Sunday, February 24, 2013

"Just Eastwooding": Lynched Empty Chairs and Racist Republican Lawn Art

Grammar note: Throughout I use "hanged" as the past tense of "hang," which is the proper form of the verb to use when referring to the hanging of a person.  I believe it is also appropriate to use this form when referring to effigies of real people, or the empty chairs symbolizing President Barack Obama, described below. 

The Republican Party nominated an empty suit for president in 2012.  They also made an empty seat the symbol of their Democratic opponent, President Barack Obama.  In the process they spawned a craze of racist lawn art among GOP voters featuring lynched chairs.  Variations of such displays, which sprang up across the country last fall, included effigies of the president eating watermelon or figurines of Obama with the face of an ape.

The origins of many popular culture trends, such as Pet Rocks and the musical career of Vanilla Ice, are baffling.  Not so with the empty chair meme.  The birth of this icon can be dated to the minute. 

In a campaign noted for its frequent mental lapses, the Romney political machine asked famous Hollywood curmudgeon Clint Eastwood to make an unscripted speech August 30 in Tampa, Florida supporting the conservative presidential nominee.  Eastwood’s appearance happened on prime time television just minutes before Romney himself gave the climatic acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. 

Rebel Hank Williams Jr Flag 3 X 5 ft. Standard

Clint Eastwood probably seemed a safe bet as a featured convention speaker compared to other Republican celebrities like Hank Williams, Jr. (top) and Ted Nugent.  (Photos from and 

Romney’s advisers were probably just happy to find a celebrity with star power and gravitas. The pro-Republican celebrity list is slim pickings, the most outspoken GOP advocates in the entertainment industry being drunken country and western and has-been white supremacist Hank Williams, Jr. (see and and draft-dodging, child- molesting  rock-and-roll one-hit wonder Ted Nugent (see and  Republicans were so excited about Eastwood's visit that they kept the name of the mystery guest secret that entire day.  Nevertheless, Team Romney would regret giving such massive broadcast exposure to the movie superstar.  Rather than firing up the crowd, and the TV audience, about Romney’s nomination, the Dirty Harry actor launched into a bizarre comedy routine in which he berated an empty chair he pretended was Obama.  

Channeling comedian Bob Newhart’s famous sketches in which the standup used to supply both sides of absurd phone conversations, Eastwood verbally jousted with the invisible president.  At one point Eastwood acted baffled as he responded to the unseen president.   "What did you want me to tell Romney?" Eastwood said, staring at the chair.  "I can't tell him to do that.  I can't tell him to do that to himself." In other words, the imaginary Obama told Romney to "fuck himself." (See  

 Of course, Obama is famous for his elevated dialogue and his cool temper, but Eastwood tapped into an old, racist canard that African Americans are uncouth and foul-mouthed, unable to master the manners of high civilization (an apparently widely held belief among Republicans, if Bill O’Reilly is a representative sample.  See  

 In an infamous moment from the 2012 campaign, Oscar-winning actor and director Clint Eastwood scolds an empty chair during the Republican National Convention.  The chair was supposed to represent President Barack Obama.  This bizarre performance inspired Mitt Romney supporters across the country to lynch empty chairs as part of racist lawn art. (Image from

Recalling Obama's speech in Chicago the night he won the 2008 election, Eastwood also spent his stage time at the convention ridiculing another prominent African American, Oprah Winfrey, and her reaction to the elevation of the first black president to the White House.  "[T]hey were talking about hope and change," Eastwood said said of Election Night 2008, dripping with sarcasm. ". . . And it was nice, and people were lighting candles  . . . Everybody is crying.  Oprah was crying."  It was hard to discern any point Eastwood might be making.  At one point, the 82-year-old blasted Obama for getting American troops involved in Afghanistan.  That move, of course, was made by the president's predecessor George W. Bush eight years before Obama took office.  Although the GOP's nominee's wife Ann Romney sat largely in frozen discomfort throughout Eastwood's surreal performance, and the actor seemed more inspired by senile dementia than comic genius, it didn't matter to many Republican delegates sitting in the hall.  They laughed and applauded at each vulgar mockery of the black chief executive.  (See 

The reaction outside the convention hall was less generous.  Speaking as Eastwood left the stage, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow stammered in shock for a moment.  "I don't . . .I don't know what was gong on there," the almost always eloquent political analyst remarked.  " . . . That was the weirdest thing I've ever seen at a political convention in my entire life and it will be the weirdest thing I've ever seen if I live to be 100." (See

The website Politico would be less blunt, simply calling the performance "rambling."  For most people, the Eastwood appearance became a punchline, a sign of Romney's political incompetence.  Even Eastwood admitted he had no business on the Tampa stage and seemed to mock his own candidate's decision making.   "I figure if somebody's dumb enough to ask me to go to a political convention and say something, they're going to have to take what they get." (See 

