Talk about the ultimate backfire. When Palmetto State Republican gubernatorial candidate John M. “Jake” Knotts Jr., called GOP frontrunner Nikki Haley, a converted Christian of Sikh Indian descent, a “raghead” this week, he made the young lawmaker a household name. Heretofore, she had only been known as the slutty would-be replacement for the current tramp in the Governor’s mansion, Mark Sanford. Haley was well on her way to doing herself in, having faced two separate allegations, within the span ten days, of having sexual relations with GOP operatives. But leave it to an old, fat, racist white man to breathe new life into Haley’s candidacy.
I have to admit that I never bothered to search for an image of Haley, until Knotts hurled his antiquated and culturally ignorant epithet. I read a column in the New York Times by the incandescent Gail Collins this week that addressed the infidelity accusations dogging Haley’s campaign, and upon coming across her name for the first time, I assumed she was simply another hypocritical, greedy member of the far right, which tends as we know, to be WASP-y in its makeup. No thanks. It wasn’t until news spread that Knotts had not only insulted Haley’s cultural heritage, but managed to rope President Obama into a racist slam at the same time, that I wanted to know more about this woman.
And if I am discovering interest in Haley, it is not a far conjectural leap to assume that voters in South Carolina are doing the same. The rumored adulterer and mother of two has suddenly been rendered sympathetic by the shocking ignorance of a challenging member of the ruling class. In a political climate that is very anti-establishment at the moment, Knotts could not have made a more damaging faux pas, leaving aside what it says about his tolerance and character. All of the sudden, the clout of Republican heavyweight Sarah Palin is thrown behind Haley’s candidacy, in the form of recorded robo-calls. Whatever one might think of Palin, there is no denying her star power, particularly in the Red States. I doubt Knotts can count on any important party support, except perhaps from the ghost of late South Carolina Senator and fellow ideological crackpot, Strom Thurmond.
Which brings me to another point. I thought conventional wisdom had it that in order for the Republican party to compete in the ever more diverse landscape of American politics, they were going to have to break with the past, be more inclusive? Wasn’t the point of hiring bumbling jackass Michael Steele as chairman of the RNC (the gift to the Democrats that keeps on giving), to put a face on that effort? Well you can place as many visages of color in leadership positions as you want, Republicans, but as long as you have wingnuts like Knotts, and media personalities like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly doing your talking for you, it’s going to be hard to convince people that you are other than the party of discrimination. In a nation that becomes more multi-ethnic by the year, intolerance is dangerous and unsustainable.
One can only assume, despite Knotts’s predictable, insincere apology for his comments, that his candidacy is all but over. Thank goodness for that. I believe an additional boost to Haley’s run will stem from her measured, savvy response to the controversy. She was quoted as saying: “What the race in 2010 will prove is the goodness of the people of South Carolina, that there [are] fewer people of the Jake Knotts [ilk] and that there are a lot more good, educated people [who] want their voice heard in government.”
I can only hope that other members of the new Republican movement are sincere in their desire to expand their membership base, and are not just cynically chasing votes. Because even those of us are who lean far left have much to gain in finding a worthy adversary with new ideas and attitudes. Clearly however, the old guard of the GOP has not looked a calendar lately. It’s 2010, not 1959 fellas.