Tuesday , April 11, 2006
"The Girl Who Cried Racism," a "caterwauling cop-basher," the "wrong poster child for racial profiling"--these are among the milder comments directed at Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney for assaulting a Capitol Hill police officer who prevented her from bypassing a security check point.
McKinney is a black woman; the officer is a white man. The incident provides a riveting glimpse into the politics of gender and race.
Ironically, the incident itself had nothing to do with gender or race. On March 29, McKinney did not wear the ID pin identifying her as one of the 500-plus representatives and senators who are exempt from the regular screening process. As she skirted security at a Capital building, an officer who did not recognize her repeatedly called out "Ma'am!"
McKinney ignored him. He put a restraining hand either on her shoulder or arm; she allegedly struck him in the chest. (Ultimately, the security video of the entrance in question will clear up such vagueness.)
Later the same day, a somewhat conciliatory McKinney issued a statement declaring, "I know that Capitol Hill Police are securing our safety, and I appreciate the work that they do."
Perhaps because the officer indicated a willingness to press charges, McKinney's tone had changed by the 31st. She held a press conference at which she was flanked by representatives of the National Organization for Women and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
First, she played the gender card.
"This whole incident was instigated by the inappropriate touching and stopping of me, a female black congresswoman," McKinney stated.
Second, the race card. McKinney's attorney claimed she was "a victim of being in Congress while black" and "a victim of the excessive use of force because of how she looks and the color of her skin."
A strong offense may well be the best defense when your position is otherwise untenable.
McKinney is a legislator. Barring appeals to gender and race, the only justification she has is that the legislation she passes applies to other people, not to her; she is above the law. It is no wonder she chose the reliable but very, very old strategy of gender and race.
What is amazing is how spectacularly they failed.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has consistently voted with McKinney on 'gender bills'; both Congresswomen have a 100 percent approval rating from NOW. Yet Pelosi appeared before the camera to state, "I find it hard to see any set of facts that would justify striking a police officer." The two women are reportedly no longer on speaking terms.
There are 42 black members in the House of Representatives, including fourteen black women. None have publicly defended McKinney. The closest to support black colleagues have offered was when some members beside McKinney on April 6 as she delivered a non-apologetic apology to the House. It was a gesture the Congressional Black Caucus had pressed her to make.
There are several reasons why invoking gender and race did not work.
It is an over-used tactic to which reaction had become jaded especially when the complaint issues from a person of power and privilege. Conservatives responded with hostility, liberals with embarrassment. Even the accused police officer was probably spurred on and not discouraged by being publicly called a racist.
Gender and race are no longer the highest political cards in the deck. They do not trump national defense, for example -- an issue upon which it is essential for Democrats to make political gains. A representative of the House Speaker Dennis Hastert is quoted as saying, "On a day when the Democrats are promoting their national security agenda, it's probably not a good idea for them [McKinney] to allegedly strike police officers."
What will the mercurial McKinney do next?
Interestingly, her website now features Article 1, Section 6 of the Constitution which states, "The Senators and Representatives in all cases, except treason, felony and breach of the peace, be privileged from arrest during their attendance at the session of their respective houses, and in going to and returning from the same?"
McKinney is raising the possibility that screening members of Congress is unconstitutional.
She should read another provision of that document.
Article I, Section 5 states, "Each House may determine the rules of its procedure, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two thirds, expel a member."
Assaulting a police officer probably qualifies as disorderly behavior.
Democrats want the McKinney debacle to go away. It distracts from advancing their agenda and from capitalizing on several Republican scandals that have now been overshadowed.
But whether or not criminal charges are pressed, the McKinney saga will continue.
Republican Tom DeLay is retiring due to one of the scandals from which attention has been diverted.
On April 4, DeLay informed Human Events, "If nobody in this House files an ethics charge [against McKinney with the House Ethics Committee], I am."
The upcoming ethics circus may reveal the most compelling reason why 'gender' and 'race' did not work for McKinney. People are beginning to question the motives of those to whom such accusations come easily or too often.
Wendy McElroy is the editor of ifeminists.com and a research fellow for The Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. She is the author and editor of many books and articles, including the new book, "Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century" (Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002). She lives with her husband in Canada.
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