"Political cover" is a powerful phenomenon in contemporary politics. But it can make voters plenty cynical about the ways and means of political warfare.
It's typically utilized wherever a well-known progressive Democrat speaks or acts outside of permissible lines, i.e., crosses the politically correct police with an insensitive (or worse) comment on the public stage.
On such occasions, the mainstream press will duly note the offensive comment. Appropriate, albeit limited, criticism will follow. And then … nothing. The remarks at issue vanish from the daily news cycle.
Some of my left-leaning readers (yes, they exist, if my email traffic is accurate) may object to my premise. Yet, I ask you to take stock of the following beauties:
"I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice looking guy. I mean, that's a storybook, man."
"You cannot go to a 7-11 or a Dunkin' Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I'm not joking."
— Sen. Joe Biden
"[New York City is] Hymies. Hymietown."
— Rev. Jesse Jackson
[Mahatma Gandhi] "ran a gas station down in Saint Louis."
— Sen. Hillary Clinton
"A handkerchief-head, chicken-and-biscuit-eating Uncle Tom."
(What Malcolm X would supposedly say about Clarence Thomas) –- Spike Lee
"I do not think it is an exaggeration at all to say to my friend from West Virginia [Sen. Robert C. Byrd, a former Ku Klux Klan recruiter] that he would have been a great senator at any moment. ... He would have been right during the great conflict of Civil War in this nation."
— Former Democratic Sen. Christopher Dodd
Some of these are familiar to you, others you may have just read for the first time. And, you will not be surprised to learn, I could fill up my next 50 columns with similar quotes and quips guaranteed to make even the most veteran political operative shudder.
Yet rarely if ever do the opinions expressed have a shelf life. And not even mea culpas are required prior to official forgiveness.
What explains this fascinating syndrome? After all, equally stupid and insensitive remarks from prominent Republicans and conservatives (and there are plenty of examples) are typically followed by anguished, soul searching apologies. Alas, such acts of contrition rarely serve to mitigate the inflicted damage.
This incongruity is explained by two powerful forces.
The first concerns modern progressivism's common denominator: empathy and noble purpose. In this construct, where your heart is really counts. And good intentions tend to outweigh poor results.
High minded intentions also mitigate acts of maladministration, gross negligence and bad behavior. To wit:
•The thousands of unaccompanied young children crossing our southern border is a human tragedy resulting from a porous border and a failure to enforce our immigration laws, but the president's heart is in the right place; after all, it's always about the children…
The Affordable Care Act has opened to generally poor reviews, with dysfunctional websites, coverage interruptions and sky-high premiums dominating the news, but the president cares so much…
Hillary Clinton's tenure at the State Department was marked by an unsuccessful "restart" with Russia, missed opportunities in Syria, and a 9/11 redux at our embassy in Benghazi, Libya. But she's so smart, and she worked so hard and nobody has traveled as much as she did…
Ol' Bill Clinton might be a fast talker and serial womanizer, but he's so good on the issues, and remember, he's pro-choice…
The bottom line: front line progressive soldiers in the service of progressive causes are able to tap deep reservoirs of good will when their negligence and/or hyperbole crosses traditional lines of good sense and common decency.
And there is no corresponding "hall pass" available to similar "line crossers" on the right.
The second explanation is about how the left has learned to play the game. And it is here that progressives have achieved an important advantage over the right. They understand it's all about winning — distressingly insulting and over the line comments notwithstanding. Here, the sooner forgiveness is bestowed, the quicker its candidates can get back on message — and in the winner's circle.
It may be that the presence of the "Christian Right" also makes it more difficult for Republicans to survive ludicrous, hurtful remarks. A higher bar makes for less wiggle room.
These distressing rules of the road allow important liberals to sustain themselves during the initial stages of a public controversy. Just tap the always available well of good intentions. Then blame the racist, homophobic, sexist Republicans for quoting you out of context. And remind everyone you're pro-choice.
Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s column appears Sundays. The former Maryland governor and member of Congress is a partner at the law firm King & Spalding and the author of "Turn this Car Around" and "America: Hope for Change" — books about national politics. His email is email@example.com.
To respond to this commentary, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name and contact information.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun