Yesterday, TPM unearthed this gem from 1986. It’s a CBS News report on Jeff Sessions being voted down by the Senate Judiciary Committee because he was considered to be too racially insensitive:
When it became clear that Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) was poised to become ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, we recalled this 2002 article by Sarah Wildman which addresses some of the controversies that kept Sessions from being confirmed in 1986 as a U.S. District Court judge in Alabama.
Wildman writes in particular that the testimonies of two witnesses–a Justice Department employee named J. Gerald Hebert, and a black Sessions subordinate named Thomas Figures–helped to doom Sessions, then a U.S. Attorney, at his Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings. According to Wildman, Hebert testified reluctantly “that in a conversation between the two men Sessions had labeled the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) “un-American” and “Communist-inspired.” And Figures–then an assistant U.S. Attorney–told the committee that “during a 1981 murder investigation involving the Ku Klux Klan, Sessions was heard by several colleagues commenting that he ‘used to think they [the Klan] were OK’ until he found out some of them were ‘pot smokers.'” [emphasis mine]
That is truly the funniest thing I’ve heard all week. It perfectly captures how entrenched into backwardness the modern Republican Party has become. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sessions was joking when he said that, but the joke’s clearly on the GOP now.
Only 23 percent of Americans self-identify as Republicans today. That may seem like a small number, but believe it or not, it’s actually not much different than what it was during the early 1980s. The bigger differences today lie with independent voters and the social issues that motivated that small Republican base to dominate American politics for so long.
A recent poll showed that support for gay marriage, legalizing marijuana, and easing immigration restrictions are all at record highs. For years, the Republicans rallied their base around these social issues, and the backfiring of this strategy is now at full blast. The young people who grew up in the 80s and 90s have grown up seeing the Republican Party as a threat to social justice and in many cases a direct threat to their own freedom and security. And it’s perfectly fitting that as a black Democrat sits in the Oval Office, the main Republican to oppose his first Supreme Court nomination is someone who in 1986 was a harbinger of the extremism that would eventually befall that party.
In 1986, the leaders of the Republican Party undoubtedly saw themselves as a party of small government principles. But that’s not what got people to the polls. In order to do that, it became a party that played upon a fear that within 25 years, there would be a black President nominating a Puerto Rican woman to the Supreme Court; that gay people would be considered equals in our society; and that pot really isn’t that scary and is ready to be as socially accepted as alcohol. Now that their fears have become a reality, and the fact that no one else seems to share that fear, they’ve just become a bizarre lunatic fringe.