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Steve Scalise is a Feature, Not a Bug, of Today's GOP

January 2, 2015

Many leaders in the Republican Party and its amen corner are shocked--SHOCKED!--to learn that one of its top figures in Congress addressed a white supremacist group in 2002. But Rep. Steve Scalise's outreach to the white power crowd shouldn't have come as a surprise to the likes of Erick Erickson or Jennifer Rubin or anyone else. After all, the complete Republican takeover of Dixie in November's midterm elections represented the culmination of 45 years of the GOP's Southern Strategy. And as it turns out, the likes of Trent Lott, Haley Barbour, John Ashcroft and so many more of the GOP's best and brightest casually trafficked in race-baiting and antebellum nostalgia to make it all possible.

Even leaving aside for the moment House Minority Whip Scalise (you can't make this stuff up), former Rand Paul staffer "The Southern Avenger" or almost-Mississippi Senator Chris McDaniel, the list of Republican Neo-Confederates is a long one. And 150-plus years after the Emancipation Proclamation, the whitewashing of slavery, the resurrection of the "Lost Cause," the championing of states' rights and the endorsement of nullification and secession are common talking points for the Party of Lincoln.
Consider, for example, the example of Virginia Republicans. While Democratic state senator and civil rights leader Henry Marsh was attending President Obama's second inauguration in Washington, Republicans voted for an unprecedented redistricting of their state. But the indignity hardly ended there. As Kevin Drum reported the next day:

But wait! That's not all. The deed was done on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and at the end of the session Republicans adjourned in memory of Confederate general Stonewall Jackson, whose birthday is today.

That GOP attempted coup died when soon-to-be ex-Republican Governor and former 2016 White House wannabe Bob McDonnell signaled he would not sign the redistricting bill. But in April 2010, Governor McDonnell did sign a proclamation recognizing Confederate History Month and the South's "four year war...for independence." Within days, however, McDonnell was forced to apologize after it was revealed that his proclamation did not recognize the existence slavery. (The next month, Texas conservatives approved an overhaul of the state's textbooks which would remove the word "slave" from the term "slave trade.")
For then Mississippi Governor and former RNC chairman Haley Barbour, McDonnell's supposed oversight was nothing to get exercised about. As he explained:

"To me it's a sort of feeling that it's just a nit. That it is not significant. It's trying to make a big deal out of something that doesn't matter for diddly."

Of course, the preservation of white supremacy mattered a great deal to the Council of Conservative Citizens, the successor to the dreaded White Citizens' Councils of Jim Crow days. Which is why Barbour, who campaigned for governor wearing a lapel pin of the state's Confederate flag he vowed to maintain, was a fixture at the CCC's events. As the Southern Poverty Law Center documented, "Of the 38 current office-holders who've attended CCC events, 26 are state lawmakers -- most of them, 23, from Lott's home state of Mississippi." And among them, as the ADL noted in 2004, was Haley Barbour:

During the 2003 election, the CCC was at the center of another controversy involving the endorsement of a major politician. In July, Mississippi Republican gubernatorial nominee Haley Barbour, who served as Chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1993 to 1997, attended a CCC-sponsored barbecue. Though the attendance of local Republican and Democratic office-seekers at political events partly sponsored by the CCC usually evokes little controversy, this year the group posted on its Web site a photo of Barbour at the barbecue (l. to r.: Mississippi GOP aide Chip Reynolds, State Senator Bucky Huggins, Ray Martin, Barbour, John Thompson, and CCC Field Director Bill Lord.)

Barbour's fellow Mississippi Republican, Trent Lott, similarly extended a hand to the CCC. The former Senate Majority Leader and later Minority Whip (again, you can't make this stuff up) was a speaker in 1992 at an event of the Council of Conservative Citizens. Among its offerings in seething racial hatred is a "Wanted" poster of Abraham Lincoln. Lott's also offered his rebel yell in the virulently neo-Confederate Southern Partisan, where in 1984 he called the Civil War "the war of aggression." That was years before he lauded the legendary racist and 1948 Dixiecrat presidential candidate, Strom Thurmond:

"I want to say this about my state: 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 all these years, either."

But Strom Thurmond wasn't Lott's only choice as an ideal President. As the National Review recalled after the Thurmond incident in 2002, Lott had long made clear that Jefferson Davis would do quite nicely as well:

Mississippians sent Lott to the House in 1972. Six years later, his efforts restored Jefferson Davis's citizenship. Lott repeatedly lauded the former Confederate president, a man who endorsed not just segregation, but slavery. Lott crowed in May 1998: "Sometimes I feel closer to Jefferson Davis than any other man in America."
Lott told Richard T. Hines in the Fall 1984 Southern Partisan magazine, "I think that a lot of the fundamental principles that Jefferson Davis believed in are very important today to people all across the country, and they apply to the Republican Party." He argued that Americans in Biloxi, Mississippi and Los Angeles should be free to live their lives without undue federal pressure.

