Representative Steve King (R., Iowa) has made a habit of flirting with the noxious fringe in matters pertaining to culture, race, and immigration, but he inarguably crossed over the line — the border? — in comments published Thursday by the New York Times. “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” King asked. “Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?”
We doubt King paid much attention in those classes if he doesn’t realize that, from Lincoln to MLK, one of the glories of American history is how we finally shed our shameful racist past. King’s comments are odious and indefensible and follow a recent pattern of irresponsible demagogy on third-rail political issues. They don’t represent conservatism and he should be jettisoned by the Right.
In a statement responding to the Times article, King insisted that he “rejects those labels and the evil ideology that they define.” Notably, he didn’t dispute that he said what the Times printed. Instead, he said this: “America’s values are expressed in our founding documents, they are attainable by everyone and we take pride that people of all races, religions, and creeds from around the globe aspire to achieve them.” That’s fine as far as it goes. Yet King has done nothing to earn the benefit of the doubt or to credibly suggest that his comments to the Times were somehow a slip of the tongue.
Over the last several months, the congressman has compiled a distressing record: endorsing the political campaign of a protest candidate for mayor of Toronto who appeared on a white-supremacist podcast and has repeated white-supremacist mantras; approvingly citing white nationalists on social media and, when pressed, refusing to admit error; and nodding to fringe tropes such as “cultural suicide by demographic transformation” that reduce the legitimate issue of national cohesion to an ugly exercise in racial bean-counting.
King has portrayed himself as the victim of “manufactured” controversies by the media. But the onus is on politicians to be precise with their language and responsible with their associations on these issues. Instead, the congressman gives aid and comfort to those who claim that the United States and the Republican party more specifically are irredeemably racist. These are falsehoods that must be opposed, yet King has seemingly devoted more time and attention to giving them oxygen than to his mundane duties as a congressman.
King tars all conservatives with his irresponsibility. See, for example, the New York Times article in which his comments appear, which says that King’s views on immigration “now carry substantial influence on the right.” The story cites as evidence King’s longtime advocacy for a border wall and his focus on the dangers of untrammeled migration through the southern border. But he doesn’t own the idea of border fencing, which was firmly within the mainstream of both political parties less than two decades ago. He was not instrumental in the passage of the Secure Fence Act. Nor did he propel immigration to the fore in American politics. There’s a vast gulf between King’s racial demagogy and the sober-minded advocacy of a more sensible immigration regime that balances the national interest with humanitarian concerns. King’s alleged influence on the right, then, shouldn’t be overstated.
There’s currently a push to censure King in the House. We aren’t a fan of this approach because the precedent it creates of the House passing judgment on the speech of its members. It’d be better if Republicans policed their own and the NRCC made it clear that it won’t back King in a primary or the general election in 2020.
King may be clumsy, dangerous, bigoted, or some mix of the three. Whatever he is, he doesn’t deserve the support of conservatives.