Crazy West Virginia Senator Suggests That Racism Might Exist

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
May 23 2014 12:46 PM

Crazy West Virginia Senator Suggests That Racism Might Exist

51048933-senator-jay-rockefeller-ranking-member-of-the-senate
Cranky

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller is retiring this year, after one tough first election (1984, running against the Reagan landslide) and a bunch of easy races. In 2008, he endorsed Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary. Four years later, he bucked everyone else in the West Virginia delegation—and sort of reversed himself—to oppose delays of new EPA regulations on mercury emissions.

My point is that he's going out with a sort of glee that he never has to face voters again, and that his legacy (which isn't yet appreciated) will be the Affordable Care Act. A few weeks ago, he told witnesses at one Finance hearing that there was plenty to reform, but too much opposition to the president was racial. "For some, it's we don't want anything good to happen under this president because he's the wrong color," he said. "For some it's Tea Party. For some it's just a fear of their own election prospects."

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This was followed, a few days ago, by Rockefeller insisting that some grassroots opposition to the law was racist. "I'll be able to dig up some e-mails from people who've made up their mind that they don't want it to work, because they don't like the president," he said. "Maybe he's the wrong color, something of that sort. I've seen a lot of that, and I know a lot of that to be true."

People sometimes wonder if there's a word as offensive to white people as the n-word is to black people. Easy answer: "Racist." Republicans shared Rockefeller's comments and assumed he was talking about them, all of them. Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson blew up at Rockefeller during a thinly-attended hearing, decrying for calling him racist. And Rockefeller, who's aging and gazing hopefully at the exits, has not rushed to expand on his comments.

But come on. The guy's a senator from West Virginia. West Virginia, where the 2008 primary voters who called race the "most important" factor in their vote gave Clinton a 76-point landslide over Obama. West Virginia, where any reporter could air drop in that year and find white voters openly admitting they could never vote for a black Muslim like Barack Hussein Obama.

West Virginia, where in 2012 Obama won only 59 percent of the primary vote as a convicted felon who never campaigned—as he was, you know, in jail—won the rest. Anyone who's been on an Internet comment thread since 2008 has seen racist comments about Barack Obama. Do we want to bet that the senator from West Virginia, who voted for Obamacare, hasn't gotten some of that?

No, that would be stupid. And yet, we have this why-I-never outrage and the subsequent media story about how no Democrat agrees with Rockefeller's crazy-old-man theory that some people might be racist.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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