Former victim D'Amato now perpetrator of racism

April 07, 1995|By ROGER SIMON

"I would never forgive or excuse the hateful rhetoric of any bigot who panders for popular support through ethnic stereotyping."

Know who wrote that in 1992?

Coretta Scott King? Pope John Paul II? Nelson Mandela?

No, it was Alphonse D'Amato!

That's right, the same Alphonse D'Amato who went on radio this week to deliver a hateful and bigoted example of ethnic stereotyping.

On a radio show, D'Amato, the Republican senator from New York, delivered a cruel and stupid imitation of the way he thinks Japanese-Americans speak.

He did this because he thinks the O. J. Simpson trial might continue so long that it will overshadow the hearings he plans to conduct on the Whitewater affair.

D'Amato blames Judge Lance Ito for this. So on the radio D'Amato said in a mock Japanese accent: "Judge Ito loves the limelight. He is making a disgrace of the judicial system, little Judge Ito. . . . Judge Ito with the wet nose."

I have heard both Judge Ito and Senator D'Amato speak in person. And if either of them has a "funny" accent, it is surely D'Amato's nasal Brooklynese, and not Ito's flat California tones.

But to the bigot, everybody is strange but him.

The irony of this is that D'Amato would not be in the Senate today if he had not accused an opponent of a racial slur.

In 1992, D'Amato was 20 points behind in the polls to New York Attorney General Robert Abrams. But Abrams lost his temper one day and called D'Amato a "fascist."

D'Amato, with somewhat limited logic, branded Abrams as "anti-Italian" and "anti-Catholic."

Abrams apologized to D'Amato, but D'Amato refused to accept it.

"It is clear to all that this apology is not sincere, but rather is politically motivated," D'Amato said. D'Amato was re-elected with 49 percent of the vote to Abrams' 48 percent.

But how sincere is D'Amato's own non-apology apology delivered to Japanese-Americans this week?

"If I offended anyone, I'm sorry," D'Amato said. "I was making fun of the pomposity of the judge and the manner in which he's

dragging the trial out."

Which is a lie. A mocking Japanese accent has nothing to do with the alleged pomposity of Judge Ito.

It is racism, pure and simple.

Yesterday, D'Amato offered a second apology that he called "sincere," and in fairness, I will point out what D'Amato probably has forgotten: In 1988, when Congress apologized to and voted $1.3 billion for the 60,000 surviving Japanese-American internees from World War II, D'Amato voted with the majority.

But if he thinks a one-time cash gift is a substitute for everyday decency, he is wrong.

As it happens, Judge Ito's parents, American-born U.S. citizens, met in the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming. The federal War Relocation Authority sent 120,000 Japanese-Americans to camps after Pearl Harbor.

Judge Ito says his parents rarely discussed their years at Heart Mountain. "It was something they were very ashamed of," he said, "and they have tried ever since to be good Americans in every sense of the word."

They both became schoolteachers. And during the Korean War, Judge Ito's father served with U.S. military intelligence.

They say they have no bitterness. And when it came time to name their son, they named him Lance Allan for Lance Smith, the lawyer who helped safeguard their property while they were interned, and for Allan Hunter, a minister who came to Heart Mountain and passed food through the barbed wire.

"One of the reasons I try to do as good a job as I can," Judge Ito said, "[is that] I don't want to cause problems for my parents. There have been some of the pundits who have said things that have been critical of my performance in high profile cases, and naturally, that wounds my parents very deeply."

So I imagine his parents are deeply wounded today. D'Amato's imitation of their son has run on virtually every news show in America.

And his parents are once again reminded that no matter how good a citizen you are, no matter how well you do, to some in this country you will always be a Jap.

But I guess I know why D'Amato feels he can make fun of those whose relatives were immigrants.

D'Amato.

Now what Indian tribe is that from?

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