How 'Lincoln' became a dirty word for some Republicans

OPINION - The popular refrain for the past decade has been that Abraham Lincoln would be sent packing from just about any GOP local, state and especially national convention today...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

A GOP-connected PAC’s decision to invoke Abraham’s Lincoln’s name to slur President Obama in a widely publicized (and since abandoned) ad campaign is outright bizarre on two counts. Their plan, which was backed by TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts and drafted by advisers to John McCain’s 2008, branded Obama a “metrosexual, black Abe Lincoln.” The first absurdity is the odd term itself, “metrosexual?” But it’s the Lincoln name tagged to it that’s even more ludicrous.

The GOP would not have a prayer of winning a national election without the relatively solid South’s white vote. And if there’s any one name that still stirs revulsion, loathing and fury in the region, it’s Lincoln’s. The South has had a racial beef with Lincoln (over his decision to end slavery) for more than a century and a half.

The transformation of the GOP from the party of Lincoln into a party dominated by conservative, evangelical leaning Southern white males, has been the political trump card for Republican presidential candidates for more than four decades. They gave Bush and Republican presidents Bush Sr., Reagan, and Nixon the decisive margin of victory over their Democrat opponents in their presidential races.

The anti-Lincoln stance of the GOP paid special dividends for George W. Bush. In the 2000 election, Bush got more than 70 percent of the Southern white male vote. Four years later, Bush swept Democratic presidential contender John Kerry in every one of the Old Confederacy states and three out of four of the Border States. That insured another Bush White House.

The popular refrain for the past decade has been that Abraham Lincoln would be sent packing from just about any GOP local, state and especially national convention today.

Even this badly understates the current political climate. The Republican party has long since ceased bearing any resemblance to the party of its historic icon and symbol. After all, Lincoln, by the racial and political standards of his day, grew to become a genuine, thoughtful, moderate, even populist, wartime president.

But the resurgence of the Tea Party, with big wins in the GOP Senate primary races in Indiana and Nebraska by candidates stoutly aligned with that group’s shrill anti-establishment views, has shown that the party of Lincoln would be even less recognizable to Lincoln today. The reaction to a GOP candidate with Lincoln’s relatively open and enlightened views would probably be even more hostile.

The Republican party, since the Reagan era’s shift rightward, has been a safe haven for some of the most extreme and vile attacks on its straw man collection of whipping boys. That would be liberals, big government, and alleged tax-and-spend Democrats. They have relentlessly pushed to scrap or gut entitlement programs, in exchange for even more bloated spending on the military.

The anchor of the GOP shift is race. Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy was encoded in the 1968 presidential election to blatantly pander to the conservative white South. The strategy entailed saying little and doing even less on racial matters. The strategy was massaged, refined, and retooled during the Reagan, Bush Sr. and W. Bush years.

In 2008, some GOP leaders, the most prominent being Sarah Palin, were poised to unleash their racial barrage against then-Democratic Presidential candidate Obama, but Republican presidential candidate John McCain quickly put his foot down and very publicly made it clear that race, either openly or subtly, would not be an attack point in his campaign. He was as good as his word, and the GOP was pretty much on its best behavior during the campaign regarding race.

But when Obama shellacked McCain in the general election, the GOP’s best face soon gave way to an ugly one. The Tea Party was instantly born, and with the tacit silence from Republican leaders. They launched a venomous campaign that hectored, harangued, and harassed President Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, and even his two daughters. The litany of outrageous derogatory, demeaning, and insulting posters, signs, emails, blog and web messages attacking the Obamas has been endless, and hasn’t let up.

Romney will likely keep his pledge and play it close to the vest, not uttering a word about race and Obama during the campaign. But that’s not to say he won’t slyly toss out a code word or code line here and there about Obama. In fact, he already gave a hint of that when he refused to back away from the quip he made in February that Obama wants to make America “a less Christian nation.”

This had code language — un-American, un-patriotic, and a closet Muslim — stamped all over it. Though Romney will probably be as good as word in not playing the race card, a litany of growing, well-bankrolled, creepy Super PACs such as Ricketts’ almost certainly can be counted on to toss a racial zinger or two at Obama before the campaign dust settles in November.

The ultimate irony is that the same GOP that would slam the door on a Lincoln today has no compunction about using Lincoln’s name to race bait Obama. This indeed speaks volumes about a party that shames and disgraces itself and the name of Lincoln every time it utters his name. Or should we say “metrosexual” Lincoln.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour heard weekly on the nationally network broadcast Hutchinson Newsmaker Network.

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