By Lee A. Daniels
The Republican Party’s inability to prevent some of its elected officials and party operatives alike from making racist and sexist remarks and tamp down others’ penchant for cringe-worthy gaffes along those lines necessitates a slight revising of that old saying: It’s always like déjà vu all over again.
Last week, it was – actually for just a moment – the Republican National Committee’s sole turn in the spotlight.
On December 1, it sought via a tweet to mark the anniversary of the 1955 arrest of Rosa Parks, the legendary incident that provoked the famous Montgomery (Ala.) Bus Boycott and the start of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s: “Today we remember Rosa Parks’ bold stand and her role in ending racism,” it said.
The blogosphere and Twitterverse immediately exploded with derisive reminders that racism and racial segregation continued long after the victory of the bus boycott movement in overturning segregation on the Montgomery buses.
Not until the next day did the RNC issue a corrective tweet – implicitly acknowledging it’s worthwhile getting the facts and consequences of history exactly right: “Previous tweet, should have read ‘Today we remember Rosa Parks’ bold stand and her role in fighting to end racism.’”
Unfortunately, GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter, of California, soon added to the GOP’s reputation for offensiveness when, in a December 2 interview on CSPAN, he declared that lying “is part of Middle Eastern culture.” Hunter added for good measure that “In the Middle Eastern culture it is looked upon with very high regard to get the best deal possible, no matter what it takes, and that includes lying.”
Later, Hunter’s spokesman made a weak stab at damage control, claiming he was only referring to the leaders of Middle Eastern countries, not their entire populations.
Has there been a week in the last five years – since Barack Obama took the oath of office as the 44th president of the United States – in which some Republican politico in a low or high position has not been exposed as the author of a racist, sexist and/or homophobic e-mail, video, tweet, or remark?
There must be some kind of mechanism virtually implanted in the minds of Republicans these days that goes ringgggggg—your turn! compelling someone somewhere in its elective-office or operational structure to make particularly outlandish remarks or claims that underscore the breadth of the backward attitudes that rule the Party.
If it’s not a Todd Akin, the failed Missouri 2012 Senate candidate, revealing his crackpot “legitimate rape” notions of female physiology, it’s Michelle Bachmann and Rick Santorum rushing during the GOP presidential primary skirmishing to pledge allegiance to the “marriage vow” declaration of the right-wing FAMILY Leader organization. In doing so, they overlooked its despicable assertion that Black children born into slavery before the Civil War, and their parents, were better off than those Black children born outside of marriage today.
If it’s not Kentucky Senator Rand Paul earlier this year wrongly lecturing students at predominantly Black Howard University on some elementary facts of Black American history, it’s Iowa Rep. Steve King weirdly asserting last July that many undocumented immigrants who had come to the U.S. as children had actually been ferrying drugs – producing in them “calves the size of cantaloupes because they’ve been hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”
There are many, many more examples one could cite, ranging from the picayune to the deeply disgusting. And they themselves are just a portion of the voluminous evidence that bigotry itself has become a more and more powerful congenital virus within the GOP. These “gaffes” and “mistakes” GOP officials keep making aren’t gaffes or mistakes. They are at this stage of its existence markers of what the GOP is: the party where bigotry thrives.
Indeed, earlier this year the Republican National Committee itself was victimized by that sickness. It had moved quickly after the November 2012 “shellacking” the Obama campaign machine had given the Republican Romney-Ryan ticket to develop a “Growth and Opportunity” agenda that it said would enable the Party to win back the White House in 2016. Making concerted efforts to appeal to voters of color and other key groups of the winning Democratic coalition was high on the report’s list of recommendations.
The response of the Republican Party leadership? They in effect looked the other way as conservative think-tankers and the GOP-allied punditocracy savaged the document – and immediately began suggesting the GOP could win the White House in 2016 just by doubling down on its appeal to White voters only.
No doubt the large majority of copies of the RNC report are resting comfortably at the bottom of the Potomac River.
And by the time this column will be read, there’ll be one, or two, or three or more similar Republican Party “mistakes” and “gaffes” to add to the list.
Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His latest book is Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America.