Sunday, July 19, 2009

Racism, Sex and Republicans

I have many friends, good and solid citizens and people, who consider themselves conservative in thought and politics. This blog is dedicated to that group out of a sense of commiseration for them as the Republican party slowly flushes itself down the toilet of moral hypocrisy in matters of sex and race.

In the past decade, the American public has been treated to the exposure of the antics of Sanford, Ensign, Foley, Vitter, Gingrich, and the bathroom guy from Idaho whose name escapes me at the moment; all hypocritical Republicans who participated in nearly a complete session of Congress doing nothing more than attempting to bring President Clinton down for his admitted activity of a sexual nature, depending on what the meaning of "is" is, with Monica Lewinsky. All of these hail fellows well met, other than their own sexual pecadilloes, share the common recommendations that Clinton should have resigned while stubbornly resisting that notion for themselves.

Yet, the moral hypocrisy of this group pales by comparison with the racist ideas forming the basis for current Republican thought. Let's discuss Michael Steele who gives the designation "token black" new meaning indeed. Mr. Steele is the current head of the Republilcan party and is also black. He announced his plans to bring more black people into the party this past week by serving fried chicken at gatherings. Wow! Then there is Alabama Republican Senator Sessions. His record on race, given the nature of his questions directed to Sonya Sottermayer (No, Governor Huckabee, her first name is not Maria), serves to aptly illustrate my consternation for me conservative colleagues.

In 2002, Sarah Wildman, an assistant editor at The New Republic, wrote about Sessions:

"Sessions was U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama. The year before his nomination to federal court, he had unsuccessfully prosecuted three civil rights workers--including Albert Turner, a former aide to Martin Luther King Jr.--on a tenuous case of voter fraud. The three had been working in the "Black Belt" counties of Alabama, which, after years of voting white, had begun to swing toward black candidates as voter registration drives brought in more black voters. Sessions's focus on these counties to the exclusion of others caused an uproar among civil rights leaders, especially after hours of interrogating black absentee voters produced only 14 allegedly tampered ballots out of more than 1.7 million cast in the state in the 1984 election. The activists, known as the Marion Three, were acquitted in four hours and became a cause celebre. Civil rights groups charged that Sessions had been looking for voter fraud in the black community and overlooking the same violations among whites, at least partly to help reelect his friend Senator Denton.

"On its own, the case might not have been enough to stain Sessions with the taint of racism, but there was more. Senate Democrats tracked down a career Justice Department employee named J. Gerald Hebert, who testified, albeit reluctantly, that in a conversation between the two men Sessions had labeled the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) "un-American" and "Communist-inspired." Hebert said Sessions had claimed these groups "forced civil rights down the throats of people." In his confirmation hearings, Sessions sealed his own fate by saying such groups could be construed as "un-American" when "they involve themselves in promoting un-American positions" in foreign policy. Hebert testified that the young lawyer tended to "pop off" on such topics regularly, noting that Sessions had called a white civil rights lawyer a "disgrace to his race" for litigating voting rights cases. Sessions acknowledged making many of the statements attributed to him but claimed that most of the time he had been joking, saying he was sometimes "loose with [his] tongue." He further admitted to calling the Voting Rights Act of 1965 a "piece of intrusive legislation," a phrase he stood behind even in his confirmation hearings.

"It got worse. Another damaging witness--a black former assistant U.S. Attorney in Alabama named Thomas Figures--testified that, during a 1981 murder investigation involving the Ku Klux Klan, Sessions was heard by several colleagues commenting that he "used to think they [the Klan] were OK" until he found out some of them were "pot smokers." Sessions claimed the comment was clearly said in jest. Figures didn't see it that way. Sessions, he said, had called him "boy" and, after overhearing him chastise a secretary, warned him to "be careful what you say to white folks." Figures echoed Hebert's claims, saying he too had heard Sessions call various civil rights organizations, including the National Council of Churches and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, "un-American." Sessions denied the accusations but again admitted to frequently joking in an off-color sort of way. In his defense, he said he was not a racist, pointing out that his children went to integrated schools and that he had shared a hotel room with a black attorney several times.

"During his nomination hearings, Sessions was opposed by the NAACP, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, People for the American Way, and other civil rights
groups. Senator Denton clung peevishly to his favored nominee until the bitter end, calling Sessions a "victim of a political conspiracy." The Republican-controlled Judiciary Committee finally voted ten to eight against sending Sessions to the Senate floor. The decisive vote was cast by the other senator from Alabama, Democrat Howell Heflin, a former Alabama Supreme Court justice, who said, "[M]y duty to the justice system is greater than any duty to any one individual."

"None of this history stopped Sessions's political ascension. He was elected attorney general in 1994. Once in office, he was linked with a second instance of investigating absentee ballots and fraud that directly impacted the black community. He was also accused of not investigating the church burnings that swept the state of Alabama the year he became attorney general. But those issues barely made a dent in his 1996 Senate campaign, when Heflin retired and Sessions ran for his seat and won.

"Since his election as a senator, Sessions has not done much to make amends for his past racial insensitivity. His voting record in the Senate has earned him consistent "F"s from the NAACP. He supported an ultimately unsuccessful effort to end affirmative action programs in the federal government (a measure so extreme that many conservatives were against it), he opposed hate-crimes laws, and he opposed a motion to investigate the disproportionate number of minorities in juvenile detention centers. Says Hillary Shelton, director of the NAACP's Washington bureau, "[Sessions's] voting record is disturbing. ... He has consistently opposed the bread-and-butter civil rights agenda." But it has been on judicial nominees that Sessions has really made a name for himself. When Sessions grabbed Heflin's Senate seat in 1996, he also nabbed a spot on the Judiciary Committee. Serving on the committee alongside some of the senators who had dismissed him 16 years earlier, Sessions has become a cheerleader for the Bush administration's judicial picks, defending such dubious nominees as Charles Pickering, who in 1959 wrote a paper defending Mississippi's anti-miscegenation law, and Judge Dennis Shedd, who dismissed nearly every fair-employment civil rights case brought before him as a federal district court judge. Sessions called Pickering "a leader for racial harmony" and a "courageous," "quality individual" who was being used as a "political pawn." Regarding Shedd, he pooh-poohed the criticism, announcing that the judge "should have been commended for the rulings he has made," not chastised.

"And yet, despite his record as U.S. Attorney, attorney general of Alabama, and senator, Sessions has never received criticism from conservatives or from the leadership of the Republican Party. President Bush even campaigned for him in the last election. It's true, of course, that Sessions isn't in a leadership position. But, if conservatives are serious about ending the perception that the GOP tolerates racism, they should look into his record as well."

Wildman described a written reaction from the conservative columnist Peggy Noonan at the time that she was really "tired of being embarrassed" by this kind of racial insensitivity. To watch and listen to Sessions and his Republican cohorts who questioned the soon-to-be justice it is obvious that none of these gentlemen have the slightest clue about what is going on in America. The tone and tenor of their questions makes Sarah Palin look like a Fulbright scholar. There are a lot of thoughtful people out there who have traditional values and conservative thoughts who deserve better than what is currently being offered up by the Republican party. During the eight years of the Bush presidency, I was embarassed and furious about his adminsitration's tampering with both truth and our constitutional form of government. It has not gotten any better since and I find myself embarassed for my friends who claim to be Republicans. Democracy requires good and earnest debate and discussion. Instead we are watching and presiding over the death of the minority party. It is a sad moment in American history.

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