Meet Senator Burns
December 19, 2002 7:46 AM   Subscribe

Meet Senator Burns (R-Montana) "...The senator said the rancher asked him, "Conrad, how can you live back there with all those niggers?"...Senator Burns said he told the rancher it was"a hell of a challenge."...The anecdote was published and Senator Burns apologized...in 1991, immediately after a civil rights bill had been passed, Senator Burns invited a group of lobbyists, some of them white and some of them black, to accompany him to an auction....When asked what was being auctioned, he replied, "Slaves."
posted by troutfishing (42 comments total)
 
I know it's quicker to get an NYT password than it is to bitch about it, but I can't be arsed.

It sounds like the guy is a tad racist, but I have to say the slaves thing is the sort of thing I'd say. That or Harem girls/sex slaves...
posted by twine42 at 7:54 AM on December 19, 2002


From The New Republic:

... West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd, who in the 1940s recruited for the Ku Klux Klan and in 2001 made a bizarre comment about "white n------.

Guess they got to get rid of him too?
posted by PenDevil at 8:03 AM on December 19, 2002


PenDevil, your selective quoting, which effectively reverses the point TNR makes about Byrd, is a pretty pathetic debate tactic:

The other supposed example of liberal hypocrisy is West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd, who in the 1940s recruited for the Ku Klux Klan and in 2001 made a bizarre comment about "white n------." But Byrd has largely repented for his past racist associations and offensive vocabulary by compiling a pretty good record on race over the last two decades. Unlike Lott, Byrd supported the 1982 extension of the Voting Rights Act and a federal holiday for Martin Luther King Jr. The NAACP's last congressional report card gives Byrd 79 percent, compared with 12 percent for the Senate Republican leader.

We can quibble over "largely repented" (I don't think I could ever vote for anyone who'd been moron enough to join the Klan), but that 79% speaks volumes. Lott is obviously still a racist; Byrd doesn't appear to be.
posted by mediareport at 8:19 AM on December 19, 2002


PenDevil - Oh you of the devilish Pen! - Well, first of all, Robert Byrd is no longer Senate Majority Leader, and so he isn't in a national leadership position analogous to that held by Trent Lott. Few (so far) are calling for Lott to resign his senate seat - merely his position as Senate Majority Leader.

If it comes down to a general drive to get rid of all those in the Senate who have a history of making racially offensive comments...well then perhaps Byrd should go too! In that case it would depend, in my opinion, on whether Byrd's racial slurs are part of an ongoing pattern of similar behavior (as they were with Trent Lott and, as Bob Herbert argues, with Senator Burns), or not.

Twine42 - Here's the text of Bob Herbert's bit about Senator Burns (NYT editorial, Dec. 19. 2002) ..."You may never have heard of Conrad Burns. Let me tell you a little about him...Mr. Burns is a Republican senator from Montana. If a vote comes up in the Senate on whether to keep Mr. Lott as majority leader, Mr. Burns will be one of the 51 Republicans who get to decide....Back in 1994, while campaigning for a second term, Mr. Burns dropped by a local newspaper, The Bozeman Daily Chronicle, and told an editor an anecdote about one of his constituents, a rancher who wanted to know what life was like in Washington, D.C.

The senator said the rancher asked him, "Conrad, how can you live back there with all those niggers?"

Senator Burns said he told the rancher it was "a hell of a challenge."


The anecdote was published and Senator Burns apologized. When he was asked why he hadn't expressed to the rancher any disapproval of the use of the word nigger, Senator Burns said, "I don't know. I never give it much thought."

You would think that a public official who had already been burned by a racially insensitive comment would have given it some thought. Back in 1991, immediately after a civil rights bill had been passed, Senator Burns invited a group of lobbyists, some of them white and some of them black, to accompany him to an auction.

When asked what was being auctioned, he replied, "Slaves."


The Washington Post quoted one of the lobbyists as saying, "We were floored. We couldn't believe it." Senator Burns later said he was talking about a charitable auction in which the services of individuals are sold.

He was re-elected at the end of his 1994 campaign and in the ensuing years maintained a deservedly low profile. He also maintained his penchant for offending people. In 1999 he gave a speech in Billings in which he referred to Arabs as "ragheads."

