New York editorial writers constantly scold Hillary Rodham Clinton for blatant ethnic politicking, for blithely consorting with demagogues and other dubious characters, and for exploiting her office to promote her personal ambitions. The pundits tell her she must not do these things if she is ever to win their respect. So imagine the First Lady’s confusion as she watches Rudolph Giuliani commit all those supposedly forbidden acts-and get away with it.
The most recent opportunity to observe this double standard came on Martin Luther King Day, when both of the likely Senate candidates marked the birthday of the civil rights martyr by appearing in public with disreputable pretenders to the King mantle. Mrs. Clinton chose to attend a King holiday ceremony sponsored by the Rev. Al Sharpton, in a show of respect meant to dissuade the rowdy reverend of any lingering impulse to disrupt her campaign. And quite predictably she was publicly embarrassed at the event after one of Mr. Sharpton’s fellow loudmouths, an obscure preacher from Queens, made a reference to Jewish employers who had once fired him.
Although Mrs. Clinton wasn’t present during the offensive remarks and obviously had no responsibility for them, she was duly excoriated in the press for her mere presence in the same venue with the onetime sponsor of the Tawana Brawley hoax. Not even the recent attempt by former Mayor Edward I. Koch to rehabilitate his old nemesis was considered a mitigating factor for the First Lady.
Fair enough-except that almost nobody seems to have noticed the very peculiar company the Mayor kept on that same symbolic day. Passing up a King celebration in Brooklyn, Mr. Giuliani was instead among the featured guests at a dinner sponsored by the Congress of Racial Equality, a former civil rights organization that has long since been transformed into something quite different by its chairman, Roy Innis. While various respectable figures find it convenient to sponsor this event every year and thus pay their dues to the late Dr. King, no one who knows anything about both men can imagine that King would be anything but appalled by the stridently right-wing Mr. Innis. This year’s dinner was billed as a tribute to Ronald Reagan, a lifelong opponent of civil rights whose Presidency was marked by numerous attempts to roll back the historic advances for which Dr. King died.
Of course, Mr. Giuliani is an ardent Reaganite himself, so he can be expected to pretend that it is appropriate to mark King Day by honoring the former President. Perhaps the Mayor can even be excused for propitiating Mr. Innis, a chameleon politician who once proudly defended the bloody Ugandan dictator Idi Amin (and who has never apologized for doing so).
That fiasco is old news, however, and Mr. Innis has moved on to newer but no-less-sinister stunts. The latest involves a visitor from Austria who happened to be sitting on the dais behind the Mayor at the CORE dinner on Jan. 17. His name is Jörg Haider. For now, Mr. Haider’s title is leader of the Austrian Freedom Party, that troubled nation’s rather successful party of the far, far right. If his call for new elections is successful, Mr. Haider may soon become Chancellor-with echoes of another race-baiting politician from Austria who became Chancellor of Germany in 1933. Mr. Haider became notorious for praising the Waffen SS and the labor policies of Adolf Hitler, and his popularity in his homeland is based largely upon his willingness to bash immigrants and whitewash the Nazi past.
His party is literally crawling with neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers, but Mr. Haider has shrewdly sought to clean up his own image in recent months by explaining and apologizing for his past gaffes. In this effort he has been assisted by Mr. Innis ever since they met last November. So far, the Mayor has said nothing about Mr. Haider’s presence at the CORE dinner. Nor did he respond when Mr. Koch and Representative Charles Rangel issued a statement questioning his strange silence about the Austrian rightist. Evidently, Mr. Giuliani sees no profit in speaking out now as he did when Yasir Arafat and Fidel Castro dared to show up on his turf.
Apparently, the Mayor may pick his fights as he pleases, without complaint from anyone in the media, while the First Lady can assume the same privilege only at her own peril. It isn’t hard to imagine the front-page headlines and indignant editorials that would engulf her candidacy if she seemed indifferent to a figure like Mr. Haider. But by now Mrs. Clinton probably knows all too well that the objective, impartial media maintain different rules for different candidates in the Senate race-his, and hers.