Offense Taken

By Michael Kinsley
Saturday, March 15, 2008; 8:30 AM

First of all, I unequivocally dissociate myself from remarks by my second cousin to the effect that my worthy opponent is a "prize bitch." My cousin is a dog breeder and thought she was being complimentary. She did not appreciate that such phraseology could give offense to certain segments of the population who are unfamiliar with dogs. Nevertheless, there is no room for canine imagery in a national political campaign, and Cousin Maisie has dropped out of our family in order to avoid causing any distraction from the central issues that we ought to be debating, such as terrorism and health care.

In that spirit, I call upon my opponent to say that she forthrightly rejects statements made by her hairdresser, and caught on videotape, that "black people have curly hair." This stereotype has a long history of use by racists, and, quite frankly, the facts that this hairdresser is black and serves mostly black customers and obviously had no intention of causing offense and doesn't really know my opponent at all and has never done her hair until once last week and only made the statement when pressed by a group of reporters to reflect on the differences between the candidates from her professional point of view, do not make her remark "okay" or "totally irrelevant, for Christ's sake -- can't we talk about something important?" -- as some commentators have suggested.

Am I offended by this remark? Well, I'm working on it. At first I thought, "Well, honestly, who gives a #@$?" But I have come to realize that my opponent will stop at nothing in her insatiable quest for remarks by me and others to rip out of context and take umbrage over, and I have reluctantly concluded that there cannot be unilateral disarmament here. So, yes, I am deeply, deeply offended.

Is this part of a scheme by my opponent to introduce race into the campaign? That's not for me to say. It is my job to talk about the issues, such as health care and the subprime mortgage crisis. It is your job as members of the press to ignore all that boring crap and to fan the flames of phony issues with no evidence whatsoever, and I call upon you to do your job.

For example, when a member of my first grade Sunday School class was quoted in the Honolulu Luau-Advertiser as saying about my distinguished opponent, "This lady's tough," many right-wing radio talk show hosts took offense and accused me of promoting outmoded sexist stereotypes. I could have said, "Huh?" Or, "Look, I don't even remember this guy." Or, "For heaven's sake, what's wrong with saying 'This lady's tough'?" Or even, "I really don't need lessons in feminism from you guys." And in fact I did say all of that.

But when it became clear that all this wasn't going to be enough to make the controversy go away, I was forthright in admitting that there is no room for such comments in a campaign, and in dissociating myself from this guy by sending thugs to give him a lesson he won't forget. That is how I will deal with sexists when I am president of the United States. From day one. Or maybe day three or day four. Give me a break.

Let me be absolutely clear where I stand on all of this. There is no room for sexism in a modern political campaign. There is no room for racism either. There is no room for remarks that could reasonably be interpreted as sexist or racist. In fact, given the history of sexism and racism in this country, there is no room for remarks that could even be willfully misinterpreted as sexist or racist. There is no room for rudeness, or for the appearance of rudeness. There is no room for comments of any sort by anybody a candidate might have met under any circumstances in the course of his or her life, unless they have been vetted for sexism, racism, rudeness, or the appearance of these qualities by the campaign's senior staff. There is no room for unfair accusations that the opposition candidate has engaged in sexist, racist or rude remarks, or that anyone he or she has ever met has engaged in such remarks. And of course there is also no room for perfectly fair accusations of this sort, which can be misinterpreted, and usually are.

Basically, in the modern political campaign, there is no room for remarks of any sort on any subject which could be interpreted as giving offense to anyone, and that covers just about every subject there is. Therefore, my campaign will enter a cone of silence from now until I am sworn in as president next January. And I call upon my distinguished opponent and her campaign to do the same. The stakes in this election are much too high for anyone to say anything.

Michael Kinsley is a columnist for Time magazine and for washingtonpost.com.


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