Modern-Day Know-Nothings Take Control In The SouthFebruary 6th, 2013 12:00 am Gene Lyons
For as long as I’ve lived in Arkansas — most of my adult life — people like the now-famous state senator Jason Rapert have made most of the noise and lost most of the elections. Now they’ve come to power, courtesy of Southern Republicans’ cult-like rejection of President Obama and large infusions of corporate campaign cash. And with the state legislature in session, the tragi-comedy is under way.
It’s happening all across the South. Sample news story: “Representatives approved a bill titled ‘The Church Protection Act of 2013′…85-8, to permit concealed handguns in churches and other houses of worship.”
Because Jesus, of course, was all about smiting them dead before thou art smitten.
Anyway, “famous” may be an exaggeration with regard to Sen. Rapert. But a YouTube clip of the man haranguing a 2011 Tea Party gathering about his anger at “minorities” running the country has gotten Arkansas lots of unfavorable national attention. Meanwhile, his indignant, if not particularly honest, denials have succeeded only in generating more ill will and bad feeling.
Full disclosure: this same Jason Rapert is also my neighbor in rural Perry County, AR. He invited us to a Memorial Day Picnic three years ago, where his bluegrass band provided the entertainment. He’s a genial host and a terrific country fiddler and guitarist. A few days later, his wife graciously dropped off a CD the band had recorded. She pretended not to mind when my horse left deep hoofprints in their yard. The couple has two lovely young daughters.
However, the same fellow is also a stone religious crank who’s absolutely certain that God agrees with every one of his opinions; also that everybody who disagrees with God and him is going straight to hell. Jason’s not shy about telling you about it, either. He once advised me to leave the U.S. on account of supporting Obamacare. I reminded him that my side had won the 2008 election. (And good luck finding a country without “socialist” health care and with indoor plumbing.)
But I’d never have suspected him capable of the kind of insidious rhetoric he displayed for the Tea Partiers. The video, first unearthed by Lee Fang in The Nation, captures Rapert in full revivalist mode. No, his speech wasn’t “racist” in the simplistic way liberals often charge. I’m confident he’d vote for Condoleezza Rice, for example.
It’s not President Obama’s color that offends Rapert’s sensibilities—although I’m less sure about his audience’s. It’s everything else about the man that makes him suspect from a paranoid, neo-nativist perspective.
Delivered in a countrified drawl that’s more his preacher’s voice than the one he uses in his daytime job as an investment advisor, Rapert’s speech hits all the conspiratorial high spots: Obama’s supposedly missing birth certificate; his sympathy with gay rights; also, most ominously, his secret belief in the wrong God.