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Raymond Leon Roker Headshot

How Come McCain's "Gook" Slur Isn't Bigger News?

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I want to know: Who is the real John McCain?

This past Sunday, when Colin Powell appeared on Meet the Press to endorse Barack Obama, he also made sure to give his friend John McCain the benefit of the doubt in the wake of an increasingly race-baited campaign by bitter surrogates and running mates. But even as he described his frustration with the ugly rancor of some of his fellow Republicans, Powell affirmed that, "John McCain is as nondiscriminatory as anyone I know."

Well, Mr. Powell, does McCain saying "I hate the gooks" change your mind at all? The sunken story around the Republican presidential nominee's statement eight years ago -- to which I can't seem to find a public apology for -- seems to lie pretty buried in the media, including on the Huffington Post. There are several mentions of it on this site (click here, here, and here), but nothing seems to have gotten much traction (Those HuffPo articles have only about 35 comments between them) and most articles point only to the original San Francisco Chronicle story back in February 2000.

To say the silence around this racist statement is dumbfounding is an understatement. I just recently stumbled upon this graphic on the website Angry Asian Man and immediately posted something about the quote. And there is a new book that builds the case against McCain for a history of racial insensitivity. It also hasn't gone completely unnoticed by the right. Rush Limbaugh noted an alleged video of McCain uttering the phrase. But mostly, the story just seems to be at a low simmer. (Is Obama planning an October surprise with that video?)

Perhaps the subtle inclination is to give McCain a pass since it's not atypical for some scarred Vietnam vets to harbor the term for their wartime enemy -- and nobody really wants to call these guys racists. It's just like their father's use of "Jap" to describe World War II Japanese soldiers and citizens, terminology pretty much accepted as the spoils of war. I mean, dude's a pre-boomer, and those guys just sometimes say things like that, right? Anyway. And while the term shouldn't ever be acceptable, it should absolutely disqualify a presidential candidate. (Where the hell is Asian American conservative and self-hating firebrand Michelle Malkin, who finally has an opportunity to do the right thing?)

I don't want to think that the tolerance for racism against Vietnamese and other Asians is higher, but it seems to be. I would be just another blogger in the bunch, barking loudly, if McCain had uttered the word nigger or kike. But gook, and I've got to dig to find any major media discussion already in progress. And before anybody jumps to call this gotcha journalism, save it. This isn't a drunken, private rant by some radio shock jock, it's from a man running as the leader of the Republican Party, and the chief global policy job. McCain wants to be the Bridge Builder-in-Chief. This man would decide how we interact with a dozen Asian nations -- several of which we've fought wars against -- not to mention a growing Asian American population. You don't need me to explain how anybody capable of reducing a group of humans to a hateful, insulting caricature isn't fit to govern in the 21st Century. Do you?

But something is holding this story back. Meanwhile, the mainstream media is quick to be distracted by "God damn America" and "typical white person." Is it, like my friend Diana says, in a resigned, obviously facetious tone, "Maybe we all kinda hate the gooks." Man, is that it? Maybe we haven't collectively forgiven the Vietnamese for driving us out of their country after nearly 60,000 American deaths. Maybe we've all grown up watching too many Vietnam War movies where the white G.I. is just a nice Midwestern kid trying to do good, and the screaming pajama-wearing Asian guerrilla is the murderous devil incarnate. God, I hope she's wrong.

I have been on a number of blogs that discuss Asian American grievances, and they often reference the 1982 murder of Vincent Chin, killed in a hate crime by two Detroit autoworkers (a 25-year-old story that's probably news to most of you). Chin's story, rarely part of any discussion of hate crimes, is finally surfacing in a film. The arguments on these blogs usually contend that racist crimes, bigotry and insensitivity against Americans of Asian descent are still more allowable in society. Compared to epithets and offensive remarks and stereotyping against blacks, Hispanics and Jews, cultural affronts on Asians and Asian Americans rarely get too high on the food chain. The missed McCain Gook story would seem to bear that out. How else can you explain it?