05/13/2010 03:49 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Taking on Big Whitey


I keep coming back to Glenn Beck's preposterous notion that President Obama has "a deep-seated hatred for white culture." It's one of those patented GOP instances of preemptive projection: accuse the enemy of doing exactly what you're doing -- in this case being racist -- and when they call you out on it they sound like they're saying, "I know you are but what am I?"

It's infantile, petulant, straight out of the schoolyard, and dishonest to the core. You know, vintage Beck. It's also effective, because it panders so well to the divided, warrior-crybaby mindset of the Tea Party crowd, who loudly profess on the one hand that they're America's staunchest, bravest patriots, but on the other can never quite keep their deep-seated sense of racial grievance and victimhood under wraps. They wave one fist at the sky (and/or in your face) in 1776-style rage, and use the other to ward off entirely imaginary blows from the massed, marauding hordes of the differently pigmented and the indifferently documented. People whose political ancestors marched with George Wallace in the sixties now appropriate, routinely and shockingly, the rhetoric of the civil-rights movement to bolster the notion that they, Big Whitey, are the real victims of race-hatred now. People whose parents and grandparents marched and died in the sixties for civil rights -- a serious, grown-up political movement with the noblest objectives in mind - are left to wonder how it came to this.

Looking back, I suppose the election of Barack Obama was always bound to kick over the stone of American racism and reveal the wriggling horrors beneath, but who really could have ever predicted how bad it would get? We now know there is still that strain -- ever-present, apparently ineradicable -- of Americans deliriously happy to delude themselves into believing the President of the United States is a terrorist, a Muslim, an illegal alien, a sleeper agent, a communist, a National Socialist, a baby-killer, and so on. We see their shrieking skulls on TV every day, gargling their insane conspiracy theories and crackpot talking points at cable news hosts who all too often let them rant unchallenged. Talk Radio and Fox News in particular are thrilled to encourage and even sponsor these primeval political urges.

But this is America, and racism, as ever, is good for business on the far right and even, more recently, on the near-right. Good for short-term business, that is, but in the long term its political suicide. As whites drift nearer and nearer to majority-minority status, and the loss of their long-cherished political hegemony looms bleakly, the strangest noises and eruptions can be heard from them -- like a collective death-rattle. And such eruptions are music to the ears of national and state politicians and their handlers. In Congress and the Senate, many formerly reasonable Republicans are now singing from the Tea Party hymn sheet for fear that insufficient ardency in support of the group's pet causes will lose them their seats come November. Thus we are greeted with the nauseating spectacle of senators and congressmen throwing up their hands when pushed to affirm the president's American provenance, or supposed Muslim leanings. "Well, I haven't done all the research, so I can't confirm or deny that" is the usual line -- when eight seconds on the internet would settle it forever. Without the benefit of knowing how to use "Google", a very fine line can persist between Harvard liberal elitist and Kenyan witch doctor.

In Arizona meanwhile, the state assembly, inspired by long time race-baiter Russell Pearce - a man who approvingly cites neo-nazi and white supremacists in his fundraising materials - has literally started howling at the moon. With the passage of SB1070, it is now open season on anyone who even looks like a Latino in Arizona. Crime is the reason cited most often, even though crime in Arizona, like in most states, has dropped dramatically in the last decade and a half. And with 51% of those polled seeming deeply okay with these rancid new Afrikaner-style pass-laws, it certainly looks like it's paying off in the short term.

However, cities and firms nationwide are starting to sever their business ties with the scorching, bankrupt state, and a Major League Baseball boycott is looming. Arizona Governor/Grifter Jan Brewer (Palin, on a diet of meth and sun and even less education) may indeed go down in history for SB1070, but not by signing in another shameful Nadir of American Race Relations. She'll be hailed as a backdoor civil rights hero by inadvertently ushering in a 21st century civil rights movement that will inevitably lead to comprehensive immigration reform, as did the last Civil Rights Movement in 1965. What the bleached brained, SAT-bereft, radiology tech dropout didn't learn in "college' is to what extent the hallowed civil-rights revolution owed to something as seemingly insignificant as major league baseball. That without the billion dollar business of producing heroes for public consumption, whites might never have cared enough about blacks to be bothered by racial injustice (Jackie Robinson, whose inclusion in MLB led this nation into desegregation, was honored at ballparks across the country 10 days before SB1070 was passed).


Today, players of Hispanic descent make up about 30% of team rosters, due in part to immigration legislation enacted by Dubya and Congress in 2006 that fundamentally abetted and facilitated the process by which MLB could obtain P-1 visas for foreign-born minor league players. This self-serving reform allowed for increased numbers of visas for non Americans, from which the MLB reaps tremendous financial gain in the way of increased access to foreign talent. If "Arizonans" think the multi-billion dollar industry of Major League Baseball is going to lose one penny -- let alone the next Roberto Clemente or Albert Pujols -- because of 3 hillbillies gone mad with power, then they have whatever form of rabies John McCain has. Anyway, it's not the most noble of human traits, but we do tend to be more outraged by indignities against our sports and entertainment heroes than by the actual atrocities and constitutional perversions committed against our housekeepers and our gardeners. And without baseball, Arizona is just, well, Thunderdome.

It's been a whole 23 years (that's 161 in hillbilly years), since Pontiac dealer, impeached criminal, pickaninny apologist and Arizona Governor Evan Mecham made his first act in his new job the erasing of a MLK paid state holiday. Within a few months, nearly $4.6 million was lost. A few months later, this polarizing non-white oriented one day a year caused the cancellation of 45 conventions to the tune of $25 million in lost revenue. One of these was an NBA convention in Phoenix. Mecham's response? "Well, the N.B.A., I guess they forget how many white people they git comin' to watch them play." The NFL Players Association was none too keen on playing their showcase game in a state that refused to recognize a national holiday solely because the guy was black, and the NFL removed Super Bowl XXVII from the hideous and aptly named Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe and put it in the lovely and quaint Rose Bowl in old town Pasadena.

Racism's negative effect for Republicans has not yet been seen outside of protest rallies. Racism has woken the sometimes dormant giant of future American politics, an increasingly vocal and active Latino voter demographic, much of it located in precisely those border states most prone to racist agitation over border security and illegal immigration, states where those of Hispanic origin often lived until deep into the 1970s in a state of virtual "Juan Crow." When that group asserts itself in the polls, the right will have to relearn the grim lessons that did for CA Gov. Pete Wilson in 1994, after he backed the racist and discriminatory Prop 187 (so classy of them to name a ballot initiative after the police call-sign for homicide). The Republican Party has been in a minority in California ever since -- and it's a long time since we heard a peep out of Pete Wilson.

The good news is, it's suicidal! Maybe the only creditable thing (besides his humanizing addictions) about George Bush was his determination to bring as many Hispanics into the GOP as possible. Karl Rove may be a fat creep, but he knows where the electoral future lies in the Sunbelt/Southwestern states -- and it isn't just with white folks any more. Alienating Latino votes is the political equivalent of slitting your wrists in the bathtub. But the party of Rove and Bush -- largely thanks to Rove and Bush's disgraceful, divisive and demonizing rhetoric on so many other topics -- just can't seem to help itself. It can't bring itself to denounce the racism evident at every tea party rally, and often seems to defend or downplay it. In the face of a Malthusian slo-mo alteration of the political landscape by Latinos, Arizona's politicians went almost immediately with their lowest gut-feelings. Rile up the mob for a few extra votes in Nov '10, then lose everything in 2012.