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Matthews: 'Is Sarah Palin a Poster Girl for Racism?'

On Wednesday's Hardball, MSNBC's Chris Matthews hosted a discussion with Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker and Salon's Joan Walsh as the trio discussed Parker's latest column, "A Tip for the GOP: Look Away," - which Matthews built up by effusing, "I've never seen a stronger column in the newspapers" - in which she argues that the Republican party is hurt by being centered in the South with its history of racial politics. Matthews, who would later theorize that Sarah Palin will exploit white racism by visiting "cul de sacs of whitedom," set up the segment by reading a line from Parker's column which compares Palin to a white character in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mocking Bird who falsely accuses a black man of raping her, leading to his conviction by a racist jury. Matthews:

Here`s a quote that really grabbed me: "That same rage was on display again in the fall of 2008, but this time the frenzy was stimulated by a pretty gal with a mocking little wink. Sarah Palin may not have realized what she was doing. But southerners, weaned on Harper Lee, heard the dog whistle." Kathleen, "heard the dog whistle." Is Sarah Palin a poster girl for racism? Yes or no?

Parker suggested that Palin is indeed a "poster girl for racism," though "not consciously," and alluded to white racism being incited by a white woman and black man being pitted against each other, as in Sarah Palin versus Barack Obama, or in the novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Parker:

I certainly don't think she, Sarah Palin, knows anything about Harper Lee or this deep history in the South, where you don`t position a white woman and a black male and pretend like there's nothing happening there. There`s a deep, deep history. That's why I mentioned, dropped the Harper Lee in there.


Parker soon bizarrely suggested that conservative positions on issues like states rights and even gay marriage are in reality veiled attempts at inciting white racism. Parker:

There's this subliminal level of communication that goes on. The Southern Strategy has always been - well, since they stopped using the N-word and being explicit about what they're trying to do with race and, you know, creating this "us versus them" dynamic, it became increasingly vague through the years. You started talking about states rights at a certain point. Then you started talking about, you know, these wedge issues like gay marriage and on and on.

Matthews tied Henry Gates, the "birther" conspiracy theorists, Republican Senators' who questioned Judge Sonia Sotomayor, and Sarah Palin together as he suggested that all are linked to racial politics:

Is she connecting the dots, Joan, among Henry Louis Gates, the birther movement, the Sotomayor testimony and confirmation questioning, so tribalistic? There's no doubt about it. All that stuff has become very tribalistic, something we thought we'd begun to crack in this country. Is Sarah the dog whistle that says, yeah, that's what it's about?

Finally, the Hardball host theorized that Palin would focus on visiting predominantly white rural areas, which he referred to as "cul de sacs of whitedom":

Palin has attacked New York, Washington and Los Angeles. She goes after the government, after the media, after Hollywood. Anything that`s on the coast is evil to her. She`s an Alaskan who, I bet you any money, is going to spend most of her time down in the middle parts of the country, the rural white parts. She`s going to find those cul de sacs of whitedom, and exploit the hell out of them, right?

Matthews has a history of finding racism in bizarre places, as evidenced by the March 11, 2008, edition of his Hardball show when he voiced agreement with New York Times columnist Orlando Patterson who declared that "I couldn't help but think of D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation, the racist movie epic that helped revive the Klu Klux Klan with its portrayal of black men lurking in the bushes around white society," when he saw one of Hillary Clinton's campaign ads that questioned whether Barack Obama could effectively protect American families while they sleep at night.

Below is a transcript of the relevant portion of the segment from the Wednesday, August 5, Hardball on MSNBC:


CHRIS MATTHEWS: We're back. Time for the politics fix with syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker and Salon.com's editor-in-chief, Joan Walsh. I'm not sure you two are going to argue much, but let me tell you, I've never seen a stronger column in the newspapers than what I read this morning when I got up. And the reason I'm so glad Kathleen is joining us, Joan, is that she wrote this column basically backing up Senator George Voinovich of Ohio, saying the Republican party, which has done pretty well over the last half century, has been basically getting destroyed by the right wingers in the South.

And we've talked a lot about the obsession with this birth movement down in, birther thing down in the South and all the rest of the ethnic potential here. Here`s a quote that really grabbed me: "That same rage was on display again in the fall of 2008, but this time the frenzy was stimulated by a pretty gal with a mocking little wink. Sarah Palin may not have realized what she was doing. But southerners, weaned on Harper Lee, heard the dog whistle."

Kathleen, "heard the dog whistle." Is Sarah Palin a poster girl for racism? Yes or no?

KATHLEEN PARKER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Not consciously.

MATTHEWS: Not consciously?

