Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sunday Reading

Whistling “Dixie” — Frank Rich on the GOP’s Confederate history month.

It’s kind of like that legendary stunt on the prime-time soap “Dallas,” where we learned that nothing bad had really happened because the previous season’s episodes were all a dream. We now know that the wave of anger that crashed on the Capitol as the health care bill passed last month — the death threats and epithets hurled at members of Congress — was also a mirage.

Take it from the louder voices on the right. Because no tape has surfaced of anyone yelling racial slurs at the civil rights icon and Georgia Congressman John Lewis, it’s now a blogosphere “fact” that Lewis is a liar and the “lamestream media” concocted the entire incident. The same camp maintains as well that the spit landing on the Missouri Congressman Emanuel Cleaver was inadvertent spillover saliva from an over-frothing screamer — spittle, not spit, as it were. True, there is video evidence of the homophobic venom directed at Barney Frank — but, hey, Frank is white, so no racism there!

“It’s Not About Race” declared a headline on a typical column defending over-the-top “Obamacare” opponents from critics like me, who had the nerve to suggest a possible racial motive in the rage aimed at the likes of Lewis and Cleaver — neither of whom were major players in the Democrats’ health care campaign. It’s also mistaken, it seems, for anyone to posit that race might be animating anti-Obama hotheads like those who packed assault weapons at presidential town hall meetings on health care last summer. And surely it is outrageous for anyone to argue that conservative leaders are enabling such extremism by remaining silent or egging it on with cries of “Reload!” to pander to the Tea Party-Glenn Beck base. As Beck has said, it’s Obama who is the real racist.

Continued below the fold.

Most Americans who don’t like Obama or the health care bill are not racists. It may be a closer call among Tea Partiers, of whom only 1 percent are black, according to last week’s much dissected Times/CBS News poll. That same survey found that 52 percent of Tea Party followers feel “too much” has been made of the problems facing black people — nearly twice the national average. And that’s just those who admit to it. Whatever their number, those who are threatened and enraged by the new Obama order are volatile. Conservative politicians are taking a walk on the wild side by coddling and encouraging them, whatever the short-term political gain.

The temperature is higher now than it was a month ago. It’s not happenstance that officials from the Sons of Confederate Veterans in Virginia and Mississippi have argued, as one said this month, that the Confederate Army had been “fighting for the same things that people in the Tea Party are fighting for.” Obama opposition increasingly comes wrapped in the racial code that McDonnell revived in endorsing Confederate History Month. The state attorneys general who are invoking states’ rights in their lawsuits to nullify the federal health care law are transparently pushing the same old hot buttons.

“They tried it here in Arkansas in ’57, and it didn’t work,” said the Democratic governor of that state, Mike Beebe, likening the states’ health care suits to the failed effort of his predecessor Orval Faubus to block nine black students from attending the all-white Little Rock Central High School. That battle for states’ rights ended when President Eisenhower, a Republican who would be considered a traitor to his party in 2010, enforced federal law by sending in troops.

How our current spike in neo-Confederate rebellion will end is unknown. It’s unnerving that Tea Party leaders and conservatives in the Oklahoma Legislature now aim to create a new volunteer militia that, as The Associated Press described it, would use as yet mysterious means to “help defend against what they believe are improper federal infringements on state sovereignty.” This is the same ideology that animated Timothy McVeigh, whose strike against the tyrannical federal government will reach its 15th anniversary on Monday in the same city where the Oklahoma Legislature meets.

What is known is that the nearly all-white G.O.P. is so traumatized by race it has now morphed into a bizarre paragon of both liberal and conservative racial political correctness. For irrefutable proof, look no further than the peculiar case of its chairman, Steele, whose reckless spending and incompetence would cost him his job at any other professional organization, let alone a political operation during an election year. Steele has job security only because he is the sole black man in a white party hierarchy. That hierarchy is as fearful of crossing him as it is of calling out the extreme Obama haters in its ranks.

At least we can take solace in the news that there’s no documentary evidence proving that Tea Party demonstrators hurled racist epithets at John Lewis. They were, it seems, only whistling “Dixie.”

Marco Rubio — the Miami Herald profiles the Senate candidate.

Let there be no doubt: U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio believes America is the greatest country in the world. He believes the world is safer when America is stronger. He believes in free enterprise.

His stump speech also touches on policy — taxes, energy exploration, the national debt — wraps it in sweeping, patriotic themes and sprinkles his own American dream success story on top.

That way, he manages to ”take a stand” — as he dubbed his recent bus tour through the political battleground of central Florida — and tell Republican voters what they want to hear.

It’s working. The former Miami lawmaker has rocketed from distant second to commanding first in the polls against Gov. Charlie Crist, potentially driving the governor out of the GOP primary for Florida’s open Senate seat. At a time when Republicans are looking for a hero, for their own Barack Obama to lead them out of the political wilderness in Washington, the 38-year-old Rubio finds himself fielding queries about a potential 2012 presidential bid.

”It’s the hope. It’s the hope that he will be different,” said Bill McSwain, 72, in an echo of the president’s well-known campaign slogan after shaking Rubio’s hand at a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Orlando.

It’s not just that Rubio is more conservative than Crist, though political ideology is certainly an issue among voters disgruntled with the Obama administration. It’s that Crist has become known more for maneuvering than governing. The self-proclaimed ”people’s governor” angled for a vice presidential slot in 2008, tapped buddy George LeMieux to be a U.S. senator in 2009 and blew off a second term in 2010, developing a reputation for putting career before constituents.

The final betrayal: Crist’s embrace of the freshly inaugurated President Obama and his economic stimulus package at a boisterous Fort Myers town hall meeting in 2009.

The governor’s veto of a controversial school reform bill last week looked to his critics like just another calculation, this one aimed at shaking up the race.

Enter the youthful, clean-cut Rubio in a navy sportcoat, who speaks with the zeal of a true believer.

”This election is a referendum on the very identity of our country,” he told an audience of about 200 people at an Orlando senior center decorated with red, white and blue balloons. ”A referendum on the role of government and the economy and the role of America in the world.”

After losing control of Congress and the White House over the past four years, many Republicans said they felt disappointed by former President George W. Bush, betrayed by Crist and disgusted with politicians in general. Two days on the road with Rubio found him tapping into a new vein of optimism.

He found an ideal backdrop near Ocala in tiny Belleview, which calls itself ”the city with small town charm.” After posing for pictures and admiring a baby in front of city hall, Rubio thanked his immigrant parents and God on a flag-adorned stage under trees draped with Spanish moss.

”I think he truly believes what he says,” said 48-year-old Bobby Dobkowski, a local radio talk show host. ”You can’t help but get fired up.”

Don’t worry, folks; he’ll disappoint you, too. It has nothing to do with liberal or conservative; it’s just that no one can measure up to the hype and the hope that comes with the fresh face. But then, it does say something about human nature that we always hope to find The One. That would explains religion, lottery tickets, and internet dating, and proves the adage that mankind is by nature optimistic: otherwise we’d eat our young.

Doonesbury — up nights worrying.