Even by CNN standards, with its ample chicanery and spin, Conway's remark was brutal. Larry King's nightly program, usually more schmooze than news, was plunged to a Limbaugh-like low. Gratefully, Democratic strategist and Obama supporter, Jamal Simmons, was on hand to challenge Conway. Taking the high road, Simmons said:
"arguing about whether she should let him sit on the back of the bus of her presidential ticket."
KellyAnne Conway, who holds a law degree from George Washington University and clearly understands the power of language, appeared surprised that her racist taunt wasn't jovially accepted by her host and fellow panelists. She was inordinately comfortable interjecting Jim Crow as a natural part of her dialogue. It was only after Jamal Simmons' immediate response that Conway knew she was in trouble. She countered unsuccessfully with:
"Larry, we have to address that. We have to address that. This 'back of the bus' comment is really beyond the pale. I think Senator Clinton, whatever our disagreements are between the two candidates, Senator Clinton has never done or said anything that would imply that she would rather have Barack Obama sit in the back of her campaign bus."
No amount of deflecting by Conway could detract from her callousness. Aside from radical conservative radio hosts like Ohio's Bill Cunningham, who recently incited an audience on behalf of John McCain, and bloated bigot, Rush Limbaugh, Conway's brand of hate speech has been kept pretty much out of the fray.
"No, as V.P. As V.P. You're not paying attention. As V.P."
Sadly, that all changed last evening. KellyAnne Conway lowered the bar on civility --even for corporate media. Larry King was clearly disturbed by Conway's 'back of the bus' assault. He asked her if she had actually used the term and what she had meant when she used it. But King's simple question was not a true rebuke. Conway's racism deserved a strong on air condemnation from the host -- not the off-camera chiding that was likely to come. At 74 years old, Larry King should have witnessed the inhumanity and disgrace of Jim Crow throughout his youth and adult years. There was institutionalized racism in Larry King's native New York, and in Florida where he worked early on. White Americans weren't blind to the injustice. They just didn't suffer its pain -- at least not directly.
The fact is, all members of an unjust society are affected by its injustice. Conway's reference to 'back of the bus' should have inspired an instant reprimand from King, who holds an exalted position at CNN. Over the past seven years, in the administration of George W. Bush, historical errors have been repeated. Among them are the erosion of civil liberty. The imbalance of Bush's Unitary Executive has skewed the remaining two Branches of Government -- in particular, the Legislative Branch, which continuously succumbs to the Executive. But while the Congress is caving, The People are not. The People want change. Yet change won't come if America permits the revival of degradation. Terms like "back of the bus" have no place in our civil discourse.
Two years ago, on the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, I visited the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. At the Museum, I sat on a REAL Montgomery Bus. On that bus, in the very front row, sat a life size sculpture of the great Rosa Parks. Turned around in his seat to face Mrs. Parks was a life size version of the bus' white driver. Every few minutes, a booming voice filled the bus -- supposedly that of the driver -- commanding Mrs. Parks to get to the back of the bus. But the sculpture of Mrs. Parks sat regally, proudly and bravely in her seat, clutching the purse on her lap. It's an astonishing and overwhelming experience. The entire museum is breathtaking.
When I returned to Los Angeles, I shared my experience with a brilliant playwright friend, Joanne Morris -- a powerful African American woman who understood how deeply I was moved by my experience at the Museum. Joanne, an inspired, insightful artist, took my experience and created a theatrical rendition I was fortunate to perform this year for Dr. King's birthday.
The Civil Rights Museum should be required attendance for every American and every visitor to America. It should certainly be mandatory attendance for KellyAnne Conway. KellyAnne Conway should be forced to face the images of the tortures and the hangings and the beatings and the injustices that are vividly, painfully and necessarily displayed throughout this American historical treasure. KellyAnne Conway should sit on that same Montgomery bus in the presence of greatness and come to understand what a minor insignificance she is.
If you are disturbed and appalled by KellyAnne Conway's racist tactics, please let CNN know. Racism, particularly on the public airwaves, must not be permitted to occur. Call the CNN comments line at: (404) 827-1500 or click here to e-mail the Larry King Live show.
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