Being black and being stupid are two entirely separate, independent conditions. Blackness does not make you stupid any more than stupidity makes you black. If it did, a lot of Donald Trump supporters would wake up aghast to find themselves suddenly African-American (though not as horrified as African-Americans would be to suddenly have all these Trump supporters in their midst).
The two conditions can, of course, reside in the same individual, such as former Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun who was both black and dumber than a rock. She manifested this in a variety of alarming ways, including, as I pointed out during her quixotic bid for mayor in 2011, by ballyhooing a deeply flawed poll that suggested she would defeat Rahm Emanuel which, let the record show, she did not.
When I wrote a column elaborating upon that theme, Moseley-Braun howled that I was a racist — you can go on YouTube and see videos of her minions picketing the paper, demanding I be fired — arguing that to criticize her was to criticize all African-Americans.
This came to mind when the senator currently holding her seat, Mark Kirk, said Barack Obama was “acting like a drug dealer in chief” and Kirk’s opponent, Tammy Duckworth, called the remark “unhinged,” which Kirk denounced as an attack on all stroke survivors everywhere.
“For people that have strokes, they can make tremendous comebacks,” Kirk said.
Some can. Others can be gravely impaired. Which group Kirk belongs to is open to debate. He claims he is recovered enough to do his job though, it seems, not so much that he can be criticized without immediately ducking for cover behind his disability.
You can’t have your cake and eat it too. You can’t both insist that you are a fully capable, functioning adult ready to perform your governmental duties then collapse weeping and pointing at your boo-boo when someone says something mean about you. Moseley-Braun grabbed her race like a human shield, unaware that she wasn’t deflecting the idea that she’s dumb so much as illustrating it.
As congressman from my 10th District, Kirk was just competent enough to be a senator before his stroke, a sour mediocrity who couldn’t resist the temptation to embellish his mundane naval career.
The question whether his stroke incapacitated him further is one the electorate is allowed to ask. I sat next to him at the Dante Awards a year ago May, and while I didn’t give him a physical, he seemed pushed to the limits of his endurance by the demands of eating lunch. This, I hasten to say, is not an indictment of all people who have had strokes everywhere, but an observation specific to Kirk on a certain day.
Though in Kirk’s defense, his job is not attending luncheons. His difficulties seem to have humanized him; for instance, he has fought the plague of heroin addiction and, in general, behaved very much like a Democrat, as camouflage from the great GOP political die-off expected to accompany the looming Trump fiasco.
And Duckworth’s exact language, saying Kirk “lacks the ability to control what he’s saying” does have a vague medical wink, a whiff of ammonia. Probably not intentional — Duckworth isn’t clever enough to lay out a trap by design. Nonetheless, Kirk grabbed the slur and waved it over his head, in case you missed it the first time.
You could wonder whether Kirk says idiotic things — remember his “bro without a ho”? — because he’s infirm or because he’s fundamentally an idiot. In the end, does it matter? Just as you could wonder whether Duckworth could ever be elected to any political office were it not for her status as a disabled vet — you certainly can’t chalk it up to her boundless charisma or genius as an administrator.
The problem for voters is we have to pick one. I’d lean toward Duckworth, simply because Kirk, once re-elected, will go back to being a Republican, at least until the summer of 2022.Tweets by @neilsteinberg