Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Calling a Spade a Spade

There's probably not many people here who remember George Wallace (I remember him well) but if there's anything of his legacy that endures in our country's collective memory, it's the words from his Governor's inaugural speech in 1963, "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever."

Maybe one person in a thousand could tell you that Wallace ran for President four times - I recalled only his campaigns in 1968 and 1972 - each time running on white disaffection with integration. It's important to note that Wallace's campaigns weren't low-key fringe affairs; although Wallace knew he didn't stand a chance at winning, he felt he could garner enough support to broker an end to civil rights reform. He was not far off and came dangerously close to succeeding.

If anyone thinks, "Well, that was America then, different from America NOW," think again. Wallace's base in all four elections was largely drawn from southern white evangelicals, specifically Southern Baptists, the same base that Bush and Rove found so important in 2004. Although 1976 (the last time Wallace ran for President) is a long time ago, it's not so long in the conservative mind-set, a mind-set marked by fossilized thinking and an unwillingness to change. Considering it was until 1995 that the Southern Baptist Convention deemed it appropriate to embark on its short-lived "racial reconciliation" initiative and apologize for its religiously-sanctioned support for racial segregation, it's not unreasonable to assume that beneath the self-righteousness of most white conservative christians lies an undercurrent of racism.

My own perception of "values" as an issue for conservative white christians is that it's a backlash movement. Specific issues like abortion, gay-rights, or the war in Iraq are not so much principled stands as they are part of a larger reaction to a society in flux, a society that has threatened the imagined birth-right of many white Americans. Joining the skinheads isn't as socially acceptable as joining a church. Take a look at almost every conservative evangelical community and you'll see a snow bank.

Why has the left has not called conservative white evangelicals out on this (especially when its so obvious)? Because the left has still not learned to be the kind of street-fighters that Republicans are. I've read a little here and there about Lakoff's notion of "framing" (although I confess I have still not read his book) but we're not going to get anywhere until we learn how to "frame" issues with gut-level emotion. We're still afraid to assume the worst in people even while Republicans continue to refine their hate-filled attacks on liberals. James Dobson can call liberals "God-haters" and "haters of God's people" (to which many of my liberal Christian friends take exception) and the media gives him a pass; obviously, Republican hate-speech is not just accepted, it's expected. If the left ever needed a cue, it's done passed.

If you have your own doubts about conservative evangelical hate, google up some of the conservative christian discussion boards and see what the self-righteous "values" they're discussing. You'll find all manner of jew-hating, catholic-hating, minority-hating, and Bush-loving comments. Just a cursory glance at those boards showed a love for god and hate for anyone not believing in their values - or wearing the same color skin. If you have any doubts that "values" is just a code word for "racism", you're naive, the evidence is just waiting to be discovered on almost every conservative christian discussion board.

It's time to re-frame the issue of "values" for what it is: white fears of losing their place in some hocus-pocus hierarchy, the politics of exclusion. George Wallace understood how powerful white fears were and ran under a "law and order" platform, a code for "let's put those people back in their place". Unfortunately for him, the left at that time had the guts to call him out on his thinly veiled racism and Wallace was defeated. If the left ever regains its courage, "values" (as defined by conservative christians) can fail in the same way Wallace's platform did. There's no reason we can't declare that hate and racism are not American values.


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