Here is the deal: I know André Bauer, and I like him as a person. Every time I have met him, he has been cordial, engaging, and friendly. I am certain we disagree on many political principles, but there is no doubt in my mind that he is a genuinely good guy.
Based on my personal acquaintance alone, I was surprised to read his comments comparing those on public assistance to stray animals. The remarks obviously struck me as insensitive, but, even more so, they struck me as out of character.
When the predictable firestorm followed, with opinion pieces in local periodicals all the way to The Washington Post, a funny thing happened. I found myself wanting to defend Andre Bauer. Not because what he said was appropriate, or even remotely defensible, but because I saw him fall into the same trap that Bill Clinton, Joseph Biden, and Harry Reid had also fallen into — with vastly different results.
It is with reluctance but deep clarity that I admit this: when a politician puts his foot in his mouth, the effect varies greatly depending on the person’s political affiliation. This should not be the case.
When Joe Biden complimented then-candidate Obama on being the first black presidential hopeful with a legitimate shot at the presidency because he was “articulate and clean,” it struck me as more than a little condescending. Were the other black candidates illiterate and dirty? Still, the damage to Biden was not too bad since he was a Democrat with a track record of promoting the interest of African Americans and other minorities.
When Bill Clinton described Obama’s candidacy as a “fairy-tale,” many blacks voiced anger, but the former president’s track record insulated him from further fallout — although the same could not be said of his wife’s candidacy. It seems to me that the comments, taken alone, were improper regardless of the speaker, but the reputations of Biden and Clinton tempered the public reaction.
When a Republican such as André Bauer makes an intemperate comment that may have racial undertones, the knee-jerk reaction is to brand the speaker with intentional malice in making the comment. Not only is this unfair in the occasional instance that the speaker makes an unintentional verbal gaffe, but it gives an undeserved free pass to other politicians whose comments could possibly be more deeply rooted in their beliefs. To use isolated comments to identify only some politicians as bad undermines the valid concern of educating the public on why the statements themselves are improper, regardless of who says it.
Are there bigoted Democrats and Republicans? Yes. Are there genuinely good-hearted conservatives and liberals? Of course. The point is that you cannot tell everything you need to know about a public figure by one sound bite, and it is unfair to hold only those of a certain political affiliation accountable, while not holding the other. The more prudent course is to judge public servants on the policies they espouse, and the positions they hold. Everyone has made a statement they later regret, especially when in familiar company. Whether that statement is truly a reflection of that person’s character has nothing to do with their political party.
Toward that end, I would offer a qualified defense of André Bauer. He really is a wonderful guy if you ever get to know him. But at this point, I do not want him around my pets, I do not want to ride in a car with him, and I certainly do not want to fly in a plane with him.
Considering none of those are qualifications he needs to be governor, he actually still might win this thing.
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