Lawrence Jackson/AP

“Barack the Magic Negro” Highlights Rift in GOP

December 30, 2008 12:28 PM
by Isabel Cowles
Republican reactions to the song “Barack the Magic Negro,” sent out to prominent GOP leaders as a Christmas gift, have exposed party divisions.

GOP Christmas Mix

This holiday season, many Republican politicians received a controversial Christmas CD featuring the track “Barack the Magic Negro.”

Chip Saltsman, who is campaigning to become chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), sent members of his party the CD entitled, “We Hate the USA.” Saltsman told CNN that the CD was obviously a joke.

But many members of the GOP are not amused. RNC Chairman Mike Duncan (who is defending his job from Saltsman) was the first prominent Republican to criticize Saltsman’s Christmas CD, CNN reports. Duncan said, “I am shocked and appalled that anyone would think this is appropriate, as it clearly does not move us in the right direction.”

Saltsman sent the CD along with a note that read, “I look forward to working together in the New Year. Please enjoy the enclosed CD by my friend Paul Shanklin of the Rush Limbaugh Show.”

According to The Hill, some of the CD’s other songs include “John Edwards’ Poverty Tour,” “Wright place, wrong pastor,” “Love Client #9,” “Ivory and Ebony” and “The Star Spanglish banner.” The Obama song is set to the tune of “Puff the Magic Dragon,” and is sung by Shanklin impersonating Al Sharpton.
Shanklin wrote the song after conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh highlighted a March editorial in the Los Angeles Times called “Obama the Magic Negro.” In the piece, writer David Ehrenstein asserted that Obama could serve to assuage the conscience of whites who feel guilty about the historical treatment of African-Americans.

Saltsman has refused to apologize for distributing the CD, telling CNN, “… our party leaders should stand up against the media’s double standards and refuse to pander to their desire for scandal.” He told The Hill that GOP leaders have the “good humor and good sense” to recognize the songs as “lighthearted political parodies.”

But while some African-American party members supported Saltsman, others are incensed. In response to the CD, Republican Ada Fisher wrote in a letter that “Racist actions and deeds have no place in the party.”

Background: The GOP After Election 2008

Republican leaders may be extra-sensitive to issues facing their party’s identity since the sweeping Democratic wins in the 2008 election, especially where minority voters are concerned.

The day after the presidential election, a GOP strategist close to the McCain campaign expressed his concerns to CNN that Republicans failed to secure several key demographics, particularly Latinos (“the key to a number of critical swing states”) and young voters. He noted that generational support for a candidate can affect voting patterns for years; for example, the young voters who chose Reagan defined how that generation has voted during subsequent decades.

Others stress that the identity of the party is evolving and that erstwhile Republican beliefs may not work in a modern context. David Brooks, a conservative columnist for The New York Times identified the rift within the Republican Party a week after the election, citing a distinction in beliefs between GOP “Traditionalists” and “Reformers.”

According to Brooks, Reformers, who believe the party needs to “pay attention to the way the country has changed,” suggest that the GOP appeal more to “Hispanics, independents and younger voters,” while Traditionalists (like Rush Limbaugh) believe that the Party should restrict government, taxes and immigration.

Reference: Barack the Magic Negro

Shanklin sings his tune, “Barack the Magic Negro.”

In his March 2007 editorial in the Los Angeles Times, David Ehrenstein wrote that Senator Obama, “is running for an equally important unelected office, in the province of the popular imagination—the ‘Magic Negro.’” Ehrenstein explained that the term “magic negro” was coined by a sociologist to refer to a benevolent black folk hero who emerged in the wake of Brown vs. Board of Education. The figure is meant to alleviate white guilt over America’s historical treatment of blacks, “while replacing stereotypes of a dangerous, highly sexualized black man with a benign figure for whom interracial sexual congress holds no interest.”

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