The poisonous legacies of Senators Benjamin Tillman and Theodore Bilbo are still very much with us. They're often found at tea party rallies and other nativist confabs where various speakers and sign-toting "patriots" openly indulge in racism and bigotry. In recent months and with increasing frequency, however, vitriol from the streets has once again found a voice within the halls of Congress.
Iowa Congressman Steve King - who makes up for his lack of legislative achievements by being insidious - has been the one to proudly and defiantly carry the torch of Tillman and Bilbo. A racial demagogue and red-baiter, King is known almost exclusively - on and off the Hill - for his alienating, ugly and very often ignorant public statements.
Earlier in the week, for example, he accused President Obama of favoring the "black person" by "default." At Political Correction, we highlighted his comments, which he made during an appearance on the G. Gordon Liddy Show. King and his staff accused us of taking his words out of context because our audio did not include the part where he explained what justified his conclusion. We didn't think his reasoning was all that relevant and we were soon proven right.
The next day, King doubled down and again accused Obama and his administration of promoting one race over another. This time, the charge was much broader. As King put it, this administration "defaults in favor of whichever minority they think will be the one that will most likely support their political party and their agenda." In another interview, he said that the administration was "favoring the minority over somebody else." Was he talking about only a specific incident? No. He went on to say that he knew of no instance where Obama's racial favoritism wasn't a factor in his decision making.
King's message is as simple as it is sadly familiar: By favoring minorities, Obama is at war with-- is an enemy of-- white America. So pernicious is the president's racial favoritism, according to King (who once warned that if Obama were elected president, terrorists would be celebrating in the streets) that he even ignores "the rule of law" in order to side with the minority. Obama's racism is innate, ingrained and immutable. It is, as he says, Obama's "default" position.
No doubt King and his ilk would scoff at the suggestion that a white president or even a legislator such as himself had some sort of default mechanism that favors the white person. In their view, conservative white Americans like King have never factored race into any of the laws and policies they've enacted and endorsed. White conservatives like King are all colorblind. They only see merit and hard work whereas minorities (who King accuses of depending on the public dole) are consumed by race-based and class-based animus. Minorities, unlike King, are not able to see things as they truly are.
As the Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates observes, "The charge by white public figures that certain politicians favor blacks, and thus disfavors whites is not merely 'racial resentment' it isn't just 'racial discomfort,' it is an old and racist appeal aimed squarely at a particular citizen, nursing the most ancient of American resentments."
The worst part of King's psyche is that he doesn't care one bit if his views, statements and votes are viewed as antiquated, offensive or even racist. It's all a badge of honor. His proudest vote in Congress, he brags, is when he voted against relief for areas affected by Hurricane Katrina.
No level of public shaming will quiet King. The only member of the House to vote against a resolution recognizing the contribution of slaves in the construction of the U.S. Capitol clearly will never abandon his mission.
Tillman and Bilbo would be proud.