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“The Same Weary Tune”: Steve Scalise And The Right’s Ridiculous Racial Blame Game

In much the way one used to savor the sight of some lying schmuck be game-set-match cornered by Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes, I love watching conservatives try to explain away race scandals. Like the be-Wallaced lying schmuck, they know deep down they’ve had it. But quite unlike the schmuck, and this is the fun part, they never run up the white flag; indeed quite the opposite. They go on the attack, and it’s just a comical and pathetic thing to see.

Before we get to all that, permit me a brief reflection on this matter of Steve Scalise. Let’s allow him the error in judgment, or whatever tripe it is he’s peddling, of speaking to a David Duke-related white supremacist group in 2002. It’s hard to believe, but let’s go ahead and be generous about it.

I think we should find it a little harder, though, to be generous about his vote as a state legislator in 2004 against a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in the state of Louisiana. His was one of six votes against the day, which received 90 votes in the affirmative. And in case you think he may have rushed to the floor from the bathroom and accidentally hit the wrong button, he had cast the same ‘no’ vote in 1999. No error in judgment explains that. He was part of an extreme, racialized white faction in the Louisiana state house that was clearly dead-set against honoring King. (In which goal he is hardly outside the Southern mainstream; some states in Dixie still sometimes celebrate King on the same day they honor Robert E. Lee.)

So it’s hardly shocking that Scalise spoke to the group. Indeed it would have been more shocking if he hadn’t. This is a state, after all, where Duke, in his statewide race for governor in 1991, received a majority of the white vote. In fact, a large majority, of 55 percent, meaning that even though Edwin Edwards walloped Duke by 23 points, a near-landslide percentage of white Louisianans voted to make an avowed white supremacist their governor. Yeah, it was a long time ago. But how different would things have been 11 years later, when Scalise attended the Duke event? By attending, he wasn’t doing anything that would have been seen as controversial by most of his white constituents; indeed most of them would have endorsed it.

Some of the defenses of Scalise have been amusing and have followed the expected pattern, like redstate.org finding a black Democratic Bayou pol to avow that Scalise didn’t have—you guessed it—“a racist bone in his body.” But the fun starts when conservatives stop playing defense and go on offense. Here are the three main tropes, which apply not only in this situation but every time we’re met with one of these revelations.

1. But Al Sharpton is the real racist!

Nobody has to lecture me about how Sharpton has played racial politics in New York. I wrote some harsh columns about him back in the day, having to do with the way he played ball in New York City mayoral politics, especially in the 2001 election. But to call him or any black man “the real racist” is to evince complete, and I’d say willed, stupidity about what racism is. Racism isn’t just a person’s feelings and attitudes (and I don’t think Sharpton is “a racist” even by that definition); it is, more importantly, a set of power relationships, legal and economic, that kept and to some extent still keeps one group of people (and they aren’t white) from enjoying the full promise of American life. That’s what racism is, and Al Sharpton just ain’t its practitioner.

2. But hey, we elected Tim Scott.

Right. You did (he’s the African-American conservative Senator from South Carolina). And J.C. Watts back in the 1990s. And there was Allen West. And now’s there’s Mia Love of Utah and Will Hurd of Texas. Bravo. That’s five. Congratulations! Meanwhile, white liberals have helped elect dozens of blacks to high office—mayors, members of Congress, a few senators and governors, and now a president.

This is supposed to “prove” that conservatives aren’t racist, and I would readily agree that on an individual level, most probably are not, and they’re willing to vote for a black candidate provided he or she has the proper right-wing views. Fine. Elect 20 more and then you’ll start to have a case. But they won’t elect 20 more, for many years anyway, because 1) the conservative agenda appeals only to about five percent of African Americans, and rightly so, since it stands in opposition to virtually every policy change that has improved black life in this country over the past 50 years, and 2) the Republican Party puts very little effort into recruiting black candidates and adherents, something the Democratic Party has been doing—at no small electoral cost to itself, by the way, but because it was the right thing to do—for 40 or 50 years.

3. B-b-but Robert Byrd!

Ah, my favorite of them all. Amazing how people can still haul this one out with a straight face. Yes, Byrd—dead four-and-a-half years now—was a Kleagle in the Ku Klux Klan. And his last known affiliation with the Klan was almost 70 years ago, in 1946. And yes, he voted against the Civil Rights Act in 1964. But as everyone knows, he went on to say—not once but many times—that that was the greatest error of his career by far. As long ago as the early 1970s, he had gone on to support most civil rights-related legislation. He endorsed Barack Obama in 2008 in May, when Hillary Clinton was still technically in the race and just after Clinton had walloped Obama in the West Virginia primary. Byrd could very easily have gotten away with endorsing Clinton, justifying it as the overwhelmingly clear will of the people he represented. But what he did was reasonably brave and freighted with all the symbolism of which he was well aware.

