Monday, April 28, 2003

Compromise & Controversy

Lest we be accused of only pointing out stupid remarks made by Republicans, here’s a sordid political tale from today’s Washington Post:

A senior member of the D.C. Democratic State Committee said yesterday that she plans to ask for the resignation of the city party's chairman, Norman C. Neverson, because he made a provocative statement in a newspaper article that does not represent the philosophy of Democrats.

Barbara Lett Simmons, the party's national committeewoman and a longtime Neverson detractor, said she is appalled that the head of the city's Democratic Party was quoted in the Washington City Paper as saying he would have voted for the three-fifths compromise, in which slaves were counted as three-fifths of a person for taxation and apportionment purposes when the U.S. Constitution was adopted.

"He has expressed a philosophical position contrary to the Democratic Party," Simmons said. "This is 2003. I don't think we can afford in this upcoming year of trying to reclaim the White House and Congress to have 17th-century-mentality leadership."

Simmons, who has been critical of Neverson since he took over the party three years ago, said Neverson has every right "to think, feel and believe exactly what he expressed." But she said he "can't be my leader, and he can't appropriately represent this Democratic body."

Neverson said he made the comments in an extensive article about his personal life and his political leadership. The article quotes Neverson as saying he would have supported the constitutional clause decreeing that each slave be counted as three-fifths a person because "to produce a republic you have to make sacrifices."

"If it offended anyone, I apologize," Neverson said. "It wasn't meant to say that Norm Neverson supports the three-fifths compromise. It was taken completely out of context. When you don't have all the facts and you don't have all the information, ignorance rules supreme. Get the information."

Now I don’t think for a moment that Neverson, who is African-America, actually supports the three-fifths compromise. He was making a point about political compromises in general. My question is, why didn’t he pick a different example? The Constitution had lots of compromises—such as the different apportionments for each houses of Congress—which would have illustrated Neverson’s point more clearly. Heck, as my friend Tom said to me earlier, Neverson could’ve brought up the Compromise of 1850 to make a point regarding slavery. That would have been a less inflammatory example.

Still, reading the Post article, one gets the clear impression that the move to oust Neverson is less about the specific remarks he made, and more about the internal politics of the D.C. Democratic State Committee. Neverson apparently made the classic error of handing his opponents the rope to hang him with.

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