The revelation that Rep. Steve Scalise, the number three person in the House Republican leadership, gave a speech to a white supremacist group in 2002 has prompted calls for his resignation. Despite House Speaker John Boehner’s statement of “full confidence” for one of his deputies, Scalise should quickly exit his post as Majority Whip so as to remove the taint of racism from the new Congress that will be sworn in next month and to allow his party to pursue a conservative agenda without being burdened by his baggage. But those liberals who are screaming for Scalise’s scalp should be careful about holding the GOP leadership to a higher standard than those who advise the president or Democrats. If Scalise should resign, and he should, how is it that it was not an issue that the president of the United States attended a church run by hatemonger like Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the White House should stop treating Al Sharpton, a man with far more baggage than Scalise’s sin, as their “go-to-man on race.”
Some Republicans are lamenting the growing pressure on Scalise as sign of a double standard. They rightly point out that Robert Byrd was a Democratic leader and saluted as a Senate institution despite his past membership in the Ku Klux Klan. They point to President Obama’s decision to retain his membership in a church where hate was preached and, up until his successful campaign for the presidency, his embrace of Wright as a mentor.
But none of that excuses Scalise’s lapse. Republicans may be held to a higher standard than Democrats when it comes to race but that doesn’t mean that the GOP should give its leaders a pass. Scalise’s speech may have preceded his entry to Congress and happened a long time ago but any claim that he didn’t know what sort of group he was addressing lacks credibility. KKK leader David Duke founded the so-called European-American Unity and Rights Organization. Scalise’s willingness to attend one of their functions in 2002 as a keynote speaker in the obvious hope of currying favor with the far right was egregious and should not be excused. It is, if anything far worse than the lapse of judgment that same year when Senator Trent Lott had to resign his leadership of Senate Republicans for saying that it was a shame that Sen. Strom Thurmond lost the 1948 presidential election when he ran as a Dixiecrat advocate of segregation.
Scalise may not agree with David Duke about anything but being a member of the House leadership is a privilege not a right. The last thing Republicans need heading into the new Congress is for them to have to answer questions about the House Whip’s past. Scalise should ignore Boehner’s statement and do the right thing for his party and the Congress by withdrawing now and take a weapon out of the hands of the Democrats.
But while we’re making Scalise walk the plant, it’s fair to raise the issue of double standards.
The ship has sailed on the question of Obama’s association with Wright and his church. The liberal mainstream media may have downplayed or ignored the issue but it was no secret. The lure of electing our first African-American president was enough to cause many Americans who would not tolerate such an association on the part of another politician especially a Republican. But while the re-elected president is right to say that the people have had their say about him twice, that doesn’t excuse his choice of a man who has personally made anti-Semitic statements, helped egg on crowds to commit violence in the name of hate as well as a proven liar and tax cheat as an honored guest advisor to this administration. Were anyone of this ilk to be given similar honors by a Republican president, it would be a far bigger story than that of Scalise and rightly so.
The challenge here is not so much to political partisans but to the news media that has accepted Sharpton as a respectable leader and even given him a cable news platform. It is they who must not hound the administration on this issue and not let go in the same manner that they would if it were someone with racist associations. Their failure to do so does not get Scalise off the hook. But it ought to shake the consciences of those liberals in the press corps whose pretense of objectivity is a fraud.