Commentary

Saunders: Point OK, but I wish Rev. Barber had used different words

bsaunders@newsobserver.comJanuary 22, 2014 

You don’t have to be a fan of the Rev. William Barber – I know, I know: A lot of you aren’t, so don’t bother telling me again – to applaud him for standing by his words; nor do you have to be one to give him a symbolic fist bump for going right into the lion’s den to utter those words.

On the other hand, though, you don’t have to be one of those detractors to think he never should have said what he said recently: I’m not and I do.

Despite the overheated responses to the Rev. Barber’s recent comments about South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, Barber never actually called the dude a dummy.

As he noted in response to the resulting hullabaloo, Barber employed a metaphor to illustrate his point that Sen. Scott, a Republican, is a mouthpiece for a political faction whose aims are antithetical to what Barber and the NAACP stand for.

Ventriloquists and dummies

In a newspaper interview last week in South Carolina, Barber said: “A ventriloquist can always find a good dummy. The extreme right wing down here finds a black guy to be senator and claims he’s the first black senator since Reconstruction, and then he goes to Washington, D.C., and articulates the agenda of the tea party.”

Ouch. That’s not the same as calling him a dummy, but it’s in the same ZIP code – too close for someone of Barber’s leadership stature.

Barber, to his credit, didn’t issue a mealy-mouthed, insincere apology. In a written statement, he said “(t)he indignation should not be over a metaphor ... but over the misery being caused by extreme policies.” He proceeded to cite the reasons he thought his comments were justified: 250,000 South Carolinians will be denied access to Medicaid, while the state’s commitment to public education languishes and voter suppression efforts flourish, among other things.

So, yes, that’s indeed what we should be indignant about, but his metaphor allowed Scott to cloak himself in the comforting overcoat of righteous indignation, to play the victim. In this instance, the junior senator didn’t so much seize the moral high ground as have it handed to him.

Choosing sides

I’ll tell you what: If choosing sides in the game of life, I’d take one person like the Rev. Barber, who – despite this faux pas – has shown a lifelong commitment to helping others, over 100 political appointees who have displayed nary an independent thought or cast an empathetic vote since assuming the office.

There is much about Sen. Scott to abhor without resorting to personal insults. For instance, last month he told a group of black newspaper columnists that he opposes the Affordable Care Act, which is his right, and touted a program at his church that brings in doctors, nurses and dentists to poor communities.

Oh yeah, senator. That’ll solve the nation’s health care woes better than the mean old government, right?

Oy. Scott and any other black politician has a right to think and vote as he or she sees fit without being subjected to personal ridicule or being expected to pass some racial litmus test.

The Rev. Barber and others, though, have a right to call them out on their views.

Just don’t call them dummies.

bsaunders@newsobserver.com or 919-836-2811

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service