Down in South Carolina, there's a weekly webcast from local bars called Pub Politics (slogan: "Beer … bringing Democrats and Republicans together"). The hosts are Phil Bailey, the Director of the SC Democratic Caucus, and Wesley Donehue, a Republican political consultant. The most recent episode was taped at the Flying Saucer bar in Columbia, and was scheduled to feature State Representative Boyd Brown. But State Senator Jake Knotts showed up and stole the show.
According to Corey Hutchins, "Sen. Knotts Calls Haley a 'Raghead,' Says 'We're at war over there'", Columbia Free Times, 6/4/2010:
With a bead of sweat rolling down the side of his face outside a Columbia bar, Republican S.C. Sen. Jake Knotts called Lexington Rep. Nikki Haley, an Indian-American Republican woman running for governor, a “raghead” several times while explaining how he believed she was hiding her true religion from voters.
“She’s a f#!king raghead,” Knotts said.
He later clarified his statement. He did not mean to use the F-word.
Knotts says he believed Haley has been set up by a network of Sikhs and was programmed to run for governor of South Carolina by outside influences in foreign countries. He claims she is hiding her religion and he wants the voters to know about it.
“We got a raghead in Washington; we don’t need one in South Carolina,” Knotts said more than once. “She’s a raghead that’s ashamed of her religion trying to hide it behind being Methodist for political reasons.” [...]
After the broadcast, Knotts stood in a corner on the deck of the bar and defended his remarks.
“This isn’t the first time I’ve said it,” Knotts said. “I’m not on a crusade to downgrade her, but if someone asks me I’ll tell ‘em. And look here, someone wants to vote for her knowing the truth, vote for her.”
Knotts said that South Carolina is a religious community.
“We need a good Christian to be our governor,” he said. “She’s hiding her religion. She ought to be proud of it. I’m proud of my god.”
Knotts says he believes Haley’s father has been sending letters to India saying that Haley is the first Sikh running for high office in America. He says her father walks around Lexington wearing a turban.
“We’re at war over there,” Knotts said.
Asked to clarify, he said he did not mean the United States was at war with India, but was at war with “foreign countries.”
According to the AP ("S.C. Sen. Jake Knotts refers to candidate Nikki Haley as 'raghead'"):
“If it had been recorded, the public would be able to hear firsthand that my ‘raghead' comments about Obama and Haley were intended in jest,” Knotts said in his statement. “Bear in mind that this is a freewheeling, anything-goes Internet radio show that is broadcast from a pub. It's like local political version of Saturday Night Live, which is actually where the joke came from.”
Other reports, however, indicate that his remarks were recorded, but were being witheld by the show's management (Tim Smith, "Bauer distances himself from supporter who made 'raghead' remark", GreenvilleOnline 6/5/2010):
The two men who run Pub Politics, Senate Democratic Caucus spokesman Phil Bailey and Senate GOP Caucus spokesman Wes Donehue, announced Friday that unlike past shows they wouldn't be airing the episode containing Knotts' comments.
“As we've said from the beginning of this show, our goal has always been to show the lighter side of politics in South Carolina,” the pair said in a statement.
“We want to show people that politics can be fun and you can talk civilly with those who disagree with you. What Sen. Knotts said on Thursday's show does not fit with our program and its goals.”
Either way, it appears that Sen. Knotts' remarks will unfortunately not be appearing on YouTube. The best I can do for now is to reproduce this set of comments on Gov. Sanford's Appalachian Trail episode, which may help readers to imagine what the Pub Politics appearance might have been like:
Following some local and national furor, Sen. Knotts has produced what must be the most ineffective non-apology apology in recent history (Philip Rucker, "Apology follows inflammatory comment in S.C. race", WaPo 6/5/2010):
In a statement to local reporters, Knotts said: "Bear in mind that this is a freewheeling, anything-goes Internet radio show that is broadcast from a pub. It's like a local political version of 'Saturday Night Live.' Since my intended humorous context was lost in translation, I apologize. I still believe Ms. Haley is pretending to be someone she is not, much as Obama did, but I apologize to both for an unintended slur."
