Marilyn Davenport's recent journey into the ugly world of racism exposed the under belly of a county, party and state with a tragic history of ugly racist conduct.
An important strategic aspect of the 74-year-old Orange County Republican Central Committee member's conduct relates to her angry counter punch embodying a familiar "the best defense is a good offense" strategy. Rather than permit the onus to reside on a tasteless act depicting President Barack Obama as a descendant of chimpanzees, Davenport denounced the revelation of her e-mail as "cowardly".
Even the "apology" of sorts that Davenport delivered was conditional as well as decidedly lukewarm. Davenport explained that the e-mail was sent to a selective few people she knew who could presumably "understand" her intent.
Davenport stated that the exercise was meant as nothing more than a joke and apologized to anyone who found the e-mail offensive. For those who did not find it offensive there was no need for an apology and her carefully crafted statement acknowledged this.
Orange County Republican reactionaries were in the forefront of the John Birch Society revolution of the sixties. Its culmination was helping supply foot soldiers who aided in Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona's defeat of eastern establishment archrival Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York in the 1964 Republican presidential primary. The pivotal victory secured Goldwater's nomination.
The ensuing Republican National Convention in San Francisco was more of a bloodletting than a serious discussion of major political issues. Badly outnumbered African American delegates were bullied by racist delegation members. One African American delegate was set on fire.
Anti-media antipathy was so strong that popular NBC television reporter John Chancellor was taken into custody and forcibly removed from the convention floor.
Buoyed by the Goldwater success California Republicans, with Orange County in the forefront, operated in tandem with the California Real Estate Association to achieve a major success in the November election. While Goldwater sustained a landslide loss in California, an initiative repealing the recently passed Rumford Fair Housing Initiative won by a solid margin.
The "rationale" embraced by those backing the initiative, which was ultimately overturned as unconstitutional, was that there was no racism involved in the effort. Pro-initiative backers explained that even if one deplores racism that citizens should have the right to practice it. That, after all, embodies freedom, and isn't freedom part and parcel the American way?
During the fall campaign California's Democratic Senator Pierre Salinger on a whistle stop train campaign junket across the state had the misfortune to stop in Orange County. Hoodlumism was the disorder of the day as he was hooted down. Salinger sought to impose reason by stating that it was the American way to listen and not to engage in the tactics of Nazis by shutting off speech.
An indignant Republican woman used the best defense is a good offense tactic in a letter to the editor that appeared in the Los Angeles Times. She noted that Salinger referred to "Nazis" rather than "Communists" and accordingly had revealed himself for what he was.
A Goldwater alternate delegate from California at the San Francisco convention who watched the proceedings with great interest was a veteran motion picture and television actor named Ronald Reagan. His acting career was on the wane and politics provided a promising new venue to exercise his communicative skills.
After two terms as California governor and two unsuccessful attempts to become the Republican Party's presidential nominee, the brass ring was finally his in 1980. When Reagan launched his ultimately successful fall campaign against President Jimmy Carter his choice of venue was eerie.
Reagan's campaign opened in Philadelphia, Mississippi, a small town that as of the 2000 census was home to 7,303 people. To the uninitiated the choice was confounding. Shouldn't a major party nominee select a major city of a large state containing a large bloc of electoral votes?
To the initiated the choice was chilling and tragically racist in its implications. Philadelphia, Mississippi was a town with the stench of death, an embodiment of racism at its ugliest. It was the location where in June 1964 three young civil rights workers seeking to help integrate Mississippi were brutally killed.
Reagan's kickoff speech in Philadelphia could in any realistic political context mean but one thing. The good old boy southern network was being reassured that the uppity Lyndon Johnson civil rights initiative was a thing of the past and that a new age was dawning.