- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 17, 2005

A few weeks ago, many top Democrats were on edge over the proposition of Howard Dean as the Democratic National Committee chairman. Aside from Mr. Dean’s liberal politics, they were publicly worrying about the former Vermont governor’s wayward tongue, which has a tendency to get the best of him and hurt their party as it tries to appeal to minority and independent voters. All we can say is that didn’t take long.

On Feb. 11, the day before he was elected party chief, Mr. Dean asked, at a meeting of the DNC Black Caucus, “You think the Republican National Committee could get this many people of color in a single room?” The Associated Press reports that laughter greeted Mr. Dean, who then delivered the punchline: “Only if they had the hotel staff in here.”

Were black Democrats in the audience as outraged as one would expect? Not really. Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, who was in attendance and didn’t find Mr. Dean’s comments offensive at all, told us the audience greeted Mr. Dean’s punchline with a standing ovation.

Not everyone is so bemused. Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele and former congressman J.C. Watts, both black Republicans, have called for the chairman to apologize. In a joint statement, they wrote, “In his comments to the Democratic Black Caucus, Dean equates African-Americans who support Republicans to hired help. This kind of backward thinking reminds us of a horrible time in history when blacks were seen as servants.” Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman called Mr. Dean’s comments racist.

Everyone of course understands what Mr. Dean means when he says these things; he’s just awful at saying them. We couldn’t help but remember Mr. Dean’s quip during the Democratic presidential primary that he wanted “to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks.”

When then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott made remarks that were correctly seen as racist, he lost his leadership post and apologized. Democrats who are justifiably quick to level charges against others who make such statements should let their own party know that derogatory comments are unacceptable. Mr. Dean owes America an apology.

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