The Washington Post's effort to "macaca" Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) continues today, with a front-page story by Amy Gardner entitled "Governor's record on race is complicated." Yet Gardner found no damning evidence of racism, relying heavily on Democratic legislators' complaints of dog-whistle politics and Perry's ties to Tea Party conservatism.
"Texas governor built complicated record on issue of race," insisted the headline on page A9, where the 27-paragraph article concluded.
Gardner opened her story by noting that Perry "appointed the first African American to the state Supreme Court and later made him chief justice" and that "One chief of staff and two of his general counsels have been African American" but that many "minority legislators say Perry has a long history... of engaging in what they see as racially tinged tactics and rhetoric to gain political advantage."
What exactly would those be? Gardner notes that "Black lawmakers have been particularly troubled by Perry's recent embrace of the tea party movement, elements of which they regard as racially antagonistic, and by his championing of states' rights and his call for Texas to consider seceding if federal policies didn't change."
Of course all of those lawmakers that Gardner cited are Democrats, who would have a natural inclination to attack a Republican presidential contender.
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As far as the "Niggerhead" campground controversy, Gardner noted that "none" of the "black leaders" she talked to "suggested that either the story of their history with him [Perry] lead them to believe he is racist."
All the same, Gardner sought to equate a 21-year-old campaign ad as evidence of "an intentional appeal to racist white voters":
In Texas, there has been limited political consequence for racially charged rhetoric, in part because black voters make up just 13 percent of the electorate. At the same time, there has been some political reward for politicians who have appealed to the racial fears of white voters. Perceptions linger among African Americans that, although they like Perry, he has long engaged in that practice.
They recall, for instance, Perry’s first foray into statewide politics 21 years ago, when he defeated an incumbent agriculture commissioner in part by running a television ad that showed his opponent standing alongside Jesse Jackson.
Many black leaders thought the ad was an intentional appeal to racist white voters, and they held a news conference to protest it. The ad displayed headlines alleging that Perry’s opponent, Democrat Jim Hightower, mismanaged his agency. It also featured a seemingly discordant video of Hightower appearing with Jackson, then a leading figure in the Democratic Party whom Hightower had endorsed for president two years earlier.
“That was a very bad period here, as the Republicans were trying to drive Democratic swing voters to the Republican Party,” said James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “There was a lot of race-baiting in Texas in that period — race-baiting that would be a lot harder to get away with now.”
At the 1990 news conference, Ellis and others accused Perry (and his then campaign strategist, Karl Rove) of using the ad to turn white voters against Hightower.
“There’s a certain segment here that’s still going to respond to that,” said Hightower, who now writes a column and hosts a radio program in Austin. “It’s the same folks who don’t like Barack Obama. Besides legitimate reasons not to like him, there are some people who just don’t want a black president and do not consider that legitimate. So that was an easy play for Rove and Perry.”
Perry’s spokesman, Ray Sullivan, said, “The 1990 TV ad truthfully highlighted Mr. Hightower’s role in the ’88 presidential campaign and truthfully demonstrated his very liberal politics to Texas general election voters.”
Of course, Gardner failed to mention Jesse Jackson's rather, um, not-so-complicated history of anti-Semitism. For example, while he apologized for his 1984 "hymietown" crack about New York City, he steadfastly refused to denounce the racist anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan.