The Republicans Magic Negro Burden

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[National Commentary: Republicans Self-Destruct]

This past December Republican National chair candidate John "Chip" Saltsman distributed a CD to fellow Republican Party officials entitled "We HATE the USA".

One of the songs on the CD is entitled "Barack the Magic Negro." It was written by conservative satirist Paul Shanklin and aired on Rush Limbaugh’s radio program.

The title of the song is based on a March 19, 2007 LA Times article entitled Obama the "Magic Negro" written by David Ehrenstein. In the article Ehrenstein makes the argument that Obama lends himself to White America’s idealized standards of a less-than-real Black man. According to Ehrenstein, "For as with all Magic Negroes, the less real he seems; the more desirable he becomes."

The song is a parody of Rev. Al Sharpton lamenting the fact that much of the national spot light has shifted away from him and now shines bright on President-elect Obama. The song--sung to Puff the Magic Dragon-- opens with:

"Barack the Magic Negro lives in D.C. The L.A. Times they called him that 'cause he's not authentic like me... See, real black men like Snoop Dogg or me or Farrakhan; have talked-the-talk and walked-the- walk, not come in late and won."

This song is one of 41 songs on the CD entitled "We Hate America". Other titles include Bank of Amigo; The Stay-Spanglish Banner; Mister Tan Marine Man; and I am Woman. At a time when the Republican Party is seeking to re-invent itself and expand its base, America is not well served by such futile attempts at humor.

What was it about this CD that Saltsman found so appealing? What is the climate within the Republican Party that made Saltsman feel comfortable enough as one of their candidates for chair that he would openly send such a thing to fellow Party officials? Finally, why do Shanklin and Saltsman feel the groups being satirized hate America? Is this another failed attempt, ala Sarah Palin, to define who is really American?

Saltsman has tried to defend this "satire." He thinks that RNC members have the good humor and good sense to recognize Shanklin’s songs as light-hearted political parodies. I wonder if Saltsman sent this CD to other Republicans such as Gen. Colin Powell, Secretary of State Rice, or former Attorney General Gonzalez.

If so, did they find it as light-hearted as Saltsman?

There is so much wrong with Saltsman’s judgment, his thinking that this is acceptable satire, his cry of double standard, and the Republican Party’s failure to condemn this vile attempt at humor that I don’t have enough space in this column to address them all. Let’s start with Saltsman himself.

As a candidate to chair a major American political party, Chip Saltsman should have better sense than to promote bigoted, divisive, and juvenile attempts at humor. At a time when America is facing the challenges of record unemployment and home foreclosures, wars on two fronts, and other crisis, Saltsman should be focused on welcoming all Americans into the party and promoting unity, not division.

To mock Rev. Sharpton and insult President-elect Obama does nothing to make me want to change my party affiliation.

For Saltsman to attempt to rationalize his insensitivity by saying "Liberal Democrats and their allies in the media didn’t utter a word about Ehrenstein’s irresponsible column" could be considered childish but I expect better from most children. Ehrenstein’s column may have been a shallow attempt at analysis and wrong but it was a serious attempt to explain the "Obama phenomenon" and far from irresponsible. Ehrenstein, who is Black, was never attempting to smear Black men.

What is irresponsible is conservative satirist Paul Shanklin hijacking Ehrenstein’s column to create a parody that forwards the notion that Snoop Dogg, Minister Farrakhan, and Rev. Sharpton are "real Black men" while President-elect Obama is less than Black. What’s even more irresponsible is Republican National chair candidate Chip Saltsman distributing the CD to party officials and now calling upon them to "stand up" and defend the indefensible.

The response from within the Republican Party has been interesting. Saltsman ran Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign and his former boss has come to his defense. Huckabee said, "Chip should have been more careful in his selection of Christmas gifts, but no one who knows him would ever suggest that he in any way would purposely disparage other people….Chip knows how sensitive such issues are. It shouldn’t be the main factor in the RNC race."

If this was not purposeful disparagement I don’t know what is. If bigoted attempts at humor should not be a main factor in the RNC race, what should be?

Current Republican National Committee Chairman Mike Duncan who is running against Saltsman and others for his seat issued the following statement: "The 2008 election was a wake-up call for Republicans to reach out and bring more people into our party. I am shocked and appalled that anyone would think this is appropriate as it clearly does not move us in the right direction."

For this response, Duncan has been accused by some party loyalists as "pandering to the media" and "throwing a good Republican under the bus." If Mike Duncan is pandering to the media, good for him. He’s smart enough to know crap when he smells it and stay as far away from it as possible.

One of the things that is very interesting is the response or lack thereof from many African American members of the Republican Party. Republican apologist Armstrong Williams’ silence on this issue has been deafening. Former Maryland Lt. Gov. and current candidate for chair of the RNC Michael Steele gave a very weak and safe response by stating the obvious: "Chip knows better" and "You've got to be cautious, you've got to be smart, you've got to be appropriate. And unfortunately in this instance Chip was none of those things."

Former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell believes that Saltsman is a fine individual and qualified for the RNC leadership position. He is on record as saying, "Unfortunately, there is hypersensitivity in the press regarding matters of race. This is in large measure due to President-elect Obama being the first African-American elected president."

Most people are "hypersensitive" to being insulted and demeaned. As it relates to African Americans and the Republican Party one only has to reflect upon recent history to understand their sensitivity. The Republican Party has a history of using race to create fear and galvanize their base. Examples include, the Southern Strategy, Willie Horton, the attack on Affirmative Action, tying Harold Ford in Tennessee to relationships with white women, including in the infamous commercial when he ran for the Senate, and the constant quoting of President-elect Obama’s middle name in a veiled attempt to make him appear a threat and un-American. With this history one must ask, can the Republican Party ever become a party of inclusion?

As the Republican Party tries to reinvent itself and appeal to a broader cross-section of the electorate, they must come to grips with the reality, words without deeds ring hollow. The Republican Party lost control of the House, Senate, and Executive Branch for a number of reasons.

One of which is that over time, reality caught up with their rhetoric and the two were not consistent. For a party that claims to be reaching out, Republican National chair candidate John "Chip" Saltsman’s actions and the party faithful attempts to excuse them only show us more of the same, and the American people have already rejected that.

Dr. Wilmer Leon is the Producer/Host of the nationally broadcast call-in talk radio program "On With Leon," a regular guest on CNN’s Lou Dobb’s Tonight, and a Teaching Associate in the Department of Political Science at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Go to or email:

© 2009 InfoWave Communications, LLC.


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