Two of The Post’s columnists, both African American and both liberals, won the complaint contest this week from readers calling and writing to the ombudsman.
Eugene Robinson got in hot water not for a column he wrote, but for an appearance on MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show,” during which he described former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum as “very weird” for some of his anti-abortion and anti-gay positions and for how the senator and his wife, Karen, handled the death in 1996 of their baby, Gabriel.
Courtland Milloy got almost as much grief for a column he wrote that was prompted by his observation of the TV coverage of the Iowa caucuses, where just about everyone he saw in the Republican presidential nominating caucuses was white.
First Robinson and the Santorums.
According to an account in The New York Times and a book by Karen Santorum, after Gabriel died two hours after being born, the couple slept overnight with him in a bed between them in the hospital. They then took the body home the next day to show to the other Santorum children before turning it over to the morgue.
Letter writers were pretty upset.
“What is wrong with you?” wrote one. “Why would you refer to someone as weird because they wanted to spend some time grieving over a baby they had just lost? Is it simply because Mr. Santorum, with his stance on social issues, does not comport with your worldview? Or are you just heartless?”
“The Post should either fire Eugene Robinson or suspend him for the despicable remarks he made regarding how Rick Santorum’s family dealt with the death of their infant son. Robinson appears on this show because he is a columnist for your newspaper. You bear some responsibility for what he says under your flag. This man went beyond the pale. Both he and the Washington Post should be ashamed. “
I think the loss of a child after 20 weeks of pregnancy is tough for all involved. I do think what the Santorums did is unusual. But on this, I defer to Post columnist Charles Lane, who with his wife went through an experience similar to the Santorums’. He wrote about it here.
Now to Milloy.
Milloy, a Metro section columnist, cited polls that show white voters leaning increasingly to the GOP nationally and wondered: “In a country as large and diverse as ours, how is it that one of the two major political parties has become, in essence, a white people’s party?”
Milloy then quotes some racially insensitive remarks by Republicans and ugly comments about President Obama and Michelle Obama and says, “How could those friendly-looking folks in Iowa be in a nasty old party like that?”
Reaction was swift from readers; many of them termed Milloy a black-on-white racist:
“As a Post subscriber and a registered Republican in the District, I would like to see an explanation for and an apology from Mr. Milloy regarding his unabashedly and unapologetically racist column in this morning’s Metro section. If Kathleen Parker or Michael Gerson were to write a similar article in similar tone (“nasty party”?) questioning why whites and blacks belong to the Democratic Party they would be fired.”
“We get it Milloy. When Obama loses it’ll be because of racism. We all look forward to another 20 columns from you saying the same thing between now and November.
“You keep cashing those checks and enjoying the affirmative action space in the Metro section. You sure didn't get it for intelligence or writing ability.”
Milloy frequently writes about race, and he is provocative on the subject. But I don’t think anything in this column was racist. He did not demean whites because they are white; he took GOP voters and strategists to task for tolerating what many would term racist remarks and policies, ranging from immigration to comments on Michelle Obama’s derriere. And he suggested that these help explain why blacks and Hispanics are not joining the GOP in higher numbers.
That is not racism. Many GOP strategists worry about the lack of minority voters as a long-term vulnerability for their party.
But I think Milloy used a broad brush in this statement: “Looks to me like those who call themselves Republicans have coalesced around nothing more than their whiteness. What else could it be? Certainly not economic self-interest.”
I think there are many reasons why Republicans coalesce: fear of big government, evangelical religious values, belief in a forceful national defense, economic fears and hopes.
But Milloy is right in the GOP getting increasingly white. At the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minnesota, for example, according to a survey by the New York Times and CBS, the percentage of white and male delegates went up over 2004, not down: 93 percent of the Republican delegates were white (compared with 85 percent in 2004 and 89 percent in 2000), while 5 percent were Hispanic and 2 percent were black. The Democratic delegate pool in Denver, according to the survey, was 65 percent white, 23 percent black and 11 percent Hispanic.
I attended the Republican and Democratic conventions for the past three presidential election cycles. The contrast between the ethnic makeup of the Democrats and the Republicans is the very first thing you notice when walking through the respective convention halls. It is profound. The GOP does not look like America.
That doesn’t make the party racist, of course. But as Milloy pointed out, it should induce a bit of reflection on the part of GOP leaders and activists.