He had to apologize again. "I regret the use of such an inappropriate term," he said. "I hope I did not overshadow the serious substance of my remarks."

A year later, while visiting an office in Billings, the senator spotted a woman named Angela Warren, who happened to be wearing a nose ring. He asked, "What is that thing in your nose? What tribe are you from?"

Ms. Warren said she was upset by the remark, and told Senator Burns, "It's a nose ring. And I am obviously not from a tribe."

I called the senator's office yesterday to ask about these incidents. He responded with a written statement:

"I regret the things I've said in the past. Those remarks were wrong and repugnant, and I apologize for them once again." "

posted by troutfishing at 8:22 AM on December 19, 2002


Btw, metafilter/metafilter works as the login/password for TNR.
posted by mediareport at 8:28 AM on December 19, 2002


Are you trying to imply that rich, white men who hold political office and have absolutely no connection to the real world might be racist?

I sure hope you're not trying to say that.
posted by xmutex at 8:34 AM on December 19, 2002


A year later, while visiting an office in Billings, the senator spotted a woman named Angela Warren, who happened to be wearing a nose ring. He asked, "What is that thing in your nose? What tribe are you from?"

Ms. Warren said she was upset by the remark, and told Senator Burns, "It's a nose ring. And I am obviously not from a tribe."


I think Angela Warren, whoever she is, needs to be fired from her job, for being such a cold, humorless asshole. I just hope this Burns guy never meets a kid with dyed green hair, it might spell political ruin.
posted by dgaicun at 8:35 AM on December 19, 2002


Trust me, there are reasons to dispise Burns that have nothing to do with his being a racist bastard.
posted by Wulfgar! at 8:40 AM on December 19, 2002


Hey I've got nothing against Byrd or anything. I just wanted to point out that every politician has probably done something in their past that could be used to boot them out of office or some position of power. It's just how they handle them that makes all the difference.

Byrd seems to have seen the errors of old and really made an effort to change his nature becoming quite the liberal. Ol' Trent on the other hand...

mediareport: I'm not trying to warp or reverse the meaning of the quote, I just wanted to quote the fact that this was in fact something Byrd did way back when and tried to remove any further comment about it from the quote.

troutfishing: agreed, especially with Trent's comments coming today as opposed to back in the 60's.
posted by PenDevil at 8:41 AM on December 19, 2002


Isn't the point that Republicans are considering on asking or forcing Lott to resign so that they can get (1) the Bush agenda through, (2) get minority suport for the next election. No one that I know of has suggested that Lott resign from the Senate. No Democrat will be involved in who will or will not represent the GOP in the Senate. LBJ, for example, was hardly a guy that one would have expected much to come out of in terms of civil rights, and yet he was a leader in this issue.
The point is that strategically Lott may be asked to step down...there remain many in and out of the congress who are racists, and this is not an issue at the moment.
posted by Postroad at 8:48 AM on December 19, 2002


dgaicun - That comment seems to me, on the face of it, to be a really tactless comment designed to be gratuitiously offensive. Perhaps Sen. Burns doesn't get out much, and HAD NEVER SEEN A NOSE RING before?...it's possible. But why associate the wearing of a nose ring with being in a tribe? The woman was an office worker in Billings, Montana, not a bush-woman of the Khalahari Desert in Africa.

I think there are little nose-ringed black sambas, big rolly eyes and big lips and all, dancing around in Senator Burn's Head. And cartoon cannibals with bones through their noses brandishing spears and dancing round a big cook-pot, too, shouting 'Boogah-Boogah'

OR...Perhaps Burns is socially clueless on the scale of someone with Autism or Aussberger's Syndrome. Well then - however did he manage to become a US Senator?

Generally, it is considered wise to 'feel out' strangers a bit before making potentially offensive comments.

