And so it begins

Well, for about five minutes there, it looked like the libertarian-leaning Republicans would be spared the embarassment of belonging to a party which would, at the dawn of the twenty first century, still bother to defend someone like Trent Lott. But no — it looks like the blast faxes and listservs have been dispatched from that scary-looking castle atop the craggy mountain wherein the RNC is headquartered (at least in the world of the Simpsons), and the word is, we’re not tossing Trent overboard quite yet, so start circling the wagons. (And darn those metaphor-mixing Republicans anyway!)

And it can be sort of fun to watch rich white conservatives tie themselves in knots over the issue of race. I listened to Rush Limbaugh torturing logic until it screamed for mercy yesterday, explaining to an African American caller that there is no racism, but you see, if the caller believes that there is, then he just has to find a way to rise above it, because the problem isn’t racism, it’s all these people who have built a career on racism. Yes. That’s what perpetuates mistrust among the races. It’s not hatred or anger or intolerance. It’s people who keep whining about hatred, anger, intolerance. (They always seem to find a way to blame the victim, don’t they?)

One of Sean Hannity’s callers informed him yesterday that in an interview she had read somewhere, Strom Thurmond explained that his 1948 presidential run wasn’t about racism or segregation at all, you see, it was just about protecting the states from the overwhelming power of the federal government, and she, the caller, thought this was an interesting perspective that wasn’t getting much attention in the biased liberal media. Hannity replied that, well, um, er, he didn’t think that was quite true, he didn’t have the facts right in front of him, but he was pretty sure that Thurmond’s race did have a little bit to do with segregation. For the benefit of Hannity and his caller, let’s recall what old Strom himself had to say on the subject in 1948:

I want to tell you, ladies and gentleman, that there’s not enough troops in the army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the nigger race into our theatres, into our swimming pools, into our homes and into our churches. (wild applause)

(Courtesy of Mikhaela, who also has a good cartoon up on this whole thing, as well as some thoughts on her blog.)

Update: a reader writes that Strom did not say “nigger,” he said “nigra.” Sure sounds like the former to me — and as someone who spent half his childhood in the south, I’m not entirely tone deaf on this one — but even if one concedes the point, given that even in his youth, Strom sounded like he had a mouthful of marbles most of the time, I’m not sure why this would make the statement any more acceptable.

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And of course, all these guys, Rush and Sean and a second-stringer named Mike Gallagher, who I saw on Donahue last night — a show whose faltering ratings have apparently driven the producers to pursue heat over light, turning it into another shouting heads show which seems to feature Jerry Falwell as a guest at least once a week — but I digress…anyway, these guys are all dredging up every example of Democratic racism they can find, Jesse Jackson’s Hymietown remark, Robert Byrd’s Klan history, etc., etc., and before you know it, they’ll be pulling out the old standby argument that prejudice against old school Southern conservatives like Trent is itself a form of prejudice, bigotry towards bigotry, if you will.

Forget the old west metaphor of wagon-circling — let’s move on to something more contemporary. What they’re doing here is releasing countermeasures, like a jet which launches metallic chaff and high-intensity fireworks to try to keep the heat-seeking missile from locking onto its exhaust. If they can put enough distractions out there, confuse the issue, turn this whole thing into an argument about whether or not racism still exists in twenty-first century America — in short, turn this into an argument about whether or not the sky is blue and the grass is green — then there will follow a brief period of sound and fury, signifying nothing, and then everyone will kind of stumble away like drunks exiting an all night party, blinking in the harsh light of day and wondering what the hell just happened.

(Stupid toss-off comment about the line of succession to the presidency deleted due to complete inaccuracy. Nice to know everyone’s paying attention, at least. Sorry about that.)

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Incidentally, a reader alerts me to the fact that Trent’s friends at the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens (about whom more can be read here) address the question of whether racism exists in their FAQ:

The word racism was concocted by a communist ideologue in the 1920’s. The purpose of racism was to instill guilt and shame in the minds of white people and to inflame racial hostility among blacks. This word play succeeded beyond all expectations. Of course, the word racism has no meaning unless whites react to it. Because racism defines nothing, but instead generates dubious connotations, the C of CC refuses to be held hostage by what the word implies at any given moment. It is normal for white people to be proud of their race and heritage, is that racist?

As Sparky the penguin might be inclined to observe, it is difficult to argue with logic like that.