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CPAC panel goes horribly wrong

"Goes horribly wrong" is the tabloid trope for a stunt that goes exactly as any reasonable observer thought it would go ("What could go wrong?" is a cognate). Bringing us to CPAC:

A panel hosted by the Tea Party Patriots, intended to teach CPAC attendees how to fight back against charges that they are racist, devolved quickly into the crowd shouting down a liberal black woman who repeatedly tried to ask questions.

The panel was run by K. Carl Smith, of the Frederick Douglass Republicans, who mostly advised the predominantly white audience that if they’re “sick and tired of being called a racist and a sellout” they should join the Frederick Douglass Republicans. You “can’t play the race card on him, you can’t play the class warfare card on him,” Smith said of Douglass.

“Race-baiting comes off the table” when you say you are a Frederick Douglass Republican, he said, noting that there are both black and white members of the group. “How are you going to call a Frederick Douglass Republican racist?”

One audience member, Scott Terry, a self-professed white Southerner, asked why members of “my demographic are systematically disenfranchised,” and why it’s “anathema” to be proud of Southern heritage. When Smith told him that Douglass forgave his slavemaster, Terry replied: “For giving him shelter? And food?”

As Benjy Sarlin from TPM reported, Terry was at the panel with Matthew Heimbach, who founded the White Students Union at Towson University and who the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as a “white nationalist.”

The question was not answered, as the panel quickly began to devolve when another member of the crowd, a black liberal woman, took offense to Terry’s question, and was then repeatedly shouted down after saying Smith was being “disingenuous” for saying that the Democrats started the KKK and were the ones pushing to keep slavery in place. (Another female member of the audience twice dismissed her questions with a pointed reference to “women’s studies.”)

It got even worse when the woman tried to ask why Republicans won’t push back on racist comments and campaign ads made in the 2012 campaign, like one racially charged ad put out by Pete Hoekstra. The crowd got rowdy, saying things like, “We don’t want your question,” and “We don’t want to hear it.” A man dressed in a Revolutionary-era costume, a mainstay at most conservative conferences and rallies, repeatedly shouted at her and then somewhat dramatically stormed out, right before the panel ended.

Just wowsers. However, I'm going to deny myself the fun of doing the legacy party poo-flinging schtick -- after all, Obama hasn't done squat for the Black community outside to the political "misleadership" class, so systemically he's just as racist as his Fans congratulate themselves they aren't -- I'd like to repost this Louis CK video that I thought was terrific at the time:

"I'm not trying to say that if you're white you can't complain. I'm just saying that if you're black you get to complain more... [I]f you see a black person with gray hair, that they probably remember what it was like to have to use a different toilet so, give them a little time to be cranky."

A very humane perspective. Gawker covered the same story, and comment thread is super. Here one:

I'm a 31 year old Black female, bred smack dab on the middle of Alabama.

After reading some of the comments, I wanted to point out that not all White Southerners are racists. I may even go as far to say most aren't racist. Im sure most have had prejudiced thoughts, we all do. But nothing close to what this douce is spewing. I'm sure there are many pockets of the South that are still unofficially "Sundown Towns", but not as many as Northers may think.

I had a card carrying, "hang dem niggers up high", Klan member as a next door neighbor. He also shot my dog when I was 10 simply because he didn't want "some dirty nigger dog walking on his grass". Another Klan member tried to rape me as a child.

But I didn't let those incidents define my view on Whites in the South. Many of the Southern Whites I've come across would hate to have views like this idiot, and to be thought of as racist.

My Mom grew up in the city/times of Bull Connor- Governor Wallace, during the 40's-70's. She was a regular witness to Klan meetings. When she was a child they would march pass her home on the way to the woods for their meetings. Her views about Whites (or as she calls them, Rednecks) has softened slowly over the years. Mostly after I had her first grandchild who is mixed. Basically she was a Black version of Archie Bunker, a lovable racist. When we moved to Connecticut, My siblings, and I would occasionally bring White friends to the house. We would warn them to try not to get offended by her language, or behavior. I could only imagine what they were thinking, or feeling. I tried to understand my Mom's bigoted POV towards Whites. I rationalized it by saying it was a consequence of where/how she grew up. I could understand, to some extent, her racist views. All I could do was try to change her mind. Hopefully this Scott fellow will be so lucky to one day have someone similar in his life to change his views.

I've come across more bigotry, and racism here in Connecticut, than when I grew up in Alabama. I know my anecdotes can't pass as proof that he South has changed. It's just my POV of my little corner of Dixie.