And saliently for present purposes, and in contrast to Scalise, here’s what Byrd had to say about a national King holiday back in 1983, when Ronald Reagan was still opposing it: “I’m the only one who must vote for this bill.” The only one. There’s no missing what he meant by that. And the italics were his, not mine.

I suspect that somewhere down there in the Freudian precincts of their minds, the Byrd-invokers from Limbaugh on down know this, and it’s what they hate about Byrd most of all: The very sincerity of his repentance makes him a capitulator to the liberal elite and a traitor to his race. But they can’t say that in polite company, so they keep whipping a horse that’s been dead for at least 40 years.

And they’ll probably whip it for another 40, unless demographics overwhelm them sometime between now and then, but they’ll resist that as long as they can too. There’ll be more Steve Scalises, and every time, the right-wing orchestra will strike up the same weary tune.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, January 2, 2014

January 3, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, Racism, Steve Scalise | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Southern GOP Politics”: Steve Scalise’s David Duke Scandal Says More About Republicans Than The Party Will Ever Admit

If you happen upon an end-of-the-year list of 2014’s biggest political bombshells, chances are Eric Cantor’s primary-election defeat to a right wing-backed neophyte named David Brat will make the cut. Because it took basically all of Washington by surprise, it has embedded itself in the psyche of the political establishment over the last six months as a seminal event. And for the last six months, I’ve been an evangelist for the theory that, while surprising, Cantor’s defeat ultimately proved to be pretty inconsequential.

In the end I was wrong, but not for the reasons everyone still reflecting on that story predicted back in June. Republican policy hasn’t moved substantially to the right since then. The hardline flank of the Republican Party is no more influential now than it was before. If anything, GOP leaders have become more willing and better equipped to tamp down rebellions than they were earlier this year.

But by beating Cantor, Brat shook up the leadership hierarchy in the House, and spooked the remaining leaders into welcoming one of those hardliners into their ranks as a token. That token was Steve Scalise, the Louisiana conservative who copped this week to addressing a David Duke–founded neo-Nazi group in 2002, after a local blogger found evidence of his participation, which had gone unnoticed for a decade, lying in plain sight on a prominent white supremacist website.

Scalise may survive this revelation. But another shakeup could be in the offing, and there lies the potential for real conflict among House Republicans. As an emissary to conservatives, Scalise represented a compromise between figures with closer ties to the leadership and more rebellious backbench members. If he has to be removed for this reason, leadership will feel burned and so will the right.

But the more important issue is what happened back in 2002, and what it says about Republican politics, especially in the South.

If more details emerge, and it turns out Scalise was closer to white hate groups than he’s let onif he knew his audience and was speaking their languagehe’s finished. But on the whole, and in a strange way, that might be a better outcome for the party than if Scalise muddles through, claiming ignorance.

Let’s assume that Scalise is telling the truththat poor staffing explains his participation, and that he rushed in and out of the event too quickly to realize what was up, or that he was led into the hotel conference center blindfolded, ears plugged, and fled the scene the moment his remarks concluded.

There’s a problem with southern Republican politics if an up-and-coming star stumbles heedless into a white supremacist convention in the course of his constituent outreach, and then doesn’t notice the mistake for more than a decade.

Conservatives have compared the Scalise revelation unfavorably to Chris McDaniel’s neo-confederate sympathies, which establishment Republicans happily deployed against him when he was poised to topple an incumbent senator in Mississippi; and to the Klan-curious comments that got Trent Lott, another Mississippian, ousted from Senate leadership in 2001.

But whether Scalise’s transgressions are worse than McDaniel’s and Lott’s is a subjective and unnecessary question. The appropriate question, whether Scalise stays or goes, is, Why does this kind of thing happen at all? Conservatives are much less interested in that kind of introspection than in making tu quoque allusions to Robert Byrd and New Black Panthers. But that’s because they’re confusing a structural argument for an ad hominem attack, and responding in kind.

White identity has always driven politics in the South, but where it once propelled Democrats to power, it now, with less outward vitriol, helps elect Republicans. The Byrd reference is unintentionally appropriate for this reason. In the last years of his life, Byrd became the exception that proved the rule. Whites fled the Democratic Party hastily, and it is now virtually impossible for white Democratic candidates to win statewide elections in the deep South (or even in Byrd’s West Virginia). But whites didn’t abandon Democrats because white identity politics changed; they abandoned Democrats because Democrats stopped reflecting the interests of those politics. And white voters aligned with Republicans because Republicans took up their mantle.

Today, that is mostly reflected in conservative rhetoric and Republican social policy, less in visible allegiance between politicians and white supremacists. Things aren’t as bleak as they once were. Under fire, and with 12 years of separation, Scalise and his staff are unafraid to denounce Duke and his hate group. Back in 1999, when Duke was considering a run for Congress, Scalise wasn’t able to be so blunt. “The voters in this district are smart enough to realize that they need to get behind someone who not only believes in the issues they care about, but also can get elected. Duke has proven that he can’t get elected, and that’s the first and most important thing.”

There’s a generous and an ungenerous way to read that statement. But the generous read isn’t particularly exculpatory. Presumably Scalise wasn’t offering voters a delicate assurance that he or another Republican would submerge their white supremacism more skillfully than Duke. But if in 1999 you said “the first and most important thing” about Duke wasn’t his despicable racism, but merely that he couldn’t get elected, it says something important about the voters you were trying not to offend. Many of those voters are still alive today.

 

By: Brian Beutler, The New Republic, December 30, 2014

December 31, 2014 Posted by | Deep South, GOP, Steve Scalise | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“GOP Selective Memory Loss”: A Fleeting Illusory Democratic Congressional Supermajority

It’s in Republicans’ interest right now to characterize the Democrats’ congressional majority in 2009 and 2010 as enormous. As the argument goes, President Obama could get literally anything he wanted from Congress in his first two years, so Democrats don’t have any excuses.

The stimulus wasn’t big enough? Blame Dems; they had supermajorities in both chambers for two years. There’s no comprehensive immigration reform? Blame Dems; they had supermajorities in both chambers for two years. There was only one big jobs bill? Blame Dems; they had supermajorities in both chambers for two years. And so on.

The right continued to push the line over the weekend.

Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace falsely claimed Democrats had a 60-vote Senate majority for the first 2 years of his presidency.

“For the first 2 years he had a filibuster proof majority in the Senate,” Wallace told LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, making the case that Obama has only himself to blame for his poor economic record.

I realize memories can be short in the political world, and 2010 seems like a long time ago, but it’s unnerving when professionals who presumably keep up with current events are this wrong. Even if various pundits lost track of the specific details, I’d at least expect Fox News hosts to remember Sen. Scott Brown’s (R) special-election win in Massachusetts.

Since memories are short, let’s take a brief stroll down memory lane, giving Wallace a hand with the recent history he’s forgotten.

In January 2009, there were 56 Senate Democrats and two independents who caucused with Democrats. This combined total of 58 included Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), whose health was failing and was unable to serve. As a practical matter, in the early months of Obama’s presidency, the Senate Democratic caucus had 57 members on the floor for day-to-day legislating.

In April 2009, Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter switched parties. This meant there were 57 Democrats, and two independents who caucused with Democrats, for a caucus of 59. But with Kennedy ailing, there were still “only” 58 Democratic caucus members in the chamber.

In May 2009, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) was hospitalized, bringing the number of Senate Dems in the chamber down to 57.

In July 2009, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) was finally seated after a lengthy recount/legal fight. At that point, the Democratic caucus reached 60, but two of its members, Kennedy and Byrd, were unavailable for votes.

In August 2009, Kennedy died, and Democratic caucus again stood at 59.

In September 2009, Sen. Paul Kirk (D-Mass.) filled Kennedy’s vacancy, bringing the caucus back to 60, though Byrd’s health continued to deteriorate.

In January 2010, Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) replaced Kirk, bringing the Democratic caucus back to 59 again.

In June 2010, Byrd died, and the Democratic caucus fell to 58, where it stood until the midterms. [Update: Jonathan Bernstein reminds me that Byrd’s replacement was a Dem. He’s right, though this doesn’t change the larger point.]

Wallace believes the Dems’ “filibuster proof majority in the Senate” lasted 24 months. In reality, he’s off by 20 months, undermining the entire thesis pushed so aggressively by Republicans.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 3, 2012

September 4, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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