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Yo, Senator! You tryin' a make me look like a cafone?


It's like watching a shouting match on the kindergarten playground.

First, Senator Harry Reid issued a shrill press release on lobby reform in which he dusted off the old fox-guarding-the-henhouse analogy: "The idea of Republicans reforming themselves is like asking John Gotti to clean up organized crime."

One suspects Reid forgot the Dapper Don died of cancer in prison in 2002 and that he was half-remembering John Kerry's line from the third presidential debate: "Being lectured by the president on fiscal responsibility is a little bit like Tony Soprano talking to me about law and order in this country."

At any rate, so pleased was the minority leader with his little turn of phrase that he used it again that evening on PBS's "The News Hour with Jim Lehrer" to attack Rick Santorum: "Having Senator Santorum talk about [lobbying] reform is like having John Gotti talk about doing something about organized crime."

Santorum—who's the son of an Italian immigrant* (in much the same by-the-way fashion that John Kerry served in Vietnam)—understandably took offense at the distinguished senator from Nevada's comment: "While you may think my leadership in the Senate's effort to reform the country's existing lobbying laws is fair game for attack, my ancestry is not," Santorum said in a letter to Reid. "I join leaders in the Italian-American community in expressing outrage over the repeated slurs aimed at millions of us."

The Order of the Sons of Italy in America echoed Santorum's outrage: "For the Senate minority leader to associate the highest ranking Italian-American in the Senate with a criminal like John Gotti is beyond any political issues that may exist between the two parties," the group says. "It shows a profound lack of respect for a Senate colleague as well as the nation's estimated 26 million law-abiding Italian-Americans." (The Columbus Citizens Foundation of New York City has issued a similar statement.)

Reid has subsequently apologized for the press release:

"I am writing to apologize for the tone of this document and the decision to single out individual senators for criticism in it," the Nevada Democrat wrote in a letter yesterday that said he regrets "the current political climate in which policy disputes escalate too quickly into personal condemnation."

But, interestingly, there's been no apology at all to Santorum. In fact, quite the contrary:

Jim Manley, Mr. Reid's spokesman, said he thought Mr. Santorum was being "thin-skinned" about his ties to lobbyists.

"Who knew he was Italian?" Mr. Manley said.

Manley's non-apology strikes me as roughly the equivalent of Jim Seif asking "Who knew Lynn Swann was African-American?"

While I can't really get too worked up about defending a guy who compared the sacrifices of young men and women in uniform to displaying a Santorum bumper sticker on your car, I do think the senator's entitled to an apology comparable to the one his colleagues received.

So … Harry, tell Ricky you're sorry for calling him a goombah. And don't let me catch you doing it ever again.

*Albeit an Italian immigrant who earned his living as a clinical psychologist.

Posted by Rodger on January 28, 2006 at 03:05 PM | Permalink


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