Governor Orval Faubus, Governor George Wallace, and now Senator Mike Rounds, are supportive or tolerant of the KKK, or so they'd like us to think. But beneath the white sheets of racism, you often find an integrationist, more scared of losing an election than following a conscience.
Governor Orval Eugene Faubus is best known in the history books as the Arkansas Governor trying to use the cops and the National Guard to block President Dwight D. Eisenhower from using the U.S. Army to integrate nine black students from attending Central High School in Little Rock. He's a hero to segregationists, and hated by racial liberals.
But did you know Faubus was a liberal?
Born into poverty, Faubus' middle name came from Socialist candidate Eugene Debs. He was an unabashed New Dealer, champion of the poor, including reformers who swept away the corrupt old order. His mentor was ousted by a conservative, and Faubus prevailed against that incumbent only by luck in the following election, overcoming charges of being a communist. He governed as a liberal, but knew he was vulnerable in his reelection bid. So he played the race card, enabling him to ward off conservative challengers for several subsequent elections.
Governor George Wallace is more familiar to audiences, owing to his role in the film Selma. Like Faubus, he practiced racial segregation in the school system, and denied voting rights to blacks. He ran for president on states' rights. His name is almost synonymous with racism in this history books.
But did you know Wallace was an integrationist?
Wallace ran as one in early elections. But he was ahead of his time, perhaps. So Wallace outperformed his rivals when it came to racism, and he converted those hate-filled votes into victories. Eventually, after his presidential ambitions were thwarted by injuries, he returned to Alabama politics to run on his old roots of racial integration, courting black voters, even embracing Jesse Jackson in the 1980s. And it paid off. Such episodes are forgotten, in the history books, of course.
And finally, there's South Dakota Senator Mike Rounds, who said this, according to Ryan Grim with the Huffington Post.
"Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) argued Tuesday that even if Donald Trump's controversial remarks about the KKK and David Duke were intentional, rather than a gaffe induced by a faulty earpiece, he's still a better choice for president than former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)."
So why would Senator Rounds still take a Donald Trump even if he welcomed a KKK endorsement?
Would you believe he's pro-immigration?
Senator Rounds is a big backer of "the federal EB-5 program. Simply put, it's a federal program that allows qualified and approved foreign investors the opportunity to receive United States work visas (not citizenship) if they invest in American companies and create jobs," he notes on his 2014 campaign site. Rounds adds "Our opponents are trying to politicize and scandalize EB-5 every chance they get. Why? Because that's all they've got. Mainly, they're using the beef plant in Aberdeen, which will be operating in the near future, to create a political scandal and divert attention away from the real issues that truly affect our lives and our future."
Rounds supports this bipartisan increase in legal work visas, which is leading to attacks from the left and right about the program. So to distract voters from thinking he's a softie on immigration, Rounds makes controversial statements like this. It's not too different from candidates who make anti-Mexican immigrant and anti-Muslim remarks to divert attention from moderate to liberal views on a number of issues.
So what have we learned? Extremists may be dismayed to learn that a lot of their heroes were just playing them for fools, to get votes. But it is disconcerting to racially tolerant people that some talented liberals played the race card, even when they knew it was wrong, just to get votes.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.