Another Failed 'Farrakhan Test'

By Colbert I. King
Saturday, March 8, 2008

Frequent readers of this column know that I'm not one to start trouble. But this is the political season; scratchy topics are part of daily reporting. So let's return to a figure prominent in last week's column: Nation of Islam minister Louis Farrakhan.

You might recall that during the Feb. 26 Democratic debate in Cleveland, NBC's Washington bureau chief, Tim Russert, pressed Sen. Barack Obama on an endorsement he received from Farrakhan. Obama said he had previously denounced Farrakhan's anti-Semitic comments and had not sought the endorsement.

Hillary Clinton weighed in, suggesting that Obama's denunciation of Farrakhan's endorsement wasn't enough.

Clinton pointed out that when she ran for the Senate in 2000, she "rejected" unsolicited support received from an "anti-Semitic, anti-Israel" group.

"And it looked as though I might pay a price for that," she said. "But I would not be associated with people who said such inflammatory and untrue charges against either Israel or Jewish people in our country."

Clinton demanded that Obama do more than "denounce" Farrakhan's endorsement. Obama responded that he didn't see the difference between denouncing and rejecting but said: "If the word 'reject' Senator Clinton feels is stronger than the word 'denounce,' then I'm happy to concede the point, and I would reject and denounce."

Thus we have the Farrakhan litmus test, a sort of oral examination often administered to black political candidates. It's one of many tests Obama can expect to face in the coming weeks.

Whether Obama passed or failed the Farrakhan test might depend on where you stand on Obama's candidacy. But the exchange regarding the controversial Nation of Islam leader probably did Hillary Clinton some good, given Farrakhan's radioactivity in many parts of the country.

Which raises the question: Where was Hillary Clinton when her husband, former president Bill Clinton, made nice with Louis Farrakhan?

What? You didn't know?

Oh, you're probably thinking back to the fall of 1995, when the Million Man March convened in Washington under Farrakhan's leadership. That's when then-President Clinton made it plain that he objected to Farrakhan as the leader of the gathering on the Mall.

The day of the march, Clinton told a University of Texas audience that "one million are right to be standing up for personal responsibility, but a million men do not make right one man's message of malice and division."

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