The speech inspired two major cultural tropes, one that was quite entertaining and compared Eastwood to the famously cantankerous "Grandpa" character from the long-running animated series The Simpsons.  Some wit on the internet altered a still from a Simpsons episode featuring a newspaper front page photo of Grandpa Simpson with his first raised under the headline, "Old Man Yells at Cloud."  On the internet, this headline transformed to "Old Man Yelled at Chair." (See  

For those on the political left, the Eastwood speech was treated as a moment of unintentional hilarity, not a call to symbolic racial violence.  (Photo from 

If responses on the political left  to Eastwood tirade ranged from befuddlement to bemusement, the reaction on the right proved far more sinister.  There was a mean, racially-charged undertone to Eastwood's speech, with his gratuitous slap at Oprah Winfrey.  Like many white people at the Republican convention, Eastwood seemed willingly oblivious to why African Americans like her, after the horrors of slavery, lynching, Jim Crow, and the shooting deaths of civil rights activists like Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr., would find the election of a black man to the White House such an overwhelming moment of catharsis.  At a minimum, his mockery seemed callous.  

This white condescension was made creepier because of Eastwood's performance in the film Gran Tarino released earlier that election year. In the movie, Eastwood played a more trigger-happy version of the old TV sitcom character Archie Bunker, a slur-slinging racist with a heart of gold who takes up arms to protect his Southeast Asian neighbors.  As Salon columnist David Sirota wrote of the movie, “[Eastwood] delivers a film that hints at the bizarre fantasies of his fellow aging conservatives. Indeed, he seems to be arguing that we should not demand that bigots discard their overt prejudice because for many of them, underneath the coarse racism there is supposedly an honorable warrior who believes in truth, justice, the American Way — and racial fairness.  If only we would better understand these aging warriors, suggests Gran Torino, they might all miraculously turn into White Saviors."  Perhaps during his speech, Eastwood saw himself as a similar lovable, crusty old bigot out to save black patsies like Oprah from the cynical schemes of that ultimate urban con artist  Barack Obama. 

 How Eastwood probably saw himself during his Republican National Convention Speech. (Photo from

Out in the hinterlands, many whites didn't see any need to pretend that they were politically incorrect truthtellers out to save people of color from their own defects.  Republican racists found Eastwood's empty chair a convenient symbol  to evoke the most terrifying moments in America's racial past.  American racism had long rendered blacks as individuals invisible, as the brilliant author Ralph Ellison suggested.  After Eastwood's speech, white Republican racists hoped to make Obama not just invisible, like the unseen presence in the chair.  They hoped to make the most powerful man on Earth (who, to their despair, is black) disappear by any means necessary. Such racists began lynching empty chairs, perhaps inspired by the fantasy of murdering the president, or because they found the idea of murdering African Americans funny.

White America suffers a collective amnesia about the reign of terror aimed at their black fellow citizens from 1882, when the NAACP started compiling statistics on lynchings across the country, to roughly 1939 when the public torture and murder of African American men, women and children ceased to be a regular, and even weekly spectacle.  In that timeframe, more than 4,700 men, women and children were known to have been tortured, castrated, hanged, and burned at the stake across the United States, though the actual number of lynching victims was probably much higher.  The NAACP estimates that 72.6 percent of the lynching victims were black.

Some white Republicans last election season apparently thought lynching Obama effigies was funny. In case anyone forgets, this is what a real lynching looked like, in this case in Indiana.  (Photo from

Rightwingers started lynching images of Obama before Eastwod's speech.  In late October 2008, just before Obama won the White House the first time, students hanged an effigy made to resemble the Democratic nominee from a tree at the University of Kentucky campus at Lexington.  (See the story at  Police arrested two men, 21-year-old Hunter Bush and Joe Fisher, a 22-year-old UK senior, for disorderly conduct and related theft and burglary charges (the dummy was dressed in clothing taken from a nearby fraternity house).  A grand jury in late February 2009 dismissed the charges.  The two white men claimed they were only responding to a reports that an effigy of Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin ad been hanged in Southern California. 

A lawyer for the pair, Fred Peters, ignored the significance of lynching in America's troubled racial past and suggested that the free speech rights of the defendants had been trampled on.  No one would have made a big deal of the incident, Peters claimed, if the effigy had not been of a black man.  "If they had hung Joe Biden, we would not be here," Peters claimed.  Of course, symbolically lynching a black man was exactly the point, an implied threat to not just Obama but to all African American voters. (See

A real pioneer in right wing lynching lawn art was evangelical troll Terry Jones, the reckless Florida pastor whose public burning of the Koran in March 2011 sparked deadly riots in Afghanistan and Pakistan, resulting in at least 12 deaths.  Jones, who loves nothing more than being in front of TV cameras,  conducted the Koran burning in spite of warnings by government and military officials that the stunt could place American soldiers and civilian personnel in jeopardy overseas. (See  Jones also, in September 2012, posted on the web a badly-made film, "The Innocence of the Muslims" which, among other deliberate provocations, portrayed the Muslim prophet Muhammad as a homosexual and a pedophile.  (Anger over the film inspired attacks on American embassies and sparked riots in Egypt, Lebanon, Yemen, Bangladesh, Qatar, Kuwait, Sudan and Iraq resulting in more than 30 deaths. See and 

