Friday, January 30, 2009

Chip Saltsman joins list of prominent Tennesseans circulating negativity about Hispanics

"Star-Spanglish Banner" was on "Magic Negro" CD

Tennessee's Chip Saltsman has withdrawn his candidacy for the chairmanship of the Republican National Convention after circulating a CD which contained controversial songs, with "Barack the Magic Negro" gaining the most media attention. Another song on the CD was the "Star Spanglish Banner," as pointed out yesterday by Ben Smith of Politico (hat tip: Post Politics).

Circulating the "Star-Spanglish Banner" song puts Saltsman on the Hispanic Nashville Notebook's list of Tennessee officials who have deliberately circulated negativity about Hispanics. Although Saltsman is not to my knowledge in a current position of political power in Tennessee, he is a former chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party, ran the presidential campaign of Governor Mike Huckabee, and was mentored by former Tennessee senator and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, according to Post Politics.

To those who are genuinely uncertain as to why the "Star Spanglish Banner" constitutes negativity about Hispanics (see the disbelief here), it helps to start with the lyrics themselves:
Jose can you see
By the dawn's early light
Cross the border we sailed
As the Gringos were sleeping

What broad stripes and bright stars
We like red, green, and white
On the day that we marched
We were gallantly screaming

And the rally was where
We waved flags in the air
As proof in daylight
That our flag was not theirs

Jose does that star spangled banner yet wave
For the land of weak knees
In DC, no one's free
Here are my thoughts as to why this is negative, and therefore wrong (feel free to add your own in the comments below):
  • As I have said before, in a political environment in which Hispanics and/or immigrants have been the subject of politically generated suspicion and scorn, it certainly isn't right to gin up more suspicion and scorn. That kind of attitude has been rejected by Saltsman's fellow conservatives Leslie Sanchez, Sam Brownback, and the Family Research Council, among others.
  • "Star Spanglish Banner" taps into the 2006 outcry ginned up against Nuestro Himno, a Spanish-language version of the national anthem. President Bush and our own sitting Senator Lamar Alexander denounced the translated anthem, with Alexander even introducing a resolution along those lines and wrongly stating that the anthem had never been translated. The truth, however, is that the national anthem appeared in German in 1861, Spanish in 1919, Navajo in 1988, French in 1999, and Samoan in 2006; and at Bush's own inaugural, the anthem was sung in English and Spanish, with Bush even singing along in Spanish on another occasion (source here). The anthem also appeared in four different Spanish versions on Bush's own Department of State web site at the same time he was denouncing them. I often refer to the phenomenon that the popular kid at school can tell the same joke as the unpopular kid, but the laughs will go only to the popular kid. By including "Star-Spanglish Banner" on the CD he circulated, Saltsman endorsed the 2006 reaction against Nuestro Himno which sent the message at the time that Hispanics were the unpopular kid - someone whose behavior is greeted with derision while the same behavior by more popular people passes without notice. Since Saltsman was a former state GOP chair and candidate for national GOP party chair when he circulated "Star-Spanglish Banner" at the end of 2008, he gave a top-level blessing to the two-year-old signal that Hispanics are unpopular. That counts as negativity to me.
  • "Star Spanglish Banner" also taps into the demonization of those who flew Latin American national flags at the various immigrant rallies in 2006. It's not news when it's an Irish flag at a St. Patrick's Day rally, an Israeli flag at a pro-Israel rally in New York, a Polish flag-brandishing Vince Vaughn character in Chicago, or President George W. Bush himself holding up a Mexican flag in solidarity with Mexican-Americans in one of his own political ads, but when those Latin American flags went up in 2006, the outcry turned into a furor, a war, and a frenzy. As mentioned in the bullet point above, the message that Saltsman sent as contender for the GOP top spot was not that the flying of the flags is wrong, but that his vision of national party leadership has no problem with Hispanics being treated like the unpopular kid. That counts as negativity to me, and rekindling that negativity via CD was Saltsman's sin.
  • For those who might think that all the negativity can be justified as exclusively targeted toward illegal immigration, consider this previous post from the Hispanic Nashville Notebook archives.
All that having been said, the morality of a politician's behavior isn't really what catches the public's imagination these days, but rather whether the behavior can be characterized as a practical fumble. Consider former New York Governor Spitzer - the louder comments were that he was stupid to get caught, not that he was wrong to do what he did. This level of analysis is what David Weigel of the Washington Independent latched onto with his post suggesting that Saltsman's RNC bid was doomed not by the CD itself but by his handling of the backlash: "The thought of Saltsman applying these messaging skills to the high-profile job of RNC chair was what really throttled his chances among Republican activists."

So much for the moral majority.

Regardless of whether boneheadedness more easily captures the public's attention or whether the moral implications of political behavior carries any weight any more, it's for the bullet-point reasons above that I'm adding Saltsman to the (unfortunately) growing list of Tennessee officials who have deliberately circulated negativity about Hispanics.

Update February 1, 2009: CQ Politics reports that Saltsman was unable to garner the 6 supporters he needed for the formal nomination to the chairmanship, which explains his withdrawal. (Hat tip: Immigration Impact)

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