Let me see if I understand. The junior senator from New York, Hillary Clinton, whom many believe is the front-runner for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, went to the famed Canaan Baptist Church in Harlem on Martin Luther King Day.
Standing where King stood when he preached the installation sermon for his dear friend, the Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker, the junior senator said to the predominately Black audience:
"When you look at the way the House of Representatives has been run, it has been run like a plantation, and you know what I'm talking about."
Beyond the GOP hyperbole that would like to place the senator's comments at the intersection of George Wallace and Bull Connor, I find the remarks rather disconcerting.
There is the political aspect to consider. Who approved that line? Surely not the junior senator's spouse, whose office is a mere 15 blocks from Canaan.
Given that he possesses perhaps the best political instincts within his party, I would like to believe that he would have advised against such statements.
Could you imagine the uproar had the president made a similar remark? I doubt the Rev. Al Sharpton or Illinois Sen. Barack Obama would have been so quick to provide the president with the same cover they afforded New York's junior senator.
When did partisanship require that one remain silent in the wake of such obvious pandering? Has our collective institutional memory already forgotten Trent Lott's infamous comments about the former segregationist the late Sen. Strom Thurman?
Then there is the statement itself. I am not troubled by the juxtaposition between the House of Representatives and a plantation — that is the junior senator's opinion. My struggle is with the second half of the statement: "And you know what I'm talking about."
No, Senator, I don't know what you are talking about.
Are you suggesting that if members of the House attempted to escape their party dogma by thinking for themselves, they would have a foot removed as lesson for anyone who considered a similar path?
How many members of the House have been publicly flogged, left lying on the ground, their skin in a bloody pulp — only then to have salt and cayenne pepper sprinkled in the wounds?
Are House members under the threat of death if they have the audacity to attempt to read, worship according to their native religion or speak their native dialect? How many members have had their families systematically divided and sold — never to be seen again?
Perhaps you were referring to the more genteel version — something like Margaret Mitchell's beloved Tara in Gone With the Wind. I can just see former majority leader Tom DeLay on the House floor crying to Speaker Dennis Hastert: "I don't know nothing about birthing no babies!"
If a plantation metaphor is warranted, it is with your paternalistic attitude. The only thing missing from your statement was a magnolia tree, a rocking chair and a mint julep.
However dysfunctional the current status of the House is, I fail to see how it relates to the plantation life that those in bondage were forced to suffer.
Instead of providing the Harlem crowd with empty platitudes and haughtiness, I would have preferred that the junior senator would have used the King Day celebration to humbly apologize for her vote in support of the quagmire known as the occupation of Iraq.
In fact, the junior senator was close to the place where King gave his famous speech opposing the war in Vietnam. That seems more appropriate than providing a rudimentary lesson on the inner workings of the House.
I understand how the drug of ambition can trump common sense. But to cavalierly use a people's suffering for political purposes not only displays arrogance, ignorance, and privilege, it demonstratesbadpolitical instincts. Just ask Trent Lott.
The Rev. Byron Williams is pastor of Resurrection Community Church in Oakland, Calif.