Printer friendly version

April 3, 2004

Let's Be Outraged About the Right Thing

Glenn Reynolds invokes the Lott affair while linking to John Cole's reaction to another objectionable statement from a Republican. Cole quotes Mark Kleiman's summary:

Republican Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky, speaking of Dr. Daniel Mongiardo, a dark-haired, dark-skinned second-generation Italian-American running against him this fall:

"I have to tell you he looks like one of Saddam Hussein's sons... I mean before they were dead, of course...I really mean that he looks like one of Saddam's sons, and he even dresses like them, too."

Cole is absolutely correct that the comment was inappropriate, and even more than absolutely correct that Bunning's behavior after the fact deserves sharp rebuke. However, regarding the actual statement, it isn't directly comparable to Lott's, and there is room for context to make it better or worse. For example, if the line of oration had been political lookalikes, the comparison would just be a matter of extremely poor taste. If the preceding sentence had been something along the lines of "they all look the same to me," that would have been much worse. Somewhere in between — and still objectionable — would have been a "looking like the enemy" context.

I know nothing about Kentucky politics, so I won't presume to guess what the context might have been. (I've also little reason to get worked up about the joke for the same reason.) However, the charge of racism seems largely to have been imposed upon the comment, and while it could possibly play a role, that isn't necessarily the case: compare here and here.

Well, I guess the poorly conceived comments are alike in the way Chris Muir suggests in today's Day by Day cartoon. However, I hope there are a lot of available seats at that meeting!

Posted by Justin Katz at April 3, 2004 10:45 PM

Well, if the comment wasn't racist, why did Bunning's campaign lie about it, and why are they still holding the tape? If they could show us something that made the incident look less guilty than it now looks, and they don't, then the obvious inference is that the truth is worse than you currently think it is.

Posted by: Mark Kleiman at April 3, 2004 10:58 PM

Hello Mark,

I didn't say what I currently think the truth is, because I have no idea — either about the gathering or about either candidate. I'm merely suggesting, here, that the quick insinuation of racism seems premature.

Why the campaign won't release the video, I don't know. There are any number of contexts in which the comment would have been highly objectionable (almost all possible contexts, in fact, of which I can think). Or perhaps the campaign is just hoping that, with the apology and the lack of both exact, extensive quotes and video footage to run on the evening news, the whole thing will blow over more quickly by dropping it.

Let me stress that I'm not sticking up for Bunning (although we have to acknowledge that quips are being twisted beyond recognition in the media, lately). I'm merely attempting to bring a little perspective to an incident in an election year already hotter than... well, to play it safe, I'll leave the metaphor up to the reader.

Posted by: Justin Katz at April 3, 2004 11:16 PM

Mark writes: "Well, if the comment wasn't racist, why did Bunning's campaign lie about it, and why are they still holding the tape? If they could show us something that made the incident look less guilty than it now looks, and they don't, then the obvious inference is that the truth is worse than you currently think it is." ...Or that the campaign was fairly certain that in the current political climate the soundbite would be labeled racist no matter what.

Perhaps we shouldn't be so quick to purchase cheap grace by hinting that others are racist before all the facts are in, because that particular stink is a difficult one to shed.

Having said that, it's time for the Bunning people to release the tape before this spins totally out of control.

Posted by: Jeff G at April 3, 2004 11:37 PM

This has already spun out of control.

Bunning made a stupid and thoughtless comparison of two people's looks. He should not have made the remark. In that sense he did not learn the "lesson of Trent Lott".

However, the spin was put on it by the person who described Dr. Mongiardo as "dark-haired, dark-skinned" leading people to think along racial lines.

Here's a picture of Saddam and his family (

Dark-haired - yes (well, except for mom). Dark-skinned? Compared to whom?

If they lived down the street from me nobody would describe them as dark-haired, dark-skinned. And don't think they would describe Dr. Mongiardo that way either.

Posted by: sandybird at April 4, 2004 1:36 PM

The spin was put on it by an ignorant man who compared his opponent to murderers and terrorists because "they look alike and dress alike". What do they dress like? I've seen Dan in suits. I've seen Saddam's sons in suits. I've seen Bunning himself in suits. Is Bunning comparing himself to Saddam's sons?

This isn't the first time Bunning has made tacky remarks. As a Google search on this item points out, Bunning ran ads in '98 which had his opponent morph into a picture of Hitler.

I get the sense that some Republicans think this is an evil campaign to ruin the career of poor Jim Bunning. The truth is that nobody really expects anything to happen to Bunning. Kentucky is an extremely conservative state. Bunning is barely even known in the state. He will win because he is a Republican and because it's an election year (Bush is huge in Kentucky). The reason that people are upset about this is because, in all the midst of ranting and raving about mean Democrats who make horrible remarks and have no morals and are consumed by hatred, so many online conservatives have shrugged off or even defended Bunning's classless, cheap insult. Some of us are just tired of the double standard.

Posted by: Bill at April 4, 2004 3:31 PM they look alike, or not? If they look similar then there is not much of an argument left.

Bunning should leave the cheap shots about appearences to the playground types, though.

Posted by: Golem at April 4, 2004 10:58 PM

At the county Republican Christmas dinner that I attended in December 2001, the local Republican chair said that liberal Democrats are more dangerous than the terrorists who hit the World Trade Center towers. Later, I objected to him that his words were offensive. He said his words couldn't be considered offensive because they were true.

Posted by: Joel Thomas at April 4, 2004 10:59 PM