Gail Collins' comment on this is worth repeating:
Loads of exciting primaries next week! Although it’ll be hard to top the one in South Carolina, where two Tea Party candidates are fighting about a lie detector test and a state senator has argued that racist comments he made over the radio don’t really count since the interview occurred in a bar. [...]
Knotts seemed to feel as if it was unfair for anyone to quote him since he made his remarks on “a freewheeling, anything-goes Internet radio show that is broadcast from a pub. It’s like local political version of ‘Saturday Night Live.’ ” He is possibly the only person in America who is unaware that 1) “Saturday Night Live” has a script, and 2) it is never a good plan to appear on a talk show that takes place inside a saloon.
According to the OED, rag-head is "orig. and chiefly U.S. slang (derogatory and offensive)" for "a person who wears a head cloth or turban; a native or inhabitant of a country where such items are customarily worn, esp. a Middle Eastern person". The online version of the dictionary gives only two citations:
1921 P. CASEY & T. CASEY Gay-cat vi. 70 It's the *Ragheads all right — a whole army of Hindoo laborers. 2003 A. SWOFFORD Jarhead 16 I'm proud of our president standing up to the evil. Them ragheads is gonna go down.
In the clip that made headlines here, Prince Harry trains the camera on officer cadets sleeping on the floor, then zooms in on one who is awake.
“Anybody else around here?” the prince says. “Ah, our little Paki friend, Ahmed.” The reference was to Ahmed Raza Khan, now a captain in the Pakistani Army, who excelled at Sandhurst to the point that the prince’s grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, awarded him the Sword of Honor as best foreign cadet of the year.
The tape also includes a sequence in which Prince Harry spots another cadet with camouflage netting over his helmet during a night exercise and says, “It’s Dan the man.” After an expletive, he adds, “you look like a raghead” — a derogatory term used usually to refer to Arabs. A royal spokesman said the prince had used it as British soldiers commonly do in Afghanistan and Iraq, as an epithet for insurgents.
Another reasonably famous recent example was Ann Coulter's 2006 CPAC speech, where she said in reference to Iran,
I think our motto should be, post-9-11: raghead talks tough, raghead faces consequences.
As the uses by Knotts and Coulter indicate, the meaning of raghead has been generalized beyond "a native or inhabitant of a country where such items [as a head cloth or turban] are customarily worn", since head-cloths and turbans are not at all characteristic of modern Iran [or at least not of men like Ahmedinejad, whom she was addressing], and have never been a feature of Kenya, where President Obama's father was born.
In the case of Sen. Knotts, who grew up rough and quit high school to join the Navy, the generalization is presumably just a matter of careless ignorance — to lump Kenyans and Sikhs together with Arabs as a sort of generic class of dangerous foreigners is spectacularly uninformed, but he seems to be well qualified for the task.
In contrast, Ann Coulter is a graduate of Cornell University and the University of Michigan Law School, and it's clear that at CPAC, she was just looking for a way to be as offensive as possible. Her CPAC remarks were a variant of an earlier column where she made her intent to offend explicit:
If you don't want to get shot by the police, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, then don't point a toy gun at them. Or, as I believe our motto should be after 9/11: Jihad monkey talks tough; jihad monkey takes the consequences. Sorry, I realize that's offensive. How about "camel jockey"? What? Now what'd I say? Boy, you tent merchants sure are touchy. Grow up, would you?
Sen. Knotts' "raghead" remarks have the special feature that they were directed partly against Nikki Haley, a right-wing Republican candidate who was endorsed by Sarah Palin. This has put many people who defended Ann Coulter in an uncomfortable position. For example, the white supremacist Robert Stacy McCain wrote:
Certainly, I’m the last person on the planet to be screaming “raaaaacist” at other people, but it’s shocking enough that a Republican would use such language to describe President Obama. For a Republican to use it against a fellow Republican — Nikki Haley is a Christian of Sikh ancestry — is so wrong as to defy comprehension.
Some other commenters on the right were less restrained.