Some Republicans seem to want to re-fight the Civil War -- and the civil rights movement, too
If it wasn’t already clear that Republicans have become a regional – read Southern – party, this week proved it. What perfect symmetry: Virginia’s GOP Gov. Bob McDonnell declared April Confederate History Month just as his party’s leadership gathered in New Orleans for the Southern Republican Leadership Conference to celebrate its southern leaders and deride President Obama. Sometimes I worry I’m stressing the role of race too much in Republican opposition to Obama, but it’s hard to avoid the issue: Too many in their party keep trying to re-fight the Civil War – and the civil rights movement, too.
Maybe something other than racism drives the Republicans and tea partiers who wail about wanting “their” country back. I don’t know. But it’s hard not to think about race when McDonnell, upon getting his state “back” from two consecutive Democratic governors, makes a big early move to declare the Confederate holiday those Democrats refused to. Oh, and not mentioning slavery? His bad! He left slavery out of his declaration, McDonnell explained, because he only mentioned aspects of the Confederacy that were most “significant” to Virginia. Slavery wasn’t significant? What better confirmation that the GOP governor is the leader of white Virginia?
Meanwhile, McDonnell’s party gathered in New Orleans to mock and demonize Obama and the Democrats, and to either pretend Hurricane Katrina didn’t happen, or ignore the Bush administration’s historic role in adding man-made neglect and incompetence to a natural catastrophe. Mike Madden drew the short straw again and worked the weekend – actually, this time he didn’t get shrieked at by Andrew Breitbart, plus he was in New Orleans, so it was way better than CPAC – and he ably documented the anti-Obamafest.
Louisiana Sen. David Vitter declared he’d “rather vote for a TV personality than a community organizer” – a big cheer for Sarah Palin! – while Palin rehashed her dumb TelePrompter and “hopey-changey” jokes. A Palin fan explained part of her appeal to Madden: “This is a Christian country, it’s not a Muslim country,” she said. And Georgia’s favorite Catholic philanderer, Newt Gingrich, mocked Obama in a particularly classy way, insisting “What we need is a president, not an athlete,” adding “Shooting three point shots may be clever, but it doesn’t put anybody to work.” I’m sure race had nothing to do with Gingrich reducing our first black president to one of the most common stereotypes of black men – not only a basketball player, but a show-boating, three-point-shot taking baller who won’t even practice his free throws.
Given the shrill, over the top nastiness of the GOP’s party weekend, it bothered me Sunday morning to see CNN’s Candy Crowley doing a gauzy, soft-focus profile of the SRLC meeting, complete with an admiring sit-down with Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour. Crowley asked Barbour if he saw anything wrong with McDonnell declaring Confederate History Month. And – wait for it, Crowley landed an incredible scoop – the Mississippi governor said…no! Crowley also asked Barbour about the anger loose in America today, but she won today’s False Equivalence award by equating the anger on the left and the right. Note to Crowley and all of her Erick Erickson-hiring CNN masters: Nasty slogans about Bush don’t equal death threats to Sen. Patty Murray, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and now-retiring anti-abortion Democrat Bart Stupak. And irate liberal Democrats threatening to primary Blue Dog Dems aren’t the moral or political equivalent of right-wingers spitting on black congressmen and calling them “nigger,” or calling Barney Frank a “fag.”
Of course, Haley Barbour decried the anger on both sides – but of course, he also linked it to “Americans” being “frightened” of their government. First of all, “Americans” elected Barack Obama president. But more important, this is becoming a regular GOP thing: Claiming that Republicans wouldn’t misbehave except for, golly, they’re so darn scared of the Obama administration. (Rep. Mike Pence did it the weekend of the healthcare reform vote, when the spitting and slurring of Democrats by tea partiers reached fever-pitch). I don’t know what’s scarier about Obama than, say, Bill Clinton, do you?
I’ve said it before: It’s a shame how our cautious, centrist Ivy League president, who was raised by his white family, who never fails to seek conciliation rather than confrontation, somehow turned out to be a scary black man. I didn’t see that one coming.
Joan Walsh is Salon's editor at large and the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America." More Joan Walsh.
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