"There is no question that western Pennsylvania is a racist area."
- U.S. Rep. John Murtha
Why is it that some Democratic politicians feel the need to give the people they are supposed to represent a black eye by calling them racists?
U.S. Rep. John Murtha is the latest to slap that tag on his constituents in comments made to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The incumbent 12th District representative told the newspaper that he believes Obama will win the Keystone State, but that Obama's race will shave his margin of victory.
Murtha issued an apology for his comments Thursday.
Gov. Ed Rendell told the Post-Gazette early this year, "You've got conservative whites here, and I think there are some whites who are probably not ready to vote for an African-American candidate."
And then there was Philadelphia Democrat Sen. Vincent Fumo's flippant comment during a Senate committee hearing that if there were a secret ballot in the General Assembly on a bill legalizing slavery, it would pass almost unanimously. Fumo later said he was "obviously exaggerating."
Does that justify the smear? What is there to gain by tarnishing the reputation of a region, a state or the Legislature with such a broad brush?
It's inevitable that there will be some people who will vote for or against a candidate based on race. And there will be some people who will vote based solely on a candidate's age or sex. Does that make Pennsylvanians ageists or sexists as well? What's the difference?
There are lots of reasons why people choose to vote for a candidate, and we believe when it comes down to it, most people care more about qualifications, beliefs, campaign promises or even party affiliation that they do about superficial features.
Let's look at the results of the 2006 gubernatorial election which had Rendell, a white man, running against Lynn Swann, a black man, as the major-party candidates.
If racism is so rampant in determining election results, Rendell should have won in a sweep in our area. He didn't.
Swann won 34 counties, most of which were in the central, more rural parts of Pennsylvania. Rendell's strongest support came from the eastern and western edges of Pennsylvania, along with a pocket in the central part of the state that includes Cambria, Centre, Clearfield, Clinton and Elk counties. Rendell's margin of victory in urban areas overwhelmed the edge that Swann had elsewhere.
Does that imply the areas that favored Rendell over Swann are more racist when it comes to voting?
We don't think so. We think other factors from party registration to the power of incumbency carried much more weight with voters. In fact, we believe Swann's success belies the notion of widespread racism as an overriding factor when it comes to voting.
Perhaps, it's just that we have a higher opinion of Pennsylvanians than others do - and it's particularly troubling that some of those "others" are our elected officials.