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Apology needed for choice of words

The words should not have been spoken.

When U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith said that if cattle farmer Colin Hutchinson “invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row,” it was tone deaf and irresponsible. But the single comment alone does not make her a racist, as some have suggested.

In a statement after the words from the Nov. 2 event became public, Hyde-Smith said she used an “exaggerated expression of regard.” She was essentially saying that she liked Hutchinson so much, she would accept an invitation from him to go anywhere, even to something as horrible as a public hanging.

We get it. But the words she chose to make that point are not acceptable, particularly coming from a U.S. senator hailing from a state with a racist past.

Hyde-Smith’s statement went on to say that “any attempt to turn this into a negative connotation is ridiculous.” Those are also not the right words.  Her lack of apology is not wise.

The decision to not apologize was a coordinated move from her campaign and not necessarily her own. Making light of the matter is a mistake. As is suggesting those who were upset or offended are “ridiculous.”

Current political motivations aside, Hyde-Smith must recognize she represents all Mississippians. That includes those who didn’t think twice about the comment and did not view it as racist and those who were deeply disturbed by her words.

She should apologize and admit the words should not have been spoken. To do anything less only gives her political opponent ammunition heading into the Nov. 27 runoff. It also reinforces an unfortunate, yet sometimes accurate, depiction of her state. Admitting a mistake may not be politically wise, but it’s the right thing to do and voters will respond to her if she does so.

Gov. Phil Bryant did his best at a press conference Monday to calm the waters, but Hyde-Smith would only say that she stands by the statement she released Sunday, refusing to comment further. “I can tell you there was no ill-will in her heart,” Bryant said.

We believe that, but Mississippians need to hear those words spoken from Hyde-Smith.