Friday, April 20, 2012

Welcome to the party, Eric Cantor

No, not the Democratic party, of course.

First, some background. A few weeks ago we learned that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virgina) was in the doghouse with his own party. Cantor donated $25,000 to an anti-incumbent PAC to support Republican primary challenger Adam Kinzinger in his race against longtime House incumbent Don Manzullo. (Kinzinger went on to win the primary.) The was quite a bit of squawking about this because the only thing House Republicans hate more than Obama are those who challenge their incumbencies, and it was quite odd for the House leader to be working against his own rank and file. Cantor, of course, dodged and weaved, appeared to lie about it, and blamed it on another Republican, Aaron Schock. We enjoyed a bit of schadenfreude at Cantor's expense, chalked it all up to court intrigue, and went on with our lives.

Now things are getting a little more interesting. Politico reports that Cantor may have had a personal motive for unseating Manzullo:
Manzullo — according to more than a half-dozen Republican sources — once said Cantor, a devout Jew, would not be "saved." The remark occurred several years ago, when Cantor was serving as chief deputy whip, the sources said. Cantor allies were put off by the comment, Republicans said.
And here is Cantor being asked about antisemitism by Politico's Mike Allen. He hems and haws about it but does acknowledge that antisemitism and racism exist in America, contrary to pretty much everyone else on the right-wing, who have long and loudly insisted that racism is nonexistent, other than "reverse racism", of course.



Cantor is widely known for his stupidity, but he clearly knows he's in a tight spot. The GOP tent is wide open for minorities, as long as they know their place and tow the GOP line. But when a minority even acknowledges some concern of his or her racial or religious group that runs contrary to the GOP white ideology, the knives come out. Herman Cain was the great black hope of the GOP, until he reminded the GOP that it was "insensitive" to casually throw around the n-word. Colin Powell was once the GOP's darling and longed-for presidential candidate, a faithful right-wing soldier for decades who threw away his credibility to support Bush's fraudulent war, but when he stepped out of line none of that kept him from becoming a wingnut punching bag. There are, of course, plenty more examples of this phenomenon, and Cantor surely must know he will become one of them if he too steps outside the bounds of acceptable GOP discourse on race and religion.

Frequently, some thick-headed conservative will write something lamenting the fact that blacks or Latinos or women or Jews or even Muslims aren't clamoring to get into the GOP's big tent. After all, they write, this group would find a natural home with the GOP because of one or more of their core beliefs matches up with the GOP platform. The ideology of these myopic conservatives prevents them from discovering the cause of this phenomenon, which is stunningly obvious to everyone else. If they can't even acknowledge that racism exists, then they obviously can't see that their own big tent is segregated.

In the GOP's big tent, and in America, no matter how loyal or assimilated you are, eventually you will be reminded that you do not belong. Cantor may think that it's limited to a few idiots like Manzullo, but the only difference between Manzullo and the others in the House GOP is that Manzullo was the one who opened his big fat mouth. In public, conservatives insist that racism is dead while keeping most of their racism private, when they think the ears are receptive and in agreement. I see this all the time in the small town where I work. Many times, young employees who grew up here tell me about the things they hear from other employees or even strangers when people like me are out of earshot and it's just the folks in the Secret White People Club. Today's conservatives give lip service to diversity in public and they keep their racism private. But eventually, nothing remains behind closed doors. There's always a Manzullo to remind you that you are not one of them.

Obama's election was a wake up call to a lot of people who thought that racism was a thing of the past, wiped out like polio and smallpox everywhere except for pockets of rednecks lurking in the hills of Appalachia and or the mountains of Montana. But we haven't cured the disease yet; Obama's election was just a reminder that it's still an epidemic.

A lot of us have had their personal revelations, too. As a light-skinned Latino who was born in this country, speaks perfect English, college educated, and hidden behind a desk in a suburban library, I thought I was insulated from the problem of racism in this country. After all, cops weren't pulling me over and tasering me every day, so everything's okay, right? Obama's nomination of Sonia Sotomayor was what reminded me that things were far from okay. She was everything I was and far more: she went to Yale and Princeton on full scholarships, graduated summa cum laude, was widely published and accomplished in her field. And yet she was widely slandered as an unaccomplished, temperamental, radical "Affirmative Action Baby". At the time, Matt Ygelsias, who is an even whiter Latino than I am, had similar thoughts at the time:
But for all that, I have to say that I am really truly deeply and personally pissed off my the tenor of a lot of the commentary on Sonia Sotomayor. The idea that any time a person with a Spanish last name is tapped for a job, his or her entire lifetime of accomplishments is going to be wiped out in a riptide of bitching and moaning about “identity politics” is not a fun concept for me to contemplated. Qualifications like time at Princeton, Yale Law, and on the Circuit Court that work well for guys with Italian names suddenly don’t work if you have a Spanish name.
The Sotomayor outcry from the right showed me and many other Latinos that no matter what accomplish or how you act, they will always remind you that you are not one of them and that you do not belong in their version of America.

Eric Cantor seems to have had something of a similar revelation. We'll find out the full extent of what happened one day when Cantor publishes his memoirs. Susie Madrak wonders if Cantor will have "the guts" to leave the GOP. He's not going anywhere. He's too stupid and rich to switch sides, and the left is too far ideologically removed from his brand of wingnuttery. This is, after all, the guy who wants to raise taxes on the poor. Instead, one day we'll read about his regrets in that memoir, which will be about as useless as Lee Atwater's deathbed apologies. Like Atwater, Cantor will keep making money making this country a worse place for everyone. But at least he sees something of what the rest of us are going through. And to that, I only have one thing to say:

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