Bob Vander Plaats, known to many as kingmaker of the Iowa caucuses, finds himself in a national brouhaha after trying to link the gay marriage debate to the stability of African-American families during slavery.
Vander Plaats and his anti-gay marriage group, the Family Leader, has been condemned by comedienne Whoopi Goldberg and others for raising the spectre of slavery in a pledge circulated among GOP presidential candidates.
Two Republicans signed the pledge — Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum. Both have since distanced themselves from the slavery statement. Bachmann says she did not read the pledge's preamble, which contained the reference to slavery.
That language has since been removed from the pledge, which also asked presidential candidates to remain faithful to their spouses and recognize that married people enjoy “better health, better sex and longer lives.”
The controversial passage stated that, “sadly,” a black child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by a mother and a father in a two-parent household than one born now, after the election of the nation's first African-American president.
Critics on both sides of the aisle argued that the pledge implied that black families were better off during slavery than under the Obama administration, an accusation the Sioux City Republican on Tuesday called “absurd.”
“It was never intended to say that slavery was better for families,” said Vander Plaats. “Everybody knows how disastrous slavery was to the African-American families.”
He said the point was that 70 percent of black children are born now to single-parent families, which is “not healthy.”
“There has been an assault on marriage, and families are in a crisis,” said Vander Plaats.
He said the group has since removed the passage because it was becoming a distraction, not because he believed the statement said anything wrong.
Vander Plaats is a power broker within the Christian-conservative wing of the Iowa GOP. The former gubernatorial candidate has been wooed, and praised, by many of this year's GOP presidential candidates.
However, he has had limited success at the ballot box, losing his GOP bid for governor last year to Terry Branstad.
Some Iowa Republicans said the pledge controversy is “bad publicity” for Iowa and its first-in-the-nation caucuses.
National pundits and others already say Vander Plaats and his group exert “powerful” influence in the caucuses. They also might believe that he speaks for most Iowa Republicans, when he does not, said Jeff Angelo, a former state senator and a member of Iowa Republicans for Freedom, a GOP group that supports gay marriage.
“It really makes my political party ... look out of touch with a broad base of voters,” said Angelo, who lives in Ames.
He also questioned how Vander Plaats or anyone could make the claim that children born into slavery had stable families. Slaves were treated like property, and their owners did not care about keeping families together when buying or selling slaves, said Angelo.
“It was such an outrageous statement to make,” said Angelo. “It is horribly insensitive.”
Goldberg, the actress and comedienne, agreed, speaking Monday on ABC-TV's “The View.”
Goldberg pointed her finger at the camera and said: “Could you people get your act together?” she said. “You don't know anything about how slaves raised their kids or why people were together. Just don't add stuff like that if you don't know what you're talking about.”
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