John C. Calhoun would be proud of Joe Wilson and the tea party goers

Paul Begala, the CNN pundit and Democratic political guru, wonders “if at long last there is no decency on the far right.”

He cited a professionally-printed sign from the recent Washington tea party. “BURY OBAMACARE WITH KENNEDY,” it said.

“Oh, I get it,” Begala jabbed on the Huffington Post Internet site. “Sen. Kennedy is dead, and these slugs want health care reform to be dead too. That is so clever.”

Kennedy called universal health care “the cause of my life.” I suspect the sign-toter’s disdain for Kennedy has a deeper source, and ditto for many other tea baggers.

It’s race.

“Of the white Americans who did the most to help the advancement of civil rights, Ted Kennedy would be on the short list. He may even be at the top of it,” an Associated Press story quoted Douglas Brinkley, a Rice University historian and author.

A lot of white folks – especially in my part of the country and farther South – despised Ted Kennedy precisely because he championed equality for all Americans. (A lot of them also loathed the senator’s two brothers, President John F. Kennedy and Attorney Gen. Robert Kennedy, for the same reason.)

It’s hard not to conclude that many of the tea baggers hate Obama mainly because he’s our first African American president.  Some of the Washington protesters, packed signs that caricatured Obama as an African witch doctor.

Meanwhile, Rep. Joe Wilson, the South Carolina Republican who shouted “You lie!” at the president, has become a folk hero to the tea baggers (The House voted to rebuke him for his remark.). Maureen Dowd suspects Wilson also has problems with Obama’s skin color. I’m sure  Wilson would disagree. But for the record:

— Wilson belongs, or has belonged, to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, “a Southern heritage group that has been largely dominated by racial extremists since 2002,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

— Wilson was an aide to the late Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, who ran for president in 1948 as a segregationist “Dixiecrat” and helped lead much of the white South into the Republican fold in the 1960s when LBJ made the Democrats the party of civil rights.

— Wilson voted to keep the Confederate flag flying over the South Carolina capitol when he was in the state legislature.

“…Fair or not, what I heard was an unspoken word in the air: You lie, boy!” Dowd wrote. “….Wilson’s shocking disrespect for the office of the president — no Democrat ever shouted ‘liar’ at W. when he was hawking a fake case for war in Iraq — convinced me: Some people just can’t believe a black man is president and will never accept it.”

Anyway, by attacking the president on health care or on government spending – or claiming he was born in Africa or is a closet Muslim – the racists think they can hide their number one reason for slamming him: he’s not their favorite hue.

Of course, throughout our history, bigots have tried to lay down smoke screens over race.

John C. Calhoun – probably one of Wilson’s heroes — and the other rich, white slave owners who ran pre-Civil War South Carolina declared the tariffs of 1828 and 1832 null and void. A larger issue motivated the “nullies'” opposition to the levies. Calhoun and company feared that if the federal government could enforce tariff laws, it could, some day, enforce measures to abolish slavery.

In 1860-1861, 11 slave states – led by South Carolina — broke away  from the Union in the name of “states’ rights.” They meant the right of states to have slaves and seceded because they were scared that President Abraham Lincoln and the Republicans would use federal might to end the South’s peculiar institution.

For many years after the Civil War, “states’ rights” was the Southern cover word for segregation and race discrimination. Thurmond often invoked it.

Thurmond would have been among kindred spirits in the tea party crowd in Washington, which was almost all white. So are the tea parties everywhere else. Nearly every one of the rowdies who showed up to shout down Democratic congressmen and senators at the town hall style forums were white folks, too.

For the umpteenth time, I am not saying everybody who opposes Obama on health care or on government spending, or on anything else, or who didn’t vote for him, is a racist. The president doesn’t think so either.

But the hatred for him among tea party crazies and the town hall thugs is visceral.

It’s way beyond differences of political perspectives.

Would the uber-right-wing detest Obama as deeply if he were white? I doubt it. Would Wilson have shouted, “You lie!” at a white Democratic president? Don’t think so.

Anyway, Calhoun would be proud of the neo-Confederate Wilson, the tea baggers and the town hall rowdies. They’re his kind of white folks.

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About Berry Craig

Berry Craig is a native Kentuckian, a professor of history at the West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah and a freelance journalist. He is a member of the American Federation of Teachers and the Kentucky Education Association/National Education Association. He is the author of True Tales of Old-Time Kentucky Politics: Bombast, Bourbon and Burgoo, which he describes as "a strictly non-partisan chronicle of our political past from Gov. Isaac Shelby to Gov. Ruby Laffoon."
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2 Responses to John C. Calhoun would be proud of Joe Wilson and the tea party goers

  1. Tom Degan says:

    Why is so much hatred being hurled toward President Obama? That’s a no-brainer!

    He’s a Kenyan born Arab terrorist who wants to bring DEATH PANELS to this grand and glorious land of ours so he can pull the plugs on Granny and Gramps.

    HE’S A DANGED LEFT WING SOCIALIST whose education was funded by the American Communist Party, MoveOn.Org, Barbara Streisand and Ed Asner.

    He named his daughters Sasha and Malia – YO! WHAT’S UP WITH THAT???

    He would prefer to have dinner with Mahatma Gandhi over Ronald Reagan. RONALD REAGAN!!!

    He wants to start a TROTSKY FOR TOTS program for our children.

    He’s just an evil person!

    EVIL, I SAY! My fellow Americans, heed my warning,

    The Big, Black, Bolshevik Bogeyman is gonna git’cha!

    It has not a thing to do with race.

    I am a white person. I would not lie to you.

    But seriously, folks….

    Tom Degan
    Goshen, NY

  2. Jason Brogan says:

    I live in MA and I’m more conservative but don’t claim to be on one side or the other.

    I just DON’T see race as being the root or catalyst for conservative opposition. Liberal media is pushing the race card but the people I talk with who are inevitably a majority liberal see it otherwise. In light of the Cambridge police incident and events of ACORN it is very evident that O’Bama’s camp and their associates have and are pushing race as the issue.

    Its unfortunate and has made race relations in this country worse. It’s ashame this is the road that is being followed. Crying wolf one too many times was fatal for the little boy…..