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SoVaNow.com / September 27, 2012When we last touched base with the Mecklenburg County Republican Party — in this space last week, as a matter of fact — the joke was on our neighbors next door. Why? Because the county GOP unit had posted, in all seriousness, a link on its Facebook wall from The Onion (http://www.theonion.com) that purported to take the wraps off the mainstream media’s shameful underreporting on President Obama’s “son,” Luther.
The Onion, of course, is a satire site, the article was a fake, and President Obama is the proud father of two lovely young girls. Mecklenburg County, meantime, with its enticing waterfronts likes to bill itself as The Lake Country. Turns out the catfish aren’t the only creatures around these parts that bite hook, line and sinker.
Ha ha. What a bunch of doofs. Or not. The Mecklenburg Republicans are back in the news, and this time in bad way: The Washington Post reported Tuesday that the Virginia Republican Party has ordered the county unit to remove offensive photos from its Facebook wall. What are these photos, you ask? Photoshopped images of President Obama as an African witch doctor with a bone stuck through his nose … that sort of thing. “These kinds of images have no place in political discourse — period,” said Pat Mullins, state GOP chairman.
The story quickly went viral on the Internet, which is a source of immense embarrassment on a number of fronts. Just speaking personally, as editor of The Mecklenburg Sun (my other job), here’s my chief regret: getting scooped by The Post. Sure, it’s a selfish and narrow concern, given the level of scorn that the local Republicans have visited upon the area, but there you have it. I guess maybe I might’ve thought to get a jump on The Post if I wasn’t so inured to seeing such images while surfing the Internet or opening my e-mail.
The Facebook photos were posted by Wally Hudson of South Hill, the chairman of the Mecklenburg County Republican Unit. Hudson pops up from time to time in the news in his capacity as a district officer with the South Hill Ruritan Club. The last photo we have of him on file dates back to June, when Hudson was shown presenting Ruritan scholarships to college-bound students at Park View High School in South Hill. The juxtaposition of Hudson’s activities brings to mind a lesson I learned a long time ago: When you live in a small town, you’ll find most of its citizens are good and decent people — as long as you don’t bring up the subject of politics.
And if you cross that line? Watch out. As the vast majority of the 256 comments left on The Post website by 2 o’clock yesterday aptly pointed out, Hudson is an idiot, at least so far as matters of race and politics are concerned. (When a reporter informed Hudson that the images had been condemned as racist by Progress VA, a political advocacy group, he replied, “If that group is that sensitive, I’m sorry, they’re just not human.” Ooof. If the artist M.C. Escher were alive today, he’d be drawing a picture right now of Hudson sticking his foot down his throat so far that it reached all the way around back to his other foot … and over … and over ....)
No one would have taken any notice of Wally Hudson and the Mecklenburg GOP had it not been for the fact that George Allen, the Republican Senate nominee, spent the early part of his week campaigning in Clarksville (and in South Boston, too). Allen, of course, knows a thing or two about revealing oneself to be a racist on the Internet. (His campaign quickly condemned the Mecklenburg Facebook images). Considering that Allen richly earned his current status as ex-Senator by calling a dark-skinned Indian-American man “macaca” on videotape, it’s not surprising that he would try to distance himself from the Mecklenburg party unit in the wake of this latest flap. Good luck with that, George.
Politics can be catnip for some really, really stupid people, a few of whom don’t even hold elective office, and for this reason alone it’s unfair to expect candidates to constantly answer for the excesses of their supporters. Allen’s something of an exception to this rule because of his own lamentable history in the realm of race relations; the shock of his own despicable behavior may fade, but it will never go away. (Bill Clinton’s words, offered in a different context, might be useful in explaining Allen’s vulnerability on this score: “It takes a lot of brass to accuse a guy of doing what you did.”) As a candidate George Allen may be an utter hack, but surely he knows full well why he might want to keep local party committees at arm’s length. This is a best-practices rule for campaigns that drives the grassroots nuts on both sides of the partisan divide, but at times like these it’s easy to understand why things are the way they are.
Wally Hudson’s 15 minutes of fame will soon be over, but we’ll be left to grapple with the implications of his brief notoriety for some time to come — especially, as appears likely, the Romney/Ryan ticket goes down in flames this November. It is not too early to wonder what will happen to the Republican Party if its standard bearer loses an election to a President many activists don’t even believe was born in the U.S. There are a lot of Wally Hudsons out there in GOP-land; in fact, they make up a healthy plurality, if not an outright majority, of the Republican Party. They will not take a loss in November gracefully.