PARKER: Not consciously. I don`t think - I certainly don't think she, Sarah Palin, knows anything about Harper Lee or this deep history in the South, where you don't position a white woman and a black male and pretend like there's nothing happening there. There`s a deep, deep history. That's why I mentioned, dropped the Harper Lee in there. You want to talk about the Southern Strategy?

MATTHEWS: Well, it's like To Kill a Mockingbird. I just saw it again, one of the great movies ever, where the white woman claimed that she'd been, you know, molested by this totally innocent black guy.

PARKER: Right.

MATTHEWS: And she was believed for no reason, except she said so.

PARKER: Right. Look - and please let me be really, really clear. I`m not saying Sarah Palin did that. I`m just saying that there`s this subliminal level, subliminal level of communication that goes on. The Southern Strategy has always been - well, since they stopped using the N-word and being explicit about what they`re trying to do with race and, you know, creating this "us versus them" dynamic, it became increasingly vague through the years. You started talking about states rights at a certain point. Then you started talking about, you know, these wedge issues like gay marriage and on and on. But ultimately, it's always about an "us and them" dynamic.

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM: Right.

PARKER: And Sarah Palin's really very good at that. And she is, you know, when she plays her populist role, there`s no one better at it.

MATTHEWS: Is she connecting the dots, Joan, among Henry Louis Gates, the birther movement, the Sotomayor testimony and confirmation questioning, so tribalistic? There's no doubt about it. All that stuff has become very tribalistic, something we thought we`d begun to crack in this country. Is Sarah the dog whistle that says, yeah, that`s what it`s about?

WALSH: I think Sarah Palin's overall message is one of "us versus them." I think that she took the lead on the campaign trail - and you and I talked about it back in September and October, Chris - in really making Obama the other. She would literally say things like, you know, we don't know enough about him. We`re not sure where he's from. She would talk about the regular America, you know, and palling around with terrorists. We've taken that apart. So she was the person, not John McCain - maybe behind the scenes the McCain people were encouraging her. But she had a real zest for it, you know. She did it with a real zing and panache.

She really, you know, she had that visceral appearance of enjoying it when she was really saying some pretty hateful and not-founded things. Barack Obama is one of us. He`s very much so. The only thing different about him is he's black. He`s our first black President. And, you know, I think we`ve made enormous racial progress. I don`t want to, and I know Kathleen doesn`t want to overstate what`s going on right now.

But we're in a moment right now with the birthers, with the reaction to the Gates' affair, with the trashing of Sonia Sotomayor, and, you know, even John McCain saying he`s not going to vote for her, where the Republican party seems, seems to believe that its best route is tribalism and scaring people. Whether they're scaring people about Obama is going to take away your health care or they're scaring you about we don't know what he's about; he's a Muslim, he`s a socialist, it's fear. The tactic is fear and fear alone. And I loved Kathleen's column. It was awesome.

PARKER: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: I'm struck by the numbers. This new poll that came out and showed that the southerners, a majority of them are not willing to commit - a majority of southerners, including blacks - obviously the blacks aren't part of this, I assume - don't have any reason to believe he's an American. They either don`t believe it or they're -

WALSH: It's stunning. They`re not sure.

MATTHEWS: A majority of them are not willing to say, yeah, he's one of us. And the rest of the country is overwhelming. Nine out of 10 say sure, he`s one of us. So why is the South alone in this regard? Not Northeast, not Midwest, not West. But the South stands out there uniquely and regionally and racially opposed to this guy.

PARKER: One word, Chris, one word: Confederacy. I mean, you know, the South is very, I live there, okay? I want to make that clear, too, because I`m not bashing southerners. I love the South and I am a southerner. But-

MATTHEWS: But 40 percent of those states like yours are black.

PARKER: It's part of the history.

MATTHEWS: So it's the 60 percent that are white.

PARKER: It's part of the culture to be secessionist.

MATTHEWS: Like Rick Perry effectively is?

PARKER: To always view the federal government as the enemy. And it`s very, yeah, yes, I can`t, I can`t-

MATTHEWS: How about Palin? Let's talk about Palin. Palin has attacked New York, Washington and Los Angeles. She goes after the government, after the media, after Hollywood.

PARKER: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Anything that's on the coast is evil to her. She's an Alaskan who, I bet you any money, is going to spend most of her time down in the middle parts of the country, the rural white parts. She`s going to find those cul de sacs of whitedom, and exploit the hell out of them, right?

WALSH: But wasn't she in New York last night at Michael's, the big media and celebrity-

MATTHEWS: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) because she's got a lawyer who is smart enough, Robert Barnett, to take her to the one place she`s going to get a hell of a lot of publicity.

- Brad Wilmouth is a news analyst at the Media Research Center.