SUN HERALD | Editorial: Bennie Thompson would rather burn a bridge than build one

Another day, another public figure puts his foot in his mouth. If only that were the case with Bennie Thompson.

But it’s not.

Thompson is not just a public official, he is an important part of the public image of Mississippi.

He is only the second African-American to represent Mississippi in Congress since the 19th century. And he is the dean of our congressional delegation. With 21 years in office, he has seven more years of experience in the House of Representatives than the other three Mississippi congressmen combined.

Those credentials alone ought to make him a powerful influence far beyond the boundaries of the 2nd Congressional District.Had Thompson’s predecessor, Mike Espy, stayed in Congress (rather than joining the Clinton administration as the nation’s first black Secretary of Agriculture), there is every reason to believe he would have helped write a new chapter in the state’s history of race relations.

But Thompson has shown over the years that he would rather burn a bridge than build one.

He did it again over the weekend on an obscure talk-radio program.

He accused Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky of making a “racist statement” and said conservative opposition to Obamacare is rooted in racism.

He labeled Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas an Uncle Tom.

And he alleged Gov. Phil Bryant turned down $426 million in Medicaid funding as part of Obamacare “just because a black man created it.”

When the remarks became widely known, Thompson again exercised poor judgment and defended them.Both Thomas and McConnell declined to comment.

Bryant issued a statement saying: “Those types of inflammatory statements don’t deserve a response.”

But they do deserve a response.

Thompson prides himself on being “the vocal champion of his constituents,” as one official profile put it.

But exactly what is he championing with remarks that widen rather than narrow the racial divide in this country?