Political Hay

Hapless White Boys Run for GOP Chairman

Apologies owed to Saltsman, Shanklin, and Limbaugh for racial attack.

By 12.30.08

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Amazing. Absolutely amazing.

Into the Christmas-New Year's holiday lull comes word that one Chip Saltsman, late of the Huckabee for President campaign (he was the campaign manager) and now a candidate for Republican National Chairman, is under attack by two of his competitors and, of all people, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Why? What on earth could possibly put the contest for GOP chairman in the news amidst Christmas tidings and the impending tidal wave of Obamamania?

It seems that Mr. Saltsman, in pursuit of his candidacy (voters for RNC chairman are the members of the Republican National Committee) sent to all RNC members a disk containing some of the musical political parodies of Paul Shanklin. Mr. Shanklin, according to Saltsman, is a "longtime friend." Shanklin is also, of course, extremely well known to the audience of the Rush Limbaugh Show. Rush frequently plays the latest Shanklin parody about this or that political figure or news event, always to great mirth or at a minimum a considerable chuckle. The Shanklin parodies are a rousing hit with the Limbaugh audience, combining an uncanny ability to match famous songs with a devastating take of the latest shenanigans of the non-conservatives of this world. Needless to say, Shanklin has lots of material to work with.

What has suddenly erupted into a bizarre yet disturbing fight among the candidates for GOP chairman is that the selection Saltsman sent to every RNC member contained a Shanklin parody titled "Barack the Magic Negro." Sung to the famous Peter, Paul and Mary tune "Puff the Magic Dragon," the song features Shanklin-as-Al Sharpton lamenting the rise of Barack Obama.

The title is taken from an op-ed published in the Los Angeles Times in early 2007 as Obama was beginning to catch on as a presidential possibility. The article was penned by David Ehrenstein, a black, gay liberal writer. Ehrenstein's point was that Obama was just another "magic negro" (Ehrenstein's phrase) who, like actor Sidney Poitier of 1960s movie fame (or perhaps today's Tiger Woods), comes across to whites as unthreatening, black but yet not really black at all. Certainly Obama is no Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson, was the Ehrenstein point, both of whom are real blacks as opposed to, um, fake blacks. Wrote Ehrenstein of Obama and whites: "If he were real, white America couldn't project all its fantasies of curative black benevolence on him." Ehrenstein, it should be said, is no Obama fan, pointedly saying recently that Obama "is not my president" because of the invite to conservative pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at the Obama inaugural.

While Sharpton is now on the Obama train, it is important to remember here that at the beginning of the campaign season Sharpton was decidedly not an Obama supporter. It quickly became clear that because Obama had not made his bones in the modern civil rights movement and was -- gasp -- not a descendant of slaves but the son of an African who actually lived in Africa (Kenya) Obama was somehow not down with the struggle. Sharpton, like Jesse Jackson, had also run for the Democratic presidential nomination once upon a time and met with similar results, which is to say defeat. The word was out that there was not an inconsiderable amount of outright jealously directed towards Obama by both Sharpton and Jackson. The more Obama succeeded, of course, the feeling was the less relevant the two would become. If America has a black president, who needs two old and out of touch self-described black civil rights leaders?

In an interview with WCBS-TV reported in the March 13, 2007 Political Bulletin of U.S. News & World Report, Sharpton is said to have made "harsh" criticisms of Obama, saying: "Why shouldn't the black community ask questions? Are we now being told 'You all just shut up'?" Jackson was famously caught waiting for a Fox TV interview, where, unaware that there was a live microphone and already rolling camera, the good Reverend whispered to a fellow guest that he wanted to "cut (Obama's) nuts off." Jackson also used the "N word" in the course of his whispered and highly revealing diatribe.


WHAT DOES ALL OF THIS have to do with Chip Saltsman, Paul Shanklin and Rush Limbaugh?

The Shanklin parody has a very distinct point. It zeroes in on Sharpton for being the racial arsonist that he in fact is. Shanklin, and certainly Rush Limbaugh, are well aware of Sharpton's despicable record as a black David Duke, Duke the Louisiana Ku Klux Klan leader who ran for governor of the state as a brand new Republican. (Duke, by the way, was forcefully and quite publicly disowned by then-RNC chair Lee Atwater and President George H.W. Bush. Sharpton, on the other hand, was recently pictured lunching with New York Senate hopeful Caroline Kennedy, just as he has been sought out previously by both Clintons and Al Gore, to name but a few of the establishment Democrats who grovel at his feet.) Sharpton's involvement in the disgraceful Tawana Brawley episode, in which he became an "advisor" to a young black girl who falsely (as was eventually admitted) accused six white men of rape, was but one glaring example of his relentless use of racial cross-burning politics. So too was Sharpton's role in the tragedy of Freddy's Fashion Mart, a Harlem incident in which Sharpton urged on a protest of a Jewish store owner, in anti-Semitic style labeling the Jewish man a "white interloper." The result was the burning of Freddy's and a shooting by a black man riled to action, with several customers shot outright and seven store employees dying of smoke inhalation. In short, the record of Sharpton as, in the words of conservative David Horowitz, "an anti-Semitic racist" is well out there. Yet still there's no problem for Caroline, Hillary, Bill or Al etc. etc. Does that tell you something about the history of Democrats and race or what?

