During her honeymoon speech at the Republican National Convention in 2008, Sarah Palin echoed a jab at Barack Obama that had been lurking around in Republican circles for most of that year. Earlier at the convention, Rudy Giuliani famously brought it up through his gigantically-toothy grin and childish giggling. But it was Sarah Palin who would get most of the credit for it.
I’m referring here to the emphasis on President Obama’s service as an urban community organizer. Clearly, this was a Southern Strategy-style racial dog whistle — a way of underscoring the president’s ethnicity, his race and his association with scary inner-city black people.
It’s worth mentioning again the Lee Atwater quote regarding the functional language of the Southern Strategy. Suffice to say, Atwater made it perfectly clear that Republican political tactics included (and still do) exploiting race — winning white votes by demonizing blacks. And the way to play this game in the modern age was to use code language. Dog whistles, because overt racial language would too easily “back fire.”
At the time, Atwater suggested the exploitation of issues like tax cuts or states rights with the implication that the Republican Party supported the preservation of white dominance. (Not surprisingly, tax cuts and states rights dominate the 2010 political discourse.) And the demagoguing of issues like welfare, affirmative action or Medicaid would underscore, to predisposed white voters, the fallacious notion of lazy black freeloaders horking white jobs and white tax dollars and not contributing anything to society other than crime.
And there was Sarah Palin in her prime time debut mocking the president’s early career as a community organizer — the implication being that the president was a product of black culture and not “real Americans.” Combine this with the ongoing emphasis on the president’s “spread the wealth around” remark to Joe the Plummer — the Republicans very obviously playing the “welfare queen” dog whistle here. And we all remember how Sarah Palin went “rogue” and fueled the Obama-is-a-secret-Muslim-terrorist myth (part of early Birther lore) by repeatedly telling her rabid white audiences that the president “palled around with terrorists.”
Sarah Palin is and was a Southern Strategist.
So it’s with considerable hilarity that I read her latest Facebook remarks in which she insisted there isn’t a racial component to the various tea party groups.
“I am saddened by the NAACP’s claim that patriotic Americans who stand up for the United States of America’s Constitutional rights are somehow ‘racists,’” Palin wrote in a Facebook note.
“Constitutional” shouldn’t be capitalized, but I nitpick Palin’s Facebook ghost writer.
Nevertheless, the NAACP was specifically referencing the obviously racist elements of the tea party, whether it’s the tea party’s use of Southern Strategy dog whistles to rally white support, or the very overt displays of racism, beginning with the screechy Curious George-wielding freaks outside the Palin rallies during the campaign, or the Birthers, whose whole thing is about race, or the (often misspelled) signs at tea party rallies with the president Photoshopped to look like a witch doctor.
The NAACP, with its resolution this week, wasn’t even going as far as I am here in suggesting the tea party is built upon Southern Strategy politics. The members were merely requesting that the tea party denounce the racially-motivated characters within its ranks. I don’t think that’s such a big deal. But Sarah Palin evidently believes that the people who shouted racial epithets at Congressman Lewis are “patriotic Americans” and “somehow” not racists, when, in fact, they clearly are. These are the people the NAACP asked to be denounced. Why would Sarah Palin have a problem with that?
She also wrote, “…it is foreign to us to consider condemning or condoning anyone’s actions based on race or gender.” And yet she appears to be both condemning the NAACP’s resolution, while condoning, by silence, the racially-motivated aspects of the tea party and, by proxy, the Republicans. Weird.
Maybe it’s because those people are her people. As I’ve mentioned here, those lines of angry white people outside of her rallies expressing inchoate rage at the Democratic — and possibly “Muslim” — candidate were more or less unique to her campaign events. They’re her base. These are the people with whom she’s communicating when she talks about “palling around terrorists” or “spreading the wealth around.” She’s communicating with Americans who are predisposed to believing that poor black people have an unfair economic advantage over whites. Somehow. I’d still like to know how that works.
Just today, CNN analyst and, perhaps, the king of all wingnuts, Erick Erickson wrote an extended blog entry about how the Republicans should exploit this bogus Fox News Channel meme about the New Black Panthers. Erickson wrote that the ads should be the new Willie Horton ads. Put another way, Erick Erickson wants to reboot Willie Horton for an all new generation.
Doesn’t Erickson know? Is he really this stupid? Or, more appropriately, does he believe his readers are this stupid? The Willie Horton ad was a high water mark for Southern Strategy — for racially exploitative GOP politics. Atwater himself apologized on his death bed for using racial tactics like Willie Horton to divide voters by race. And Erickson wants to give it another whirl while insisting there isn’t a racial component to the Republican Party.
Erickson wrapped by mixing some actual honesty with some lying and some denial:
The Democrats will scream racism. Let them. Republicans are not going to pick up significant black support anyway. But here’s the thing: everyone but the Democrats will understand this is not racism. This isn’t even about race. This is about the judgment of an administration that would rather prosecute Arizona for doing what the feds won’t do than prosecuting violent thugs who would deny you and me the right to vote while killing our kids.
Once again, the preemptive “Who…? Me?” denial from a Republican who intends to exploit race, and even admits to the advantages of doing so. “Republicans are not going to pick up significant black support anyway,” he wrote. Another red flag indicating the Southern Strategy in process. The GOP won’t get black support, the strategy goes, so they might as well paint blacks and Mexicans as criminals and baby-killers in order to shore up the frothing, angry, scared, xenophobic white vote.
Remarkably, and despite volumes of documented evidence, including a candid admission by the chairman of the RNC, we constantly hear Sarah Palin, and many other Republicans for that matter, claiming that the Southern Strategy doesn’t exist as a central component of the party. The far-right (and not-so-far-right) totally denies the existence of the Southern Strategy in the face of cold, hard historical fact while also embracing its tactics and language. You’ll see the denial throughout the comments below this post, I’m sure (along with accusations that I’m somehow a racist against white people even though I’m, you know, white). This is a faction of Americans whose entire strategic foundation, say nothing of its ideological foundation, is based upon deliberate ignorance of empirical reality, so it’s no wonder.
Palin and Erickson might not be racists, but it’s always a good idea to question with great scrutiny the character of anyone who profits from deliberate ignorance and, likewise, anyone who would freely exploits racial hatred for political gain. Unfortunately, these two units are doing pretty well for themselves by engaging in both.
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