At last week's California Democratic Party convention in Orange County, San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown made a little bit of news with his remarks about President Bush.
Playing off Bush's many verbal miscues, Brown said: "They elected the symbol of Ebonics to the presidency of this nation. There ain't no brother in Oakland, or anywhere else, that would run the phrase or mix up the words the way this cat does. It raises serious questions about whether he's really white."
Soon afterward, "Da Mayor," as he calls himself, almost came to blows with supervisor Chris Daly. During the dust-up Brown reportedly compared Daly to former supervisor Dan White, who killed Mayor George Moscone and supervisor Harvey Milk in 1978, and called Daly "white boy."
Earlier this week, Brown appeared on a San Francisco radio talk show, and a caller took him to task for the remark. "Wouldn't you be offended if someone called you a 'black boy'?" the caller asked.
"No, I would not," the mayor replied. "It's only words, and you shouldn't get uptight about words."
But San Francisco Chronicle columnist Rob Morse didn't see it that way. "Of course, 'black' and 'white' have vastly different histories when paired with 'boy,' Morse writes. "And Brown often uses phrases like 'white boy' in jocular contexts. This was not such a context.
"I was standing right there when Brown overplayed his hand. My jaw dropped. White boy? Dan White? Next Brown will put Daly on a Twinkie watch. This thing has gone way too far." (White was acquitted by a jury after his lawyers used the now-infamous "Twinkie defense," saying the sugar in the snack cakes White had eaten caused him to fly into a homicidal rage.)
Now, Brown has received a demand for an apology from a local group called Resist Defamation. The group sent this e-mail to the mayor's office Thursday:
Good evening, Mayor Willie Brown:
We are formally requesting an apology from you for promoting the hate term "white boy" in your public remarks on Channel 2 News on Monday, April 2. We find it inconceivable that, in this day and age, any mature person holding a responsible public position would indulge in hate speech like this.
We urge you to apologize in order to end this incident, and to stake a public claim to the high road in matters of racial slurs. Otherwise, you create a new model for others to follow, thus proliferating hate speech.
Who knows where that new cycle of hate speech could end? Do you really want to validate nasty labels and demeaning names?
Of course, nobody who knows the mayor is holding his breath.
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The online standoff over the 24 American servicemen and women trapped in China continues. Late Wednesday came this offering from the National Review's Jonah Goldberg. "Chinese President Jiang Zemin says, 'The U.S. side should apologize to the Chinese people,'" Goldberg writes. "Well, I will be in favor of apologizing the moment they apologize for all of those menus they keep leaving outside my front door."
Goldberg's rant continues: "I've got considerable sympathy for the Red Chinese -- despite the fact that if my dog were a member of the American crew Jiang Zemin would have eaten him by now." He went on to criticize the Chinese for other outrages against civilization, including the fact that "they put MSG in everything."
Indeed, the ugliest strains of Cold War xenophobia appear to be making a comeback. Even as diplomatic negotiations continue to free the 24 Americans, the National Review and its cronies appear ready for war.
Goldberg offered Salon this defense of his puerile humor: "The problem with making insensitive jokes about Chinese communists is that an hour later you want to make them again."
One R. vs. B. letter writer points out, "In fairness to Jonah Goldberg, Conan O'Brien made a similar joke about Chinese restaurant menus in his opening monologue last night. (On national television!) He said the crash resulted when one of the Chinese pilots tried to slip a menu under the door of the American spy plane. Great applause ensued."
But over at Lucianne.com, nobody was in a joking mood. "The Communist Chinese are the most paranoid people on the planet. They are not unlike the Japanese used to be. They just cannot think like other peoples. They are eaten up by a deep feeling of insecurity and the pathological need to always 'save face.' That's why we had to bomb Hiroshima. Nothing else got through to them."
"It does no good to simply ask Communists what they want," writes another. "They lie, and imply they don't want anything, while all the time, they plot how to deprive you of your worldly goods, and to snare you into being subservient to 'The Group,' engaging your services with little or no recompense, because you 'owe' all your resources to the shadowy 'Group.'"
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