Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Sununu, Powell and Racism

It's silly, a little tiring and probably bad for my blood pressure to keep up with and blog about every stupid utterance that comes from major party campaign surrogates, especially racial shots from right-wing Republicans. It is what it is. But every now and then someone says something which goes a bit beyond the normal silliness and fluff of election year political statements and reveals something a bit uglier.

This was the case with former Bush Chief of Staff, former New Hampshire Governor and Romney campaign adviser John Sununu who, when asked about General Colin Powell's endorsement of President Barack Obama, could only sputter that it must have been because both men are black. Right.

When you take a look at Colin Powell, you have to look at whether that's an endorsement based on issues or he's got a slightly different reason for endorsing President Obama," Sununu said, adding: "I think when you have somebody of your own race that you're proud of being president of the United States, I applaud Colin for standing with him."

 I don't usually pay attention to endorsements because I don't really think they mean what they used to mean but I think I would have read about or remembered the uproar if Colin Powell had endorsed candidates for President like Shirley Chisholm, Dick Gregory, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Cynthia McKinney or other humans who met the American standard for blackness. However I think all of those people struggled along the campaign trail without the Powell endorsement. Watch the Sununu video below.

This is a really interesting statement because it reveals some things about how Sununu sees the world and how he sees Black people. The immediate question that comes to my mind is whether Sununu will vote for Romney because both he and Romney are white? I would venture to guess that Sununu would say no and claim that he's voting for Romney because of issues x, y, z. But he's evidently unwilling to extend that same presumption to Colin Powell, strictly because Powell happens to be black. Never mind any of Powell's achievements, statements, beliefs, worldviews, experiences or the experiences of people who have worked with and for Colin Powell.  In a slip of the tongue Sununu showed that to him race trumps all. I guess all of those Black people who constantly voted for one white candidate or another are invisible. And when whites voted for whites that was just fine. But you blacks all stick together see. 

Many times people like to tell themselves that racism or us-them thinking is an artifact of the lower classes, the working classes, the kind of people who drive pickup trucks, own lots of guns, wave Confederate flags and have to take a shower as soon as they get home from work. Well, no it's not. Sununu is a very accomplished man and he's also a Mensa member. Chances are he's smarter than you are. But intelligence is no barrier to racist thinking. Sununu has eagerly taken on the role of Romney's attack dog, the Gregor Clegane that every now and then slips the leash and bites someone before the candidate rushes up and puts the muzzle back on the beast. Sununu has a history of race-baiting or outright racist remarks about the President and/or his supporters. So he's doing his job. His remarks are no accident. He didn't slip the leash; he was unleashed. He's appealing to a very ugly (small??) portion of the Republican base, one which doesn't really think that anyone black has any business being in the White House unless they're serving tea. The ironic thing is that given Sununu's Southern European/Middle Eastern origins, it wasn't that long ago in American history that his "whiteness" could be questioned. And in some places in Europe it still would be. And how in the world does someone who was born in Cuba of all places get the nerve to lecture the President of the United States on "how to be an American"? The only answer to this is that to a lot of people, too many people, American = whiteness. The election of a black man to the Presidency makes it painfully obvious that American <> whiteness. And it never did, really. This country was mixed from the start.

If you've read this blog before then you know I'm not really a huge Obama fan. There are legitimate honorable reasons to vote for either major party candidate or any other candidate that best suits you. The irony is that Obama has mostly governed (feminist and gay rights sympathies aside) as a center-right politician, as what used to be called a Rockefeller Republican. His race has excited the far right to primal screams of hatred and disgust at the idea of "losing their" country and constant evocations of Obama as "an affirmative action president" (witness Donald Trump's fascination with Obama's grades and birth certificate or Palin's fascination with Obama's blackness). But Obama's race may have also made people on the left who would otherwise be up in arms over unemployment, entitlement reform and civil liberties mute their opposition, precisely because they don't want to be on the same side as some right-wing yahoos. The fact that Sununu feels comfortable calling a woman journalist and a news organization "groupies" shows that should Obama win re-election some right-wingers will literally explode from the dissonance between what's in their heads and reality. Of course the same is true of some on the left if Romney pulls it out. And either way I'll be there to laugh at the loser. Count on that. But my bigger concern is that whichever millionaire wins the election there will still be numerous Americans who think just like Sununu does. And many of those people are comfortably ensconced in positions of power in businesses and organizations where they can hire, fire and promote people. Some of them are even in law enforcement or politics. Think they'll be fair minded? It's not for nothing that Col. Wilkerson said that the GOP, his party, is full of racists.

1) Was Sununu out of line?
2) Does he owe Powell or the President an apology?
3) Should the President make a stronger statement about Sununu?
4) Why hasn't Romney been pressured to drop Sununu?

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