Pastor Terry Jones in his favorite place: in front of TV cameras. (Photo from

In June 2012, Jones hanged an effigy of Obama on the front lawn of his church, the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, a protest Jones claimed was in response to the president's support of abortion rights, same sex marriage, and his alleged "appeasing of radical Islam." (See  

Pastor Terry Jones (above) of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, in 2012 symbolically murdered the president in a display gracing the front lawn of his church (Photo from 

Jones was fully aware that he was intentionally intimidating black voters with his ugly display. Jones' home base of Florida has a particularly nasty history of anti-black mob violence.  One of the most sadistic lynchings on public record, that of Claude Neal on October 26, 1934, happened in the Sunshine State.  Neal had been arrested for the rape and murder of Lola Cannidy in Marianna, Florida. A mob seized him from a jail in Brewton, Alabama, jail cell 200 miles away and dragged him back to the scene where he allegedly committed the crime.   The mob wanted an audience.  They held him in an undisclosed location while a "Committee of Six" issued a press release to local newspapers and radio stations announcing in advance the timetable for Neal's upcoming ordeal.  The statement, widely published and broadcast across the South, including the specific times certain physical torments would be inflicted.

A mob eventually numbering about 7,000 people, some arriving on specially chartered trains, arrived to witness Neal's excruciating death.  The mob castrated Neal, forced him to eat his testicles and tell the crowd he "liked it," and, while he was fully conscious, hacked off his fingers and toes and seared his flesh with hot irons before yanking him up by a noose which slowly strangled him. The frenzied crowd then riddled his corpse with bullets and tied his remains from the back of an automobile, dragging his body to the Marianna courthouse where the remains were hanged from a tree.  Body parts were put on display and photographs of the mob killing were sold for 50 cents each. (See

 A real lynching, that of Claude Neal, not far from where Terry Jones' created his gruesome display almost eight decades later. (Photo from

The lynched-Obama-effigy-as-lawn-art trend only worsened after Eastwood's speech at the Republican National Convention, especially in the last days of the 2012 presidential race when it became increasingly clear that the president might win a second term.  By mid-September, Bud Johnson displayed a lynched empty chair dangling from a tree in his front yard in the northwest corner of Austin, Texas.  As Katherine Haenschen of the Burnt Orange Report website noted, this display was particularly disgraceful in Texas:

"Lynching was a horrific and commonplace act in Reconstruction-era Texas and continued until the mid-1940's, spurred on by Ku Klux Klan groups. Texas is third amongst all states -- behind Mississippi and Georgia -- in the total number of lynching victims between 1885 and 1942. Of those 468 victims, an overwhelming number were African-American.
Perhaps the most well-known and horrific lynching in Texas occurred in 1916, when Jesse Washington was accused of raping and murdering a woman near Waco. He was sentenced to death, and lynched in front of a crowd of onlookers, after which members of the mob castrated him, cut off his fingers, and hung him over a bonfire. Pieces of his body were sold as souvenirs. The gruesome event became part of the NAACP's anti-lynching movement.  
Most recently, in 1998, James Byrd Jr. -- for whom the Texas Hate Crimes Prevention Act is named -- was lynched by being dragged behind a vehicle in East Texas."

When Haenschen called Johnson to ask him about his art project and expressed her concerns as a fellow citizen of Austin, the Central Texas Republican reacted with predictable class. "I don't really give a damn whether it disturbs you or not. You can take [your concerns] and go straight to hell and take Obama with you. I don't give a shit. If you don't like it, don't come down my street." 

Johnson, who won a "Yard of the Month" award from his neighborhood association in August 2010, later added an American flag to the lawn art.  Johnson, we're supposed to assume, loves America, even if he hates all his black neighbors.  (See and  

White supremacist Austin Republican Bud Johnson lynched an empty chair in his front yard last September in reference to Clint Eastwood's senile standup routine at the RNC.  His later addition of an American flag to the display was supposed to make the crude exhibit more patriotic. (Photo from  

Around the same time, Douglas Burger, another Republican, hanged empty chairs decorated with a "Nobama" sign" at his home in Centreville, Va.  The residence is within spitting distance of a public park.  Incredibly, Burger claimed that the chair was tied to a tree branch because "otherwise people would steal them."  He denied there was any racial overtone to the display, saying, "It just Eastwooding."  (See and 

Another dumb, bigoted lynched chair display, this time by Virginia Republican Douglas Burger in the town of Centreville.   Many Republicans compensate for their mindless intolerance by also being completely unoriginal.   (Photo from

In early October 2012, Morgan Hill, Ca., Republican Blake La Beck, placed an empty chair on a fence post in his front yard.  He festooned the chair with a watermelon, in reference to racist stereotypes about black dietary habits, a noose, and a sign that said, "Go Back To Kenya you Idiot" (sic.)"   The last commentary was in reference to the racist belief that Obama is an illegal immigrant from Kenya, the birthplace of his father, and therefore is not eligible to serve as president.  (See my previous post, "That Whole Stupid Birther Thing" at  Nearby sat a "Mitt Romney for President" sign.  (See and 