Picking up on the theme of the black Ehrenstein that Obama was a "magic negro" (which is to say, decidedly unlike Sharpton who is presumably an "un-magic negro"), Shanklin's parody, in decidedly 21st century humorist form, makes the ancient core point of the Republican Party. To wit, racism has no business in the GOP, and that it has been at the very center of the Democrats' party since its very inception. Al Sharpton's first, gut reaction to Obama is in fact just the latest personification of what is a very, very ugly history indeed. There is no need here to endlessly detail the record of Democrats, the party of race, which includes enthusiastic support for every hatefully racist idea in American from the cruelty of slavery, to segregation and lynching. For that one can pick up Bruce Bartlett's great book Wrong on Race: The Democratic Party's Buried Past, or read earlier thoughts from this space on the Democrats' Missing Years or whether there would be an apology for slavery in the Democrats' platform from then presumptive-nominee Hillary Clinton. Specifics may be found there.

What disturbs greatly here is the reaction to the Shanklin parody, to Saltsman, and by extension, wittingly or not, to Rush Limbaugh. As quoted in the New York Times of December 28th (and admittedly taking a quote of any Republican as accurate when reported by the Times is perilous), Saltsman has come under virulent attack from at least two of his competitors for the RNC chairmanship. Said incumbent chair Mike Duncan: "I am shocked and appalled." Chimed in Michigan chairman Saul Anuzis: "This isn't funny, and it's in bad taste."

Most amazing was the reaction as quoted from an e-mail by ex-Speaker Gingrich: "This is so inappropriate that it should disqualify any Republican National Committee candidate who would use it. There are no grounds for demeaning him (President-elect Obama) or for using racist descriptions."

One can only be startled that these gentlemen do not seem to understand that their reaction to what is clearly an attack on the racist, anti-Semitic ravings of Mr. Sharpton makes them seem as nothing more than a collection of white-shoe country club Republicans whose idea of civil rights is to tip the black waiter an extra buck while telling him they gave five more bucks to the NAACP. This is serious stuff here. To elect anyone chairman of the Republican National Committee, anyone who does not have a detailed understanding of the real civil rights record of the GOP as opposed to the grossly misrepresented version of that history routinely presented by Democrats and the media, is a critical mistake. The votes of African Americans will never -- and should never -- be sought with the incredibly patronizing attitude about blacks displayed in the comments of Duncan, Anuzis and Gingrich. African Americans are understandably proud that one of their own is about to become President of the United States. So too were Irish Catholics proud of JFK, and this year millions of women enthusiastic about Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin.

Yet in the end, the American ideal is that we are all Americans here, that America is very much NOT about race, creed, gender or sexual preference but ideas of freedom and liberty. And the embrace of Obama by blacks in a way they refused to embrace Sharpton and Jackson is telling indeed. "Magic negro" or not, instinctively they recognized racism when they saw it. Of the two major political parties, there is only one which from its founding and in platform after platform and policy after policy, from Lincoln to Grant to Theodore Roosevelt, Coolidge, Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan and down to George W. Bush that has relentlessly stood for the goal of a color-blind America. That party is the one which now has two African Americans, Michael Steele of Maryland and Ken Blackwell of Ohio, also seeking the RNC chairmanship. Surely no one has to tell either of these two of the real GOP history that Mr. Shanklin is pointedly highlighting in his parody, particularly not Mr. Steele, who had Oreo cookies thrown at him by Democrats during his race for the U.S. Senate.


ONE CAN ONLY WONDER what possesses these three men -- Duncan, Anuzis and Gingrich to ever -- ever! -- put themselves or their party in the position of adopting a "me-too" version of the Republican Party as presented by opponents that have made the ugliest of racism part of the bedrock of their party history. It is impossible to believe that any of the three thought carefully about what they were saying, thought deeply about Reverend Sharpton's Duke-like history, or have even taken any time recently to go back and read the civil rights history of their own party. In the case of history professor Gingrich this is particularly stunning.

The first thing these three can do when the New Year arrives? Apologize for this mind-boggling display of racial patronizing to the African-American community, to Republicans and quite specifically to Mr. Saltsman, Mr. Shanklin, and Mr. Limbaugh. In the case of the latter -- and as a Newt fan who has met the Speaker many times in my career and for whom I have great respect -- Newt should bite the bullet and ask to go on-air with Rush. To apologize directly to Rush. To get this clarified. To do otherwise is to leave the impression, an impression I am certain he does not hold, that he, Newt Gingrich, has appeared frequently over the years on a radio show he secretly considers racist. Quite aside from the fact that this is insulting to Rush, it is an in-your-face swipe at his 20 million listeners. Does Newt really believe conservatives and Republicans are a party of racists? Of course not -- but you sure couldn't say that from his reaction here.

What were these guys thinking in saying something this nutty? How could they be so wildly off point?

I have no idea. But it wasn't magic, it was hapless.

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.