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.
When Dr. King was assassinated, he was standing up for the rights of striking sanitation workers in Memphis to earn a living wage, not for the right of a stupid-rich multi-billionaire to maintain his tax shelter, cut his workers' pay, or skirt workplace safety and environmental regulations.
Moreover, the movement was fought in the courtroom, with civil rights lawyers such as Thurgood Marshall and Charles Hamilton Houston breaking down Jim Crow in the legal system, as Dr. King and others beat down segregation in the streets and at the lunch counters.
In contrast, the Tea Party-infused Republican Party -- and certainly Rick Perry, the Koch Brothers' $1.2 million poster boy -- believe that freedom means less government in the form of draconian budget cuts and privatization of the public schools, union-busting, the repeal of so-called "Obamacare," and the shredding of the social safety net.
In other words, the policies coming out of Congress and Tea Party-controlled state houses that are designed to break the backs of poor, working- and middle-class families -- and are doing so with great success -- in order to divert even more money to the lucky few at the top of America's food chain, including Perry's benefactors, the Koch Brothers.
Perry's attempt to rewrite history is part of a pattern among GOP presidential candidates. When Michele Bachmann declared that the Founding Fathers (a great number of them slave owners) "worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States", she was appealing to the base -- those reality-challenged voters who are unencumbered by facts and prefer a whitewashed interpretation of America's troubling racial past.
Yet, when Perry characterized Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke as treasonous, a capital offense, and suggested Texans would lynch Bernanke, Perry made light of the Lone Star State's violent racial past, if he did not glorify it.
"If this guy prints more money between now and the election, I dunno what y'all would do to him in Iowa but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas," the governor said.
It is no accident that Texas was once a leader in lynchings, as were other states of the former Confederacy, accustomed as they were to dehumanizing others through slavery. And now under Perry, Texas remains the national leader in the use of the death penalty, disgraceful and racially discriminatory as it is. Texas executes more prisoners than any other state -- and in Perry's case, this includes putting the apparently innocent to death as well.
It is not surprising that Perry -- whose Texas board of education erased black and Latino civil rights leaders and their accomplishments from the history books -- would try to turn the narrative of the civil rights movement into a fight over tax breaks. But it is outrageous, nonetheless.
David A. Love