As it turns out, Lott's path was also traveled by former Missouri Senator and Bush Attorney General, John Ashcroft. Ashcroft granted a long interview with the Southern Partisan, in which he stated:

"Your magazine helps set the record straight. You've got a heritage of doing that, of defending Southern patriots like [Robert E.] Lee, [Stonewall] Jackson and [Jefferson] Davis. Traditionalists must do more. I've got to do more. We've all got to stand up and speak in this respect or else we'll be taught that these people were giving their lives, subscribing their sacred fortunes and their honor to some perverted agenda."

And for many of today's Republicans, the real perverted agenda is the province of Democrats, and includes health care reform, women's reproductive rights and gun-control among its Yankee sins.
Take, for example, Georgia Congressman and Senate candidate Paul Broun. Broun, who last week boasted that he was the first member of Congress to brand Barack Obama a "Marxist-Leninist", had a different warning in 2010 about what would become the Affordable Care Act:

"If ObamaCare passes, that free insurance card that's in people's pockets is gonna be as worthless as a Confederate dollar after the War Between The States -- the Great War of Yankee Aggression."

As it turns out, Broun wasn't the first Republican to recall the Lost Cause in announcing his opposition to President Obama's policies. In February 2009, Missouri Republican Bryan Stevenson took exception to President Obama's support for the Freedom of Choice Act, legislation which sought to codify the reproductive rights protections of Roe v. Wade nationwide:

"What we are dealing with today is the greatest power grab by the federal government since the war of northern aggression."

Of course, the next logical step for the neo-Confederates of the GOP was to threaten secession. And in April 2009, Texas Governor Rick Perry suggested to a furious Tea Party rally that the secession option should be on the table:

Perry told reporters following his speech that Texans might get so frustrated with the government they would want to secede from the union.
"There's absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that."

To be sure, violating the oath of office to uphold the Constitution of the United States is an odd definition of patriotism. Sadly for Perry and the GOP secessionists, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia crushed their hopes:

"If there was any constitutional issue resolved by the Civil War, it is that there is no right to secede."

But even short of secession, the Party of Lincoln seems determined to unlearn another lesson of the Civil War by championing state nullification of federal laws. Suggesting that South Carolina's effort to nullify federal tariffs starting in 1828 was a blessing, Obamacare foes began claiming state sovereignty trumps the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The new "Tentherism" was embodied by new Minnesota Congressman Tom Emmer. As TPM recounted four years ago:

He has even proposed a state constitutional amendment that would allow federal laws to operate in Minnesota only if they were consented to by super-majorities of the state legislature.

Now, GOP legislatures are turning to nullification in response to the modest package of gun violence reforms proposed by President Obama. Despite near-universal condemnation from legal scholars calling their proposed state statutes "outrageously unenforceable" and "pure political theater," Republicans in Arizona and Texas are advocating for "gun secession bills" nullifying federal laws and making their enforcement within state lines a felony. Encouraged by Governor Phil Bryant, Mississippi Republican state Reps. Gary Chism and Jeff Smith filed (and then mercifully withdrew) a bill to form a "Joint Legislative Committee on the Neutralization of Federal Laws." The Mississippi Balance of Powers Act reads in part:

If the Mississippi State Legislature votes by simple majority to neutralize any federal statute, mandate or executive order on the grounds of its lack of proper constitutionality, then the state and its citizens shall not recognize or be obligated to live under the statute, mandate or executive order.

As it turns out, gun control opponents have another argument. If only African-Americans had been armed, slavery would never have happened. As Gun Appreciation Day chairman Larry Ward explained:

"I think Martin Luther King, Jr. would agree with me if he were alive today that if African Americans had been given the right to keep and bear arms from day one of the country's founding, perhaps slavery might not have been a chapter in our history."

But slavery wasn't just a chapter in American history. It was, and remains, our original sin. The Democratic Party, once home to the KKK and the white supremacists who called the South home, has had its reckoning with it. In the "greatest trade in American political history," Republicans acquired states' rights, secession and nullification in exchange for Democratic ownership of the general welfare, due process and equal protection in a more perfect Union. Over time, the Party of FDR, JFK and LBJ got New England and the new West, while the solid south went to the Party of Lincoln. Democrats got John Lewis and Martin Luther King, Jr.; the GOP got Jesse Helms, Strom Thurmond, David Duke and Steve Scalise.
Writing in the Washington Post, Mitt Romney's stenographer Jennifer Rubin reacted to the Scalise revelations by declaring, "There is no good excuse for appearing before a hate group." Sadly for Rubin, Steve Scalise is a feature--and not a bug--of the modern Republican Party. As for David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader who was a speaker at the same gathering of the European-American Unity and Rights Organization in 2002, the always colorful former Louisiana Democratic Governor Edwin Edwards probably put it best. "We're both wizards under the sheets."


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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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