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Flipping the Byrd: Bush 2000 Hate Crimes Flashback

May 3, 2007

On Thursday, the White House confirmed that President Bush will veto Congressional hate crime legislation extending protected status to victims of attacks based on gender and sexual orientation. The announcement comes as no surprise. After all, it was his bizarre discussion of hate crimes that almost derailed the election of candidate George W. Bush in 2000.
During his second debate against Al Gore in October 2000, Bush was asked about his position on hate crimes laws in the wake of the brutal dragging death of African-American James Byrd in his home state of Texas. His disturbing response - accompanied by a sickening grin - produced gasps among the audience:

"The three men who murdered James Byrd, guess what's going to happen to them? They're going to be put to death. A jury found them guilty. It's going to be hard to punish them any worse after they get put to death.
In this case when you murder somebody it's hate, Jim. The crime is hate. And they got the ultimate punishment. I'm not exactly sure how you enhance the penalty any more than the death penalty."

The backlash against Bush's clear satisfaction over the looming executions moved the Republican's campaign into damage control mode. In the third debate, candidate Bush tried to counter the impression of apparent blood lust:

MEMBER OF AUDIENCE: In one of the last debates held, the subject of capital punishment came up, and in your response to the question, you seemed overly joyed and as a matter of fact proud that Texas led the nation in the execution of prisoners. Sir, did I misread your response and are you really, really proud of the fact that Texas is number one in executions?
BUSH: No, I'm not proud of that. The death penalty is a very serious business, Leo. It's an issue that good people obviously disagree on. I take my job seriously. And if you think I was proud of it, I think you misread me, I do.

The rest, as they say, is history. But in July 2005, then Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman offered a pathetic epilogue. During a particularly cynical speech to the NAACP delivered as part of the GOP's failed effort to reach out to African-American voters, Mehlman confused victim and villain in retelling the Byrd tale. As he recounted days later to CNN's John King:

"The NAACP unfortunately in the 2000 campaign likened the president to James Byrd, who was a racist killer in east Texas, who the president brought to justice."

Fast forward to 2007 and the hate crimes bill. Once again, George W. Bush is flipping Americans the bird.

2 comments on “Flipping the Byrd: Bush 2000 Hate Crimes Flashback”

  1. That smirk in 2000 was one of the sickest images in politics I can remember. Thanks for bringing all of this back. Too bad I won't be able to sleep tonight.

  2. Hmmm, let's see. Bush and his thugs have convinced many voters that the most important issues facing this country are gun control, gays and abortion. Where does that leave the importance of education, the national debt, health care, the threat of China and Iran, and our dependence on foreign oil, etc.? Drowning in the bottom of the "oil barrel"!


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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