Steve Chapman

But they were not exactly singled out in the 2006 campaign. Even more popular GOP targets were two white Democrats, Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank. Rep. John Hostettler, R-Ind., for example, ran an ad warning that if Democrats won the House, "Pelosi will then put in motion her radical plan to advance the homosexual agenda, led by Barney Frank."

Republicans also trumpeted the danger of Senate committees being taken over by such villainous liberals as Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, Carl Levin and Patrick Leahy -- every one a Caucasian male. The biggest Republican devil, of course, is Hillary Clinton.

As for Reyes, it wasn't stereotypes about Hispanic brainpower that got him labeled a lightweight. It was a December interview with Congressional Quarterly which revealed he didn't know al Qaeda is a Sunni group and Hezbollah is a Shiite one. Most people don't know those things, but most people are not in charge of a committee that has a key role in the war against terrorism.

Is it fair to judge a politician on a single pop quiz on foreign affairs? Maybe not, but Democrats didn't mind when a radio host pulled that trick in 1999 on George W. Bush, who whiffed when asked to name the president of Pakistan and the prime minister of India.

As for the claim that black politicians are dogged by suspicions that they are dumb, it depends on which politicians you're talking about. Nobody seems to think Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., suffers from an IQ deficit. Or Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Or former Secretary of State Colin Powell. Or former Rep. Harold Ford, D-Tenn.

Where are the Latino leaders who are being pigeonholed as dummies? It certainly never happened to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson or former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros. About the only one with a reputation of lacking smarts is Alberto Gonzales, who got it the old-fashioned way -- he earned it.

But maybe I'm naive. For years, Democrats have been saying that President Bush is a dimwitted yahoo with an extremist agenda. It never occurred to me they're just prejudiced against Texans.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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