Wednesday, May 16, 2007

For the three leading candidates to win the Democratic primary, John Edwards and Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, criticizing radio talk-show host Don Imus’ racially charged comment about the Rutgers University women’s basketball team hardly required a courageous stand: Even Don Imus was calling the remark “stupid.” But when the Rev. Al Sharpton last week implied that Mormons don’t really believe in God, those same three candidates, in sharp contrast to the outcry over Mr. Imus, decided not to condemn his comment publicly. During a debate with Christopher Hitchens in New York, Mr. Sharpton said: “As for the one Mormon running for office, those who really believe in God will defeat him anyways, so don’t worry about that; that’s a temporary situation.”

Mr. Obama was perhaps the most forceful in his criticism of Mr. Imus; the senator from Illinois followed his censure with a call for NBC to fire Mr. Imus. Mr. Obama also said the comment affected his family: “He didn’t just cross the line. He fed into some of the worst stereotypes that my two daughters are having to deal with today in America.” In a speech in Milwaukee, Mr. Obama linked both the Imus brouhaha — what he called “verbal violence” — and the Virginia Tech killings to the same problem of violence in society.

Mrs. Clinton’s released a seething e-mail to supporters: “Don Imus’ comments about them were nothing more than small-minded bigotry and coarse sexism. They showed a disregard for basic decency and were disrespectful and degrading to African-Americans and women everywhere.”

Mr. Edwards spoke of how Mr. Imus’ comment was indicative of a larger division in America. “Don Imus’ comments didn’t just cross the line. They defined the line that divides this country like the blade of a knife. There can be no debate over how much bigotry is too much bigotry. Any bigotry is too much.”

That last comment was from a speech Mr. Edwards delivered in New York in April at Mr. Sharpton’s National Action Network convention. All three candidates, in fact, appeared during the four days of the convention.

Either because they considered the remark not offensive enough to warrant public criticism, or because they didn’t want to antagonize Mr. Sharpton for electoral reasons, none of the three publicly denounced it. Mr. Sharpton, to his credit, called top leaders of the Mormon church to apologize.

Not expecting the three Democrats to put principle over politics, we aren’t surprised that none took a stand against Mr. Sharpton’s disparaging remark. That doesn’t mean voters shouldn’t be disappointed.

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