I interpret the comment, actually, as intentional and callous harassment.
posted by troutfishing at 8:56 AM on December 19, 2002


PenDevil - Good. We agree: that repeat-rascists of ANY political persuasion should be booted out of power. of course this could be a template for a new sort of McArthyism...but I think we'll steer clear of that particular evil...i hope...
posted by troutfishing at 9:01 AM on December 19, 2002


As a general statement, it amazes me how tastless and tactless so many of our politicians can be. Call them slimy, sleezy, corruptible, whatever, but these are supposed to be the cream of the Alpha Male pool, the guys no one can hate once they've shaken their hands. Burns may have not meant much by his statement, or thought it should matter, but he's a top-level politician, and he should know that sort of comment might put someone off, and know better than to say something that might needlessly alienate a voter.
posted by risenc at 9:11 AM on December 19, 2002


I just wanted to quote the fact that this was in fact something Byrd did way back when and tried to remove any further comment about it from the quote.

Which then removes key context that makes your question, "Guess they got to get rid of him too?" nonsensical. The voting histories and current associations matter here - in fact, it's hard to think of anything that would matter *more* when trying to analyze a politician's verbal gaffe. Some, like Byrd's "white niggers" remark, seem to be slips that speak more to the person's upbringing than to where s/he is today. They're sad, stupid and rude, but also forgettable.

But after reviewing all the evidence, I have no doubt that Lott truly yearns for the segregation he experienced in his youth. That makes him a racist and a prick. $20 says it's over before the January 6 meeting.
posted by mediareport at 9:30 AM on December 19, 2002


troutfishing,

Seriously dude. Boogah Boogah?? Harassment??? Old people make comments like that all the time to kids with their new-fangled ways. Body modification has a de facto association with tribal culture, and older people like to joke about it. Usually when old people make stupid jokes about tattoos and what-not, it's socially polite to smile those things off, b/c frankly, they're friendly, well-intentioned remarks. Let's not fight over this guy in general (b/c I've done this subject to death, already. As has MeFi), but at least admit that this selected issue makes for an iiinnccredibly lame controversy, even when nested among less ambiguous offences. If people think that is racism, then we have already surpassed McCarthyism, all the way into full-blown Salemism.
posted by dgaicun at 9:42 AM on December 19, 2002


F*** 'em. Politicians. All of 'em.

If you know me, you know I usually comment more intelligently than this. But I find sometimes now this is all I have to say. The scum rises to the top. If politicians weren't bastards to begin with, they'd never survive in the game of politics. Not just Republicans, naturally--I mean Democrats, too.

As long as the bulk of America votes on the basis of name-recognition, or whim, or party affiliation, or doesn't vote at all half the time, as long as the electorate elects these "representatives" who hold the immense power that is America in their hands, but never watchdogs them afterwards...

Well, the Cretins Rule. That's all. Sorry--I'll [/slash rant] now.
posted by Shane at 9:56 AM on December 19, 2002


"I regret the things I've said in the past. Those remarks were wrong and repugnant, and I apologize for them once again."

I regret the things I've said in the past. All of it. Please forget every word--every horrible, horrible word--I never meant a bit of it! I'll say whatever you want me to say, I swear! Just love me, won't you? And keep my paycheck coming.
posted by rushmc at 10:06 AM on December 19, 2002


Someone please explain this to me: How is it possible for even the stupidest senator, politician, or public figure to make even a marginally racist remark and think it will not come back on him?

Brainless. Pathetic. Meet the leaders of the free world.
posted by Shane at 10:31 AM on December 19, 2002


How is it possible for even the stupidest senator, politician, or public figure to make even a marginally racist remark and think it will not come back on him?

While I think politicians (especially major party politicians) are some of the very worst people in America, it strikes me that if I were to have cameras and reporters on me all day, I'd probably be caught saying a lot of stupid things. And I'm a relatively sensitive person.

And while I harbor no sympathies for Senator Burns, I reckon it must be pretty tough when a constituent makes a racist remark that reflects the opinions of, oh, say 20 percent of his potential voters. What's he supposed to do-- tell the rancher that he's a stupid bigot? Seems like a bit of a catch-22.
posted by trharlan at 10:57 AM on December 19, 2002


Shane, Burns' comments all came before his re-election in 2000. What evidence is there that racist remarks DO come back to haunt a politician?

On preview:

What's he supposed to do-- tell the rancher that he's a stupid bigot?