Blake La Beck's racist lawn art in Morgan Hill, Ca.  (Photo from

We shouldn't blame all the hateful Republican art exhibits on Eastwood. Not every GOP Klan-inspired yard installation featured empty chairs. The lynching meme, however, was extremely popular among Republicans last year and one traveling exhibit carried the bullying message directly to polling places. V.R. Phipps, of Duplin County, N.C., traveled from one early voting place to another in a trailer, setting up displays featuring lynched effigies of public officials including former North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue and Obama. (See

V.R. Phipps of North Carolina proudly posted a YouTube video of his traveling exhibit of lynched public figure effigies, including one of President Barack Obama.  (Photo from

Perhaps someone someday should collect  the GOP racist lawn art created between 2010 and 2013  and put in a a central exhibit about a bitter, out-of-touch major political party in its dying days .  The curator for such a show could include  the creation of Danny Hefley, the Casey County Kentucky man who this past December celebrated Obama's re-election by exhibiting in his front yard an Obama mannequin eating a watermelon.

Predictably, Hefley denied that he was expressing racism and said he was unaware that black people are stereotyped as liking watermelons.  Hefley claimed he included the watermelon because the Obama figure "might get hungry standing out there."  Hefley also insisted that the display was "popular" among his Kentucky neighbors. No doubt. (See and

Danny Hefley of Casey County, Kentucky, participates in the post-election Republican "outreach" to people of color with this artwork. (Photo from

As has been pointed out repeatedly in this blog, Republican racists don't lurk on the margins.  Some of the crudest racism expressed by members of the Grand Old Party has spring from the minds of successful business owners, columnists, major media figures, and politicians from the city level to the halls of Congress.  For instance, there's the case of former Cedar Grove, N.J. city council member and police officer Rick Bond, who in August 2012 demonstrated his commitment to diversity by placing a statue of a monkey wearing a t-shirt that said "OMG -- Obama Must Go" in front of the Don-Ric Self Storage business he owns.  Bond (pretending to be surprised that some would see portraying an African American president as a monkey as racist) insisted, "I absolutely never thought of it as racial.  It's ridiculous."

As Thomas Reynolds, the president of the nearby Montclair NAACP chapter pointed out, "It's incredible to think that somebody would have put up a statue of a monkey with a white man in the White House and I hope the person would take a second look at the messages he's putting out." In spite of his claim of innocence, Bond removed the statue when people in the community began complaining.  (See and

Rick Bond, a former Cedar Grove, N.J., city council member, said he was shocked when people suggested his statue of Obama depicted as a monkey was racist. "I absolutely never thought of it as racist," he said.  (Photo from

Fortunately, in the United States, there's a powerful watchdog media staffed by courageous liberals who aren't afraid that they'll be called "biased" if they call out Republicans on their explicit racism.  Well, maybe in a bizarre alternate universe.  In mid-October an Ohio Republican put together one of the most elaborate Obama lynching effigies seen during last election season.  It featured a dummy made up like Obama, complete with demonic horns, dangling by a noose from a tree.  Meanwhile, a Romney dummy was seen driving a tractor near a "Romney-Ryan 2012" yard sign

(That part of the lawn art, it can be assumed, was supposed to represent Romney as a hard-working white man, a symbol contrasted with the lazy "nigger" swinging from a rope nearby.  Romney, of course, earned his money the old-fashioned way: by wisely picking a wealthy man and woman as his parents.  Romney then expanded his fortunate as a a venture capitalist shipping the jobs of hardworking Americans to low-wage capitalist paradises like the People's Republic of China).

Obviously, the well-educated, truth-seeking men and woman of the press would, in reporting on this lawn art, comment on it's over-the-top negrophobia.  A Cleveland, Ohio Fox News affiliate, 19 Action News, ran a photo of the yard display on its Facebook page.  The folks at Channel 19 pulled no punches.  They bravely described the symbolic Obama lynching as a "creative yard display."  (See

As a popularly misattributed quote of the English philosopher Edmund Burke puts it, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."  We might add, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for cowards, with the power to shape public opinion, to not state the obvious."

Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001.  (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013).

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

How To Relax Your Mexican Friends At Parties

Note: This was cross-posted at my "Internet Republican Racism Database" blog.  

It’s a bad sign for your political party when Latino voters represent one of the fastest growing demographic groups in the country and a memo has to be distributed to your elected officials on how not to insult Hispanics.

A typical message from Republican voters to Latinos: we hate your language and your culture except when we want to exploit them for commercial reasons.  Why, one might ask, isn't the name of this bar in English only?  (Photo from 

The Hispanic Leadership Network (HLN) is a conservative, pro-Republican group that seeks to woo Latino voters for the GOP.  The organization sent a list of recommended “Dos and Don’ts of Immigration Reform” to Republican Congressman January 28.  The memo urges members of the party to drop some of their favorite nasty buzz phrases regarding Latinos and undocumented workers.  To the HLN, what might be called the Republican “Mexican problem” is a merely the result of poorly chosen words. 

