THE HUTCHINSON REPORT
By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
First, it was Juneteenth. Now it’s Willie O’Ree. Let’s take both and then try to see what the Republican Party is up to.
Remember all 50 Republican senators enthusiastically signed off on legislation that made Juneteenth an official national holiday. That’s the day that slaves in Texas got word and celebrated their emancipation. The GOP senators patted themselves on the back as if to say, “see we’re not the bigots that Blacks, Hispanics and the Democrats relentlessly rip us for being.”
There latest stunt had all 50 GOP senators again making it unanimous and awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to former NHL hockey player Willie O’Ree. O’Ree was the first Black to break the color barrier in the National Hockey League with the Boston Bruins in 1958. As with Jackie Robinson, O’Ree caught holy hell with the usual boos and taunts from fans and players.
Now, six decades later the GOP senators reach way back into time and suddenly discover that O’Ree deserved one of the nation’s highest civilian awards for the hell that he caught as a player and for his pioneering role for Blacks in the sport. Again, the GOP can whine that the party is wrongly miscast as racist villains.
It’s thrilling that Juneteenth gets the recognition it deserves and becomes another reminder of America’s horrific and shameful racial history that some at least are finally coming to face up to and reckon with. It’s equally thrilling that O’Ree is getting the much-deserved honor and is still alive, at age 85, to receive the award and for his family and friends to bask in the glow.
But sandwiched in between the GOP’s approval of the Juneteenth federal holiday and the awarding of the Congressional Gold Medal to O’Ree was the bold declaration from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that not one Republican senator would support House Resolution 1. The bill would expand protections on voting rights that are under ferocious assault from Republican governors and Republican-controlled state legislatures with their wave of blatant voter suppression laws. The ploys are the thinnest of disguised racially motivated ploys to scrub as many Black and Hispanic voters as possible from the polls.
That is not an unfamiliar tact by the GOP. They pat themselves on the back and claim not to be racist and assure us that there is absolutely no racial animus or intent in any of their political or legislative stances.
Former President Donald Trump set the template for this shell game when he was called out in June 2018 for making hideous, over-the-top, outrageous racist cracks about Nigeria and Haiti. A flustered Trump loudly declared “I am not a racist.”
He didn’t stop at that and piled on with the declaration that he was probably the least racist person around. It was just talk.
That is exactly what the GOP has made into a studied art on the issue of race. The GOP leaders now will quickly denounce a GOP leader for using the N-word or making racially derisive cracks. In recent years, the GOP has loudly distanced itself from the likes of the hard right, loose cannons such as Ted Nugent, and Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy for their offensive remarks about Blacks.
In 2012, the GOP even went on a bit of a noisy campaign against racism when then-Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus unveiled a hundred-plus-page blueprint on how to dispel the public’s image of the GOP as a haven for unreconstructed bigots and professional Obama haters.
A centerpiece of that campaign was to call on the party to immediately blast anyone affiliated with the party who pops off about minorities or gays.
The GOP’s overt racial name-callers are the softest of soft targets, and it’s easy to make examples of them when they go off the racial deep end. A swift and seemingly indignant rebuke of them makes good copy.
They serve to burnish the image of the GOP as a party that will not tolerate bigotry and is no longer afraid to call out those who spew it. Yet the hard political reality remains that the party’s race-baiters will not suddenly disappear.
They certainly didn’t on Jan. 6 when tens of thousands of them stormed the Capitol Building for Trump. Many, according to Black Capitol police officers, said they were reviled with racial epithets from the Trump mob.
GOP House leaders doubled down by flatly refusing to appoint members to the select committee investigating the riot. And even worse, they have refused to utter a peep of condemnation of the Trump-fueled insurrection in the Congressional Record.
So conjuring up a dramatic, but largely symbolic gesture such as backing the Juneteenth holiday and the medal for Willie O’Ree hardly signals a road to Damascus epiphany for the GOP on race. As McConnell made abundantly clear on every big-ticket, crucial, public policy issue such as firm protections for voting rights, the GOP is still and will remain the same old race malignant GOP
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His latest book is “Bring Back the Poll Tax!-The GOP War Against Voting Rights” (Middle Passage Press). He also is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.