Last week, Sen. Bob Bennett made a lighthearted suggestion that Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, D-Colo., do a rain dance to help fend off forest fires this summer.
Campbell took the remark in the spirit it was given, as a quip between colleagues.
Other American Indians have been less amused.
On first blush, the remark seemed perfectly harmless. Bennett has a good record when it comes to helping American Indians. And, yes, people today are too thin-skinned, too focused on what people say more than what they do. On top of that, the police of political correctness do have a tendency to profile people and rough up those they consider violators of unwritten codes.
That said, however, it also should be pointed out that in the wake of the Trent Lott debacle, public servants need to go the extra mile to show sensitivity to minority groups. And they need to do that, not by learning what is proper and improper to say but by getting to know America's various cultures well and learning what they hold dear. Most American Indians take their dances very much to heart. They are spiritual rituals. In the "shoe on the other foot" ploy, they have asked how Sen. Bennett would respond to an American Indian suggesting, tongue in cheek, that he perform his own religious observances to prevent forest fires.
When it comes to verbal barbs, "appropriate" and "inappropriate" often come down to whose ox is being gored.
For his part, Sen. Bennett seems to have gotten the message. He said he has seen rain dancing as part of the folklore of the American West and not as a sacred observance. He said he had no intention to offend. He has been upfront and honest in his response.
Now he knows. A lesson has been learned. The issue should be dropped.
The senator, of course, is known for his wit and clever way with words. His gift is one of the things that endears him to voters.
Still, as one disgruntled woman was once heard to mutter: Any man who has a sense of humor has a sense of humor that sometimes goes too far.
Bennett's wit got away from him for a moment last week.
He quickly and effectively reined it in again.
End of story.