Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton apologized for joking that Mahatma Gandhi used to run a gas station in St. Louis, saying it was “a lame attempt at humor."
The New York Democrat made the remark at a fund-raiser Saturday. During an event here for Senate candidate Nancy Farmer, Clinton introduced a quote from Gandhi by saying, “He ran a gas station down in St. Louis.”
After laughter from many in the crowd of at least 200 subsided, the former first lady continued, “No, Mahatma Gandhi was a great leader of the 20th century.” In a nod to Farmer’s underdog status against Republican Sen. Kit Bond, Clinton quoted the Indian independence leader as saying: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
The director of a U.S. center devoted to Gandhi’s teachings said the remarks amounted to stereotyping and were insensitive.
After being approached by The Associated Press to clarify the remarks, Clinton suggested in a statement late Monday that she never meant to fuel the stereotype — often used as a comedic punch line — that certain ethnic groups run America’s gas stations.
“I have admired the work and life of Mahatma Gandhi and have spoken publicly about that many times,” Clinton said. “I truly regret if a lame attempt at humor suggested otherwise.”
Michelle Naef, administrator of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, a Memphis, Tenn.-based organization founded in 1991 by a Gandhi grandson, credited Clinton and her husband, former President Clinton, with long having “supported the Gandhi message.” But she said Saturday’s remarks “could be incredibly harmful.”
“I don’t think she was, in any way, trying to demean Mahatma Gandhi,” Naef said. “To be generous to her, I would say it was a poor attempt at humor. Perhaps I’m overly sensitive, but I find it offensive when people use stereotypes in that way.”