Georgia lawmaker describes Obama, wife as 'uppity'

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 4, 2008 

WASHINGTON — A Republican lawmaker is facing criticism over using the racially charged term "uppity" to describe Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, on Thursday.

Rep. Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia used the word in a conversation with reporters just outside the House chamber about Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Michelle Obama.

According to The Hill newspaper, a Washington publication, Westmoreland said, "Just from what little I've seen of her and Mr. Obama, Sen. Obama, they're a member of an elitist-class individual that thinks that they're uppity."

Westmoreland spokesman Brian Robinson said the congressman was using the Webster's dictionary meaning of the word and was unaware of additional racial context.

"He meant the Webster's definition of uppity, he didn't mean anything racially tinged or anything used as a code word," Robinson said in an interview. "He never heard the term used in a racially derogatory sense. He used the word as a synonym for elitist, which he stands by. He thinks the Democratic nominee has an inflated sense of self esteem and is snobbish. He is sorry if it was offensive to anyone who took it in any way that it was not."

The Obama campaign said it took no racial offense.

Charges of racially insensitive language have dogged Republican lawmakers as the party stepped up criticism of the first African American to head a major party ticket.

In April, Rep. Geoff Davis, R-Ky., told the state's annual Lincoln Day dinner that he was unimpressed with Obama's performance during a war simulation for members of Congress and referred to Obama as "boy."

"That boy's finger does not need to be on the button," Davis said. "He could not make a decision in that simulation that related to a nuclear threat to this country."

Davis apologized to Obama in a written statement.

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, has said that electing Obama, whose middle name is Hussein, would thrill "radical Islamists."

Republicans aren't the only ones wrestling with issues of race and language.

Former President Bill Clinton drew sharp criticism when he compared Obama's win in the South Carolina Democratic primary to Jesse Jackson's wins there in 1984 and 1988.

Former congresswoman and vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro became persona non grata in many Democratic circles after she told the Daily Breeze, a newspaper in Torrance, Calif., earlier this year: "If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position."

In an interview with the New York Observer last year, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden referred to Obama's candidacy as "the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy."

Obama forgave Biden — and last month asked him to be his running mate.

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McClatchy Newspapers 2008

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