THE BLOG
01/18/2006 03:14 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

What was New York's Junior Senator Thinking?

Let me see if I understand.

The junior senator from New York, who 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 Martin Luther 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 a remark? I can see every black leader swinging from the rafters in outrage demanding an apology. Has our collective institutional memory already forgotten Trent Lott's infamous comments?

Thus, it is equally disheartening to witness the deafening silence from African American circles.

Then there is the statement itself: "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."

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 member of the House attempted to escape his or her party dogma by thinking for themselves they would have had their foot removed as lesson for anyone who considered a similar path?

How many members of the House have been publicly beaten with a whip, left lying on the ground, their skin in a bloody pulp---only to then 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 in their native religion, or speak in 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." I can just see Tom DeLay on the House Floor crying to Speaker Hastert: "I don't know nothing about birthing no babies."

If there is a plantation metaphor that 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.

Having the cover of Al Sharpton notwithstanding, how could you make light of one of America's darkest hours?

How could you possibly tell the descendents of those chosen people whose peculiar contribution to this nation was to face unprecedented evil so that America get closer to the values outlined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution that "you know what I'm talking about?"

However dysfunctional the current status of House of Representatives, I just fail to see how it relates to the plantation life that those in bondage were forced to sustain.

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 occupation of Iraq.

I understand how the narcotic 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 demonstrates bad political instincts---just ask Trent Lott.