Conservatives are defending Rep. Steve Scalise’s speech to a white supremacist group. As usual, their arguments are full of wholes and lacking sense, but it’s much easier for them than actually condemning a racist move from one of their own. Here are the five defenses I’ve heard that made me laugh out loud:
1. But Robert Byrd!
The immediate conservative response to conservatives caught being racist or pandering to racists is always to invoke former Democratic Senator Robert Byrd. Of course, it is a historical fact that Byrd was a klansman and filibustered the civil rights act. And if you listened to conservatives, that’s that and shut up because they said so.
Byrd repudiated his history as a klansman. He said he had been wrong to oppose civil rights and by the end of his Senate career he had a 100% voting record with the NAACP and had proposed funding for the Martin Luther King memorial. In a 1993 interview, Byrd said:
The greatest mistake I ever made was joining the Ku Klux Klan. And I’ve said that many times. But one cannot erase what he has done. He can only change his ways and his thoughts. That was an albatross around my neck that I will always wear. You will read it in my obituary that I was a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
Long after Robert Byrd had repudiated the Klan, Rep. Scalise was making speeches at events organized by klansman David Duke.
2. But Al Sharpton!
Al Sharpton should demand royalties for the right because he is so often invoked as their racial boogeyman. Sharpton has a controversial past, and conservatives have to reach back nearly 40 years for their point with him. In the last 20 years or so, Sharpton has been far more careful with his rhetoric, which doesn’t work for the right. That’s why they have to fake video of his supporters calling for police to be shot, or condemn him for not engaging on black-on-black violence when he had done so months before.
Sharpton is not an elected official, and while he has met with President Obama, it isn’t as if Obama marches in lockstep with him on racial issues – Obama is far more cautious and far less incendiary – but details, whatever!
3. Bill Ayers!
President Obama barely knows Bill Ayers, Ayers is a far left radical who basically sees Obama as a far too centrist sellout. But conservatives are still upset that all the Ayers stories in the world didn’t stop Obama’s election in 2008 or 2012, so in their eyes, he’s effectively vice president. Patently nonsense, but that’s the right’s modern mindset.
4. But But Jeremiah Wright!
Jeremiah Wright is an even bigger right-wing whale than Bill Ayers, and is the one who really got away. Obama has never exhibited the sort of racial animosity that Wright has shown in his speeches (that we saw everywhere for nearly a year) and Obama is explicitly on record repudiating Wright and what he said.
5. Poor Trent Lott
Conservatives are still butt-hurt that Trent Lott got drummed out of D.C. for his statements in support of Strom Thurmond. Lott got into hot water because he praised Thurmond’s run for the presidency: “When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over the years, either.”
When Strom Thurmond ran for president, it was as a representative of anti-equality state’s rights efforts. Lott’s praise was directly connected to the segregationist movement. The mainstream media ignored Lott’s remarks, it fell to liberal (and a few conservative) blogs to continue to pound on them until he was forced to leave Senate leadership.