Author and speaker Tim Wise, billed by CNN’s Don Lemon as an anti-racism activist, calls out mainstream Republicans for not standing up to the lunatics (like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh) who have hijacked the party and taken it to the heights of bigotry, intolerance and (in some cases or to some extent at least) racism. These protests that have come up since President Obama stepped into the White House have been intriguing to me and to a lot of other people who wonder where these “patriots” were when George W. Bush was in office and freedoms were taking a hit, wars were being started, deficits were mounting and lives were being lost. Wise, truly a dynamic and well-researched speaker, had an interesting conversation with Lemon about the topic of race as related to several current issues in this country.
LEMON: OK. So we are going to continue our discussion now over the health care rallies and the tone of what’s going on in the country. Tim Wise joins us. He’s frequent here on the show. The author of “Between Barack and a Hard Place” and among the most prominent anti- racist activist in the country. Thank you, sir. Always good to see you.
TIM WISE, AUTHOR “BETWEEN Barack AND A HARD PLACE”: You, too.
LEMON: You heard the chairman from Florida say no, it is not race.
WISE: I did.
LEMON: It does a disservice. You heard David Sirota say it is the elephant in the room.
WISE: Right. Well like I said in the show before, it is the background noise of a lot of the opposition, not all of it but a lot of it. You know, when you have someone like Glenn Beck saying as he did about a month ago that the health care debate isn’t really about that. It is just reparations for black people, where you have Rush Limbaugh yesterday on the air saying first that community service is the first step towards fascism, which is bizarre even for him.
And then almost immediately after that saying one of the problems with America is too much multiculturalism. You wouldn’t say that unless you are trying to stoke white racial resentment. And so when you say those things, I want to know when are Republican leaders going to condemn that kind of rhetoric because that is where race is being interjected. It is interjected by us, it’s interested by the leading talk show hosts in this country.
LEMON: I mean, but is it knowingly or is it maybe unwittingly they’re doing it and maybe they don’t realize they are doing it.
WISE: Well, two things, it may be either or but it doesn’t matter. I mean, racism needs to be evaluated based on outcome. If you do something which has a predictable consequence, you have to be accountable for that consequence. So for example, when Glenn Beck lied and said that Van Jones was involved in the Los Angeles riots which was not true. That is a very clear, as David said, dog whistle politic moment.
You’re saying that because you know that the L.A. riots are viewed as this racialized rebellion and it scares white folks to death. So you say that about this man. It isn’t true. Glenn Beck had to know that wasn’t true. That is a way to scare white folks. Where race comes in, it is old fashion but it’s white racial resentment that they are trying to whip up.
LEMON: But you know, it is very – it is smart if you want to get your message out. So listen, as we’ve been saying, it’s the elephant in the room. Let’s talk about this Congressman Wilson thing.
LEMON: One person wrote me on Twitter and said I think (INAUDIBLE) if it is not racism then I don’t know what it is, self-indulgence, selfishness, egotism or all the traits pure lack of thought. And then one person says I’m with Ron Reagan and Bill Maher. If Obama’s skin color was closer to his mom’s, talking about Joe Wilson, he would not have shouted out. And I have to tell you -
WISE: I believe that.
LEMON: I have to tell you, for the first time – last night I was watching “Real Time” with Bill Maher and I was like finally someone is talking about this. Finally is talking about this.
LEMON: Do you think that Joe Wilson would have done that to a president who was of another color?
WISE: No, I don’t.
LEMON: He may have done the same thing if it was a woman president.
WISE: I don’t know but I know here is a guy who is an avowed neo confederate who says Strom Thurman and (INAUDIBLE) segregation was his hero. There is some racial stuff going on, I hate to say it, with this congress person and it makes me wonder with that kind of background. It makes me wonder.
LEMON: But isn’t it – what is behind – I think that the thing that we are not getting to is what allows him to be – to feel that is OK to say it.
LEMON: Isn’t that what it is?
WISE: I think it is what David was talking about.There is a large segment of the American population, particularly a sizable amount of white folks, frankly, and in the Republican Party who do not view him as legitimate, the Berger phenomenon. Let’s be honest. If this man’s name was Oshanasi or O’Malley and I made a birth certificate that said he was born in County Court Ireland in 1961, nobody would care or believe it. But if you say he is from Africa, he has an African daddy. He is from Kenya. People will believe that.
They want to point him as a foreign outsider out to destroy America. And that kind of over the top rhetoric isn’t just about political disagreement, it is about an attack on his identity and his American- ness. Because some people simply can’t accept that we are not the only folks in this country, we are not the standard anymore for what an American is. It is a multiculture nation.
LEMON: I hear African-Americans all the time are used to when talking about President Bush and they would say not my president. That is not right, either.
WISE: Oh, it is not right. It’s not right. You know, I was at rallies where occasionally people had signs that would compare President Bush to Hitler. But you know, what, it wasn’t the leading spokespeople on the left doing that. It wasn’t our talk show hosts, it wasn’t our authors and our columnists and our commentators, it was folks on the streets. It is not right. But it is not equivalent. That is coming from the very top of the conservative mouthpiece community.
LEMON: Hey, listen, I got to go. Do you think this is good for us so because now we can examine and talk about it? It is out there.
WISE: Oh, I think so. It is bringing some things out of the woodwork. If we address it honestly, we can move forward but if we continue to stay in denial I don’t think we will.
LEMON: Denial, it is not just a river, right? Thank you. Tim Wise, it’s always good to have you on. Appreciate it.
Wise has helped shed light on these tea-bagger protests. Looking at some of the vile and disgusting racism we’ve seen from the images of these events you see anger from the far right (beyond the normal political partisanship). As Wise points out, there were nuts saying negative things about President Bush, but such sentiments were not coming from people in such prominent right-wing positions (like Glenn Beck, Lou Dobbs, Pat Buchanan, Sean Hannity and others) of influence or organizations of influence (like Fox News). These are people with tremendous platforms and loud megaphones. These idiotic statements are, in essence, endorsed by high-profile conservatives and, in some cases, high-profile Republican politicians (who have, as an example, helped keep the birther issue alive by not denouncing it).
As a side note: Republicans who have stood up to Limbaugh have usually come back on their knees to beg for Rush’s forgiveness.
Perhaps normal Republicans are paralyzed by fear.