At the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition's Fall Fundraiser in Des Moines last weekend, conservative political spokeswoman Sarah Palin compared the federal debt to slavery. "Our free stuff today is being paid for by taking money from our children and borrowing from China," said Palin; "When that money comes due - and this isn't racist, but it'll be like slavery when that note is due. We are going to beholden to the foreign master."
This comparison of the current times in America with a period in our nation's history that is matchless for its cold-blooded brutality is more than quite a stretch. It is an offensively vile comparison of a time, a long time, during which black people were kidnapped from their homeland, abused, sold as property, forced to have sexual relations, and executed. But, such duplicitous rhetoric is not entirely unexpected from a woman who mentioned being able to see Russia from Alaska as the basis of her foreign policy experience while running for Vice President in 2008.
Those on America's extreme right wing fringe have loved Sarah Palin despite the fact that she is not at all intellectually complicated. Her rather depraved homage to the currently popular film 12 Days of Slavery got a standing ovation in Iowa. Palin patrons must be consuming some of the same seductive tea that inspired the long and bloody defense of slavery times.
Around the same time Ms. Palin was scouring through the bones of slavery to the delight of Tea Party devotees, rapper Kanye West hoisted the Confederate Battle Flag high above his concert tour, emblazoned the Stars and Bars on his clothing line, and went to Twitter, posting in his puffed-up swagger, "The Confederate flag represented slavery in a way. That's my abstract take on what I know about it, right? So I wrote the song, 'New Slaves.' So I took the Confederate flag and made it my flag. It's my flag now. Now what you gonna do?" As if that wasn't enough, he added later, "the Confederate flag is colorless also. It's super-'hood and super-white-boy-approved at the same time."
Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network said of West's latest headline-grabbing marketing strategy, "Kanye West selling jackets with the Confederate flag on them is a disgrace and an embarrassment. It's inexcusable for West to be promoting and merchandising this flag. We are determined to boycott and shut down any stores that attempt to sell this merchandise. The Confederate flag symbolizes dehumanization, injustice and pain. It is a stark reminder of an era in our history that was defined by the abhorrent practice of slavery."
In these separate though kindred acts of political and cultural theatre, both Ms. Palin and Mr. West detached aspects of American history from their original contexts and assigned different meanings and significance to them. Sara Palin perversely diminished the centuries-long cruelty of slavery, was handsomely rewarded and is somewhere thinking up her next zinger. It remains to be seen how many who adhere to the so-called code of the streets and their wanna be friends will don Kanye West's version of the Confederate flag, which is inseparably linked to those who defended slavery.
Surprised by what Palin said and West did? Surely not! We all know by now the mockery in the messages communicated by Sarah Palin and Kanye West - two peas in the American pod - rests not on some elevated moral scale, but on the freedom of expression in America and of saying and doing whatever it takes to get elected and to make money. Ask most politicians and rappers.