Is there a moral difference between calling the president a rude name and saying there’s nothing wrong with white supremacy? According to Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), the sins are about the same.
Appearing on ABC’s This Week, Scalise dismissed calls for a formal sanction of Rep. Steve King (R-IA) over recent comments in which he asserted there is nothing offensive in the terms “white supremacist” and “white nationalist.”
Scalise drew a parallel between the abhorrent remarks made by King — which even drew calls for censure from a few members of his own Republican party — and language and actions he says Democrats would be advised to refrain from.
“We’ve got to raise the bar on civility,” Scalise said. “We need to call it out on the Republican side and the Democrat side. I’ve been willing to call it out on both. It’s time those Democrat leaders you just mentioned call it out when it happens on their side as well.”
Scalise, the House Minority whip, claimed that Democratic leaders “haven’t pushed back” on unspecified instances in which members of their caucus “have said not only highly offensive things,” but also “align themselves with anti-Semites,” and have advocated the use of physical violence.
Before his “both-sides” rhetoric, Scalise boasted that he and other leaders have already issued press statements condemning King’s remarks. But when ABC’s George Stephanopoulous pushed him for a yes or no on a formal sanction from caucus leaders, Scalise demanded patience.
“This just popped up on Friday,” he said — apparently forgetting that Steve King has been making similarly offensive comments for years.
Scalise makes an awkward avatar for the party’s scrambling defensiveness over its most second-most-famous elected bigot. He himself accepted an invitation to address David Duke’s “European-American Unity and Rights Organization” in 2002, early in his state-level politics career in Louisiana.
He supposedly also described himself to one politics reporter there as “David Duke without the baggage.” Scalise paid no real political price for his direct brush with perhaps the most famous face of U.S. neo-Nazism since George Lincoln Rockwell.
Scalise’s run-in with Duke helps illustrate how the formal leadership of the GOP have been backed into a sticky corner by the most recent — and most overt — example of King cozying up to proud racists.
Duke helped pioneer the white supremacist movement’s public re-branding around the idea of “European” heritage. Groups like the one Scalise visited and spoke to 17 years ago were emblematic of that public relations tactic.
King has been publicly proclaiming the superiority of European culture and civilization for years, although his rambling historical lectures on the topic have generally garnered less attention than his blithely offensive commentaries on immigrants and the Obama White House.
In 2009, King voted against formally acknowledging that the building he works in was built by enslave people, calling it “yet another effort to place guilt on future Americans for the sins of some of their ancestors.”
And during the 2016 election campaign, he became enraged over a TV panelist’s suggestion that “old white people” were the problem with the Republican Party, demanding to know, “Where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?”
Between those ignominious bookends, King more than once laid his cards on the table in floor speeches and media soundbites about the idea that a civilization built by people with pale skin was under dire threat by people who look different.
And as ethno-nationalists have seized power in some european countries over the past few years, Steve King has made it a point to visit with them, boost their policy ideas and rhetorical flourishes, and generally suggest it’s high time the U.S. emulated those proto-fascist policies.
The only real difference this time out is that King lost track of the valuable lesson Duke spent decades instilling to the racist fringe of the conservative movement: He said “white” instead of “European.” He said the quiet part loud.
Scalise can be forgiven for believing he can morph a story about King’s embrace of the idea that white people are superior into a broader, both-sides tongue-click about civility.
The three main cable news networks have spent five times as much airtime on first-term congresswoman Rashida Tlaib calling President Donald Trump a “motherfucker” at an event with supporters as they have on King’s defense of the term “white supremacy.”
A Media Matters review of the first 24 hours of Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN coverage after each of the two stories broke found Tlaib’s applause line got a combined two-and-a-half hours of discussion, while King’s comments merited less than 30 minutes.
Like other conservative figures, Scalise also likely understands that no matter which station he’s appearing on, the audience he’s playing to is Fox’s hard-right tribe. The same report found Fox all but iced out the King story in the first 24 hours, giving it just 42 seconds of air — a few days after spending 52 minutes on the Tlaib story.
Still, Scalise suggested that King should just read an op-ed from Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC). That will surely change the worldview of a man who believes things like “Western Civilization is the target of George Soros and the Left.”