On January 2nd there was an article on CNN.com about Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich’s appointment of Roland Burris to fill the US Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama. The author is Ruben Navarrette, a columnist for a paper in San Diego and a regular CNN contributor. Here’s the link if you’d care to read it: http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/01/01/navarrette.senate/index.html.
Basically Mr. Navarrette is blatantly playing the race card by insinuating that the senate democratic leadership’s protests about the nomination and the irregularities surrounding it are because of Mr. Burris’ skin color. You see, Mr. Burris is an African-American former state attorney general.
When Mr. Navarrette writes such things, and CNN publishes them, they perform three huge disservices and, in doing so, bring discredit upon themselves as journalists.
First, they ignore the firestorm of criticism related to the governor’s arrest on corruption charges and the fairly damning evidence that the bulk of those charges directly relate to his attempt to barter the senate appointment for personal gain.
This criticism hasn’t been only from whites, only from Republicans, or only from residents of Illinois. It has been from politicians and ordinary citizens of every race and party who are outraged at such blatant co-opting of the system. They are rightly worried whether Mr. Burris’ appointment had “strings” attached to it or not. The whole thing smells of backroom politics.
Second, playing the race card ignores the fact that the US Senate leadership was formalizing their objections to the seating of Mr. Burris based on a senate rule that has been in effect for more than 125 years, and for which no exceptions have ever been made. That’s right: no exceptions, neither for white senators, nor for black senators.
The senate requires the senator’s credentials to be signed by both the governor and the secretary of state. The Illinois Secretary of State, Jesse White, refused (initially) to do so because of the cloud over Blagojevich. Again, this is a rule that has been upheld without exception since the 1800’s. Seriously, suggesting that the US Senate leadership just look the other way is like a baseball game where most innings end with three outs, but if you really whine enough, we’ll give you an extra at bat. By playing the race card, Mr. Navarrette kicks sand in the face of everyone who plays by the rules, whether they like them or not. He just wants a pass given because — well he doesn’t say why — he just says it’s not being given because Burris is black.
Last of all, and most important, everyone who is making this a racial issue — and that’s not just Mr. Navarrette — is taking the focus off where it should be. The focus should be on Mr. Burris’ qualifications, his skills, his passion, the path that brought him to the steps of one of the most powerful and respected institutions in the world. Every time we talk about race, we diminish the lifetime of accomplishments that even allow Mr. Burris to be considered for such an honor.
Yes, Mr. Navarrette and the others playing the race card have surely relegated Mr. Burris’ senate career to always having an asterisk next to it, some whispers will always follow in his footsteps (psst, yeah, he’s the one), it will always be in the backs of our minds.
Shame on you Mr. Navarrette. Shame on you CNN.