by Paul Goldman
During Doug Wilder’s historic campaign to break the color-line in state politics, I set a campaign rule: We would turn the other cheek at certain comments, keeping our eyes on the prize. The staff did a great job in that regard. According, my initial reaction to the story this morning in the Washington Examiner concerning a comment attributed to Republican Delegate Todd Gilbert wavered between “Who cares about such a dumb ass, or whether I owed my family, along with all Christian, Catholic and Jewish families in Virginia” the column written here today.
So I decided to look up how Republican Eric Cantor, who the GOP regularly calls the most prominent Virginian who happens to be Jewish in their party, would handle it. My research concluded: He would address Mr. Gilbert and his shamelessly offensive remark about the Holocaust directly, not shrug it off. Presumably, Mr. Cantor would do the same about the rest of the remark.
According to the Washington Examine story, the reporter says Delegate Gilbert declared “taking guns from citizens is what led to the Holocaust and mass killings under the Soviet Gulag.” Mr. Gilbert gave this historical observation as a reason to justify his position on certain bills now before the General Assembly. It is not clear whether he told this to the reporter after the debate on certain gun legislation in the House or on the floor of the body. I presume the former.
Mr. Gilbert is a graduate of the University of Virginia, which I realize has been having its struggles lately. Is this really what they teach these days at Mr. Jefferson’s University? If so, then the school has a lot more issues than whether Ms. Dragas should be reappointed to the Board.
However, under the Cantor rule, I want to be fair to Mr. Gilbert. So I believe the Republican House Majority Leader would handle any reaction to Mr. Gilbert’s remarks as follows. (1) Wait to see if Delegate Gilbert issues a press statement or otherwise makes public that he has contacted the Washington Examiner demanding an immediate retraction and apology for falsely claiming he made such a defaming and offensive remark about the victims of Adolf Hitler’s “Final Solution” and the victims of the Soviet Gulag system. (2) Wait to see whether he made the comments ON the House floor, or OFF the House of Delegates floor which is not absolutely clear from the Washington Examiner story. (3) Wait to see what Mr. Gilbert’s colleagues in the House of Delegates have to say about his comments when the GA Session opens today. (4) If Mr. Gilbert does demand a retraction, see if the Washington Examiner says one is owed, or whether the paper stands by the story.
It is possible the paper got it wrong, and Delegate Gilbert is owed an apology. If that is so, then the newspaper has done him a great disservice and it must endeavor to restore the damage done to his credibility.
HOWEVER, if Mr. Gilbert doesn’t demand an apology or retraction, then he has to decide whether he wants to be taken seriously as a legislator, indeed as a political figure in Virginia. I get the fact he is passionate in his views on the second amendment and related matters being debated in the GA in response, in large measure, to the Newtown massacre.
He is entitled to his views on what the law should be. He is likewise entitled to his views on history. And moreover, he is under no requirement to have any interest in being taken seriously on any level in politics or life generally.
But assuming he went to college to be better educated, that he went to law school to be educated and enter a profession where facts are considered rather important, and that he went to the General Assembly to be more than a laughing stock, then I hope he would take the Cantor rule rather seriously.
Because as I read the Cantor rule, the Virginia Congressman doesn’t tolerate such shamelessly offensive remarks about the Holocaust and its victims.
Governor McDonnell, another Republican, recently said he thought people who had made a nonviolent mistake and paid their debt to society deserved a second chance at having their political rights restored. In that spirit, I will now address Mr. Gilbert’s remarks.
Mr. Gilbert sir: If you said what you said, then you really do need to make it clear this is not what you believe, you really need to make it clear that you don’t believe the victims of the Holocaust are in any way proof of your position on the debate over the second amendment and related legislative matters. The same for the victims of the Gulag.
In case you didn’t notice, my family and millions of others had to amass the greatest armada in history to defeat Hitler’s Regime. My uncle landed at D-Day and marched across Europe, my father went through the war only to then be sent to be pre-positioned to be part of the planned invasion of Japan. I presume your family joined them.
I could go on. The idea that your position on guns is somehow proven correct by the tragedy of the Holocaust is really hard for me to fathom: and in my time, I have had to overcome the views of a lot of politicians who had held Virginia back for a long time.
So again, I would urge you to take Mr. Cantor’s advice: If you said what is reported, then apologize today as quickly and totally as possible. If you do, I will do just what the Governor says: wipe the slate clean, and move on, “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never harm me” kind of thing. Life is too short.
However, this is only true if you have any desire to be taken seriously by those of us with a real record of moving the state past this kind of historic view that held us back. Perhaps you don’t.
This is a state which suffered through the Virginia Tech massacre. So for us, the debate today has a special meaning. We are likewise a state that suffered through the violence of slavery, the violence of segregation. We had an anti-lynching law for a reason. Do you get my drift here?
We need to learn from the mistakes of the past, not try to change history to suit our own political ambitions or causes of the moment.
Bottom line: Left uncorrected, you destroy your credibility. But if corrected, you actually gain a new measure of credibility by showing the character to “step up.”
But for Americans like my uncle and my dad, the death toll from Hitler would have been immensely higher. Even armed to the teeth and with all the courage a man could posses, it took all their might to push back the Germans. For you to suggest that innocent women and children in Germany could have saved themselves if they had been armed is really so shamelessly offensive; don’t you see that?
Delegate Gilbert, I hope you take the opportunity granted to you by the Cantor rule. Moreover, to the extent these comments impact on the reputation of the House of Delegates, it would be wise for others in the body to address the problem.
If need be, call Mr. Cantor. In this instance, I am confident he will give you very good advice.