The Problem Isn’t Just McCain’s Racist Tweet, but Conservatives Defending Racism

John McCain

The John McCain dustup this morning over his tweet comparing Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to a monkey has revealed the thinking behind conservative values. A Michigan Republican congressman accused McCain of being a racist, and then a conservative stepped into the fray to explain that it’s okay to be a racist/hater when making jokes about someone who is an “anti-semite”, which is the same argument six year olds use to excuse their bad behavior.

John McCain tweeted, “So Ahmadinejad wants to be first Iranian in space – wasn’t he just there last week?” In this tweet, he linked to a story about Iran launching a monkey into space. After some backlash, McCain pulled out his “I was just joking, lighten up” card, which is crumbling from over-use but this is John McCain.

Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) tweeted, “Maybe you should wisen (sic) up & not make racist jokes. “@SenJohnMcCain: Re: Iran space tweet – lighten up folks, can’t everyone take a joke?”

It’s true that John McCain can’t get out of the locker room long enough to realize how inappropriate he can be. McCain is known for making tasteless “jokes” while taking great umbrage at things he imagines others did or said.

George W. Bush supporter John Podhoretz, also a columnist for the New York Post and a speechwriter for former President Ronald Reagan as well as former President George H.W. Bush, stepped into the fray in order to defend McCain by explaining that it’s okay to be a racist against an anti-semite, “How dare McCain say something demeaning & disparaging abt the foremost anti-Semite on the planet.” He added, “So…it’s defend-the-Jew-hater-from-the-war-hero day.”

Podhoretz isn’t the most rational guy in the world, but then what do you expect from someone who called W “the first great leader of the 21st century”. He has defined anti-semitism as Pat Buchannan calling Israel’s military action “Un-Christian” (talk about a war between reactionaries). “You want to know what anti-Semitism is? When Pat Buchanan calls Israel’s military action ‘un-Christian’, that’s anti-Semitism.” So those are his standards for what he sees as “his side”.

What is really telling is how Podhoretz justified McCain’s “joke”. It’s hard to stand tall against anti-semitism while concurrently justifying racism. Some people don’t seem to get this, but racism is the same mechanism as anti-semitism and it’s used for the same purposes. In other words, children, if you don’t want it done to you, don’t do it to others. Calling someone a “Jew-hater” does not excuse you from upholding your own value system, provided you have one.

And there it is. Republicans don’t seem to have a set of values, but rather cherry picked causes of resentment. According to them, it’s not okay to use some people’s heritage against them, but Republicans have made a party out of using other people’s heritage against them. That means that they don’t have a value or a certain level of behavior to which they don’t permit their leaders to stoop publicly. A value is something you apply to yourself as well as others, even when it’s not easy.

Imagine if a Democrat tweeted what McCain tweeted, but insert a different target. Insert a Republican cause. The wounded cries of self-pity would be echoing off the Hill for years to come. Instead, we have conservatives petulantly justifying McCain’s tweet because the other guy started it. It’s okay to be a racist if the other guy hates someone you don’t hate.

Personally I don’t believe that John McCain is a racist in the purest sense of the word. No, I am not excusing the racism inherent in his party or his pandering to the racists in his party. He is guilty of using racism politically when it suits him, but McCain’s adopted daughter was also the victim of racist attacks by his own party (while I’m distinguishing between the true believers and the cynical abusers of “isms”, neither is okay). That said, his tweet was an inappropriate racial attack and as such, it painted him out to be a racist.

McCain has always suffered from an out of control temper, bad judgment and jokes better suited for the last century. That’s nothing new.

The interesting nugget born of this scuffle is the thinking behind conservatives’ reactionary, immature and ever moving principles. Podhoretz just defended racism because he hates the other guy for hating more. And these are the people who criticize Obama’s foreign policy. Talk about leading from behind.

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