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John Boehner and The Republican Party’s ‘Easter’ Special

In one of his typically-mindless, “where are the jobs?” rhetorical attacks on the president this past Wednesday, House Speaker John Boehner decided to take the stumbling initiative by giving a speech of his own to assail President Obama’s speech on real jobs and the real economy(not that Keystone XL pipe dream horseshit Republicans want to lay like a drunken frat boy with a pocket full of roofies, or an oily Moses in a $3,000 suit parting the heart of the country)as “a hollow shell,” going so far as to nonchalantly call it “an Easter egg with no candy in it”– before he’d even given it. An ‘Easter egg’ in July? Huh. What significance does Easter have in this debate?

A preemptive attack on a speech is no way to go about reconciliation, or Reconstruction, which is what all of this dates back to. Starting with John Boehner’s ‘hollow Easter egg’ hunt, allow me to fill that up with some context for this silly little man.

Going back to New Orleans in March of 1865,

Unionist planter James Madison Wells became governor. He initially opposed Negro suffrage. As the ex-Confederate-dominated legislature passed Black Codes that restricted rights of freedmen, Wells began to lean toward allowing blacks to vote and temporarily disenfranchising ex-Confederates. To accomplish this, he scheduled a convention for July 30, 1866.

That convention was postponed due to the New Orleans Massacre that day.

But it was on Easter Sunday, April 13, 1873, in Colfax, Louisiana where angry, anti-Grant whites contested the controversial election for governor that year, which they had lost, by taking up arms against the tyranny of democracy and killing over 150 freedmen in what is famously known as “The Colfax Massacre.” Some people might call it a “riot” in a series of “outrages,” but they’re probably racists, liars, or just unconscious racists. That was the day that gave birth to a new nation of post-Civil War era racists.

Gathering the dead after the Colfax Massacre, published in Harper's Weekly, May 10, 1873

Gathering the dead after the Colfax Massacre, published in Harper’s Weekly, May 10, 1873

Out of that event spawned violent racist groups, such as the White League, and the Red Shirts– who organized private militia’s openly, rather than hiding behind white hoods to disrupt and to terrorize; to intimidate freedmen, and to suppress the vote showing up to the polls armed and organized against the march toward civil rights and equality– forcing resignations of the enlightened office holders of the day. Their call to arms was a call to “states’ rights,” and making an enemy out of any ‘big government’ federal intervention who would stand in their way.

Wealthy and sympathetic backers would finance these groups with brand new “Winchester rifles, Colt revolvers, and Prussian needle guns.”

This led to the Battle Of Liberty Place in 1874 that left 100 dead as The White League overwhelmed New Orleans with 5,000 armed renegade militiamen and held the city hostage until President Grant sent in troops to push them back– back… to the future! Where their ideological descendants would oversee the drowning of New Orleans in 2005.

The "Louisiana Outrages" as illustrated in Harper's Weekly, 1874.

The “Louisiana Outrages” as illustrated in Harper’s Weekly, 1874.

I wish I could excuse John Boehner’s insensitive words as just another drunken analogy given on the floor of the People’s House, but Republicans are steeped in racist dog whistles, coded language, and seemingly unintentionally bad optics.

On the biggest racist stages in history, Republicans old and new are right there, standing like good little Red Shirts for their childlike interpretation of a bizarro Pledge Of Allegiance.

Like in 1980, when Ronald Reagan took to the stage in Philadelphia, Mississippi– the site where three civil rights workers were murdered in 1964 for trying to register African American voters– for his first public address since he was nominated at the RNC convention he gave a speech to the fine people at the Neshoba Country Fair that consisted of a rocking chair, a longing for John Wayne, feeble partisan jabs, something about the Olympics in Moscow boycott, but especially his unhealthy “states’ rights” infatuation.

Reagan said at the time:

I believe that there are programs like that, programs like education and others, that should be turned back to the states and the local communities with the tax sources to fund them, and let the people [applause drowns out end of statement].

I believe in state’s rights; I believe in people doing as much as they can for themselves at the community level and at the private level. And I believe that we’ve distorted the balance of our government today by giving powers that were never intended in the constitution to that federal establishment. And if I do get the job I’m looking for, I’m going to devote myself to trying to reorder those priorities and to restore to the states and local communities those functions which properly belong there.