"Tone and rhetoric will be key in the days and weeks ahead as both liberals and conservatives lay out their perspectives,” advised HLN Executive Director Jennifer Korn.  “Please consider these tonally sensitive messaging points as you discuss immigration, regardless of your position." ( See

Among Korn’s tips:
"When addressing securing our borders:
Do use the wording 'enforcement of our borders includes more border patrol, technology, and building a fence where it makes sense'
Don't use phrases like 'send them all back,' electric fence,' 'build a wall along the entire border'

"When talking about immigrants:
Do use 'undocumented immigrant' when referring to those here without documentation
Don't use the word 'illegals' or 'aliens'
Don't use the term 'anchor baby'” (Anchor baby is the term some Republicans like Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert use to refer to babies born to undocumented workers in the United States supposedly for the purpose of making it more difficult for immigration officials to deport the family). 

Jennifer Korn, a rare Latina Republican, has urged her compatriots in the GOP to stop hating on immigrants specifically and Hispanics in general.  So far, it looks like her advice is not being embraced with much enthusiasm.  (Photo from  

Korn further urged Republicans to not “characterize all Hispanics as undocumented and all undocumented as Hispanics.”  The memo is reminiscent of a classic standup routine by the late comedian Lenny Bruce, “How to Relax Your Colored Friends at Parties.”  In the sketch, an uncomfortable white bigot encounters a black man at a social event and tries his ignorant best to make the stranger to feel at ease.  “That Joe Lewis was a hell of a fighter,” he says.  “You're in show business . . . Do ya know that guy on the Cream of Wheat box?” (Listen at  In the routine, the bigot tries to conceal his poisoned soul, but his thoughtless words continually betray him.  Korn’s verbal coaching is just as unlikely to obscure the anti-Latino hatred at the heart of the modern Republican Party.  The real issue with the GOP isn’t insensitive words.  It’s the racists who make up the party.

This fish rots from the head.  Mitt Romney, the Republican Party's presidential nominee in 2012, may have been the major politician most uncomfortable with Latinos since one-time U.S. Sen. George Murphy of California, also a Republican.  Murphy infamously said that Mexicans were uniquely suited to serve as farm workers because “they’re built so close to the ground.”  (See    Romney spent the entire 2012 campaign pandering to the party’s far-right wing base by insulting Mexican Americans generally and immigrants in particular.  He squirmed when dealing with Latino voters and their issues.  He could only handle an interview on the Latino Univision cable channel by packing the seats with bused-in allies. 

Romney ran well to the right of his rivals in the GOP primaries on immigration.  At times he was unintentionally honest about his cynical xenophobia, such as during an October 2011 Republican presidential debate when Texas Gorv.Rick Perry challenged him for hiring undocumented workers to mow yards at one of his homes.  “You stood here in front of the American people and did not tell the truth that you had illegals working on your property," Perry said, "and the newspaper came to you and brought it to your attention, and you still, a year later, had those individuals working for you.  The idea that you can sit here and talk about any of us having an immigration issue is beyond me.  I've got a strong policy, I've always been against amnesty. You, on the other hand, were for amnesty." 

Mitt Romney endearing himself to Latino voters: "I'm running for office, for Pete's sake, I can't have illegals." (Photo from  

Romney responded that he had hired a company to do the yard work at one of his many mansions. He claimed that he had no idea that the company had hired undocumented workers.  This is like claiming you didn't know that fast food workers are underpaid.  When a newspaper informed Romney of the undocumented status of some the employees working there a year later, Romney insisted that he was outraged. He claimed during the debate that he said, "So we went to the company and we said ‘Look, you can't have any illegals working on our property. I'm running for office, for Pete's sake, I can't have illegals.’ It turns out that once again they hired someone who had falsified their documents, had documents, and therefore we fired them.”  (For more, including the video, see

Note that Romney was a case study of how to violate Korn’s rules when talking to Mexican American voters.  He demeaned the immigrants as “illegals.”  He also basically admitted that he objected to the undocumented workers not because of his concern for the law or these exploited workers’ well-being, but because of how he would look to the voters.  It was only because he had been caught exploiting the undocumented that he would be much more careful when going through his binders full of Mexicans in the future.

That was hardly Romney's worst moment with Latinos.  One of the most callous comments of the 2012 campaign came when Romney began using a phrase that would come back to haunt him on Election Day.  During a  GOP presidential debate on January 23 last year, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (who, as noted below, said racist things about immigrants himself) suggested that the mass deportation of millions of undocumented residents  Republican hardliners have demanded would be logistically impossible and even cruel.  Gingrich proposed during the campaign a limited amnesty program that would allow some undocumented immigrants to stay here if they had resided in the United States for 25 years and had an American citizen vouch for their character and reliability as a legal resident. (See  

Romney admitted as well that mass deportation of "illegals" would be impractical.  Unlike Gingrich, however, Romney did not admit that such a pogrom would be inhumane.  Romney suggested, as an alternative, that laws should be passed that would make life so miserable for undocumented workers that they would leave the country voluntarily.

