The election of 38-year old Audra Shay of Louisiana to the chairmanship of the Young Republican National Federation on Saturday in Indianapolis might have gone practically unnoticed, had it not been for revelations by John Avlon, writing in The Daily Beast, that Shay had tacitly endorsed a virulently racist post about U.S. President Barack Obama on her Facebook page.
In response to one of her Facebook friends, Eric S. Piker asserting
"Obama Bin Lauden [sic] is the new terrorist...Muslim is on there [side]...need to take this country back from all these mad coons...and illegals,"
Shay posted back,
"You tell em Eric! lol."
When two of her other friends--including Sean L. Conner, chairman of the D.C. Young Republicans--complained about the racist language on Shay's Facebook thread, Shay responded, not by unfriending the author of the "mad coon" comment, but by unfriending the two who complained.
In his two articles, Avlon reveals a disturbing pattern of similar viewpoints expressed by Shay in previous Facebook posts, larded with misspellings, and with syntax that would embarrass a marginally-educated 16-year old, including one from October 2008 where she employs a lynching motif, suggesting "Obama in a noose" as a Halloween decoration, defending it as "freedome [sic] of speech," and that "no one in Atlanta would mind."
In spite of Shay's attempts to sanitize the 2009 "mad coon" exchange by deleting the posts and issuing a statement to the effect that racist slurs did not represent her position as a candidate for the chairmanship of the Young Republicans--and would not be tolerated on her Facebook wall--screenshots had already been taken of the post, and of her response, Avlon reported.
A final post from Piker stated his position quite clearly--the position Shay appeared to endorse with her You tell em Eric lol! response to Piker's previous post (that is, before she claimed she didn't endorse it)--
"...this is still America...freedom of speech and thought is allowed...for now any ways...and the last time i checked I was still a good ole southern boy...and if yur ass is black don't let the sun set on it in a southern town..."
Recasting herself as the victim of character assassination (and sounding disconcertingly like a low-rent road-company franchise of the Sarah Palin Circus Of Flying Media Martyrs) Shay issued a pious, melodramatic statement, complete with a reference from Psalm 23.
"It is a disgrace that these types of political attacks are taking place and once again," read the statement. "[It] proves that my opponents will stoop to the lowest levels to steal this election from the jaws of victory."
In an apparent attempt to keep the aforementioned "jaws of victory" well-lubricated, Shay deleted her Facebook account, prompting Gary Coats of The Conservativist to note on July 9th that "it appears that there is more to this story if she is not leaving her profile open to the public anymore."
Be that as it may, apparently it worked: the voting body of the Young Republican National Federation was of a similar mindset, and on Saturday they elected Audra Shay--and her values--to represent them.
Ignorance and bigotry loves a vacuum, and the cultural vacuum left in the wake of Barack Obama's historical ascension to the presidency is a significant cultural gulf.
Decades from now, social historians may be able to pinpoint the exact moment, during the lead-up to the 2008 election, that the sheer weight of historical potential tipped the scale of restraint to the breaking point, shattering the fragile veneer of the post-Civil Rights-era façade of civility. That rupture, for its part, is leaking public, social and racial bile in a way that has not been acceptable since the 1960s.
In the months following Obama's win, the Southern Poverty Law Center has reported more than 200 hate-related incidents referencing race. In Madison County, Idaho, a school superintendent found it necessary to respond to a complaint from parents that children on one school bus were chanting "assassinate Obama," while in North Carolina, the Statesville Record newspaper apologized for running a leader column asking, "What's more scary, a bleak economy or a black president?" In December of 2008, Chip Saltzman mailed out a CD of "Barack the Magic Negro," the racist parody of "Puff the Magic Dragon," as a Christmas gift to his nearest and dearest.
The line between what is acceptable and what is not appears, inexplicably, to be blurring even further. In June of this year, prominent GOP activist Rusty DePass apologized for "joking" about Michelle Obama being a descendant of apes. In short order, it came to light that Sherri Goforth, an administrative assistant to Tennessee State Sen. Diane Black (R-Gallatin) had sent out a profoundly racist email, a composite of portraits of 43 U.S. presidents, with Obama's portrait a set of white cartoon pop-eyes, jumping out of a field of black in the Al Jolson "blackface" style.
"I am calling on Sen. Black to reject this racist smear and fire this staffer who, on state government time, on state government computers, using a state government e-mail account, launched this bigoted attack on our president,"
Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester said in a statement posted on the party's website.
"Keeping her on the staff would send the message that this type of behavior is condoned by the Senate Republican Caucus."
This was apparently not of particular concern to Senator Black, who replied that Ms. Goforth was "reprimanded," but not fired, citing Goforth's "stellar record," which apparently trumps any collegial concerns for the dignity of the Tennessee Senate, the State, the Republican Party, or the personal or professional moral and ethical integrity of Senator Black herself.
In a pathetic sort of way, Senator Black, better than anyone else in the entirety of this sordid tale, appears to have best articulated the unspoken policy of an exhausted and confused Republican Party as it flails about like a cranky old man who can't find a comfortable spot in his own bed. To wit, don't risk alienating "the base," however ugly it gets.
As the GOP "teabags" America, attempting to "rebrand" itself, with all the enthusiasm of a slovenly housewife in a failing marriage armed with a Jenny Craig membership and a gift certificate to Glamour Shots, no one is watching the door to the back alley.
Having long relied on the so-called Republican "base" (and still reeling from the stinging November defeat) the GOP appears to be unable--or unwilling--to put the genie of religion-based social intolerance, and racism, back in the bottle by calling it out, and distancing themselves from it in unambiguous terms once and for all.
Instead, the smell issuing from the GOP's lack of leadership and direction is attracting the subterranean element of the "base" like blowflies to a carcass by the side of the highway.
If the Republican Party is serious about "rebranding," it might begin by joining the 21st century. It's ironic that one of the only young Republican voices exhorting this change is not even an elected official, but the daughter of one--Meghan McCain, who wondered out loud how a 38-year old "Young Republican" who thought racial epithets were funny could possibly move the Party forward in the service of a generation of genuinely young Republicans who are, even as you read this, wondering what the hell is going on with their Party, and why the titular organization of its younger members is moving, not forward, but backward into a new Ice Age of political irrelevancy.
Coming as Audra Shay's election did, at the end of a week over the course of which the American public was presented with the sickening sight of a crowd of devastated black schoolchildren forced to evacuate a Philadelphia swimming pool full of white children on a blistering summer day lest they "change [the pool's] complexion," the question of how much lower the bar can be moved, before something breaks, is begged.
For better or for worse, the Young Republican National Federation is now headed by a 38-year old, spelling-challenged "event planner" who finds references to America's 44th (and first African American) president as a "mad coon" to be an occasion for great merriment.
It would be comforting to believe that Audra Shay, endorsed by Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, is not the racist her Facebook shenanigans suggest, but merely a tactless, not-very-bright woman with no sense of judgment--one whose first instinct upon seeing a wall-post of untrammeled racism from her friend Eric was not to repudiate that racism, delete his post, and unfriend him, but instead to "LOL" and encourage him in it.
On the other hand, Shay might also be an astute, saturnine politician, one who accurately gauged the climate of resentment towards Obama roiling beneath the surface of the organization, and knew the electorate would forgive a spoor of racial prejudice on the part of its leader, and might even celebrate it as "mavericky."
Furthermore, that it might not even care if the Young Republican National Federation becomes tainted, in the minds of the public, as being led by middle-aged chairwoman who laughs at "coon" jokes on Facebook.
Or, as Shay would doubtless express it, "LOL@that!"
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