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Stupid Comments By Senators
This is just too funny not to post:
The long, storied history of stupid comments by U.S. senators
By John Bresnahan and Jake Sherman
Updated: 01/13/2010 10:25:48 AM CST
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid stepped in it when he told reporters that Barack Obama could be elected president because he's "light skinned" and lacks a "Negro dialect."
But it's hardly the first time a senator has made an outrageous or offensive remark. In spite of their high-brow, cooling-saucer reputation, members of the Greatest Deliberative Body in the World sometimes seem preprogrammed to say really dumb things at really inopportune times.
It's almost impossible to keep up a comprehensive list — but it's certainly fun trying.
Here's Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., in 2004: "Lesbianism is so rampant in some of the schools in southeast Oklahoma that they'll only let one girl go to the bathroom. Now, think about it. Think about that issue. How is it that that's happened to us?"
Coburn, a medical doctor, also said that women who had received silicone breast implants were better off than women who hadn't. "If you have them, you're healthier than if you don't," Coburn said during a Judiciary Committee hearing.
Former Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., thought a 2006 fundraiser for then-first lady Laura Bush would be a good time to declare that the United States was up against a "faceless enemy" of terrorists who "drive taxicabs in the daytime and kill at night."
Burns, a walking insult machine, once accused Virginia firefighters who traveled to Montana to fight wildfires of doing a "piss-poor job"; joked about a "nice little Guatemalan man" of unknown immigration status who did repair work on his home; referred to Arabs as "ragheads"; asked a woman with a nose ring what "tribe" she belonged to; and told a female flight attendant who was about to be laid off that she could just stay home and be a mom.
"He's still living in the '50s," the exasperated flight attendant told the Great Falls Tribune.
The living-in-the-past charge might explain a lot of comments from senators, whose average age is just shy of 64. But it doesn't explain everything. Then-Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., wasn't yet 50 when he compared consensual sex between gay people to bigamy, adultery, incest and bestiality. "If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual (gay) sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery," Santorum said in 2003.
Santorum also said that poor citizens of New Orleans who didn't flee Hurricane Katrina in 2005 should be fined. "I mean, you have people who don't heed those warnings and then put people at risk as a result of not heeding those warnings," Santorum said. "There may be a need to look at tougher penalties on those who decide to ride it out and understand that there are consequences to not leaving." Santorum later apologized.
At a 1998 GOP fundraiser, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., took an ill-advised jab at Bill Clinton's teenage daughter. "Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly? Because her father is Janet Reno," McCain joked. McCain later apologized to the Clintons.
Just last month, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called a flight attendant a "bitch" after she asked him to get off his cell phone before takeoff. "It's Harry Reid calling," POLITICO quoted Schumer as saying. "I guess health care will have to wait until we land." Schumer also publicly expressed his regret over the incident.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, suggested executives of failed insurance giant American International Group should kill themselves. "The first thing that would make me feel a little bit better towards them if they'd follow the Japanese model and come before the American people and take that deep bow and say, 'I'm sorry' and then either do one of two things: resign or go commit suicide," Grassley said.
Then-Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., lost the majority leader's job after saying that the country would have been better off if segregationist Sen. Strom Thurmond had won the White House in 1948. Lesson learned? Then-Sen. George Allen, R-Va., used the word "macaca" to describe an Indian-American campaign volunteer for his opponent, Democrat Jim Webb, and it helped cost him the election.
But as Reid is learning — so far, at least — the use of racially charged language doesn't always have serious consequences.
Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., used the term "white n-----s" in 2001 during an interview with Fox News, but it didn't end up costing him anything. Byrd, who belonged to the Ku Klux Klan in his 20s, apologized for his comments, and he was reelected handily in 2006. He said the phrase "dates back to my boyhood and has no place in today's society."
Ross Baker, a professor of political science at Rutgers University who served as a fellow in Reid's office, said that senatorial gaffes are oftentimes "the product of tired people" who are working under "a terrific amount of pressure," in a place that imposes strict rules on decorum.
"There is sometimes this overwhelming urge to say something blunt and even impolitic," Baker said. That may not explain Reid's anachronistic talk of Obama's lack of a "Negro dialect."
And nothing, really, can explain the verbal handiwork of the late Sen. Roman Lee Hruska, R-Neb. In a 1970 floor speech, Hruska pushed back against critics who complained that Supreme Court nominee G. Harrold Carswell had been a mediocre judge.
"Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers," Hruska said in his floor speech. "They are entitled to a little representation, aren't they? And a little chance? We can't have all Brandeises, Frankfurters and Cardozos."
The Democrats turned Hruska's comments into a mocking slogan: "What's wrong with a little mediocrity?"
Luke Freedman and Vivyan Tang contributed to this story.
"Miss Scarlet, in the library...with a revolver...."