Even Newt Gingrich, who once described Spanish as the "language of the ghetto" accused Romney of being harsh towards immigrants.  (Photo from  

“The answer is self-deportation, which is people decide they can do better by going home because they can’t find work here because they don't have legal documentation to allow them to work here,” Romney said. “We’re not going to round them up . . . “  Romney suggested creating a government database and issuing cards to workers that would indicate if a job applicant had legal status.  If not, the immigrant would be unable to get a job and would be forced by unemployment and the prospect of serious poverty to leave for the home country.  ““If people can't get work here, they're going to self-deport to a place where they can get work," Romney said.

(Gingrich, by the way, is no angel on immigration politics.  He once described Spanish as "the language of the ghetto."  See my post at

Romney also opposed the Dream Act, which would allow a path to citizenship for some children of undocumented immigrants.  The law would apply to those who arrived in the country as minors, who graduated from high school, and either served two years in the military or completed two years of college.  For a time Romney would not acknowledge the harshness of punishing a person who arrived illegally in the United States through no fault of their own.  (Of course, as on most issues, Romney flip-flopped on this and later backed away from his extreme position. See

By the fall of last year, Romney seems to have realized he had dug himself into an political hole regarding Latino voters.  Yet even his alleged outreach efforts proved uncomfortable, insincere and creepy.  On September 19, Romney appeared on an interview for  the Spanish-language Univision television network (President Obama appeared on a separate segment).  Certain that he would face hostility from a Latino audience unless he packed the room with supporters, Romney insisted on last-minute rules changes, insisting that if his demands were not met he would cancel the interview.

One of the hosts of the candidate forum, Maria Elena Salinas, told the website that tickets for the Romney interview had been divided between the network, people associated with the Romney and the Obama campaigns, and students from the hosting University of Miami.  Salinas told Buzzfeeed that “both campaigns initially agreed to keep the audience comprised mostly of students, in keeping with the events' education theme.”  

The Romney team could only round up a handful of supporters and feared the interview would be a public relations disaster.  They forced Univision to reduce the number of seats allotted to students.  Buzzfeed reported that “Romney's team was allowed to bus in rowdy activists from around southern Florida in order to fill the extra seats at their town hall.”  Romney’s shipped-in partisans ignored the hosts’ request that the audience withhold their applause and they wildly cheered their candidate, booed questioned posed by the interviewers and created the illusion of wide Latino support for Romney. The Obama team, meanwhile, abided by the original rules and the president received what appeared to be a lukewarm response.   (For more, see

Mitt Romney at the Univision Presidential Forum with hosts Maria Elena Salinas and Jorge Ramos.  Romney basically insisted on not facing an audience of random Latino voters. (Photo from 

Meanwhile, during the performance, Romney’s skin appeared noticeably browner than normal, the candidate looking like he had applied copious “tan in the can” spray to look more Hispanic.  Romney’s campaign would later deny that the Republican nominee had intentionally engaged in brownface minstrelsy in a weird attempt to win Mexican votes.  They blamed Romney’s artificial darkness on an overzealous makeup artist, but that doesn’t explain why none of Romney’s extensive media team noticed the excess pigmentation and insisted on a new makeup, especially since the campaign had been so scrupulous to fix the event in every other way.  (See and  

Fifty Shades of Romney:  The picture on the left shows Romney during a campaign stop last September 16.  The photo in the middle shows an equally pale Romney on September 19, hours before he appeared before a Univision audience.  The much darker incarnation of the 2012 GOP presidential candidate, seen on the far right, appeared on a Univision candidate forum on the evening of September 19.  Republicans denied that Romney's startling acquisition of color was an intentional attempt to look more Mexican.  It was all the makeup artist's fault, they insisted. (Photo from

Given this record, it is no surprise that in November, President Barack Obama clobbered Romney among Latino voters.  Obama won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote compared to Romney’s 27 percent, a 44-point gap.   In regard to Latino support for Republican presidential candidates, the trend line is pointing sharply downward.  George W. Bush won 44 percent of that demographic in 2000 and John McCain 31 percent.  In 2012, The Latino vote proved decisive in key electoral states like Florida, Ohio, Colorado, Nevada and in Pennsylvania. (where Obama won the support of an astounding 82 percent of Hispanics.  See  

Also not surprisingly, Romney did not do well among any groups that were not straight white Protestants.  He carried a less-than-whopping 44 percent among all women (those he did win the votes of more white women that Obama), 26 percent of Asian Americans, a microscopic 6 percent of African Americans,  He also won only half of Catholic voters, 31 percent of Jews, and 25 percent of gay men and women.  (See ,,  and  Romney's voters resembled the demographics for a Hank Williams, Jr. concert.

