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It looked like the 2012 election season was getting under way when Republican Kenneth V. McKay IV was interviewed Feb. 27 on the ABC6 news show "On the Record."
McKay, former chief of staff for ex-Gov. Donald Carcieri, and then for the Republican National Committee, is running for the state Republican chairmanship. At one point, the conversation turned to the possibility of either McKay or Carcieri challenging Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse if he runs for reelection next year.
"Let’s take a look at the record," McKay said of Whitehouse. "This is a guy who stood up in front of the U.S. Senate and said, ‘Everybody in Rhode Island who disagrees with me about Obamacare is an Aryan, is a white supremacist.’"
We remembered Whitehouse making a passionate -- some said inflammatory -- Senate speech in 2009 about the decline in civility in politics. But we didn’t remember him castigating every Rhode Islander who opposed President Obama’s health care plan.
We asked McKay for his source and he referred us to the 20-minute speech we remembered, which Whitehouse delivered Dec. 20, 2009, during the health care debate.
It was a speech that lit up the blogosphere. Democrats and progressives called it historic and brilliant. Conservatives called it outrageous. One called it a lunatic rant.
McKay drew our attention to one paragraph that he called "the relevant part." Here it is:
"And why? Why all this discord and discourtesy, all this unprecedented, destructive action? All to break the momentum of our new, young President. They are desperate to break this President. They have ardent supporters who are nearly hysterical at the very election of President Barack Obama: the ‘birthers,’ the fanatics, the people running around in right-wing militias and Aryan support groups. It is unbearable to them that President Barack Obama should exist. That is one powerful reason."
McKay wrote that when you read or hear the entire speech, you understand that Whitehouse is talking about Republicans in the Senate and their supporters in the fight against health care.
Then he reasoned that Whitehouse was suggesting that "anyone in Rhode Island who is an ardent supporter of the fight against Obamacare are (sic) ‘nearly hysterical . . . the ‘birthers,’ the fanatics, the people running around in right wing militias, and Aryan support groups."
We read the speech and disagree on several counts.
First, Whitehouse was excoriating Republican senators, not Rhode Islanders. In fact, he said nothing about Rhode Island in the entire speech.
Second, despite his strident language, nowhere in the speech did he come close to saying that everyone who disagreed with the health care plan is an Aryan or a white supremacist.
He accused his Republican colleagues of engaging in a campaign of obstruction and delay "affecting every single aspect of the Senate’s business.’
He said they engaged in a "campaign of falsehoods: about death panels, and cuts to Medicare benefits, and benefits for illegal aliens and bureaucrats to be parachuted in between you and your doctor."
And he accused the GOP senators of voting against funding for soldiers, as another tactic to stall the health care vote.
But in the paragraph McKay cites, it’s clear that Whitehouse was criticizing fringe groups who are "nearly hysterical at the very election of President Barack Obama" not just opponents of the president’s health care plan.
In suggesting that Whitehouse labeled all opponents of the health care plan Aryans and white supremacists, McKay seriously distorted the senator’s speech. His further suggestion that, by extension, Whitehouse was applying the label to Rhode Islanders who disagreed with the president, is even more of a distortion.
Pants on Fire.
ABC6 On the Record, interview with Ken McKay, Feb. 27, 2011
Interview, with Kenneth V. McKay IV, March 2, 2011
Congressional Record, Dec. 20, 2009, Speech by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, accessed March 3, 2011
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