I’m going to try also to change federal regulations in the tax structure that has made this once powerful industrial giant in this land and in the world now with a lower rate of productivity than any of the other industrial nations, with a lower rate of savings and investment on the part of our people and put us back where we belong.

Some people called this a dog whistle speech, I call it the Pledge To The Confederacy, and the Republican party has been naming shit after this guy ever since.

Reagan famously injected the racist phrase, “Welfare Queen” into our discourse, and we’re still seeing this attitude today in the GOP’s plan to repeal food and healthcare for the poor, and the working poor to redistribute to the very wealthy white billionaires and their rural alliance. When they suppress the vote, or suspend democratic redress, or intimidate communities and cities, like Detroit, Michigan– they’re bringing this history with them while they take over school boards and local police departments with their “emergency managers.” When they delay immigration reform because there’s just not enough wall, they are carrying the torch for this history.

In 2010, President Obama gave his first State Of The Union address as the first African American President of The United States. This was a significant event in our country’s history. The product of a long, tortuous haul, now filled with hope and promise of a new era in race relations, healing, and reconciliation. Maybe a time when we could have tied the tourniquet on the stubborn flow of forever-white-flight America.

It was a speech in which President Obama stood up in front of the country, the Congress, Joint Chiefs, and the Supreme Court to declare the recent Citizens United decision an attack on democracy. The one in which George W. Bush appointee– Justice Samuel Alito– responded to by nodding like an asshole version of Rain Man in dissent. Incidentally, this speech isn’t so much remembered for its history, or the content, but the fact that people were pissed off because they were worried that it might interfere with the final season of Lost.

That evening the Republican party put on a little State Of The Union pageant of their own. Using oddly-placed military men as props and starring the newly-elected Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell as the modern day wannabe version of Jefferson Davis, the GOP gave their rebuttal to the country’s first Black president from Richmond, Virginia– the capital of the old Confederate States of America. Like Jefferson Davis’s inaugural address in 1861 and using George Wallace as a warning on how not to talk about race relations– Bob McDonnell and the GOP continue describe their policies as states’ rights and “property rights” issues.

(You want an extra side of What-The-Fuck with that? Governor Bob McDonnell is currently being investigated for serious ethics violations, not the least of which stems from a free Rolex watch. Jesse Jackson Jr. bought a Rolex with money donated to his campaign, among other things, but on local media here in Chicago, the weeks leading up to and during his trial could best be described as a character sketch composite of a free-spending black man Senator who couldn’t help himself to that Rolex. They’re even sending his wife to prison. If Bob McDonnell and his wife don’t go to prison, will anyone notice?)

But for John Boehner and the Republican party, what’s old is new and improved. There are monuments to their ugly historical nature scattered all about the country in memorial to their true nature. They are the living embodiment of these institutions.

  • missliberties

    Thanks Bob. I love this kind of stuff, with the historical context and all.

  • nathkatun7

    Thank you Mr. Brink for this excellent Essay. The history Of Reconstruction and post Reconstruction has many parallels to what’s going on today in the aftermath of the election of the first African American president.

    • missliberties

      It seems as though the Civil War never ended.

      I keep getting this feeling, as the gap between rich and poor grows wider and wider that ‘we are all black now’.

      • LeShan Jones

        No it did, it’s just that the south was allowed to win the peace that followed. The north grew tired of the south and the black people and so turned their backs on that region in order to get on with the nations buisness. The south was thus allowed to define how “civil rights” would be implimented and even got the rest of the country to follow their lead to one degree or another.

  • muselet

    I think you give John Boehner far too much credit. I doubt he’s ever heard of the Colfax Massacre, although it’s possible the aide who wrote his speech knew all about it (even then, that would be an awfully subtle reference).

    Ordinarily, I’d just quote the estimable Mal Reynolds (“Drunks are so cute.”) and be done with it.

    However, you’re right that the Rs are big on dog whistles and coded language. Ronald Reagan got away with that crap largely because our glorious news media decided he was a jolly, avuncular fellow and not an incompetent borderline sociopath.

    What I don’t understand is why our glorious news media gives a pass to the likes of Rand Paul (who barely bothers with dog whistles), except perhaps they have bought into the R understanding of history: Lincoln freed the slaves and therefore nothing any R does or says can possibly be racist.

    All the more reason not to vote for an R for any office until the party becomes sane again.


