The issue of race in America has taken a very ugly turn. The mainstream media and pollsters have incessantly scrutinized whether race will have a place in this presidential race. What with the the first black presidential nominee, now the almost-first one endorsing him. But for all the talk about race and the wolf-crying racial games played by Democrats, this writer has been skeptical about how much actual racism (and I don’t use this term lightly) would rear its ugly head. Well, it has reared and the picture isn’t pleasant.
Last week, it was difficult and disgusting to watch and hear the racist taunts and stereotypical epiteths hurled at Barack Obama by John McCain supporters as they waited in line at a rally without knowledge of being videotaped. The footage was aired nationally on CNN to reveal what we all know takes place in some parts of America but don’t always see front and center.
Of course, I don’t believe this is at all a reflection of the McCain campaign. He is no more responsible for the ignorant behavior than Mr. Obama is for the those who show up to his events wearing t-shirts emblazoned “Sarah Palin is a c—!” and worse. These recent revelations and Colin Powell’s endorsement of Mr. Obama do raise a troubling question about the direction of the GOP.
Let me first say, the display of this racist behavior on my television screen (such as the man who had an Obama sticker wrapped around a toy monkey) is equally as appalling to me as the name calling, racial smears, and threats I receive on an almost daily basis from Obama supporters, white liberals and black Democrats because I “dare” to be a conservative thinker and outspoken proponent of conservative ideals. According to some, I have abandoned my “blackness” because I have the audacity to, at times, criticize the black candidate (and that’s just the mild stuff). These extremist slurs are no different than the news video revealing an effigy of Mr. Obama hanging in a tree as a Halloween decoration in someone’s yard. While it is just as rare that one will see black hate on television (save for the Rev. Jeremiah Wright), it does exist and is just as foul and pervasive as white hate. Neither should be acceptable in today’s society or by the political parties.
In a recent television interview, Democratic Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania acknowledged that his own constituents were racists (the very same people who voted for him). It would’ve been nice for him to bring that up when he was running for office not just because a black man he is supporting (Mr. Obama) is. These same “racists” who won’t vote for Mr. Obama according to Mr. Murtha, voted for him. He apparently needed their votes too badly himself to bring up their bigotry when he was running for office. What does that say about Mr. Murtha?
When black conservative radio host James Harris told Mr. McCain at a rally two weeks ago to “take it to him [Obama],” I knew what was about to happen next. And Mr. Harris soon found out when he received an onslaught of hate mail for daring to be a black man who doesn’t support the black candidate. When a white female audience member ignorantly called Mr. Obama an Arab (there is nothing wrong with Arabs of course), at a McCain town hall, Mr.McCain immediately reprimanded her: “He [Obama] is a decent person that you do not have to be scared [of] as president.” This sent a strong message to the woman and those like her, that ignorance or hate is not acceptable or tolerable with him.
We know Mr. McCain is not a bigot, yet the party (and his campaign) seem to attract its share of them and they’ve reared their ugly heads on national television. So the question now becomes, that while the party and campaign may not be instigators or partakers, have they become enablers? It is hard enough to attract minorities to the GOP, even harder if party leaders sit idly by and allow this kind of nonsense. Supporters take their cues from their leaders. Mr. McCain’s recent reprimand was the right thing to do. It should be the rule, not the exception, and needs to trickle down to every part of the campaign - from senior advisors to teenage volunteers. Passive acceptance is no longer an option for Republicans.
And while it is clear that both major political parties have some kind of racial culpability in their history, I hold the GOP to a higher standard for three reasons: 1) they are the party of Lincoln founded to put an end to slavery, which they did, thus they have history to live up to; 2) in a liberal leaning media culture there is an automatic double-standard slanted against Republicans and; 3) I used to work for the GOP and remain optimistic it can return to its roots. They must try harder.
Gains were made with minorities in the GOP over the past few years, but have taken a back seat to a more passive party apparatus, the nation’s first black presidential nominee, and now the Powell endorsement. While Mr. Powell’s announcement shouldn’t be a surprise - after all he has always been a moderate at odds with conservatives within the party - it should be a kick in the gut to the Republican party. They have lost so much already (by way of true conservatism). If they don’t change course, they are on the path to losing much more (their goal of diversity). Diverse conservatism. Now there’s a concept.
• Tara Wall is deputy editorial page editor of The Washington Times. firstname.lastname@example.org.