While I was in Italy a few days ago, Republicans held a highly successful Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, which was attended by many enthusiastic Tea Partiers; and GOP Governor Robert McDonnell of Virginia issued a state proclamation celebrating April as Confederate History Month, which drew immediate criticism for his failure to mention slavery in his proclamation honoring “the sacrifices of Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens.” During that same period, Haley Barbour, Mississippi’s Republican Governor and Chairman of the National Republican Governors’ Conference, appeared on CNN and defended Governor McDonnell’s remarks, stating that the basis for the criticism of the Governor of Virginia was “not significant” and did not “amount to diddly”.
All of this activity among Southern Republicans was apparently too much for NEW YORK TIMES op-ed columnist Frank Rich, who on April 18, 2010, took dead aim and published a withering broadside attack on Tea Party conservatives in general and Republicans in particular. First, Frank mocked those who defended against the avalanche of charges that Tea Party activists and Sarah Palin are racist; and who, by using veiled racist language and inciting words like “reload”, are “animating anti-Obama hotheads like those who packed assault weapons at presidential town meetings on health care last summer.” Frank went on to imply that “conservative leaders” who remain silent, egg-on such extremism and “pander to the Tea Party-Glen Beck base.”
Then, in an attempt to justify his claims of Tea Party or Republican racism, Frank offered indisputable proof of his claim by reporting that (gasp) Virginia Governor McDonnell “had issued a state proclamation celebrating April as Confederate History Month”. Frank referred to it as a “Dixiecrat proclamation”, which he said (in all fairness) “MIGHT have been a staff-driven gaffe rather than a deliberate act of racial provocation.” (Emphasis added).
Finally, Rich paid his respects to the recent Southern Republican Leadership Conference (which he stated was “in full cry”) by stating that there were no African American, Hispanic, or Asian Americans in attendance other than “the usual GOP tokens – J. C. Watts, Bobby Jindal, and Michael Steele, only one of them (Jindal) holding public office.” To top it off, Frank criticized the opening night speakers at the conference (and implied that they were racist) for their failure to even mention Hurricane Katrina; and he excoriated Governor Barbour for later praising President Bush’s recovery efforts in Mississippi and criticizing the bumbling local hurricane recovery efforts in Louisiana, led by then-Governor Blanco and other Democratic officials.
In recent days, it has become apparent that the increasingly vocal left-wing media pundits like Frank Rich, supported by former President Clinton and the Congressional Democrats, have a national strategy leading directly to the November Congressional Elections. Their goal is to maintain Democratic control of the Congress by convincing the broad independent base of the American electorate that Republican candidates for Congress are either racist or extremists themselves, or that their base of support is racist or extremist. This is a clever strategy that has been used many times by Democrats in different ways to frighten American voters or make them feel guilty for supporting Republicans (and in this case, the Tea Parties). There is no doubt that the vast majority of Americans, north, south, east or west, do not wish to see themselves as racist.
In my recent post, (“The Gathering Storm” – April 4, 2010) I wrote that in order for Republicans to win in November, there must exist a strong and unified coalition of “economic” Republicans (primarily interested in economic issues) and “social” Republicans (primarily – but not exclusively – interested in maintaining traditional family values in America). Independent voters and many Republicans north of the Mason-Dixon Line have indisputably been susceptible to Democratic charges of Republican extremism. Therefore, as we move forward toward November in an attempt to wrest control of the Congress away from President Obama and Nancy Pelosi and their followers, Republicans should be sensitive to the strategy of the Democrats to look for and trumpet to the media any possible utterance by a Republican or Tea Party leader that might be construed by someone to be racist or extremist, no matter how tenuous, as a part of the overall Democrat strategy to divide Republicans and put Independents on a guilt trip.
On the other hand, Republicans, and particularly Southern Republicans, should not be afraid to stand up for their beliefs and values, including the fact that Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson were storied American heroes, who, within the context of the times in which they lived, chose to defend their home state of Virginia during the great and tragic American Civil War. In the context of the times in which they lived, Lee and Jackson were no different from their fellow Virginians, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson (as well as Ulysses S. Grant from Illinois for that matter) – they were all slaveholders who desired for the abhorrent and inhuman system of slavery to end. As any rational historian and American knows, the issues surrounding the American Civil War and American History are complicated, and in our words, we should always stress those things that we agree on, rather than those things that divide us when it comes to matters of race.
In a broader context, Republicans should continue to make diligent efforts to nurture, encourage, and recognize the growing number of Republican African Americans (like Kim Waide, a radio talk-show host and Tea Party leader in Jackson, Mississippi) who subscribe to conservative principles. With their help, maybe we can hold on to the principles that made our country great and a beacon of hope for the rest of the world.
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