Outgoing Republican National Committee chair Robert M. Duncan ought to seriously rethink whether he wants to bail out as chair of the RNC. He shouldn't rethink his departure from the post because of the shoot-the party-in-the foot stunt by a leading would be successor Chip Saltsman. This stunt was the release of the silly, insipid "Magic Negro" CD parody of Obama. This caused a minor stir during the early days of the presidential campaign in 2007.
No, Duncan should stay for two reasons. He did the right and honorable thing by denouncing the release of the offensive "Magic Negro" CD by Saltsman. He also seemed to grasp that this would refute exactly what the GOP has heatedly professed that it isn't; and that's a racist party. Saltsman's antic doesn't make things any easier for the GOP.
Other than Duncan, no other leading GOP figure and that includes the man who for a few more weeks anyway is still the titular head of the party, W. Bush, has uttered a mumbling word of criticism about the CD. But that's in keeping with the all too familiar pattern of the past.
The pattern is that when the GOP's Saltsmans create a race tinged flap, GOP officials flip into a see no evil, hear no evil mode toward them. The casual and sometimes blatant, racist trash talk of top Republicans, even Republican presidents, in the past has inevitably percolated down to the troops. If Saltsman felt that he could issue the CD and get away with it, it's because too many other Republicans have made offensive racial slips or digs in the past with little or no consequence.
A defiant Saltsman made it clear that he saw absolutely nothing wrong in releasing the "Magic Negro" CD. He even tried to turn the table on the critics and make them out to be the bad guys for propagating a double standard; that is when a GOP official or politician says or does anything that can even be remotely considered race baiting, they're instantly called on the carpet for it. But when a Democrat does the same they get a pass. Neither Saltsman nor any other GOP official who has ever used that weak line ever cites any example of where this supposed racial double standard has been at play.
Most Republicans, of course, don't utter racist epithets, use racial code-speak or publicly denigrate minorities. During the presidential campaign, Obama's Republican rival John McCain and the RNC did the right thing and kept race out of the campaign. But despite their best efforts, there were countless incidents, big and little, during the campaign where GOP campaign workers and local officials sent out or posted inflammatory race baiting cartoons, caricatures, and digs against Obama in mailers or on websites. McCain's GOP running mate Sarah Palin chomped at the bit to go after Obama for his alleged cozy ties with Reverend Jeremiah Wright. The attack, if it had been allowed, would have been chock full of sly racial hints that Obama was a closet black radical.
But it didn't happen. That seemed to send the right signal that the GOP would make sure that the campaign would and should be won or lost on the issues and not personal or political racial hits.
But that's only part of the reason top GOP officials were adamant that race should be purged from the GOP's past attack arsenal. Former Bush political guru Karl Rove and Former RNC chair Ken Mehlman logged countless hours on the road, spent millions of dollars, and wined and dined black ministers and black businesspersons during the 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns to convince blacks that the GOP had indeed mended its old bigoted ways. This was not altruism. It was a cold, calculated and pragmatic political move. The GOP brain trust knew that they could cinch a Bush victory in a tight race with Democrats Al Gore and John Kerry if they could marginally bump up the percentage of the black vote he got in some key states. It worked. Bush got just enough black votes in a couple of the states to tip the White House scale to him.
Now there's Saltsman. He didn't just make a mockery of the GOP's diversity ploy. He challenged other leading GOP committee members to treat the "Magic Negro" ridicule of Obama as a "lighthearted" fare. Fortunately, Duncan didn't buy his blow off of it. The question though is he the only top GOP official who doesn't?
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is How Obama Won (Middle Passage Press, January 2009).