Romney and other Republicans trumpeted their disdain for Latinos and immigrants so loudly that even what was once a solid GOP constituency -- Cuban Americans --  almost tipped to Obama.  (The president won 48 percent of the Cuban American vote.  That group used to automatically reject Democrats they have seen as weak against Fidel Castro, the communist dictator of their homeland.  For more, see

The futility of Korn's approach - that Republicans can win over Latino votes if they simply change the language they use to describe policies that harm Latinos and immigrants  - was illustrated by the reaction of Romney and other conservatives to the unfavorably election results.   Shortly after the election Romney doubled down on the anti-Latino racism, essentially describing Latinos as lazy people expecting a handout.  In a November conference call to supporters just after his electoral shellacking,  he said he lost because “[W]ith Hispanic voters, free health care was a big plus. But in addition with regards to Hispanic voters, the amnesty for children of illegals, the so-called Dream Act kids, was a huge plus for that voting group.”  

Latinos did not take kindly to Romney's condescending remarks.  Health care reform, which would be funded in part by Latino taxpayers, was not considered a freeby but a move towards fairness for underpaid and overworked Americans, many of them people of color, who are denied access to health care by their employers.  Latinos and Latinas exploded with outrage and sarcasm towards Romney's post-election racialized rationalizing.  @Gabazabba tweeted,  “Romney thinks President gave 'gifts' for the Latino vote? Where's my gift, esse?” @mattyglesias  (Matt Yglesias) posted on Twitter, “Was hoping for an iPad Mini from Obama, but will have to settle for universal health insurance coverage. #obamagifts” In essence Romney argued that Latinos were welfare cheats who expected something for nothing and saw Obama as their black sugar daddy.  (See

Republican mouthpiece Bill O’Reilly also spouted the party line that people of color backed Obama because they were insatiable nogoodniks.   On Election Night, O’Reilly declared that, "Obama wins because it's not a traditional America anymore. The white establishment is the minority. People want things."  As Robert J. Elisberg observed, O’Reilly’s remarks represented numerical nonsense.  Whites are not a minority.  In fact, they represent 63.4 percent of the population.  More insidious is the association O’Reilly makes between whites and “traditional” (and presumably better) America and the implication that white people, unlike people of color, expected only to be rewarded for hard work while African Americans and Latinos insist on a nanny state.  

Bill O'Reilly of Fox News thinks that voters of color "want things."  (Photo from’reilly’s-war.jpeg-e1356537158435-1280x960.jpg.)

Whites who thrived like vampires on the relentless hard labor of black slaves and Latino agricultural workers who toiled for pathetic slave wages, have long comforted themselves with Freudian projection – accusing people of color of laziness while sitting on the porch sipping mint juleps.   O’Reilly is now their spokesman.  He seems to miss the “traditional America” of Jim Crow, lynching, random deportations, and almost universal black disenfranchisement.  As Eliseberg asks, when O’Reilly laments the passing of “traditional America,” is he referring to:

“the "traditional America" of just 50 years ago -- during the lifetime of many Americans today -- when black people were disenfranchised from voting?
Is it the "traditional America" only 40 years before that, in 1919 -- still during the lifetime of today's Americans -- when women didn't have the actual right to vote.
Is it the "traditional America" before Social Security and Medicare existed to assist the elderly and needy? Are those part of the social free-fire zone he wants gone that have no place in a real, "traditional America?"
Is Bill O'Reilly's "traditional America" the America whose long tradition was no child labor laws and no 40-hour work week?”  (See

Republicans may have received Korn's memo, but they either threw it away or never read it. Just consider some of the remarks made by Republicans in reaction to Korn’s comments.   College dropout and radio blowhard Rush Limbaugh, who has long been one of the most  important voices in the Republican Party, mocked the idea of the Republican Party reaching out to Latinos.  Limbaugh has a long, ugly history of naked racism.  (See my post at  On the day after the presidential election, he suggested (like O'Reilly) that the only way to win the backing of Hispanics was to give them something for nothing.  

“Every Obama voter may not be religious,  but they believe in Santa Claus,” Limbaugh sneered on his November 7 broadcast.  “And you know what else they believe about Santa Claus? Santa Claus doesn't judge anybody. You're gonna get your stuff no matter how you behave. You're gonna get your stuff whether you're a good guy, bad guy, or a nonentity. Santa Claus isn't judgmental. In fact, Santa Claus loves you because you have the deck stacked against you!” (See   

Limbaugh, who earns millions by sitting on his fat ass in a privately-owned studio within walking distance of his golf course home and broadcasting three hours a day, then questioned the work ethic of Mexican immigrants on a January 30 broadcast. Directly contradicting Korn’s advice, Limbaugh ranted against those he called “illegals” and said that Democrats sought to increase the Latino presence in American because, ““They want relatively poor people who depend on government for their prosperity.”  He moved on to other crude stereotypes, characterizing Mexicans as lazy compared to their supposedly more independent and hardworking Cuban peers, and suggesting that Mexicans had no desire to “assimilate” to the American culture through sweat and toil.  As every past anti-immigrant racist has claimed of the Irish, the Jews and the Italians, Limbaugh then contended that Mexican immigrants were a cancer eating away at a “distinctive American culture” and threatening the future of the nation.   Speaking of Mexicans, Limbaugh said:

