- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 12, 2007

Obama and Imus

Some black commentators are incensed that Illinois senator and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama did not immediately join the Rev. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson in denouncing shock jock Don Imus for his bumbling comment about the Rutgers women’s basketball team.

Melissa Harris Lacewell, a professor of politics and black studies at Princeton University, said Mr. Obama missed an opportunity to prove himself to blacks and white liberals who would have wanted Mr. Obama take the lead in condemning Mr. Imus.

“This was so easy, and his unwillingness to touch it tells me this is going to be his third rail, and race never goes away in politics,” she told the Boston Globe. “Black people want to love Barack. They’re doing everything they can to love Barack. We want to believe that Barack is better than this. But they will turn on him.”

Michael Eric Dyson, a University of Pennsylvania professor and author, said he supports Mr. Obama’s campaign but questions why he did not speak up more forcefully about Mr. Imus. He added that the other presidential candidates had the same responsibility.

“Here’s the point: Paying attention to the issues of race is an American concern,” he said. “It looks as if he’s being so careful and cautious not to ruffle the feathers of the mainstream that he may inadvertently raise the hackles of the black majority.”

The Obama campaign declined to comment Tuesday on its handling of the issue. One adviser pointed out, however, that Mr. Obama issued a public comment before the other major Democratic candidates — includingNew York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.

Radio critics

Democrat John Edwards criticized radio host Don Imus yesterday for making racially and sexually charged comments about the Rutgers women’s basketball team, declaring “it was not OK to say this, period.”

But the former North Carolina senator stopped short of saying he would refuse to appear as a guest on the show in the future, saying more time was needed to see how the situation would be resolved.

He made his remarks as a rival candidate, front-runner Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, began an online petition drive to support the Rutgers players, the Associated Press reports.

“Don Imus’ comments about them were nothing more than small-minded bigotry and coarse sexism,” the New York senator wrote on her campaign Web site. “They showed a disregard for basic decency and were disrespectful and degrading to African-Americans and women everywhere.”

Mr. Imus made the comments last week on his morning show, the day after the team lost the national championship to Tennessee.

Unneighborly

The next-door neighbor of John and Elizabeth Edwards says the Democratic presidential candidate and his wife owe him an apology.

Mrs. Edwards recently referred to Monty Johnson, who lives near the Edwards’ mammoth mansion outside Chapel Hill, N.C., as a “rabid Republican,” adding that she didn’t want her children near him because, she said, he once pulled a gun on workers investigating a right of way on his property.

That prompted two lawyers to phone Mr. Johnson, offering to represent him in a slander case, the local News & Observer newspaper reports, but the 55-year-old retired landscaper said he’s not interested in suing.

“I’d just like to know why she has such hard feelings to me,” he said. “They say they’re for poor people.”

Newspapers from as far away as Ireland have picked up the story. On Tuesday, “Inside Edition” sent a film crew to his single-wide trailer in rural Orange County that sits near the Edwards’ $6 million, 29,000-square-foot estate.

Mr. Johnson didn’t rebut Mrs. Edwards’ comments, the newspaper said. He’s a proud member of the Republican Party and owns a 9 mm handgun he said he’s not afraid to use.

Mr. Johnson said he doesn’t have hard feelings toward Mrs. Edwards, but he does expect her to say she’s sorry.

“I think she owes me an apology,” he said. “And I won’t feel right until I get it.”

Breakfast tidbits

It’s too early to rule any of the Republican presidential candidates in or out, but none of them have fully “captured the vision” yet, traditional values leaders said yesterday at a press breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.

“You don’t have to go to the dance with the first person that calls,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, who joined Gary Bauer, president of American Values, and Mark Early, president of Prison Fellowship, in fielding reporters’ questions.

Brief assessments from one or more of the social conservative leaders:

• Former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani: Respected for leadership in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, but his pro-choice stance is a non-starter.

• Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney: Has the right values, although on the pro-life issue there are questions about whether his conversion was on “the road to Damascus” or “the road to Des Moines.”

• Sen. John McCain of Arizona: Has a solid record on several issues, including sanctity of life, but a 2000 speech in Virginia Beach that criticized Christian conservatives for political activism is just one of the things that has probably cost him the nomination.

• Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson: Has a good pro-life, conservative record, but voted for the noxious McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform law. “Adds to the mix,” though.

• Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee: Both have great records and values, but both are “spending a lot of time” in Iowa and “not moving” up in the polls as well as expected. Neither are doing especially well in the “money primary,” either.

• Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson: Has extensive experience and good qualities “that could catch on,” but needs a big boost in Iowa.

Two bite the dust

The White House yesterday withdrew its choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency’s air-pollution office after he ran afoul of Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat.

William Wehrum, nominated to head the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, was the architect of rules to regulate harmful power-plant emissions that environmental groups and many Democrats blasted as too lenient.

The White House withdrew Mr. Wehrum’s nomination, along with that of Alex Beehler, its pick to be the EPA’s inspector general, Reuters news agency reports.

Mrs. Boxer, chairman of the Senate Environment Committee, had placed a hold on both nominations last year after the panel approved them on party-line votes. At the time, the Senate was under Republican control.

Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/636-3285 or [email protected]

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