WASHINGTON — There certainly was no shortage of infamous statements during the past year. Documenting them all would be a Herculean task. So let's highlight just a handful - three from the right and three from the left.
I begin with Trent Lott.
To be fair to the senator from Mississippi, his comment at the 100th birthday celebration of Sen. Strom Thurmond, who ran for president in 1948 as a segregationist Dixiecrat, only seemed to imply that segregation was good. To reiterate: "When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either."
Lott could have been implying that segregation is good, or he could have been innocently and naively implying something else. Only Lott himself, and perhaps those who have spent enough time around him to know whether he is a genuinely tolerant man or not, are in a position to make this determination. If he meant to endorse segregation, then he should resign from politics altogether. If he is given the benefit of the doubt, then he was right to resign from his leadership post due to egregious political misjudgment.
Multiple apologies for something like this were futile. The gaffe, rightly or wrongly, conveyed the appearance that this is how Lott has always felt about segregation. His political opponents had the confirmation they were looking for, and no amount of apologizing would ever change their minds.
On the news program "60 Minutes," The Rev. Jerry Falwell opined that "Muhammad was a terrorist." The remark caused outrage throughout the Muslim world, with protests reported from India to Malaysia. Calling the spiritual leader of a billion people a terrorist - on national television - takes some nerve. Imagine how a typical Muslim must feel about that. While it is fine to denounce Islamic extremists, it is the height of folly to offend all Muslims.
Plenty of Muslims no doubt erroneously think that Falwell speaks for all Christians. Relations between Christians and Muslims are strained enough as it is. There is no need to make them any more strained with such gratuitous remarks.
It is always infamous to liken one's (nonviolent) political opponent to Osama bin Laden, the Nazis, or other extremists. National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre did this when he said, "Andrew McKelvey's network (Americans for Gun Safety) kind of operates and sounds a lot like Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda."
It is also an act of infamy to appear to praise Osama bin Laden. Two weeks ago Sen. Patty Murray remarked, "Why is (Osama bin Laden) so popular around the world? ...He's been out in these countries for decades, building schools, building roads, building infrastructure, building day care facilities, building health care facilities, and the people are extremely grateful. We haven't done that."
No folks, these are not the words of some flipped-out C-SPAN caller, hyperventilating message board writer, or loony-left professor. A United States senator said this.
OBL is so popular among certain people because of what he did on 9/11. Building day care facilities and the like is definitely not his specialty. And for the record, we are always building those things. Ever heard of the Agency for International Development?
Another infamous quote comes not from a particular person but from an advocacy group called the Center for Science and the Public Interest. It has a bizarre vendetta against a meat substitute called Quorn - bizarre because Quorn seems to have all the positive nutritional and environmental qualities that CSPI normally champions.
An August 15 CSPI press release refers to Marlow Foods, the marketer of Quorn. It reads, "Marlow Foods claims publicly that no more than 146,000 consumers would have an adverse reaction" to Quorn. Actually, the correct wording should be 1 in 146,000 consumers. This is a case either of egregious dishonesty in a press release, or an egregiously poor editing job. As of this writing, the group has never even corrected the release.
PBS commentator and former Johnson administration press secretary Bill Moyers wrote that, flush with electoral victories, George W. Bush believes he now has a mandate to, among other things, "use the taxing power to transfer wealth from working people to the rich."
It is Bush's opponents who generally favor tax-and-spend policies that result in a transfer of wealth from working people to the rich. A prime example is the Medicare prescription drug plan. The Republican version of the plan calls for means-testing - i.e., excluding affluent retirees from the subsidies - whereas the Democratic version includes subsidies for all retirees regardless of income. The working people foot the bill. (The compromise plan includes some Republican-endorsed means-testing, but contains some Democratic-endorsed benefits for rich folks, too.)
Billions of dollars of working people's money are already being transferred to the rich through the existing Medicare system. The same is true regarding Social Security. If Social Security personal accounts become a reality as the Bush administration wants, less money would be transferred to rich retirees and more would be set aside in working people's own accounts for their own use after they retire.
To be sure, on the question of tax cuts, the rich pay most of the nation's income taxes. Allowing them to keep more of their earnings in no way constitutes a transfer of wealth from working people to the rich.
2002 has been a year rich in infamous statements. Pray that 2003 has fewer.
Patrick Chisholm is a writer and editor with a master's degree in international affairs/international economics from American University.