Why the hell not? Burns is supposed to represent *ME* and Montana in the US Senate, not the twenty percent of potentially racist voters. By not telling someone (even gently) about a bigotted opinion, Burns sanctions his representation that Montanans are racist, with a racist voting agenda. Catch-22 my ass. Do you wish us to elect vote-whores or leaders?
posted by Wulfgar! at 11:07 AM on December 19, 2002


What's he supposed to do-- tell the rancher that he's a stupid bigot?

Good point. But:

He's supposed to wink and smile at the rancher, and make sure no one else sees it. Then he's just heinous, not a full-fledged heinous idiot. Heinous idiot paid by tax dollars as well...
posted by Shane at 11:13 AM on December 19, 2002


ok rushmc, we will forgive you. but if you keep saying the same things over and over, we will ban you.

Man, i wish politicians could be 'kicked'.

kick user tr3nt70tt?

yes [f1] no [f2]

kick user 733t_s3n@t0r_BurnsMan?

yes [f1] no[f2]

video game democracy.
posted by th3ph17 at 11:14 AM on December 19, 2002


Perhaps Sen. Burns doesn't get out much...Generally, it is considered wise to 'feel out' strangers a bit before making potentially offensive comments.

i've been thinking about the "man of his generation" euphemism that's being floated lately to explain Thurmond, Lott, et al's "antiquated" views. the idea is that someone as hoary as Strom Thurmond shouldn't be faulted for the occasional racist blooper, since he came of age in an earlier time, etc etc etc. Lott's apologists make the same case for him, though he's no geezer. to me, this apology is even more offensive than the remarks themselves. i personally was not surprised at all to hear that, gasp, people in this country, even in the government, still think segregation is the way to go. shocking, shocking! racist attitudes are expressed everywhere in our culture, from the media to interpersonal interactions to the criminal justice system, and the fact that we pretend things are so much more enlightened today than in the bad old days just helps strengthen the facade behind which Lott and likeminded goons hide their true feelings. true, we are not living in the Jim Crow era anymore, but there is much work to be done still, and letting slow-witted Democrats off the hook for acting surprised at this elephant in the room revealed is just as bad as writing off "men of their generation."

and speaking of "potentially offensive comments," i'll never forget one time a senior Harvard administrator asked me if i was "a genetic hybrid," a reference to my generally un-guessable ethnic heritage i suppose. this man was whiter than milk, and he truly didn't mean to insult me , he just didn't know how to open up a conversation about that (which was kind of inappropriate anyway as that's quite personal and he was my boss). he'd never heard of "diversity training," and his colleagues and friends were nearly identical to himself: early 60s, white, wealthy, Harvard-educated college administrators. still, i had to wonder how he managed to make it taking the city bus to work every day and still think his eugenics inquiry was everyday conversation. i replied, "well i'm not a clone, so i guess i'm as much a "hybrid" as anyone else...ahem." i'd rather have been asked, "What *are* you, anyway?" as i was continually in grade school...that's at least direct.
posted by serafinapekkala at 12:11 PM on December 19, 2002


The thing is, none of them have realized that what they say is a racist statement. This shows more about their ignorance and lack of social education than their racism.

But I agree with Shane. I can't stand any of them. Notice how NBC is doing that new show about a senator...more propaganda....
posted by Dantien at 12:44 PM on December 19, 2002


I think the "of their generation" concept may useful in explaining why people make these remarks and hold the views they do - but that should not be confused with excusing it. If the rest of America can figure out what's up, they should be able to as well.
posted by nickmark at 1:29 PM on December 19, 2002


Serafinipekkala - But Strom Thurmond has actually moderated his views considerably since 1948. He had to. What's so weird about the Lott comment is that he was paying homage to a position Thurmand dropped long ago (decades ago, in fact). Anyway, I wholly agree that racism in America is stil alive and well (though in slow retreat, perhaps...)