    • mrbrink

      It’s not really relevant whether or not John Boehner or his staff of beer farts made a conscious effort to understand the significance and symbolism of slipping in an Easter analogy during their current reign of terror and government sabotage. The irony is square dancing across Grant’s tomb.

      • Christopher Foxx

        I’m with muselet. I suspect Boehner, and his staff, are ignorant of any connection of the word “Easter” to black history. They wanted to describe something that is an empty gift and Easter egg occurred to them as an apt metaphor.

        It really doesn’t excuse any of their inherent racism, but I see an awful lot of cries of “dog whistle” where I’m sure the offender has no idea what you’re talking about. And not because Paula Deen-like they just don’t see the harm, but because they really had no idea of the obscure connection. I can only imagine the left-wing outrage should Boehner ever us the phrase “any Tom, Dick or Harry”. No doubt he’d be taken to task for making some veiled Uncle Tom reference, or for alluding to the idea that blacks are particularly well endowed.

        It’s not really relevant whether or not John Boehner or his staff of beer farts made a conscious effort…

        … but let’s attack them as if it was intentional anyway?

        • mrbrink

          It’s the irony I crave.

          It’s your apologetic opinion of their knowledge of history that is lacking in your criticism.

          The irony of John Boehner busting out an Easter analogy to stand at the doors of democracy to block this president while they try to shut down the government couldn’t be more ignorant if they knew it or not. What they’ve been doing to this presidency and democratic redress just since Reagan’s corporate crony dog whistling days has been nothing short of honoring history’s scoundrels– with new and improved physical and rhetorical tactics.

          To give these batch of lost causers credit for being too dumb to know their history is naive at best. They’re practically reenacting every battle of perceived northern aggression since the election of Lincoln with all the same arguments.

          • nathkatun7

            “To give these batch of lost causers credit for being too dumb to know their history is naive at best. They’re practically reenacting every battle of perceived northern aggression since the election of Lincoln with all the same arguments.”

            MrBrink, I totally share your sentiments!

          • Christopher Foxx

            It’s your apologetic opinion of their knowledge of history…

            Not in any way trying to apologize for them. I see little in what they do to suggest they have an awareness of history so see accusations of them dog whistling to some historical event as unfounded. Saying I disagree that they know what they are doing means I may be disagreeing with you on that aspect, and only that. Disagreeing with you doesn’t mean I’m apologizing for them.

          • mrbrink

            Do you see the irony in John Boehner going out of his way to use an Easter analogy to promote the continuation of not just the party’s government sabotage on a federal level, but the things they are saying and doing to people on a state level as well?

            You can give the benefit of the doubt to these racist imbeciles, I’ll just put it into context for you when you forget where these cutesy dog-whistling motherfuckers come from.

          • Christopher Foxx

            Do you see the irony in John Boehner going out of his way to use an Easter analogy

            I didn’t see it as him going out of his way. That would suggest he had some particular connection (?) he was trying to make that demanded the use specifically of an Easter egg analogy. And, again, I don’t expect him to recognize any particular significance about an Easter egg metaphor. I suspect it was just the first thing that occurred to him (or his staff) when looking fro an “empty gift” symbol.

            Clearly we had a different take on that aspect of this one. No biggie.

          • mrbrink

            Bad metaphor, man.

  • Great piece.

  • 1933john

    Excellent article Mr Cesca.

    • blackdaug

      Ahem…that would be the incomparable…I mean unflappable… Mr. Brink.

      • 1933john

        I stand corrected.

      • mrbrink

        You’re unflappable.

  • blackdaug

    Well, what can we expect from a group of people who basically managed to extend slavery, though peonage and “loitering law” legalized plantation systems, from a decade after the civil war, until more than a decade after my father was born?

    “Vagrancy laws allowed authorities to arrest blacks “in idleness” and assign them to a chain gang or auction them off to a planter for as long as a year. Other statutes required blacks to have written proof of employment and barred blacks from leaving plantations. The Freedmen’s Bureau, ostensibly designed to aid former slaves, helped to enforce laws against vagrancy and loitering and refused to allow ex-slaves to keep land that they had occupied during the war. One black army veteran asked rhetorically: “If you call this Freedom, what did you call Slavery?”

    As Boner’s own colleague Trent Lott once once said of the servant rapist Strom Thurmond: “When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over the years, either.”

    They should just rename themselves the “Neo Confederate Party” adopt the Dixie battle flag as their standard…and be done with the pretense.