A US Republican Party aide says that New Zealand bore much of the blame for a disgraceful feud which is flaring over the appointment of US ambassador-designate to New Zealand, Carol Moseley-Braun. John Howard reports.
"Not only is it a slap in the face to New Zealand, New Zealand has handed the president the glove," the aide said, noting that our government could have rejected the nomination but chose not to.
The present feud started when ultra-conservative and combative southern Republican Senator, Jesse Helms, whose opposition has previously sunk both treaties and nominations, took aim at his former colleague's bid to be ambassador to New Zealand.
An Illinois Democrat who was the nation's first black female senator, Moseley-Braun comes to the Senate for a confirmation order. But Helms, who is a Republican and is chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, asserts she is "under an ethical cloud."
Helms clashed with with Moseley-Braun during her one term in Congress, most memorably on the Senate floor over use of the Confederate Flag. She later accused Helms of taunting behaviour when he started singing "Dixie" as they travelled together in an elevator.
Democrats suggest Helms is now giving her and the Clinton administration a hard time to settle old scores.
But White House spokesman, John Lockart, has gone further suggesting a more sinister motive. "It takes longer for women and minorities to get though the US Senate process than it does for men," he said.
Lockart declined to call Helms racist, but Democratic leader Tom Daschle was more blunt. "The array of anti-minority sentiment expressed almost each week by Republicans is historic. It is very dangerous for the country," he said.
Helms has said his committee would scrutinise allegations raised in Moseley-Braun's 1998 re-election campaign, including never-proved ones that she used 1993 campaign funds for personal luxuries.
"I hope he won't do that," President Clinton told reporters.
Clinton called it yet another sign of "a new isolationism" that the US doesn't care whether there are ambassadors in some countries.
The president made similar isolationism accusations when the Senate turned down a recent nuclear test ban treaty that he had championed That Senate action drew condemnation from around the world.
Helms was a leading foe of the test ban treaty and contributed to its defeat by refusing to hold hearings for two years. He also torpedoed the 1997 nomination of former Massachusetts Governor, William Weld, to be ambassador to Mexico by refusing to hold hearings.
This time, Helms announced that he would hold hearings on Moseley-Braun to "examine serious charges of ethical misconduct in her past."
Surprisingly, Helms also cited "reports in the New Zealand press" suggesting that the government of New Zealand was concerned and "appealed to the Senate to examine her record." New Zealand officials emphatically denied this was the case.
The background to this old feud between Moseley-Braun and Helms started with her successful effort to reject legislation by Helms that would have granted the United Daughters of the Confederacy a renewed patent on an insignia featuring the Confederate State and Bars, the original Confederate Flag.
At the time, Moseley-Braun called it a cruel reminder that blacks were once "human chattels" in America.
She later recounted a meeting in a Senate elevator between herself, Helms and Orrin Hatch, Republican Utah. She said when she got on, Helms started to sing the song "Dixie" and turned to Hatch saying "I'm going to sing "Dixie" to her until she cries."
Helms and Hatch portrayed that episode as a good-natured exchange but commentators have since said that Helms and Hatch were very lucky not to find themselves under severe sanction.
Lately, Helms told an in-house Capitol Hill magazine "She's got so many problems, that I would not suggest you hold you breath waiting for her to be reported out."
Based on Helms past record and Moseley-Braun's obviously suitable qualifications, New Zealanders who despise injustice will likely put-down the red carpet to welcome Moseley-Braun to our shores as new US Ambassador. Last month she described New Zealand as a "magical place" and was thrilled at the prosepct of taking the job.