Chris Matthews, Sal Russo and Joan Walsh

The skewering of Sal Russo

Live by the Tea Party, die by the Tea Party. The GOP flack falls apart defending Michele Bachmann's slavery history

Joan Walsh
January 26, 2011 4:26AM (UTC)

Poor Sal Russo.  The Tea Party Express leader had a rough day. Booked on MSNBC's "Hardball" to discuss Michele Bachmann's upcoming State of the Union rebuttal, instead he found himself confronted by Bachmann's idiotic whitewash of American history in a speech in Iowa over the weekend.

Bachmann's history was fractured from start to finish. She repeated her rant about "21 generations of Americans"; as many have pointed out, with our 235-year history, that makes a generation only about 11 years. But it got worse: Bachmann said the story of America was the effortless melding "of different cultures, different backgrounds, different traditions." She went on:


How unique in all of the world, that one nation that was the resting point from people groups all across the world. It didn't matter the color of their skin, it didn't matter their language, it didn't matter their economic status.  Once you got here, we were all the same. Isn't that remarkable?

Now, she didn't leave out the history of slavery; she just prettied it up: Slavery was a "scourge," she admitted, but "we also know that the very founders that wrote those documents worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States."

No, actually, they didn't. We know many of the founders, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, owned slaves; the founders only worked tirelessly to make sure slave states and non-slave states could get along in a union. For the next 80 years, time and again even anti-slavery American leaders had opportunities to choose between abolishing slavery and keeping the slave-holding states part of the Union -- and they chose the Union. It took the bloody Civil War to end slavery, three to four generations after the founders had left the national scene (six to eight by Bachmann's count), and we're still living with its legacy.

But Bachmann was just as wrong with her happy talk that economic or immigration status never mattered, that "we were all the same." Even white men weren't all the same in early U.S. history: Many colonies and states only allowed property-owners to vote; universal white male suffrage wasn't achieved until 1830. Those happy immigrants? Nativists were attacking Catholics, especially Irish Catholics, throughout much of the 19th century, burning down churches, convents and homes. The Chinese exclusion act lasted from 1882 to 1943. We know the history of Japanese internment. Certainly Indians and native Mexicans who were here first weren't "all the same." The story of America is the struggle to expand more rights to more people, and it's required fighting the forces of reaction like Bachmann since its founding. I love my country, but that's our history.


Confronted with Bachmann's cracked history lesson by an irate Chris Matthews, the practiced Russo stumbled; "I think Michele Bachmann has been one of the best members of Congress," he started out, but Matthews cut him off to get him to respond to her slavery falsehood. Russo wouldn't even venture an answer as to when slavery was abolished -- is that a trick question? -- he just wanted to talk about the deficit, and he insisted that's all Bachmann was talking about too. Matthews wouldn't let him off the hook (the video is below).

It was hard to feel sorry for Russo, though: He's a mainstream Republican campaign consultant who's worked for everyone from Ronald Reagan to Christine Todd Whitman. He saw a future in the Tea Party, so he hitched his wagon to its "Express." His firm Russo Marsh and Associates paid itself millions for promoting the candidacies of Christine O'Donnell, Sharron Angle and Joe Miller -- three seats Republicans should have won but lost because Russo's candidates were crackpots. (Russo insists his firm does it for love, not money.) Now he's hyping Bachmann; it's the Tea Party Express that's sponsoring her speech opposite official GOP rebutter, Rising Star™ Paul Ryan. Maybe Russo is secretly working for the Democrats?

On "Hardball," I tried to meet Russo on his own terms and talk about the deficit. His former boss, Ronald Reagan, built up the largest peacetime budget deficit in history back in the day, and also signed the largest peacetime tax increase. Republican George W. Bush took over a $200 billion annual budget surplus left by Democrat Bill Clinton, and handed President Obama a $1.2 trillion annual deficit. Where was Russo's Tea Party movement when Republicans were looting the Treasury?


Watch it all here:

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Joan Walsh

Joan Walsh is the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."

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