Monday, December 29, 2008

GOP Leadership Candidate Distributes Racist CD, Somehow Blames Democrats

Mike Huckabee's former campaign manager Chip Saltsman, who just a few days ago was a likely frontrunner to take over as chairman of the Republican Party, today might as well be nailed inside a wooden barrel and towed out to the open sea by the merchant marine. Providing yet another demonstration of the racial taste and class of the GOP, Saltsman sent fellow republicans a Christmas card featuring a song called "Barack the Magic Negro" set to the tune of "Puff the Magic Dragon."

In case the Puff reference wasn't winkingly sly enough, whomever made the video to the song also included pictures of Obama smoking, in a callback to the hysterically stupid hand-wringing about his "vice" that GOP talking heads indulged in, in 2007, without bothering to notice the irony in their party's staunch defense of Big Tobacco for the last 30 years. See below (also, enjoy the misspelled "Thinking Impared") [Note: the original video has been taken down; this one is edited differently]:

Saltsman has claimed the song isn't racist, a claim difficult to stomach when the entire thing is sung in what sounds at best like a bad Biz Markie impression and at worst (and most probably) like "Ghetto Minstrel." Either way, it's a white man clumsily and obnoxiously trying to sound black, which might merely be supremely annoying when it comes from yuppie larvae wearing hats sideways and "ballin'" through the mall, but which is actively offensive when it comes from a southern Limbaugh stooge.

Saltsman has disingenuously attempted to legitimize his actions by going on the attack against democrats, citing, "Liberal Democrats and their allies in the media didn't utter a word about Ehrenstein's column. Now they're shocked and appalled by its parody." The piece to which he alludes is David Ehrenstein's LA Times column, "Obama the 'Magic Negro'." Saltsman's accusations don't pass the laugh or the logic tests, for several reasons:

1. Ehrenstein himself is part black, and most commentators tend to back off when a member of one race is critical of another member of the same race, if only because weighing in critically tends to be a losing prospect more often than not.

2. That said, Ehrenstein's column was criticized, mainly for his assertions that Obama lacked substance and for allusions to claims that he lacked black authenticity.

3. Even if you ignore #1 and #2, Saltsman's still missing the point. "Magic Negro" isn't a compliment of a black person and is instead an indictment of white racism and exploitation. The term "magic negro" or "magical negro" was popularized by Spike Lee to describe the fawningly gentle, almost supernaturally kind and gifted black characters inserted into movies either to help white people or merely to exist as the kind of black person all white audiences can agree is A-OK! The depiction usually never rises above the one- or two-dimensional and tacitly marginalizes and exploits the black character himself. To wit: the black character isn't conventionally intelligent or successful and instead gets by with his spiritual gift, which he uses in service of white people, for whom he's tenderly affectionate for no real reason or benefit. (Viz., Scatman Crothers' cook in The Shining and Michael Clarke Duncan's convict in The Green Mile, both of whom are murdered after helping white people.) The concept is pervasive enough that it occurred to me while reading Joe Posnanski's excellent The Soul of Baseball, in which Buck O'Neil was so unfailingly polite, despite a career and life beset with racial discrimination, that his kindness almost reached levels of racial wish fulfillment.

Ehrenstein's point was that Obama's slim record made him a one-dimensional character on which white people could foist whatever characteristics they needed to absolve themselves of white guilt and to feel good about a black candidate. It's obvious from reading his column that he's ambivalent about even ascribing impetus for this to Obama himself, instead describing it as a phenomenon without naming who's specifically to blame. While Obama might have capitalized on that attitude during the election, it's still a passive form of exploitation, whereby white people get to feel better without having done anything to cleanse the historical record or balance the accounts of justice by molding Obama into whatever useful image they need him to be. By not only taking that image of Obama at face value but also criticizing it and stereotyping the black response to it, Saltsman managed to embody everything Ehrenstein attacked and also take it one step further in terms of simplifying and homogenizing blacks as a whole. Saltsman not only didn't get the point: he is the point, in a far more virulent form than Ehrenstein envisioned.

4. When you're a white southerner distributing a CD of disputable racist overtones to other white southerners who are likewise members of the party that in 1964 began aggressively courting all the racists who abandoned the democratic party due to the Civil Rights Act (a party that, indeed, courted them so strongly that The Southern Strategy became an institution of its politics and the backbone of its strongest geographical base), you don't get to have the benefit of the doubt.

Saltsman's acts have rightfully disgusted members of the republican party, but unfortunately this incident will likely be swept under the rug too soon. As noted in a previous post, even a mere 12 days after the election, Obama had already received more threats on his life than any other president-elect. This, after a campaign in which GOP representatives accused his giving his wife a dap/pound of being a "terrorist fist bump"; the GOP VP candidate just barely stopped short of accusing him of being an outright terrorist, and she and her running mate rubber-stamped a race-baiting story about a white republican girl being attacked by a black man.

What Saltsman did is mostly unfunny and stupid — and unintentionally hilarious for a party so astoundingly unpopular in the black community that they actually have to ship their token candidates to other states just to compete on the ballot on the "color" front. But where it should give us pause is how it's yet another indicator of the renewed and steadily increasing acceptability of racism from the American right. Given that they irresponsibly and daily fanned these flames during the general election, they should be castigated every time they fail to take every measure to stamp out any hateful blaze.