Silence of the Lambs: Why Won't GOP Leaders Denounce Bigotry?



And they call me crazy?
  • "And they call me crazy?"
By now, it’s common knowledge that the Tennessee Republican Party is full of nutjobs. Even Gail Kerr has noticed. Therefore, our poll question of the day: How should the GOP address this awkward situation?

(a) When pressed by the media, chuckle uncomfortably and mumble something about The Big Tent;
(b) Take a couple of Xanax and try to chill;
(c) Stick your fingers in your ears and say, "La la la la la la."

If you answered all of the above, you're probably raking it in as a top GOP strategist, because that’s basically what party leaders have been doing. But now that nine of the GOP’s county chapters have revealed themselves to be dominated by outright bigots, maybe it’s time for a stronger response. Here’s a thought: the party could express at least a little mild opposition to hate and prejudice.

It’s one thing to ignore all the tin-foil hatters, crackpots and run-of-the-mill frothers in the party. They are basically harmless and they make us laugh. But these resolutions condemning Gov. Bill Haslam are way over the top. These extremists can’t be dismissed as merely rebellious factions on the party’s fringe. They are leaders of county GOP chapters.

At issue is Haslam’s hiring of the Muslim lawyer Samar Ali to head the international section of the state's economic development office, and the governor’s retention of some openly gay staffers elsewhere in his administration.

In a shameful interview with Talking Points Memo, state GOP chairman Chris Devaney didn't criticize the bigots in his leadership ranks, except to regret that their complaining is “distracting during an election year.” He blamed the whole controversy on “a lot of misinformation out there.”

“What we’re trying to do is educate folks about the specifics,” he said. “Samar Ali is a lady who grew up in a small town called Waverly, Tennessee, and was a member of 4-H when she was in high school. We’re not talking about a radical Islamist.”

We guess we should be grateful Devaney had the pluck to defend Ali, who by all accounts is great at her job. He couldn’t bring himself to do the same for any of the state’s gay workers. Instead, he suggested that civil service rules are to blame for their continued employment and that Haslam would have fired them if he could have gotten away with it.

“It’s not something that somebody can just go in and start firing people to hire Republicans,” he said.

Tennessee Republicans, if there are any sane ones left out there, ought to require more from their party. Rather than taking action against Haslam, as the resolutions demand, the GOP hierarchy should condemn the county leaders and kick them out of the party.

We hope the Republican Party would quickly renounce county chairmen if they were adopting resolutions criticizing Haslam for hiring African Americans. By keeping quiet now and taking no action, is the party saying it’s OK to hate Muslims and gays?

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