“For some reason, culturally, they think that they're invested in hard work. And using the Cuban exile model, they're exactly right. But the Hispanic demographic, if you will, or population, has shifted. And the Cuban exile model is no longer the dominant model. The Mexican immigrant model is. And that -- they arrive with an entirely different view of America. And I'm sorry if this is offensive, but it's true . . . A full 75 percent of voting Hispanics believe that prosperity is the job of government, and so they’ll vote for the party that espouses those beliefs.  It happens to be the Democrats . . . In the old days of immigration people came to this country seeking a better life for themselves.  They were fleeing tyranny, fleeing oppression, fleeing economic poverty.  They came here and wanted to become Americans.  They wanted to become part of that great American culture.  Well, now that isn’t happening.  Our culture is becoming Balkanized. New arrivals aren’t assimilating, they’re setting up their own cultures, and there isn’t a distinct American culture anymore. ” (Listen to the broadcast at  

Rush Limbaugh, who labors a whole three hours a day, thinks he's the embodiment of the work ethic and that Mexicans are lazy and want handouts. (Photo from

Those "lazy" Latino immigrants, by the way,  make up a large percentage of farm workers in states like North Carolina.  They work 12 to 14 hours a day outdoors in the sun, in the heat and cold, and get exposed to toxic chemicals like pesticides.  Many of these workers are children.  Obviously, this is not as exhausting as bloviating 15 hours a week in an air conditioned bunker with softly cushioned seats. (See

Another major Republican luminary, columnist and professional troll Ann Coulter, added her shrill voice to this white supremacist sore loser chorus.  She headlined her December 5, 2012 column “America Nears El Tipping Pointo” to underscore her junior high idea of ethnic humor.  Coulter apologized for suggesting that young people were “nitwits who deserve lives of misery and joblessness.”  Coulter clarified that she should have been referring specifically to Latino immigrants.  

 Aryan ice princess Ann Coulter thinks that making up Spanish words is funny.  She probably also chuckles at the word "retard."  She claims Mexican immigrants are shiftless.  She's too lazy to make up her own stereotypes.  (Photo from  

Coulter decried the “deluge of unskilled immigrants pouring into the country . . . from the Third World . . . A majority of them are in need of government assistance.”   Coulter further said that modern immigrants, many of whom are Latino, are unlike previous newcomers.  It was wrong to assume “hat most of these Third World immigrants pouring into the country would go the way of Italian immigrants and become Republicans. They're hardworking! They have family values! Maybe at first, but not after coming here, having illegitimate children and going on welfare”

Coulter’s largely source-free diatribe further argued that the efforts by people like Korn are not just doomed but represent a threat to the country.  Any effort by Republicans to accommodate the priorities of Latino voters  will only open the door to further hordes of brown parasites.  “[There’s] a lot of government dependents coming down the pike. No amount of  'reaching out' to the Hispanic community, effective 'messaging' or Reagan's 'optimism' is going to turn Mexico's underclass into Republicans … Rather than being more hardworking than Americans, Hispanics actually work about the same as others, or, in the case of Hispanic women, less.”  (Those with strong stomachs can read more at

Of course, Coulter has never had any arrow in her rhetorical quiver other than the ad hominem argument.  What gets overlooked as people react to her entirely predictable, tedious nastiness is how dumb and incompetent a researcher she is (as well as her buddy Limbaugh).   Her picture of both immigrants and Latinos as freeloaders  is hatefully inaccurate, probably intentionally so.  

According to a study by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, “Non-Hispanic whites accounted for 64 percent of the population in 2010 and received 69 percent of the entitlement benefits. In contrast, Hispanics made up 16 percent of the population but received 12 percent of the benefits, less than their proportionate share -- likely because they are a younger population and also because immigrants, including many legal immigrants, are ineligible for various benefits.”  Rather than leeches, as Cristina Constantini observes, “[T]he Latino community is known for being incredibly entrepreneurial, with Latinos opening twice as many businesses as the average American in the 2000s, according to U.S. Census data.”  This is not a population seeking handouts, just opportunities.  (See and

The big problem with Korn's project of polishing up the GOP image among Latinos is that Romney, Limbaugh and Coulter are the heart and soul of the Republican Party, not her.  Coulter's is right about one thing.  Insincere messaging will not work.  Even if Republicans try to hide behind electoral tokenism and nominate a Latino front man in 2016 like Marco Rubio, they can't hide their past comments, their contempt for people with Latin American birthplaces, or their belief that the American nation and its culture are, by definition, exclusively products of Western European culture. 

Just as well, since this obdurate intolerance spells doom for the currently configured GOP.  According to census trends, the Latino population will triple by 2050 and, true to O'Reilly's nightmare, Anglos will become a minority by that same year.  (See Coulter or Limbaugh like it, Republicans will need the support of Latino voters or shrink to subatomic size.  Latinos are too smart to fall for tan-in-a-can messaging.  Republicans will have to surrender not just their racist words, but their racist ideas if they are to avoid becoming as extinct as the Whigs.  

Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001.  (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013).

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.