What's the matter with Arkansas?

Two Arkansas Republicans, both running for Senate, are not helping with their party's minority voter problem

By Gabriel Winant
June 29, 2009 8:40PM (UTC)
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Johnny Cash once asked Joni Mitchell, who was raised in Saskatoon, “What do they call someone from Saskatchewan?” “Saskatchewanian,” she replied. “And you’re from Arkansas. What do they call you?”

“Well,” said Cash. “I’d better not repeat it to a nice lady like you.”

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If you get your impressions of Arkansas exclusively from the Republicans who are currently angling for a Senate seat there, “racist” is one word that you might think Cash had in mind. (You should not get your impressions of Arkansas exclusively from its Republican Senate aspirants.)

First there was Kim Hendren, a state senator exploring a run against Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln. Hendren thought that he could get off the hook for referring to Sen. Chuck Schumer as “that Jew” by explaining that he was just espousing “traditional values,” Andy Griffith-style.

Now, according to Jason Tolbert (who also got the Hendren story), potential candidate Curtis Coleman has had to come up with his own entry in the “least plausible excuse for racist comments” category. Coleman recently said that someone traveling to southeast Arkansas “might as well get a visa and shot.” (A simple look at the demographics of the state shows exactly who that remark is aimed at, and why it's offensive.)

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Asked to explain himself by Tolbert, Coleman offered, “The phrase I used ’shots and a visa’ meant nothing more than I’m leaving the country. I’m going to another country.”

He added, “Let’s call [the comment] stupid. It is a thousand more times more likely that I am stupid than I am racist.”

Can’t it be both?


Gabriel Winant

Gabriel Winant is a graduate student in American history at Yale.

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