by Daryl Gale
If you thought last week’s teary-eyed celebration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington would serve to soften the hard right’s vicious race-baiting, even for a day, you were sadly mistaken. There’s no stopping the hate train now, folks. There’s not even a brake pedal.
Even before the march, there were grumblings and musings about Martin Luther King, suddenly now a hero to White folks everywhere. I say suddenly, because if you were alive and old enough to read a newspaper during King’s lifetime, you know that the hero worship now displayed represents a 180 degree change in attitude toward the civil rights leader.
I was only nine years old when King was assassinated, but I remember my grandfather’s rage at King’s murder — an anger which only grew worse over the next week as newspapers and television shows recounted King’s life. Accusations of communism, anti-Americanism and King’s marital infidelities were as prevalent on popular media as his exploits in Selma, Ala. and Montgomery, Ala.
Pundits in 1968 spent at least as much time disparaging King as lionizing him, a fact lost to time and forgotten by the masses. It reminds me of the way another one of my childhood heroes, Muhammad Ali, was hated, vilified and called everything but a child of God in the 1960’s when he refused to serve in the U.S. military, but is now elevated to sainthood by some of the same haters who labeled him an anti-American subversive.
This week, GOP mouthpieces like Bill O’Reilly had a field day with the fact that while Democrat former presidents Clinton and Carter were there on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial with President Obama, no Republicans were invited to the ceremony, let alone asked to speak. This points to the inherent politicization of the event, O’Reilly fumed, and hints at just a bit of racism on the part of the event organizers.
Sounds like a legitimate complaint, and if true, a damning indictment. Except that it’s not true. It’s a lie, a complete fabrication.
Every GOP member of the House and Senate was invited, with special invitations going out to party leadership. Speaker of the House John Boehner decided instead to get as far away from D.C. as he could, spending Wednesday in Wyoming; while House Minority Whip Eric Cantor preferred to spend the day cozying up to his oil buddies.
The invitations were extended, but none showed. None were willing to set aside partisanship and racial animosity for one day to attempt some semblance of national unity. And then we have to listen to blowhards like O’Reilly tell us it’s the event organizers who are racist? Please.
“They asked a long list of Republicans to come,” civil rights icon Julian Bond said on MSNBC Wednesday, “and to a man and woman they said no. And that they would turn their backs on this event was telling of them, and the fact that they seem to want to get Black votes, they’re not going to get them this way.”
Bond is right, but doesn’t go far enough. The truth is that since the day a Black man arrived at the White House, certain segments of the White population have lost their collective minds. No longer concerned with niceties or respect for the office, President Obama has been the brunt of the cruelest, most disturbing behavior ever directed at a sitting president.
Bush the Elder was the butt of many jokes, as was his son. But no one screamed “You lie!” at G.W. Bush, even when he was clearly lying through his teeth, like telling us that Saddam Hussein was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction he got from Niger. No sitting governor stuck their finger in his face and shouted him down like Arizona’s Jan Brewer did to Obama. The Secret Service says that President Obama and his family are the targets of more death threats than any president in history, and I believe them. Many Americans, most of whom self-identify as Republicans, really hate Obama, and have no shame in displaying that hate.
Out of the other side of their mouths, though, Republicans claim to want to be more inclusive, eager to bolster their thinning ranks with more minorities, gays and women after last year’s defeat. Yet everything they do — every single thing — from Voter ID laws to gay marriage to ridiculous abortion restrictions, screams their true intent.
It’s up to us, as Election Day approaches, to show them that we hear them loud and clear.
Daryl Gale is the city editor of The Philadelphia Tribune.