The Republican Party is always talking about outreach to minority communities – and then a Republican gets in the way.
In South Carolina, after a gorilla escaped from the Columbia zoo last Friday, longtime GOP activist and former state election commission chairman Rusty DePass made this comment on his Facebook page: "I'm sure it's just one of Michelle's ancestors -- probably harmless."
Not having the courage of his lame convictions, he killed the page on Sunday, but not before it was captured by FITSNews
, a local political Website.
What followed was even worse. First, DePass issued one of those non-apology apologies: "I am as sorry as I can be if I offended anyone. The comment was clearly in jest." Then he blamed Michelle Obama. "The comment was hers. Not mine," he said, using tortured logic about evolution. No one could find any such statement by the First Lady.
Polls show Michelle Obama is more popular than her husband. She is an attentive mother. She has become a presence in schools and community activities in Washington and across the country. She is an advocate of hard work and the value of education. The Queen of England loves her. Women head to the gym to look like her. And DePass is talking trash about her.
Lindsey Graham, one of South Carolina's U.S. senators, has said he is "deeply troubled"
by comments about race made by Judge Sonia Sotomayor.
So Senator Graham, since statements that speak of the need for diversity on the bench upset you, I know you'll be demanding a clear apology from DePass – a South Carolina colleague -- for his comments comparing the First Lady of the United States to an animal.
Meanwhile, in Tennessee, Sherri Goforth, a legislative aide for Republican state senator Diane Black, sent out an e-mail with images of the Presidents of the United States, with Barack Obama rendered as a pair of eyes on a black background. Goforth told the online site Nashville Is Talking
: "I went on the wrong e-mail and I inadvertently hit the wrong button."
"I'm very sick about it, and it's one of those things I can't change or take back." Next time, I expect she'll be sure only her racist e-mail buddies receive the joke. Goforth got a reprimand but kept her job.
When it comes to race, it is not that the GOP is tone-deaf. To the contrary, the party knows the song by heart. It has been playing it since the Southern Strategy scooped up voters looking for a home after LBJ signed civil rights legislation.
You'd think the last election would have been a wake-up call. African American, Hispanic, Asian American – every minority community – voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama. Retired Gen. Colin Powell – an African American and a Republican -- appeared on "Meet the Press" before the presidential election to clearly explain why he planned to vote for Obama. In May, Powell was disrespected by former Vice President Dick Cheney -- he of the five draft deferments -- when Cheney sided with radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh in a feud between the two.
Recently, we had the spectacle of former GOP congressman Tom Tancredo saying a respected judge "appears to be a racist." That was, of course, before an actual racist apparently shot up a museum dedicated to tolerance and killed a man.
And then we were treated to extended coverage of a feud between Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and late-night host David Letterman over a tasteless joke he made about her daughter. Palin was rightly upset. Democratic and Republican officials piled on, until the comedian issued a real apology. (She accepted it.)
Republicans – Palin included – said the families of politicians should be off limits, although when they went on to add that Democratic political families are never touched, their outrage seemed more than a tad partisan. (Remember the Chelsea Clinton and Amy Carter jokes, anyone?)
Now Republicans have a chance to make it clear that respect for family goes both ways -- that their party will no longer be the place where racist jokes are excused with a wink and no one pays a price.