Here I thought I'd retired the O'Brien tag on this blog, but of course this can't be.
When it was first confirmed that it was the real Larry O'Brien who had used a racial slur in a tweet about the U.S. primaries, my reaction was more fascination than upset.
Back when people paid attention to him, he was known for saying really stupid things, and it was always fun to watch him fumble his way out of it. Fun, that's all there is. To suggest he is racist because he used one racial slur is like accusing someone of infanticide for making a dead baby joke.
As hilarious as it is to watch him weasel out of it ("I already talked to my Hispanic friends and apologized to them"). I can easily give him the benefit of the doubt. I was at a talk on a matter of fiscal policy and a twenty-something used the phrase "final solution" to describe the goal of addressing the issue. After the meeting, someone sent an e-mail around expressing concern that this person used this term without realizing that it was Hitler's name for the Holocaust.
Racial slurs are a bit different than a phrase like "Final Solution" which has a benign denotation, but the comparators are stronger in this analogy than the differences. In order to reasonably jump from "O'Brien is a misguided twit who doesn't pick his words well" to "O'Brien is a racist" one would have to conclude that what he said was racist, not necessarily how he said it. Don't get me wrong, "spic" is a racist term, but if using the term makes you racist in any context, then I'm a racist for telling you that Larry used it. So context does matter, but many of the people criticizing him know little more of the situation than the fact that it included a nasty word. [Edit: to eat my own words, I wasn't aware of his comment about muslims until after writing up this blog post, which certainly puts more weight to epithets referencing O'Brien] If you take that out of the equation, we already know he's a misguided twit who doesn't pick his words well, so what's the harm of another turd in his outhouse?
And that's why my take on this whole situation is somewhat blasé. He's not the Mayor anymore, and people only pay attention to him when he does something stupid, so really he's pretty harmless. And as I wrote about after his acquittal on charges of electoral shenanigans, I'd far prefer him to be remembered for having been horribly incompetent as mayor of the capital of Canada than for some stupid thing he said after the world stopped caring about him.
He even reinforced this (albeit inadvertently) in his video confession to the Ottawa Sun when he remarked at how smoothly City Hall was running now. Remember that he had never sat through a City Council meeting before running for Mayor—a key plank in his platform, not just an embarrassing truth—so he never learned that things were running alright before him also.
As I tweeted the other day, the real surprise to me is not that some people now think less of Larry O'Brien for using a racial slur, but that some people's opinion of him still had room to go down.