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Columnist: The diversionary theory of racism

By John A. Tures

Contributing columnist

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Gov. Orval Faubus, Gov. George Wallace and now Sen. Mike Rounds, are all racists, or so they’d like us to think. But beneath the white sheets of racism, you often find an integrationist more scared of losing an election than following a conscience.

Gov. Orval Eugene Faubus is best known in the history books as the Arkansas governor trying to use the cops and the National Guard to block President Dwight D. Eisenhower from using the U.S. Army to integrate nine black students from attending Central High School in Little Rock. He’s a hero to segregationists, and hated by racial liberals.

But did you know Faubus was a liberal? Born into poverty, Faubus’ middle name came from Socialist candidate Eugene Debs. He was an unabashed New Dealer, champion of the poor, including reformers who swept away the corrupt old order. His mentor was ousted by a conservative, and Faubus prevailed against that incumbent only by luck in the following election, overcoming charges of being a communist. He governed as a liberal, but knew he was vulnerable in his re-election bid. So he played the race card, enabling him to ward off conservative challengers for several subsequent elections.

Gov. George Wallace is more familiar to audiences, owing to his role in the film “Selma” (Ala.). Like Faubus, he practiced racial segregation in the school system, and denied voting rights to blacks. He ran for president on states’ rights. His name is almost synonymous with racism in this history books.

But did you know Wallace was an integrationist? Wallace ran as one in early elections. But he was ahead of his time, perhaps. So Wallace outperformed his rivals when it came to racism, and he converted those hate-filled votes into victories. Eventually, after his presidential ambitions were thwarted by injuries, he returned to Alabama politics to run on his old roots of racial integration, courting black voters, even embracing Jesse Jackson in the 1980s. And it paid off. Such episodes are forgotten, in the history books, of course.

And finally, there’s South Dakota Sen. Mike Rounds, who said that even if Donald Trump’s remarks about the KKK and David Duke were made on purpose, he is a better choice than Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.

So why would Sen. Rounds still take a Donald Trump who welcomed a KKK endorsement? Would you believe he’s an immigration liberal?

Sen. Rounds is a big backer of “the federal EB-5 program. Simply put, it’s a federal program that allows qualified and approved foreign investors the opportunity to receive United States work visas (not citizenship) if they invest in American companies and create jobs,” he notes on his 2014 campaign site.

Rounds adds, “Our opponents are trying to politicize and scandalize EB-5 every chance they get … they’re using the beef plant in Aberdeen, which will be operating in the near future, to create a political scandal and divert attention away from the real issues that truly affect our lives and our future.”

Rounds supports this bipartisan increase in legal work visas, which is leading to attacks from the left and right about the program. So to distract voters from thinking he’s a softie on immigration, Rounds makes controversial statements like this.

So what have we learned? Extremists may be dismayed to learn that a lot of their heroes were just playing them for fools to get votes. But it is disconcerting to racially tolerant people that some talented liberals played the race card, even when they knew it was wrong, just to get votes.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College. He may be reached at jtures@lagrange.edu.