Oklahoma State Rep. Sally Kern is no stranger to controversy. Many gay rights activists will remember her virulent homophobic statements both in the House chamber and out. In fact, that is pretty much what she is known for. However, she has recently drawn fire for offensive comments of a different stripe: racism.
Kern, 64, often serves as a caricature for her party's anti-LGBT views. She made headlines in 2008 when she described homosexuality as "the biggest threat our nation has, even more so than terrorism and Islam," saying that "what is happening now is they are going after, in schools, two-year-olds ..." In 2009 she authored a proclamation in which she blamed the economic crisis on President Obama's recognition of Gay Pride Month. She's claimed that "gays are infiltrating city councils." She has also introduced amendments banning the specter of sharia law, as well as allowing teachers to question evolution.
However, earlier this week, Kern inflamed a new segment of the population. While debating SJR 15, a bill introduced by a fellow Republican that would change the state's constitution to eliminate affirmative action, Kern suggested that perhaps the high proportion of incarceration and financial hardships of the state's African American population is due to laziness. Said Kern, "We have a high percentage of blacks in prison, and that's tragic, but are they in prison just because they are black or because they don't want to study as hard in school? I've taught school, and I saw a lot of people of color who didn't study hard because they said the government would take care of them." Additionally, she went on to state that women tend to earn less than men because they "usually don't want to work as hard as a man ... women tend to think a little bit more about their family, wanting to be at home more time, wanting to have a little more leisure time." The bill passed by a large margin in the overwhelmingly Republican House.
Kern's comments drew condemnation from some of her fellow representatives. Rep. Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City, said: "This body will quote the Bill of Rights and then talk about Muslims every day. They'll talk about illegal immigrants every day. They'll talk about homosexuals." He added, "Oklahoma is a great state - as long as you fit the profile."
Of even more visibility is real estate mogul, reality TV star and potential GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump. He has spent the past few weeks fanning the flames of the right's most ardent conspiracy theorists, the "birthers." He even claimed to have private investigators on the ground in Hawaii who apparently were telling him all sorts of crazy things.
Trump now has turned to questioning how President Obama, an African American, could have gained access to Columbia and Harvard universities, stating that he believed Obama's grades to be subpar, calling him a "terrible student." Trump has even tried to call into question Obama's authorship of his best-selling autobiography, "Dreams From My Father." He insinuated that Obama's admission to the two schools was a result of affirmative action, as if somehow Obama, as an African American, could not have gone to Columbia and Harvard otherwise. This line of thought was parroted by MSNBC's conservative commentator Pat Buchanan (who is virulently anti-affirmative-action, anti- multiculturalism, and anti-LGBT-rights), who claimed that the president's academic career was "affirmative action all the way."
However, the president graduated from Harvard Law School magna cum laude - it is nearly impossible to make better grades than that. Even more impressive, he was elected editor of the Harvard Law Review - which Buchanan also claimed was somehow due to affirmative action. Both Trump's and Buchanan's statements lead one to conclude that they think that is the only way an African American can gain access to the top schools in the country. While Trump would like us to believe that he has always had a good relationship with "the Blacks," his words (including those) say otherwise.
On more local levels, many in the GOP leadership have exhibited strains of racism. Tea partier and GOP central committee member in California Marilyn Davenport sent out an email depicting Obama as the child of two monkeys with the caption, "Now you know why no birth certificate." Davenport responded to critics by saying, "I didn't think people would be upset by it."
Between the birther claims (from the right), the countless racist emails from GOP addresses (including "Barack the Magic Negro"), and these comments by Republican officials, it would appear that the Grand Old Party might be beset by a racist element. Republicans like to brag that their party was the reason behind emancipation; but it was the conservative movement that opposed civil rights, and appears to, at some level, not be above courting the racist element of the right. Somehow, it would appear that the party of Lincoln has become the party of John Wilkes Booth.
Photo: Donald Trump at the Consrvatice Political Action Conference in February 2011. Gage Skidmore CC 2.0