In politics, words always mean more than what’s on the surface. Just how words are said, or when they are said, can do much to shade their meanings.
That said, what’s up with the provocative words of Hanover County’s Del. Frank Hargrove?
After former Sen. George Allen’s infamous “macaca” meltdown and the much-publicized anti-Muslim stance of Rep. Virgil Goode (depicted left), what was behind fellow Republican Hargrove’s suggested alternative to the proposal to apologize for Virginia’s official part in maintaining the slavery system in pre-Civil War times?
Of slavery, Hargrove said Virginia’s “black citizens should get over it.” To present this wizened advice for the ears of his fellow legislators, the delegate chose a time that suited his purpose -- Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
Then, to bolster his opinion that an apology for slavery coming 142 years after the Civil War ended is pointless -- and to reveal his equal-opportunity-offender side -- 80-year-old Hargrove asked, “Are we going to force the Jews to apologize for killing Christ?”
Well, the simplest explanation is that Mr. Hargrove doesn’t get it and doesn’t want to get it. He can’t fathom how much has changed in his lifetime.
Hargrove is a relic from the days of Massive Resistance, when it was fashionable for many of Virginia’s establishment politicians to speak in a code, with a wink and a nudge. To facilitate their public stoking of prejudices such politicians needed only a patina of syntax. They spoke as they pleased, confident that anyone offended by such words had no clout to do anything about it.
Sadly, the press in that era largely let them get away with it.
Forty, fifty years ago, when one of those segregationist cats said to an all-white political gathering, “those nig-rahs” -- when referring disdainfully to black Virginians asking for full citizenship -- the people in the audience with the ears to hear it, they knew what the speaker meant.
In that time comedian Lenny Bruce used to do a bit in his nightclub act on that same twisted pronunciation of the word “Negroes,” which was then in popular use by certain Southern politicians, among others.
Today President George Bush comically mangles the pronunciation of the word “nuclear,” by saying something like, “noo-kew-ler.”
Is that a strange Connecticut/Texas dialect? Or, is it what linguist Geoffrey Numberg calls a “thinko,” as opposed to a “typo.”
In his book “Going Nucular,” Nunberg points out that in the 1950s some political hawks and weapons specialists deliberately mispronounced the word “nuclear,” in that same way, to make the word their own -- to give it more punch. Cartoon everyman Homer Simpson still says “nookewler,” too.
Accordingly, it says here that Hargrove was trying to be funny. Moreover, he’s so far past having any ambition beyond just waking up each morning, to amuse himself he’s perfectly willing to stick his thumb in the eye of any opponent ... and the horse he rode in on.
Thus, Mr. Hargrove will doubtless ride through the season’s media attention, blithely unconcerned that he’s made it yet more difficult for his struggling political party, the Grand Old Party, to seem modern in Virginia on issues to do with race, class and culture.
Enough has been said about Allen’s ethnicity gaffes during his senatorial campaign, so I’ll move on to U.S. Rep. Virgil Goode, who is a politician very much on the make.
In December, Goode’s calculated choice to go very public with his anti-Muslim/tough-on-immigrants stance represented more than Hargrove’s warmed-over sarcasm, served up from the vault. Goode is obviously confident there’s still plenty of support for his throwback, xenophobic statements in his largely rural congressional district. He doesn’t get it either, but for different reasons than Hargrove.
Goode’s reading of the results of the 2006 election is shallow. He can’t see that like Americans in many other states lots of Virginians are sick and tired of being force-marched backward, culturally, by the neoconservative Bush administration. Furthermore, the words of any Republican that dwell on limiting abortion rights, bashing same-sex relationships and seeking to establish creationism as having equal standing to science are painting the GOP into a dark corner of the political landscape.
Word-wise, Hargrove is a crusty old wiseacre.
Allen probably overstayed his welcome. But it took his sloppy and ill-advised use of words to assure his downfall. Now Allen is history as an elected politician.
Originally elected to his office as a Democrat, Goode, ever the opportunist, wants to inherit what was Allen’s cache of statewide conservative support. Yet, Goode is foolishly underestimating how rough modern communications -- chiefly the Internet -- are going to be on his good-ol’-boy, trash-talking ilk.
Eventually, Mr. Goode should get wised up. Give it another year. By then he may begin to catch a whiff of reality.
The way things are going, in 2008 there aren’t going to be many Republicans with any real future in public office, who will be willing to stand with Goode and Hargrove, knee-deep in the Strom Thurmond wing of the dumpster of history.
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Art by F.T. Rea