Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Obama Repeats Faleomavaega Racist Slur against Republicans

There has been a Republican backlash against President Obama for employing a term associated with the Civil Rights era as he has taken to the campaign trail in support of his party’s nominees in next week’s midterm elections.  Although he insists that he wants to reach out to Republicans after the elections to solve the nation’s problems together, in recent stump speeches he also has said, "We don't mind the Republicans joining us. They can come for the ride, but they've got to sit in back."

No doubt if a Republican officeholder had used that phrase, he would have faced howls of protest from African American activists who recall vividly that the modern Civil Right era was sparked in the mid-1950s by Rosa Parks’s refusal to sit at the back of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama as was required by the segregation laws and policies of the times.

When asked about the comment at a White House briefing, Presidential Press Secretary Robert Gibbs insisted Obama was not trying to label Republicans as racists, but there was no such ambiguity when Faleomavaega used the same phrase at a hearing last year on his ASPIRE bill, which was meant to bail out Star-Kist, American Samoa’s remaining cannery.  The bill has languished in the Natural Resources Committee and is not expected to be taken up in the lame duck session planned for after the election.

Although Republicans were joined by virtually everyone else who testified (except for the Tri Marine Company whose boats supply fish to Star-Kist, Star-Kist itself and the territory’s governor) in opposing the bill, his statement singled out only the Republicans by saying “Republicans should make [the situation] right, not by asking Samoans to ride in the back of the bus, but by supporting legislation which puts American Samoa back to work.”

There is no indication Obama, who, like Faleomavaega, grew up in Hawaii, was aware of the delegate’s slur when he made his own similar comment but Faleomavaega will have a difficult time building bridges with Republicans if he should be re-elected to the House next week and find them in the majority next year.

At the time Faleomavaega offered his slur, Samoa News, where Faleomavaega’s sister-in-law works as a reporter and editor, made no mention of it in its coverage of the hearing, so it will be interesting to see if the paper makes any reference to it if they cover the Obama flap on the Mainland.  Interestingly enough, with but six days to go before the election, Samoa News, which is the territory’s leading source of information, has published not a single story about the campaign for Congress, just an announcement from the election office of where the polling places will be.  They have, however, published some of Faleomavaega’s announcements of federal grants awarded to the territory.  With the deck so loaded in his favor, it is doubtful they will cover the “ride in the back” controversy.

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