On Thursday, MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell delivered a lengthy monologue about White House Chief of Staff John Kelly using the term “empty barrel” in reference to Congresswoman Frederica Wilson (D-FL).
During O’Donnell’s nearly 20-minute-long speech, he desperately tried to link Kelly’s “empty barrel” remark to racism. Here are some of the more outlandish portions:
General Kelly did some of what he was supposed to do today. He did demonstrate empathy, but not for anyone who is not like him. … He showed no empathy at all for her [Rep. Wilson]. He talked about her a lot; and he talked about her more than he talked about the president or his son’s — and he never mentioned her name. He called her an “empty barrel.” He dehumanized her. In fact, from start to finish, John Kelly’s comments in the briefing room today we’re essentially a lecture about his moral superiority over her. …
John Kelly had absolutely no empathy for Frederica Wilson today — but they have more in common than John Kelly realizes. They were both born in segregated cities; they both went to segregated schools. Frederica Wilson was born in Miami in 1942. When she was going to school in Florida, the schools were segregated by law; when John Kelly was going to school in Oak Square in Brighton, in the Boston Irish neighborhood that he grew up in, the schools were segregated by custom and practice — and Boston’s segregation in the 1950s when John Kelly was in school was as flawless as the legal segregation in Florida and the rest of the South. John Kelly never sat beside a student like Frederica Wilson in his elementary school. The language about black people in John Kelly’s white neighborhood was exactly the same language about black people that was used at that time in white communities in the segregated South. …
I know the neighborhood John Kelly comes from, and I know the culture. It was a neighborhood in which calling someone who looked like Frederica Wilson an “empty barrel” was the kindest thing that would have been said about her. Desegregation came very painfully to the Boston schools long after John Kelly finished high school. …
… the stones that were thrown at their busses, and the eggs that were thrown at Ted Kennedy’s car because he supported desegregation, all came from that culture that John Kelly and I grew up in, and no one was yelling “empty barrel” at those busses. White elementary school students and high school students and their parents were screaming the worst possible racial epithets at those busses filled with black children. John Kelly knows that. …
I was stunned, stunned when I watched him dehumanize her and very deliberately continue to dehumanize her and refuse to give her the dignity of a name, and call her an “empty barrel.” He went out of his way to do it.
I was stunned that John Kelly would so callously echo the worst part of the culture that he and I grew up in.
After playing a clip in which Kelly talked about things that used to be “sacred,” but are no longer so, such as women and the sanctity of life, O’Donnell went right back to his Boston history lesson:
You know what wasn’t sacred when he was a kid growing up where he was growing up? Black women, or black people. And oh, by the way, women were not sacred either. They were not honored.
O’Donnell’s monologue went on and on (the pertinent portion begins at the 2:54 mark, and goes until you fall asleep or have a rage-induced blackout):
During a Friday morning interview with CNN, Rep. Wilson echoed O’Donnell’s thoughts, saying: “I think that’s a racist term too. I’m thinking about that when we looked it up in the dictionary because I had never heard of an empty barrel and I don’t like to be dragged into something like that.”
Here’s the thing — there is absolutely zero evidence that the term “empty barrel” is in any way racist. Newsweek explains the origins of the phrase:
Many credit Plato for bringing “empty barrel” into the vernacular: “An empty vessel makes the loudest sound, so they that have the least wit are the greatest babblers.” Some believe the proverb truly has Jamaican origins, while others credit it as Spanish. A book of world proverbs gives 21 variations of the expression.
Shakespeare channeled Plato in Henry V, writing, “I never heard so loud a voice issue from such an empty heart. It’s true what they say, the empty vessel makes the greatest sound.”
Even Chris Matthews was dubious of the claim made by O’Donnell and Wilson, saying: “That’s not a racist statement. I grew up with that in grade school from the nuns.”
If “empty barrel” is not a racist statement — which it’s not — and there’s no circumstantial evidence to suggest that Kelly’s comments regarding Rep. Wilson were in any way related to race, why did O’Donnell dedicate almost half of his show to such a claim? The answer is simple. It feeds a necessary narrative.
According to this progressive narrative, anyone connected President Trump is a racist, and as such, any criticism they may have toward any person of color is illegitimate. This particular narrative is part of a much larger fiction peddled by the progressive movement in which all Republicans and conservatives are racists (consciously or subconsciously), and because of that, Democratic politicians are the only people who can be trusted to protect the interests of minority voters.
It doesn’t matter that people like Lawrence O’Donnell have to forcefully and unnaturally pull together disparate threads in order to keep the story running, what matters is that the story continues to run, period, and that it works in favor of the Democratic Party.