- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 12, 2000

If Republicans had dismissed two highly regarded black officials as the equivalent of political lawn jockeys for liberals both of them incapable of recognizing that they were being used to promote an agenda hostile to them it's not hard to imagine the outcry that would ensue: The officials are perfectly capable of thinking and acting in their own interests, critics would respond, and to dismiss them as unthinking campaign props is surely patronizing, racist or both. At a minimum, the offenders would have to apologize. They might even face a possible job loss or, as in the case of the Atlanta Braves pitcher who recently made disparaging remarks about minorities in Sports Illustrated, a trip to the psychiatrist's office.

But that is precisely what Al Gore's presidential campaign manager has done, and the result is … nothing. All's quiet on the apology front, and there is no prospect the campaign manager will lose her job.

At issue is a comment that top Gore aide Donna Brazile made in an interview with Bloomberg.com. "Republicans," she said, "bring out Colin Powell and [Oklahoma Rep.] J.C. Watts because they have no programs, no policies. They play that game because they have no love and no joy." And no rhythm, presumably. "They'd rather take pictures with black children than feed them," she said.

Mr. Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in case Miss Brazile had forgotten, and Mr. Watts naturally took offense at this caricature, and both wrote Mr. Gore to urge him to avoid such race-baiting. Mr. Powell noted that he was involved with a variety of organizations serving young people, including the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, the United Negro College Fund and Howard University. "I do so to help feed, educate and spiritually nourish all of America's children, black and white, and not just for a photo op. And I do so as a Republican," he said. "Congressman Watts' dedication to the youth of America is very well known and has been a hallmark of his service in Congress. Miss Brazile has paid him a great disservice."

Out hustled Mr. Gore to announce that as a matter of fact Colin Powell was a personal friend whom he admired and that he had called Mr. Powell to reassure him on that score. But he carefully refused to say whether he had asked Miss Brazile to apologize to his close, personal friend, Mr. Powell, or to Mr. Watts. Further, he actually defended what she said. "Having General Powell and Congressman Watts in the Republican Party is, in fact, no substitute for an agenda that supports all of our people, including African-Americans. That is what Donna was trying to say."

Except that isn't what she said at all. She said Republicans were using Messrs. Powell and Watts to promote their political agenda which apparently includes starving black children and, by implication, that the two men were too dumb to notice. She might as well hand them lanterns and tell them to stand out by the driveway.

It seems not have occurred to her or perhaps she doesn't want to believe that there is such a thing as a black Republican that Mr. Powell and Mr. Watts gave political affiliation serious consideration and decided that on balance the best way to serve children of any color was as a Republican. Mr. Gore and his campaign manager are free to dispute that conclusion. They are not free to smear black Republicans in the process.

"We can debate and disagree over specific programs and approaches," wrote Mr. Powell, "but let's not start the new century by playing the polarizing 'race card' which immediately contaminates and destroys the opportunity for open debate on issues of importance to all our children."

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