Only hours after the story hit the Internet, Republicans pounced. Rutherford County GOP chair Lou Ann Zelenik, who's thinking about challenging Gordon in the 2010 election, declared the congressman had just accused his constituents of racism. And if he didn't do that, then he called them ignorant hillbillies who won't vote for a sophisticated candidate. One or the other. From the press release:
"These statements are appalling," Zelenik said. "When you have spent 25 years in Washington and cannot find the time during a 30-day recess to visit the 15 counties you represent, I suppose you start to think we can't understand 'urbane.' Tennesseans know bad policy when they see it. That's why Obama lost and that is why Tennesseans understand that Gordon is out of touch with the district."State GOP chair Chris Devaney has just joined in the fun:
Addressing Gordon's charge of racism, Zelenik said, "I cannot imagine what would lead a congressman to insult his constituents in this manner. The idea that Tennesseans vote based on race is a suggestion I reject entirely. ... He should immediately explain his remarks and apologize to the people of Tennessee."
"The citizens of Rep. Bart Gordon's district have every right to be angry about his comments," said Devaney. "His insinuation that 6th district constituents voted a certain way because of race or because they couldn't comprehend an 'urbane' candidate is an insult to those he was elected to represent."In response, Gordon is sorta clarifying what he told The Hill newspaper. Gordon was backed into a corner by a crafty reporter, says the congressman's chief of staff, Kent Siler.
"He was asked, 'Can you say racism had absolutely nothing to do with the way that they voted?' Who can say that as an absolute? Whether you're talking about white voters, black voters or brown voters, how can you say that race played no role in anyone's decision?'"
And now, dear Pith reader, the moral of this sad little tale: A politician can't lapse even into a quick moment of candor without somebody whopping him upside the head. Of course, racism played a role in the shellacking Obama took in Tennessee. Everybody knows that. Too bad our political leaders can't talk honestly with us about it. Until that happens, we'll never come to grips with it. Here also for your reading pleasure is the official statement from Gordon's office:
Congressman Gordon was asked by a reporter if racism was the reason Barack Obama did not do well in Tennessee. Gordon responded by stating no. He went on to say that Obama did poorly because he did not campaign in Tennessee and was a candidate from a large urban area with whom many Tennessee voters could not relate. This judgment was based on 30 years on voting history in Tennessee. Democrats like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton who were from rural areas were able to do well, while urban Democrats like Michael Dukakis and John Kerry did poorly.Update: Chip Forrester defends Gordon.