During the week that the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial opens to the public on the National Mall in Washington, Texas Governor Rick Perry finds a way to insult the legacy of the civil rights movement, and by extension, black people. It’s all in the timing.
The newly minted presidential candidate was on the campaign trail in Rock Hill, South Carolina. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the historic Rock Hill lunch counter sit-in, when students from Friendship Junior College vowed to engage in civil disobedience and go to jail in the process. A reporter mentioned to Perry, “This year we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Friendship Nine sit-in.”
“Listen, America’s gone a long way from the standpoint of civil rights and thank God we have,” the governor responded.
“We’ve gone from a country that made great strides in issues of civil rights, I think we all can be proud of that. And as we go forward, America needs to be about freedom,” Perry added. “It needs to be about freedom from overtaxation, freedom from over-litigation, freedom from over-regulation. And Americans, regardless of what their cultural or ethnic background is, they need to know that they can come to America and you got a chance to have any dream come true because the economic climate is gonna be improved.”
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Freedom from taxes and regulation? This is the lesson that Rick Perry has learned from the civil rights movement? My first reaction was that the more that Texas Governor Rick Perry opens his mouth, the more he reveals that George W. Bush is the intellectually superior of the two Texans. Now that’s quite an indictment, given that no one ever accused the former president of resembling a brain trust. And Perry has been flexing his secessionist and Tea Party bona fides of late, proving he is meaner and more of an extremist than his former boss.
Perry might not be “the brightest guy around,” as a former classmate related, but I would argue the man knew that of which he spoke when he made his insensitive civil rights comment.
These days, for the hard-right-off-the-deep-end Republican faithful, most roads lead to tax cuts, especially for the wealthiest Americans. And race is the often used but rarely discussed vehicle that they ride to get there. Let me explain: the mantra of smaller government and lower taxes is a proxy for black people.
As the late political attack dog Lee Atwater noted in his Southern Strategy playbook of sorts, “You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Ni**er, ni**er, ni**er. By 1968, you can’t say ‘ni**er’– that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things, and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.”
To compare the noble goals of the civil rights movement to the nefarious political strategies of GOP hacks and dirty tricksters who fight against civil rights is the ultimate cynical move. Those who struggled for equality in the 50s, 60s and early 70s sought a greater government role in guaranteeing that all people receive justice and freedom, including voting rights, the right to an education and full access to public accommodations.
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