U.S. Rep. French Hill has warned voters in the 2nd Congressional District that his Democratic opponent, state Sen. Joyce Elliott, is Black.
Perhaps you're thinking: Oh, he did not. Surely.
So, here's the quotation of Hill from an interview with this newspaper published Sunday: "If Joyce Elliott were elected to Congress, she'd be a member of the Democratic conference and she'd be a member of the Congressional Black Caucus."
What? Do you mean to tell us she's one of those?
Since one should resist calling another person a racist absent open declaration or demonstration by action--because we can't see into hearts--my kinder assessment of what Hill said is that it was stupid.
I did not call the congressman stupid. I called what he said stupid.
One can seek almost unwittingly to be racially exploitive for political advantage without being racist in the heart, but merely flawed momentarily in the head.
The idea that Hill said what he said to inform unaware voters that Elliott indeed is Black and ought to be rejected on that basis presumes absurdly that her heavy television advertising and long high public profile have not made that apparent already.
She has been Black all her life, private and public, and, it's rather clear, proud.
And she's right there tied in the polls with a privileged white Republican banker in a red state.
It's enough to addle any privileged white Republican banker in a red state.
The underlying message of Hill's faux pas is that Black members of Congress are wrong somehow to have their own caucus and that, by advancing Black interests, such a caucus is at odds with the 2nd District's ... what? ... values, prejudices, political opinions?
Whatever it was, it should never have been uttered. We need inclusiveness and diversity and unity as well as a bipartisan politics that doesn't use skin color as a wedge, even if only by stupidity rather than evil.
Speaking of inclusiveness and diversity and unity, it is true that the Congressional Black Caucus has excluded white members of Congress. That's probably because the caucus' charter is to advance interests of minorities--no doubt in a way that the Black members fear white conservatives would erode if their disruptive membership was permitted.
And that kind of distrust--that kind of understandable and reasonable distrust--is the very problem, one not helped by Hill's blundered wedge-driving.
The mere politics of Hill's comment was flawed in a practical and mathematical sense.
He can only lose this race if Black voters in Pulaski County pour out in record numbers--as they seem to be doing in the early-voting lines--and Elliott gets enough center-right votes from white suburban women and the elderly to limit the usual Democratic hemorrhaging outside the Little Rock-North Little Rock returns.
Now, for likely the real context: While I cite the Republican congressman's political numbskullery in this Biden-esque gaffe, I also must cite another and perhaps greater factor. I must invoke what the psychologists will tell you is at the root of so much negative energy and its tragic manifestations, such as anger or violence or random acts of stupidity.
I refer to fear.
French appears scared. It's not supposed to be this way for him, spending four years in lapdog service to a crazed president popular in his state and supposedly in his district, opposed by the Democrats only loyally and nominally, it would seem, by a known and unapologizing liberal from the state Legislature.
All that he thought he knew, and indeed all those things that are supposed to keep a white millionaire establishmentarian safe in the chamber of commerce/country club cocoon, are belied by every danged poll that shows this known and unapologizing liberal from the opposite side of town right there with him, conceivably in a legitimate position to take him into overtime on election night.
It's got him all flush with fright, to the point that he opened his mouth and ended up seeming to fault his opponent for her skin color.
As national pundit Bill Kristol of anti-Trump conservative fame put it in a tweet: "I knew French Hill when [he] worked for Nick Brady in the George H.W. Bush administration. Country club, well-mannered, polite, prejudices (if any) well-concealed. The whole Bush Republican thing. Now this [the invoking of Elliott's race]. Ugh."
I suspect Kristol is blaming the Republican moral decline from the first Bush to the monster Trump.
I suspect I agree with him.
Elliott is not saying much about this matter except in one fundraising solicitation I saw the other night.
She's run a smart, near-flawless campaign, and there's no reason to change that now by interfering with Hill's public trembling.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected] Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.