Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Republicans blind to racism

There was a racist dust up at CPAC on Friday during a K. Carl Smith session sponsored by the Tea Party Patriots on how to get African Americans to vote Republican. Smith's talk was filled with divisive and irrelevant lines like, "I'm not going to join the KKK. The Democratic Party founded the KKK." During the question period, Voice of Russia radio host Kim Brown apparently asked how many black women were at CPAC and the whole session went off the rails.

She was shouted down and told she wasn't wanted there. But then a young white supremacist spoke. He said that all this outreach to blacks was just going to alienate young white males. Smith responded with what I think is a non sequitur about how Frederick Douglass forgave his slavemaster. The young man replied, "For giving him shelter? And food?" At that point the session exploded.

Benjy Sarlin reported all of this for Talking Points Memo. After the whole thing was over, he talked to a number of people who had been at the event. And they were all angry. But not at the white supremacist. They were angry at the young black woman, Kim Brown. The session speaker Smith later released a statement saying Brown "rudely interrupted" him. But all he could say of the white supremacist was that he made a "racially insensitive" comment but that they "left as friends."

This illustrates what is wrong with the Republican base. Smith isn't trying to get the Republican Party to be more appealing to African Americans; he is just trying to brand the Democratic Party as racist. On the details, he's right: the Democratic Party has a long history of racism. But for my entire life, the Republican Party's main electoral power has come from its implicit and explicit appeals to white racial resentment. If it were 1850, I would almost surely be a Republican. Is that really all that the Republican Party has to offer?

Of much greater concern is the reaction of the attendees to the white supremacist. No one would say that he was wrong or that his statement was repugnant. Instead, they made excuses for the remarks. When asked if he was offended by the white supremacist, one of the few blacks at the event even said, "No they were just telling the truth." There is a strength in this kind of behavior: Republicans apparently stick by each other no matter what. That helps in their quest for power. But there is obviously a very dark side to this. And what's more: it seems that the reason the Republican Party claims not to be racist is that they don't even know it when they see extreme examples of it.

(Cross-posted at Frankly Curious.)

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