist, editor and foreign correspondent, Wes Pruden has been a leading voice of conservative thought for more than three decades.
Another raid by the Gaffe Patrol
What this country really needs, more than that famous "good nickel cigar," is a federal agency to regulate the apologies of public officials. The Apologetics and Atonement Administration would be assigned to the Ministry of Euphemy, charged with measuring the sincerity of the miscreants and gauging how abject they really are.
Public apologies have become a growth industry. Such an apology is marked with capricious cant and blatant insincerity ("… if I've offended anyone I regret it") and meant only to turn down the heat. Sometimes even Democrats, not often but sometimes, are called out for the outrageous things they say. Harry Reid, the leader of the Democrats in the U.S. Senate, is even now making the rounds to tug at his forelock (what there is left of it), paw the ground with his left foot and affect the kind of humility that politicians are famous for. He's offering practiced amends for his remarks about Barack Obama — that he was a presidential candidate who wouldn't frighten white folks because he was "a light-sk…d" African American who spoke with "no N…-o dialect, unless he wanted one." (Excuse the ellipses, but I want no trouble from the language police.)
This is actually how a lot of politicians of both parties, black, white, tan and various shades between, talk when they're in a smoke-filled room, trying to sort out who ought to run against whom. Mr. Reid, who will soon have a lot to answer for in regard to his part in saddling the nation with the monstrosity of health care "reform" legislation, no doubt meant nothing more "insulting" than a candid judgment that Mr. Obama, for the good and sufficient reasons he enumerated, would make a good candidate for president. And he was right, as anyone who read the papers on Nov. 9, 2008, could tell you.
We don't know, exactly, what Bill Clinton meant when, in pressing Teddy Kennedy for an endorsement of Hillary, he remarked that "a few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee." This was a bit of hyperbole, since Harvard lawyers, black or white, have never delivered coffee, not even in Hot Springs. Bubba himself would have been more likely to be in the coffee-delivery business. This story may be apocryphal, since the authors of "Game Change," the book that has the chattering class agog this week, attribute it to a man conveniently dead. No angry complaint from Teddy that he was misquoted, or even that his remarks were "taken out of context," is expected from the graveyard.
Neither Bubba nor the Las Vegas bag man have a history of racist, bigoted or nativist (have we forgotten anything?) slurs, curses or oaths, homosexual slights, drug talk or affronts (except to good sense). Mr. Reid boasts that he helped desegregate the Las Vegas Strip, enabling black folks to lose their shirts as easily and as painfully as white folks, and Bubba, as author Toni Morrison famously decreed, was our first black president. (Both men later endorsed Mr. Obama.)
Some Republicans, eager for equal linguistic punishment, compare the easy forgiveness of Democratic slurs to the pious Democratic denunciations of similar Republican sins, and cry foul. They're quick to cite the treatment accorded Trent Lott for his ham-handed birthday salute to the 100-year-old Strom Thurmond, when he told him that if people had listened to him when he ran for president as a States' Rights Democrat in 1948 a lot of subsequent unpleasantness could have been avoided. Only a naif who had slept through the decades since could have imagined that Mr. Lott was yearning for a return of Jim Crow, but the Democrats — and a considerable number of frightened Republicans — soon hounded Mr. Lott from office. (No such fate is expected for Harry Reid.) Robert Byrd, the one-time Ku Klux Klansman and current Democratic senator from West Virginia who is closing in on Strom Thurmond's record of longevity, was even caught using the notorious "N-word," but he was quickly forgiven as a man whose drooling cups were probably overflowing and he could be excused.
One of these days, maybe not soon, free speech will no longer be subject to caveat. Anyone on that happy day can tell a bad or even tasteless joke. Preacher jokes. Priest jokes. Rabbi jokes. Feminist jokes. Redneck jokes. Mother-in-law jokes. (Well, maybe not mother-in-law jokes.) We'll joke about Amos 'n' Andy, Lum, Abner, Bob Burns and Molly Goldberg. (You could look 'em up.) Then we'll know that equality has finally arrived, and the bureaucrats at the Apologetics and Atonement Agency will have to find real work.
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How Wes saw things on Jun. 19, 2012
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