If House Majority Whip Steve Scalise knowingly spoke at a White Supremacist rally, then he should obviously be removed from leadership. At this moment, though, I’m on the fence because we simply don’t know the details.
Is it possible a politician could speak at a meeting for a group called “EURO” where there were reportedly “no banners, no paraphernalia that suggested a white nationalism conference” — and not realize the pernicious beliefs of the host? One assumes it’s possible.
If it turns out that Scalise did know what he was doing, then he should go. If not, perhaps we might forgive him. So why are so many conservatives (for example, Mark Levin and Sean Hannity), so quick to throw Scalise under the bus? There are a few reasons — none of which are good enough to destroy a man’s career or implicitly label him a racist over.
First, of course, they want to deal a blow to Speaker John Boehner (there’s already talk of ousting him as Speaker). Second, there may be lingering bad blood from his time as head of the Republican Study Committee (RSC). And third, they resent the fact that conservative Chris McDaniel was attacked for being listed as a keynote speaker at a similar rally, and grassroots conservative challenger Matt Bevin was criticized for speaking at a cockfighting rally.
There seems to be a double standard between how grassroots conservatives are treated in comparison to how establishment Republicans are treated. … Or could it simply be that there is a huge difference between the way a candidate is treated versus the way an incumbent is? Fair or not, it makes sense to circle the wagons around an incumbent, while newly-discovered skeletons in the closet of a mere candidate could be a deal breaker. It’s easier and less messy to simply not elect someone than it is to un-elect them (or remove them from a post.)
In any event, one can’t help thinking the conservatives reflexively ready to dump Scalise are aping the left a bit, and likely for the wrong motives. The right reason to do this is that we should not tolerate bigotry. The almost right reason to do this is that conservatives should eradicate anything that might besmirch the movement. The wrong reason to do this is for paybacks — or because we think two wrongs make a right.
Is it possible even a good politician might agree to speak at an event without fully appreciating the historical context, or even the details?
In 1980, Ronald Reagan’s campaign essentially kicked off at the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, Mississippi (in 1964, three civil rights activists had been murdered there for helping register African-Americans to vote). To some, this was evidence of (at worst) racism or (at best) a tin ear. Whether you blame malice or poor judgement, it could have potentially disqualified Reagan to some.
Five years later, President Reagan once again stoked controversy when he visited Bitburg Cemetary. “[W]e only found later that there were the graves of about 30 SS troops–they were the villains who conducted the executions and all,” he said.
I guess we’re lucky talk radio wasn’t so big back then?
UPDATE: This piece originally and incorrectly referenced “Tom” Bevin (it’s Matt Bevin).