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Just Pete being Pete?

I used to enjoy Keith Olbermann’s ironic view of the world when he was a sportscaster. He and Dan Patrick were without peer when they delivered the day’s sports news on ESPN.

But somewhere along the line, Olbermann lost it. Today, his low-rated show on MSNBC is his bully pulpit to bully anything or anyone that doesn’t fit into his narrow, liberal, seemingly angry view of the world.

I give you this conversation he had with Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter following the intemperate remarks of California Rep. Fortney “Pete” Stark, who claimed, on the floor of the House of Representatives, that Republicans send kids to Iraq to “get their heads blown off for the president’s amusement.”

One would think that even the farthest left of the left would leave Stark behind with his comments, but that would be expecting too much of today’s culture.

I give you Olbermann’s comments, transcribed directly from his broadcast in an interview with Jonathan Alter of Newsweek:

OLBERMANN: And yet … was there not something refreshing about his at least refusal to back down when somebody came after him? Or is the Democratic leadership going to say to him, “No, you’re going to have to back down to some degree”?

ALTER: No, I think he should back down. You (can) say, look, the president is misguided, he’s been a terrible president, but he’s a human being, and he doesn’t like to see people killed, and to say that he does is just silly and counterproductive, and the best thing for him to do would be to apologize and move on.”

Lest anyone confuse Alter with a neocon writer for the National Review, allow me to disabuse you of that notion. Even the reasonable left was appalled by Stark’s tirade.

I remember Pete Stark well from my years in Congress, and he is not new to offensive rhetoric. K-Tel could release an album of his greatest hits. I tried to find them on Google, but couldn’t get past his most recent rant.

Sadly, my Google search did reveal significant support for him on the blogosphere. A sample of comments includes:

— “Give ’em hell, Pete. DO NOT apologize. Bush is a maniacal, fascist war criminal by any reasonable standard of judgment.”

— “Rep. Stark SHOULD NOT apologize. He was absolutely right and I believe in ‘Free Speech.’

“Pete tells the truth and the warmongers get upset. Well, live with it.”

If that’s not enough, an online poll of CNN viewers indicated a mere 88 percent say there is no reason Stark should apologize for his remarks.

Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed, in the form of House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. While I usually disagreed with Hoyer on issues of policy during my eight years in Congress, I could confidently refer to him as “The Gentleman from Maryland.” Steny Hoyer is an honorable man.

Clearly, Hoyer was not going to have any of Stark’s ravings attributed to his party in Congress, and the pressure was on. Stark’s initial refusal to apologize and the aid and comfort he received from friends such as Keith Olbermann notwithstanding, Stark took to the floor days later, and issued a choked-voice apology.

Time and space do not permit a review of Stark’s madness, but I do recall his referring to Republican Rep. Nancy Johnson of Connecticut as a “whore” for the insurance industry once on the House floor.

When a Republican says something stupid or politically incorrect, the drumbeat in the media is relentless until that person pays for it with his job or his position in leadership. You’d see marches on their offices for saying such things.

In this case, too many folks were content to pass it off as “that’s just Pete.”

That’s just the problem. That is Pete Stark. He says mean and nasty things, and is mean and insensitive to those around him. He goes after anyone in his way.

To Hoyer’s credit, being the class act he is, he jumped all over this and insisted that Stark issue an apology. But if Hoyer hadn’t done that, I seriously doubt that Stark would have apologized, and he would have gotten away with it yet again. Good for Steny.

As I have said in this column before, words are not inconsequential. Sometimes in politics, Republicans and Democrats say things that are perceived to be insensitive, racist or naïve. But they really are innocent.

As hard as I tried, I found no innocence in Pete Stark’s rant.

J.C. Watts is chairman of J.C. Watts Companies, a business consulting group. He is former chairman of the Republican Conference of the U.S. House, where he served as an Oklahoma representative from 1995 to 2002. His e-mail address is JCWatts01@jcwatts.com. He writes twice monthly for the Review-Journal.

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