Speaking of "hybrids", my Jewish grandmother-in-law made a comment about her two twin grandaughters, of her jewish son and her goy daughter-in-law. "That's what we [Jews, I think she meant] need," she said, "some outbreeding. The children are just so beautifull." (she said, staring plainly at me (goy) and her Jewish grandaughter as if to say "have some damn kids already. they'll be beautifull, I'm sure. These hybrids always are") - eugenic advice from my Jewish grandmother? [But "anti-racial" though, in the sense that she seemed to be implying that 'racial purity' contributed to genetic weakness] Anyway, as far as I can tell, "hybrids" (a very sloppy term, that!) seem to be generally more beautifull, healthier, and smarter. All the "hybrid" children I know are very precocious. Maybe it's merely due to a richer family cultural heritage? Then again, there is a good reason that farmers hybridize crops...perhaps the past sordid history of the eugenics movement has prevented discussions along these lines? It's a touchy subect......
posted by troutfishing at 1:45 PM on December 19, 2002


Dgaicun - I'll admit that the nose ring 'controversy' (alone) would be pretty lame if you admit that the "what tribe are you from" comment could still be (in some contexts) pretty offensive. I think it's completely contextual. That's the problem with language anyway. The "logical Propositon" movement (from Linguistics and Philosophy) which sough to reduce language to logical propositions collapsed after Wittgenstein came along. Without a videotape of the 'nose ring affair', we don't have a clue about context, intonation, body language, or any of that.

"I think there are little nose-ringed black sambas, big rolly eyes and big lips and all, dancing around in Senator Burn's Head. And cartoon cannibals with bones through their noses brandishing spears and dancing round a big cook-pot, too, shouting 'Boogah-Boogah' " - well, maybe this quote of mine was a little over the top hee hee

By the way here's a link to a Mp3 recording of "little Black Sambo" from the 40's.

"The senator said the rancher asked him, "Conrad, how can you live back there with all those niggers?" Senator Burns said he told the rancher it was "a hell of a challenge."

"What's he supposed to do-- tell the rancher that he's a stupid bigot?" - Well he could have said (if he were not a racist, that is) - "With all due respect, Sir, I call them my fellow Americans. And I believe that the Bible says that we are all equal under the eyes of God. No, it wasn't hard at all."
posted by troutfishing at 2:03 PM on December 19, 2002


Now this is the story all about how, my life got flip turned upside down.

o>
posted by KettleBlack at 2:16 PM on December 19, 2002


troutfishing, you wouldn't wanna move to Montana and vote in this state, wouldja? I promise to take you fishing down the Beaverhead.

This post has me so riled up. I've spent years wondering if the rest of the US just thought Conrad Burns = Montana, complete with his good old-style cowboy racist disdain. I've been looking for documentation of some of his other public bloopers (the "whoop" incident comes to mind) but no such luck. Whether we think we do or not, Montanan's get the fact that Burns is a poor representation of our beliefs and our needs. In 2000, Burns narrowly got re-elected in a state that votes on good-old-boy (read GOP) lines. His opponent was a political newby, and a somewhat radical iconoclast. But Schweitzer actually seemed to care that Montana is part of the whole US, and vice-versa. Burns, and I think all politicians who hold a segregation/racist viewpoint tend to view themselves as representative of a fantasy mythos surrounding the place they represent.

(remember kids, don't mess with Texas!)

Simply put, Burns identifies with the farmer's distrust of them dark-colored folk. He identifies with the western mythos. He does not comprehend that a whole bunch of his constituancy find his view of those beliefs repugnant.

{by the way...neener neener to the rest of you "Americans". Canada kinda likes Montana ;-0}
posted by Wulfgar! at 2:43 PM on December 19, 2002


{by the way...neener neener to the rest of you "Americans". Canada kinda likes Montana ;-0}

I just saw Ian Tyson in concert last week--he loves Montana. But then, he's pretty much a cowboy. And he opined that the interior of the Tractor Tavern was what a Montana bar used to look like. That had the owner beaming...

Unhlike Montana, though, you can't take your kids in a bar. You can still do that in Montana, right?
posted by y2karl at 4:13 PM on December 19, 2002


Well, now that Bill Frist is openly running for Senate majority leader, it's all over but the shouting. A Tennessee doctor/lawyer and close Bush pal without the racist baggage of Nickles, who says he'd support Frist anyway? Bye-bye, Trent, you segregationist scumwad.

The only question now is if Lott will lash out like a Balrog as he goes down and quit the Senate in a huff. There's probably a lucrative career for him on the Aryan circuit. I'm sure he's considering it.
posted by mediareport at 4:41 PM on December 19, 2002


troutfishing, you wouldn't wanna move to Montana... wouldja?

troutfishing, Montana...

Yup.
posted by Shane at 4:42 PM on December 19, 2002


Correction: Senator Frist is a transplant surgeon and researcher but not a lawyer.
posted by mediareport at 5:00 PM on December 19, 2002


which was kind of inappropriate anyway as that's quite personal and he was my boss

I can see why such a question would bother you, even if prompted just by simple curiosity and expressed awkwardly due to lack of experience with such issues, but at the same time it seems to me that marking such trivia "personal," even in one's own mind, supports the racists' belief that they matter.
posted by rushmc at 5:43 PM on December 19, 2002


I usually duck answering the question, not because I think it's personal, but precisely because I don't think it matters, and I want to be that person without a set and clear race/ethnicity in the lives of the people around me. This is my own little way of challenging racialist ideology. I used to be more pointed about it, but now I only launch into my anti-racialist spiel if someone asks me why I won't tell them "what I am". I must be getting old.
posted by skoosh at 7:16 PM on December 19, 2002


Shane - thanks, I missed that particular Brautigan. My longtime (missing) friend Mandros told me that the last thing he wrote was "So the wing won't blow it all away" - just before he ate a shotgun blast, and I stopped hunting for new Brautigans. It's a burden, this knowledge you impart. The Brautigans make me so sad and happy at the same time, I can barely stand to read them...

Wulfar - I'd love to! (I may also do it - Massachussetts culture is...well...'liberal' in an ugly way, like a liberal torte lawyer on the make (not to mention the secret racism) . Liberal In form, yes, but ther actual spirit is elsewhere. I'll take generous, honest conservatives at the moment.) can I take this back when I move to Montana?
posted by troutfishing at 8:15 PM on December 19, 2002


troutfishing, you might be rather surprised to find that many of us (possibly the majority) aren't that conservative at all. But if you move here and find differently, of course you're free to take that back. Montanans believe deeply in freedom, we're just not always sure what the cost of that is. Witness the re-election of Burns ...
posted by Wulfgar! at 9:16 PM on December 19, 2002


You can still do that in Montana, right?


Depends on the bar, depends on the owner, depends on the parent, and depends on the kid. Responsibility and all that hooha, you know ...
posted by Wulfgar! at 9:35 PM on December 19, 2002


Well. Shane and troutfishing, when it comes to Montana and writers, I'm thinking James Crumley--my favorite book of his is the now out-of-print Dancing Bear, which is set in Missoula, Seattle and points in between..
posted by y2karl at 9:49 PM on December 19, 2002


Wulfgar - I used to (Mass liberal bias) equate libertarian-leaning beliefs with the political term "conservative" - GW Bush has helped me out with that particular confusion. Now I think like a proto-Reaganite in some ways: "Gov. centralizing tendencies vs. personal liberty". Oh, but then there's the environment (Oh, Sh-t!) and GLOBALIZATION! OmyGawd! my head is spinning

But I think that the word "liberal" may need some redefinition too...

Y2Karl - Oh boy...I guess I'm trying to live a Montana life in Massachussetss (to many ss's in that damn name!). I'll have to talk to my "Alaska_lives_among_and_ shoots_and_eats_ bears" brother in law about Montana (as a happy medium?) I think I'm Montana, born 'n bred...(except for the Boston Baked beans on my shoes)...
posted by troutfishing at 10:18 PM on December 19, 2002


Off topic, but Tokyo-Montana Express is my favorite Brautigan and is hard to find. No plot, just short "poems" of a paragraph to a couple pages long with titles like "Werewolf Raspberries" and "Chicken Fable" and "Crows Eating a Truck Tire in the Dead of Winter" and "Umbrellas." If I find my copy, trout, maybe I'll e-mail you a few of my favorites. Or work up a post even.
posted by Shane at 7:48 AM on December 20, 2002


Shane - thanks! "Crows Eating a Truck Tire in the Dead of Winter"? - wow. sounds really good. weren't we arguing about something on some post recently? just goes to show yaa...
posted by troutfishing at 8:19 AM on December 20, 2002


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