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FIRST-PERSON: A double standard

McMINNVILLE, Ore. (BP)–A conservative makes a remark that could be construed as offensive to someone — anyone — and liberals along with “mainstream” media types go absolutely apoplectic. Hillary Clinton cracks an insensitive joke and it seems silence is golden among the politically correct elite. Can you say double standard?

Sen. Clinton was attending a Democrat fundraiser in St. Louis on Jan. 6 when she made her disparaging remark. While introducing Senate candidate Nancy Farmer, she prefaced a quote by Mahatma Gandhi by quipping, “He [Gandhi] ran a gas station down in St. Louis for a couple of years. Mister Gandhi — you still go to the gas station? A lot of wisdom comes out of that gas station.”

After the crowd quieted from laughing, Sen. Clinton continued, “No, Mahatma Gandhi was a great leader of the 20th century.” While the crowd chuckled at the allusion to Indian-Americans seeming propensity to own gas stations, not everyone found the joke humorous.

Michelle Naef, the administrator of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence — an organization founded in 1991 by a Gandhi grandson, reacted coolly to Sen. Clinton’s attempt at humor.

While she did credit the senator for long having “supported the Gandhi message,” Ms. Naef said the joke “could be incredibly harmful.” She added, “… Perhaps I am overly sensitive, but I find it offensive when people use stereotypes in that way.”

When questioned about the joke two days later, Sen. Clinton said she in no way meant to fuel the stereotype that certain ethnic groups run America’s gas stations. “It was a lame attempt at humor and I am very sorry that it might have been interpreted in a way that causes stress to anyone,” the senator stated. “I have the highest regard for Mahatma Gandhi and have been a longtime admirer of his life.”

Perhaps Sen. Clinton did not intend to demean Gandhi. She did, however, attempt to get a laugh at the expense of hard-working legal immigrants who contribute to America’s strength and diversity. Where is the “mainstream” media in pointing out the senator’s insensitivity? Why aren’t the politically correct police issuing her a citation?

It seems that Sen. Clinton wants to pass her insensitivity off as a matter of “interpretation.” Isn’t that like saying, “It is not my fault you took my joke the wrong way”? I thought among the politically correct that offensive was in the eye — or ear — of the beholder. I was under the impression that no matter the intent, guilt was determined by the offended party.

A year ago I probably would have shrugged off Sen. Clinton’s remarks as merely unwise. I would likely have dismissed it as a bout of foot-in-mouth disease. But that was before Trent Lott.

You may recall that in December 2002 while attending a party for the 100th birthday of Strom Thurmond, Sen. Lott stated, “I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years, either.”

Many took Lott’s words as an endorsement of Sen. Thurmond’s former segregationist views. As a result, the senator from Mississippi was bludgeoned in the media. Apologize as he might, nothing would appease his detractors. Eventually Lott resigned from his position as Senate majority leader.

I was one who felt Lott’s remarks flirted too close to racial indifference for comfort. Concerning the senator’s plight I wrote, “Does anyone seriously believe that Trent Lott is a racist? I doubt it. However, the perception of insensitivity toward blacks hangs ominously over his head right now.”

In light of Sen. Clinton’s glib response to her own insensitive remarks, I find most interesting her reaction to Trent Lott’s plight. Did she defend him? Did she indicate his remarks might have been misinterpreted? No. In fact, Sen. Clinton made it clear that she could not support such racist rhetoric.

I suggested Sen. Lott should resign as majority leader. However, in so doing I believed that all politicians should be held to the same standard of responsibility for perceived insensitive remarks. I naively thought that Lott’s situation would herald a new accountability among our nation’s leaders.

Was I ever wrong! It seems that only conservatives are capable of insensitive speech. And no matter how much they might grovel in regret, no grace is granted. Why? Because, of course, they intended the insult, while “loving and compassionate” liberals would never, ever intentionally offend. The double standard makes me doubly nauseous.
Kelly Boggs’ column appears each Friday in Baptist Press. He is pastor of Valley Baptist Church in McMinnville, Ore., and chairman of the Northwest Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Committee.

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  • Kelly Boggs