If you’re black, you got to look at America a little bit different. You got to look at America like the uncle who paid for you to go to college, but who molested you.” – Chris Rock
Rush Limbaugh and Sheila Jackson Lee are twin symbols of the worst that each party has to offer. Limbaugh is the conservative appendix, the useless sack of bile and bacteria that occasionally flares up to bring the whole body near collapse. Lee is an incoherent diva whose only political purpose is to highlight the degree to which African-American voters are trapped by the Democratic Party machine.
This week their paths crossed in a manner that demonstrated the worst that our political system has to offer. It was a terrible tornado; a twisting vortex of clown on clown political vitriol that should leave all of us humiliated and determined to build a new political paradigm.
The object of Limbaugh’s scorn was another showy, overblown address by Rep. Lee in which she threaded the totally unrelated theme of slavery into a rambling and incoherent message about the sequester. This is what she does on days that end in “y.” Along the way she described herself as a “freed slave.” Yawn.
Of course her claim is incorrect in a strictly technical sense. It was her ancestors, (perhaps as recently as a grandparent, let’s remember), to whom that directly applies. However, if I can describe myself as Scots-Irish, with no ancestor born in Scotland or Ireland in the past two hundred years, I suppose she can call herself a freed slave. Her heritage still matters to America, just like mine.
Limbaugh pounced, determined to set the record straight and defend Lee’s affront to America’s honor.
Surely there was some other more attractive target that day for his sick interests. Aren’t there still a few slutty young law students out there using their bodies for pleasure, or did we manage to stop all that?
Rep. Lee is an irresistible target for conservatives because she’s one of the least credible Democratic members of Congress. She regularly makes odd claims in floor speeches. She is a nightmare of a boss and a camera-hogging misery to deal with on any level. It would be difficult to construct by hand a less effective representative for the residents of Texas’ 18th District.
Worse, she is a nagging symbol of Republican ineffectiveness. She continues to win elections because we cannot offer black voters a credible alternative to one of Congress’ most embarrassing members.
Sheila Jackson Lee could be a symbol of what’s wrong with the Democratic Party. Limbaugh managed to make her a victim by putting on full display the pigheaded racial ignorance that hobbles Republican outreach. Ridiculing a black Congresswoman because she hasn’t experienced quite as much racism as she claims is not exactly an ideal way to put the party’s new openness on display.
Let’s get something absolutely clear and put it in a memo from the RNC to the Fox News morning show staff, Rush Limbaugh, Michelle Malkin, and the rest of the dealers in far-right hard-core political porn.
Black people have the moral high ground when they talk about slavery. There’s no point parsing it. Arguing the finer points of our slave heritage makes you look like as jackass in the best case. Do. Not. Go. There.
Shouldn’t black folks just get over it? I mean, we’ve been letting them vote and attend public schools and buy houses in our neighborhoods since the ‘70’s. We even let them speak at Tea Party rallies as long they say what we want to hear.
Yes, they should get over it, as soon we “get over it” and stop identifying every shadow we see as the specter of Communism, Fascism, Secular Humanism (whatever the hell that is), Communism-Fascism, or CommuSocialistFacistAnti-Christism. We can ask them to get over it when we stop trying to name some “equivalent” wrong of our own every time a black person points out an instance of racism. We can ask them to get over it when the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow no longer leave African-Americans at a disadvantage.
Yes, when crotchety old white men like Limbaugh accomplish all of their “forgetting” and race no longer impacts economic success, we’ll be in a fine position to lecture black folks about their trivial attachment to slavery.
African-Americans and other minorities are absolutely right to view our heritage slightly askance. It means something different for them, then and now, then for us. It always will. That’s okay. Patriotism does not ask for denial, and it does not thrive on ignorance.
We can build a vision for the future together based on a shared heritage filled with highs and lows. What we as white voters cannot do is dictate the terms by which other groups get to participate in that process. Those days are over.
The heritage of African-Americans and other distinct ethnic groups are not a threat to us or to America. Their experience is woven deeply into our shared American identity. When we recognize that and come to grips with what it means, we will all be ready to move on together. For now, serious issues will take a backseat to Limbaugh and Lee’s political Punch & Judy Show. They deserve each other, but we deserve better.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Chris Ladd is a Texan who is now living in the Chicago area. He is the founder of Building a Better GOP and has served for several years as a Republican Precinct Committeeman in DuPage County, IL, and was active in state and local Republican campaigns in Texas for many years. (Email: chrladd AT gmail DOT com)