A quick story, also from the Town of South Hill: About three years ago, while covering a Council meeting, I struck up a chat with a councilman after the proceedings were over. A thoroughly amiable fellow, he seemed eager to talk about national politics, but I had only the fuzziest idea of the point he was trying to make. He kept using the same words throughout the conversation: “taxation without representation.” Huh? This all happened not long after President Obama took office, and before the Tea Party really took flight. I got what he was complaining about, though I didn’t understand the gist of his complaint. Taxation without representation? We have plenty of avenues for representation in this country — elections, for starters. (I will note here for the record that Obama has cut taxes in office, on net, and not raised them). You would think a sitting office holder, even in a small town, would understand that the people who win elections get to make the decisions, but no — apparently not.
This conversation was my first exposure to the mentality of the Tea Party and the toxic level of denial and anger that the movement has injected in national politics. (For the record, I don’t believe in the existence of a Tea Party. To me they’re the same people they’ve always been, right-wing extremists.) Hair-on-fire conservatives almost always vote for the candidate of the Republican Party, but if Romney loses, and loses badly (as I think he will) it will be interesting to see the degree to which these people revolt against the GOP. I normally don’t put much stock in predictions of intraparty blood-letting — or more accurately, the view that in-fighting will reach unprecedented intensity; ‘twas ever thus — but 2013 may prove to be an exception. It’s getting so the Tea Party poses a much bigger dilemma for the Republican Party than the Democrats. And the most violent fights are those where both sides are game to throw the first punch.
The Grand Old Party has constructed a heckuva box for itself. The base provides the energy and the votes, but a good share of it is certifiably nuts; the electeds and the Rovian strategists may be in charge of steering the ship, but they can neither suppress the crazies nor, it turns out, placate the factions by reliably delivering a victory in a national election. (Keep in mind that the Republican Party has captured the popular vote for president exactly once since 1992). With all the insane notions roiling the party — “legitimate rape,” birtherism, “the 47 percent,” need I go on? — the best thing that could possibly happen to the Republican Party would be a long foray into the wilderness, where perhaps the less excitable members of the enterprise could figure out what it should stand for and what, constructively, it hopes to achieve.
This won’t happen, obviously. No party is going to willingly consign itself to irrelevance for one year, much less 10, in order to figure out how to purge the ranks of the Wally Hudsons of the world. And the bigger picture isn’t looking so hot, either. Who will be the first Republican presidential candidate to inform the party faithful that they can’t win the White House without making nice with Hispanic voters, and therefore the GOP must tone down its harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric? Anyone with an inclination to go out on that limb has probably already self-deported from the party. Yet at some point, the GOP has to come to grips with the fact that political power in the U.S. will no longer continue to be a whites-only proposition. More and more, the Real America bears no resemblance to whatever is kicking around in George Allen’s imagination.
People miss something incredibly important about Barack Obama. He draws two types of criticisms: First, that he’s too willing to compromise his core beliefs (I’ve waded into these waters more than once myself), or, second, he’s a closet radical out to destroy America (insert your favorite Kenyan-Muslim-socialist slur here). The first of these statements is arguably true, while everything we’ve witnessed over the past three-plus years tells us the other is rank nonsense. Yet roughly a third to 40 percent of Fox News-watching Americans will vehemently contend otherwise, and with the way our system is structured they can continue to wield power — the power to obstruct. James Madison famously crafted the Constitution to rein in the passions of the majority, not enable the petty tyrannies of the minority, but in the 21st Century it’s the latter way that America rolls.
For now. It won’t be so forever. Absent a new direction, the GOP is destined to become a rump party — and a revolt following a Romney loss will only accelerate the process. Yet amid even the current nastiness, Obama manages to project a calm and reasonableness that is just incredibly helpful to the national mindset in these troubled times. That’s why he’s ahead in the race, when all the economic indicators suggest the polls should be otherwise. The tone set by the White House stands in happy contrast to the cranky idiocy that Wally Hudson, to cite only one minor figure, brings to the table. People talk about the importance of setting a good example as we live out our lives. Well, there you have it — an example that offers hope to the nation that someday soon things may change. Where have we heard that one before?