At the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition’s fall fundraiser in Des Moines last weekend, former Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin compared the federal debt to slavery.
“Our free stuff today is being paid for by taking money from our children and borrowing from China,” said Palin; “When that money comes due – and this isn’t racist, but it’ll be like slavery when that note is due. We are going to beholden to the foreign master.”
This comparison of the current times in America with a period in our nation’s history that is matchless for its cold-blooded brutality is more than quite a stretch. It is offensive and a vile interpretation of a time, a long time, during which black people were brutalized, kidnapped, raped and murdered. But, such duplicitous rhetoric is not entirely unexpected from a woman who mentioned being able to see Russia from Alaska as the basis of her foreign policy experience while running for Vice President in 2008. Those on America’s right wing fringe have loved Sarah Palin despite the fact that she is not at all intellectually complicated. Her rather depraved homage to the current popular film “12 Years a Slave” got a standing ovation in Iowa. Palin patrons must be consuming some of the same seductive tea that inspired the long and bloody defense of slavery times, up to and including the hangover politics and economics that still staggers through America.
Around the same time Ms. Palin was scouring through the bones of slavery to the delight of Tea Party devotees, rapper Kanye West hoisted the Confederate Battle Flag high above his concert tour, emblazoned the Stars and Bars on his clothing line, and went to Twitter, posting in his puffed-up swagger, “The Confederate flag represented slavery in a way. That’s my abstract take on what I know about it, right? So I wrote the song, ‘New Slaves.’ So I took the Confederate flag and made it my flag. It’s my flag now. Now what you gonna do?” As if that weren’t enough, he added later, “the Confederate flag is colorless also. It’s super ’hood and super-white-boy-approved at the same time.”
Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network said of West’s latest headline-grabbing marketing strategy, “Kanye West selling jackets with the Confederate flag on them is a disgrace and an embarrassment. It’s inexcusable for West to be promoting and merchandising this flag. We are determined to boycott and shut down any stores that attempt to sell this merchandise. The Confederate flag symbolizes dehumanization, injustice and pain. It is a stark reminder of an era in our history that was defined by the abhorrent practice of slavery.”
In these separate though kindred acts of political and cultural theatre, both Palin and West detached aspects of American history from their original contexts and assigned different meanings and significance to them. Palin perversely diminished the centuries-long cruelty of slavery and West wrapped himself in the Confederate flag, which is inseparably linked to those who defended slavery.
Not to worry though, we should all know by now that the mockery in the messages communicated by Sarah Palin and Kanye West – two peas in the American pod – rests not on some elevated moral scale, but on the freedom of expression and of saying whatever it takes to get elected and to make money. Ask most politicians and rappers.
Dr. Bill Turner is an educator and author. Reach him at email@example.com.