Needless to say, I'm not saying "they all do it," or "both sides do it." Rather, I share with the commenter, and Louis CK, the idea that you can't take people's history away from them (adding: For good or ill, including the fact that the KKK + Reconstruction was the first fascist polity of the modern era, a Democratic operation all the way, and the cornerstone/Devil's Bargain of FDR's New Deal). Interestingly, that's a perspective that Graeber shares in Debt: The First 5000 Years: Usury, just like slavery, completely de-contextualizes a person.

UPDATE It seems that legacy party politics (or party politics generally?) doesn't exactly do that; more like "partially reconstextualizes" them. The Salon article, which is written from a partisan perspective, has a very thin, poo-flinging comment section. The Gawker article, written from a non- (trans-) partisan level, has a thoughtful and interesting comment section that moves discussion forward.

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DCblogger's picture
Submitted by DCblogger on

We have some really sick rich people. All these truly horrible organizations are well funded. Our rich people are just disgusting, truly disgusting. Hateful, mean, greedy, and vile people. Unfit for polite society. The stuff on the bottom of my shoe has more integrity.

Cujo359's picture
Submitted by Cujo359 on

.. tell me yours. This is what I keep trying to get across to progressives every time they think they've won an argument by calling someone sexist, racist, or whatever for disagreeing with them. That Gawker commenter quoted in the article was telling us her story, and it's what Louis CK seemed to be trying to put in perspective in the video. It's what gays have been doing by coming out over the last quarter century or so. That works. At least, it works for me. I'm reminded that there's racism lots of places (**), not just in the South. When you try to tell me I'm part of a racist society for not realizing this, I only learn that you're someone bereft of an argument. Telling white men, particularly white men who aren't all that well off themselves, that they're all part of a white male hegemony tends to accomplish little but encouraging the sort of nonsense we see at this CPAC panel.

So tell us what you're missing out on by not being a white man. You might get some questions you'll think of as insulting ("are you sure your headlight was working when you were DWB?" *), but that's part of discussing something with people who are inclined to be skeptical. You might find out that there are white guys who miss out on that, too. Either way, we'll learn something.

Anyway, a little less name-calling and a little more trying to figure out what life's like in someone else's shoes might do progressives some good. We progressives don't seem to be terribly good at building effective coalitions, and lately I'm coming to realize that this is part of the reason.

And on an entirely different note, "Frederick Douglass Republicans"? Talk about longing for the good old days...

* I was once pulled over because my headlight went out. I didn't know it had. The cop who pulled me over was black. Sometimes these things even happen to white men. (I can also say, though, that I can't think of a time when I wasn't pulled over for some valid reason. Nor did that cop pin me down on the hood of my car and frisk me.)

** Until I moved to the Pacific NW, I didn't realize how ethnically divided the area of Pennsylvania I grew up in was. Where I grew up, it's still rare to see blacks or latinos in many middle class neighborhoods. Out here, not seeing any is the more exceptional condition.

Jay's picture
Submitted by Jay on

Wouldn't it be nice if the media covered the liberal version of CPAC with the same measure of ink, rapt attention, and seriousness?

Jay's picture
Submitted by Jay on

For better or for worse, Occupy, Netroots Nation, Progressives United, MoveOn, Democracy for America, Campaign for America's Future, Media Matters for America, the list goes on.

Nobody in the MSM falls all over themselves to go to their conventions, or get a quote from a spokesperson as if that spokesperson was a policymaker who can define what is politically possible, like they do with CPAC, the AEI, the Petersen Institute, etc.

When Paul Ryan glues a budget cover on a telephone book and holds it up for a photo op, knowing that nobody is going to read it, the press falls all over it and goes to AEI to "balance out" the Republican talking points. When the Progressive Caucus unveils an actual budget, nobody attends the press conference and any reporting on it consists mainly of reactionary quotes from people like Rush Limbaugh.

It would appear that what's necessary is a coordinating committee to set up a situation where a respected MSM figure blithely repeats Republican talking points, preferably an "Even the Liberal" type, then the above liberal groups turn on the firehose and accuse that person, and by extension their news network, of a prime example of conservative bias in the news media. Turn the tables on the old "your librul media" trope.

There are a lot of opportunities like this. GOP tax cuts for the rich = you are shouldering more of the deficit. Therefore "tax and spend Republicans."

Most of this kind of political coordination would come from a competent White House, but since it is occupied by a Republican whose preferred policy outcomes are aligned with the GOP . . . .

Submitted by lambert on

.... are perfectly fine as they are, given the genuine priorities the Democrats have. Just because the Republicans aren't the Globetrotters they used to be hasn't prevented the Democrats from continuing to play the Washington Generals....