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Friday, June 19, 2015


A confederacy of lunatics

by Tom Sullivan

I'm sitting in upstate South Carolina processing the Charleston mass shooting. I'm watching clips from politicians — conservative politicians — doing their damnedest not to say anything on camera that would alienate their political base. Or replaying talking points for their base that reinforce the toxic world view that produces people such as the alleged shooter, Dylann Roof.

Sen. John McCain was at least enough of a leader in 2008 to publicly disagree with the woman who said she was afraid if Barack Obama, "an Arab," got elected. The crowd of supporters booed McCain when he said Obama was a good and decent man:

“Come on, John!” one audience member yelled out as the Republican crowd expressed dismay at their nominee. Others yelled "liar," and "terrorist," referring to Obama.

At Crooks and Liars, Susie Madrak yesterday posted footage of former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) speaking in South Carolina in March failing to do the same, using the word "tyrant" and having the chutzpah to talk about Obama's "complete lack of leadership." Madrak writes:

And just watch this video. This woman is a South Carolina teacher, and she's plain batshit crazy. Listen to her! Straight out of InfoWars. And does Santorum talk to the woman, try to calm her down? Hell, no.

Instead, he validates her concern (while artfully avoiding actually leaving a record of anything that could be used against him later) and even whips it up!

Santorum yesterday acknowledged that hate might have been a factor in the Charleston mass shooting, but immediately pivoted to a right-wing talking point, characterizing it as part of a broader assault on "religious liberty."

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham appearing on The View downplayed race as a factor in the shooting and chose Santorum's spin. Asked if it was a hate crime or just someone mentally disturbed:

“Probably both,” he replied. “There are real people out there that are organized to kill people in religion and based on race. This guy is just whacked out.”

“But it’s 2015, there are people out there looking for Christians to kill them,” Graham added. “This is a mean time we live in.”

He said, showing more concern not to upset his base than for the victims.

Do Santorum and Graham believe Roof drove two hours from Eastover to Charleston just to find Christians to kill ... in South Carolina? That he entered a city filled with Christian churches — and Graham knows just how many — and shot up this particular church for no particular reason?

Former South Carolina governor, Congressman Mark Sanford appeared on All In with Chris Hayes last night and danced around the fact that Roof wore a jacket with white supremacist symbols and displayed a confederate flag on his car. Hayes asked if there wasn't a connection between the confederate flag on the car and the one flying on the state capitol grounds, and not a half staff, Hayes noted. Sanford replied carefully [Timestamp 2:00], "To another population in this state, it's a symbol of heritage, it's a symbol of states' rights, it's a symbol of 'my great-great grandfather died' in some battle in Manassas or Bull Run or who knows where."

More pandering to local mythology. The Civil War was about states' rights the way Voter ID is about election integrity.

Challenged about the association of the alleged shooter with symbols of white supremacy and the local resistance that's "keeping that flag rooted in that soil," Sanford answered, "This devilish creature was an outlier."

As Sanford well knows, there are places in South Carolina where you can find the stars and bars flying on poles right beside the road. As a warning about who is not welcome? Perhaps that is another reason why black Americans now see race relations as one of the nation's most pressing problems. Something we really need to talk about, as Charlie Pierce wrote yesterday:

We should speak of it as an assault on the idea of a political commonwealth, which is what it was. And we should speak of it as one more example of all of these, another link in a bloody chain of events that reaches all the way back to African wharves and Southern docks. It is not an isolated incident, not if you consider history as something alive that can live and breathe and bleed. We should speak of all these things. What happened in that church was a lot of things, but unspeakable is not one of them.

These massacres are not madness. Madness is a dodge. Unless it is the madness of a culture built on violence and obsessed with it. President Obama put the madness argument to rest in a clip Rachel Maddow played last night from an earlier massacre. Addressing the argument that these shootings are not a gun problem, but a mental health problem, he said [Timestamp 8:10]:

"The United States does not have a monopoly on crazy people ... And yet we kill each other in these mass shootings at rates that are exponentially higher than anyplace else."

Yesterday, conservative politicians again went out of their way to assure us that the perpetrators of such atrocities are lunatics, even as the would-be leaders tiptoed carefully and visibly in the press so as not to upset the very confederacy of lunatics they have found so politically useful, have carefully cultivated as their political base, and now themselves fear to confront.

If we cannot talk about race hatred and violence in this country, maybe we can talk about that.