WASHINGTON—If it's demeaning to use the words "ho" and "hoes" to describe women, is it OK to take money from people who get rich doing just that?
That's the sticky question facing two leading Democratic candidates for president, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois.
They were among the most vocal critics of former radio host Don Imus after he used such language about the women of the Rutgers University basketball team—and among those who said people must condemn that kind of talk whenever it's uttered.
But they were publicly silent about it just weeks earlier when they took campaign cash from some of the people who make their living off just such language—and worse—in rap music. That money helped propel the two to the top of the field in fundraising for the first three months of the year.
Last Friday, she traveled to Rutgers, demanding that people take what she called a "Rutgers Pledge" against slurs on women, minorities and the defenseless.
"Will you be willing to speak up and say `enough is enough' when women or minorities or the powerless are marginalized or degraded?" Clinton said. "Will you say there is no place for disrespectful language or bigotry to be seen as funny or clever?"
Weeks earlier, Clinton made no such public comments as she spent the last evening of the first-quarter fundraising period with her husband collecting campaign cash at the Pinecrest, Fla., estate of music producer and performer Timbaland.
As Washington Post columnist Colbert King noted indignantly, Timbaland's contributions to American culture include just the kind of language that Clinton thinks others should stand against. Among his verses: "All the Hoes Love a Nigga" and "most of u rap niggas is hoes to me."
Offensive. Demeaning. But lucrative.
Newsday described Timbaland's estate as a "wonderland" complete with a fake beach, three koi ponds and a 2,500-square-foot pool.
Timbaland's guests contributed a reported $800,000 to Clinton.
The Clinton campaign didn't return calls seeking comment Monday.
Then there's Obama. He was quicker to criticize Imus, and more specific in extending the criticism to popular culture.
"We've got to admit to ourselves that it was not the first time that we heard the word `ho,'" he told the South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus. "Turn on the radio station."
Yet when he wanted to raise cash from Hollywood, one of his first stops was a lavish fundraising event co-hosted by David Geffen.
Geffen's record company produces the likes of Snoop Dogg, whose repertoire includes such songs as "Can U Control Yo Hoe," with the lyrics "you've got to put that bitch in her place, even if it's slapping her in her face."
The Geffen event raised $1.3 million for Obama.
Obama spokesman Bill Burton said Monday evening that Obama did speak about "the responsibility of the entertainment industry" at the Hollywood fundraiser. Burton said Obama spoke in broad terms and did not mention demeaning music lyrics in particular, but he stressed that "this is not an issue he has ducked."
To be fair, it's unrealistic to expect candidates to know the backgrounds of everyone who gives them $1,000 or $2,000. Clinton, after all, had 60,000 contributors in the first three months of the year; Obama had 104,000.
But they probably know a lot more about the much smaller number of people who host fundraising events in their own well-appointed homes—including how they make their money.
(Steven Thomma is chief political correspondent for the McClatchy Washington bureau. Write to him at: McClatchy Newspapers, 700 12th St. N.W., Suite 1000, Washington, DC 20005-3994, or e-mail email@example.com.)