What Cubin Meant: Reader Entries
They did better than Cubin herself.
Since writing last week about Rep. Barbara Cubin's possibly racist (and definitely unfinished) remarks on the House floor, Chatterbox has learned that Rep. Cubin is famous in Wyoming for her non sequiturs. In the past, these have tended to be sexual. Cubin once startled a group of GOP donors during a speech on energy policy by interjecting, "I know what Victoria's Secret is. She's a slut." During the Florida presidential recount in 2000, Cubin complained at a Republican leadership meeting, "We are bending over and taking it from the Democrats." (When a colleague objected to her language, she replied, "Quiet down, or you'll get a spanking.") Cubin's most notorious gaffe—until now—was the Incident of the Penis-Shaped Cookies, wherein Cubin distributed (but did not, she insisted to Roll Call, bake) cookies in the shape of penises to several male colleagues in the Wyoming legislature.
One well-remembered Cubin non sequitur was not about sex and could reasonably be labeled racist. She said it during the 1995 welfare-reform debate. Arguing the uncontroversial point that welfare creates dependency, Cubin found herself comparing welfare recipients to pen-reared wolves: "Just like with any animal of the species," she said, "when you take away their freedom, they can't provide for themselves."
This is all by way of saying that Chatterbox readers faced no small hurdle in finishing the thought Cubin was unable to on the House floor—a thought that's been denounced as racist in a Washington Post editorial and on Joshua Micah Marshall's "Talking Points" Weblog and defended as nonracist by James Taranto on OpinionJournal.com. The contest challenge was to finish Cubin's statement "in such a way as to render it a ringing declaration against racial stereotyping." Chatterbox promised to award the "least nonsensical entry." Let's look at the submissions.
We start with Cubin herself. Chatterbox complained in his earlier item that Cubin never explained how she'd intended to finish that sentence. This, he has since learned, is incorrect. She didn't explain herself on the House floor, but she did, on April 10, explain herself to the Casper Star-Tribune. Before we proceed, here's a brief reminder of how it started (she was talking on the House floor about a proposed ban on selling guns to drug addicts):
My sons are 25 and 30. They are blond-haired and blue-eyed. One amendment today said we could not sell guns to anybody under drug treatment. So, does that mean if you go into a black community, you cannot sell a gun to any black person, or does that mean because my …
[we now proceed to Cubin's Star-Tribune quote]
"… sons look like the Columbine [High School] killers … they [should] be prevented from buying guns?"
Here, Cubin meets one of Chatterbox's criteria, but not the other. The statement is not racist. It is a denunciation of stereotyping—of blacks who might wrongly be suspected of being drug addicts and of whites who might wrongly be suspected of being mass murderers. Unfortunately, Cubin's entry flunks Chatterbox's second criterion, which is that the entry make more sense than other entries Chatterbox received. It does not.
Cubin was denouncing the no-drug-addicts amendment on the grounds that, while not in itself discriminatory, it would encourage white people, inadvertently, to behave in discriminatory fashion against blacks, as white people are already (and wrongly) predisposed to do. This part hangs together, sort of. Clearly, though, in enforcing such an amendment, the government could prosecute only those who knowingly sold guns to drug addicts. Even a bigot who sincerely believed all blacks to be drug addicts would grasp that no government prosecution could rest on such an assumption.
Cubin's logic goes seriously off the rails when she brings up the parallel example of her sons getting stereotyped as mass murderers. It isn't parallel at all! A parallel example would show her sons getting stereotyped as drug addicts. Nobody (at least that day) was proposing a law making it illegal to sell guns to mass murderers. So why bring up Columbine at all? It makes no sense.
Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.