It’s a safe bet that most Americans believe that politicians don’t say what’s truly on their mind. We're so used to non-answers and double talk from our political leaders, that we’ve come to accept that we’re just not going to hear what’s really on their minds.
So, in those rare moments when a politician slips up and actually reveals an ugly truth about his or her beliefs, it's quite a revealing moment.
Such was the case recently with Sen. Ron Johnson (R - WI). The Wisconsin senator was being interviewed about the January 6 insurrection, which he was dismissing by stating, “I knew those were people who love this country, that truly respect law enforcement, would never do anything to break the law, so I wasn’t concerned.”
That statement alone was patently laughable, but his foot wasn’t fully in his mouth until the next line, which started with “this is going to get me in trouble” (never a good sign) and then went full-racist by saying that “had the tables been turned and President Trump won the election and tens of thousands of Black Lives Matter and Antifa, I might have been a little concerned.”
Let that sink in. Senator Johnson actually revealed that the rioters — who had killed a police officer, vandalized the U.S. Capital, defiled it with feces and urine and stole government property — were not a "concern" to him because they were white. Had they been black, he actually admitted, then and only then he “might have been a little concerned.”
Senator Johnson’s words — though straight from his heart — were obviously idiotic. But besides the racism and the stupidity, he’s actually wrong. If facts still matter, it is worth being reminded that many of the most heinous shootings in recent memory were done by white men.
Orlando: white man
Parkland: white man
Las Vegas: white man
Aurora: white man
Sandy Hook: white man
Waffle House: white man
Midland/Odessa: white man
Poway synagogue: white man
Sutherland Springs: white man
Tree of Life Synagogue: white man
The reality is that far-right white supremacist groups are behind the majority of “terrorist plots and attacks,” according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. These groups are generally characterized by racism, antisemitism and Islamaphobia, all of which are on the rise. Since the pandemic, crimes against Asian-Americans have also spiked to frightening levels. But this information is hardly breaking news. The validation of these statistics is everywhere, available to everyone — particularly lawmakers.
When a Ron Johnson makes a racist statement as he did about the January 6 rioters, he doesn’t make it oblivious to the facts — he makes it in spite of them, which is even more egregious.
Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, Senator Johnson has not announced whether he will seek re-election next year. If he does, voters and donors will now have stark and undeniable evidence of his real state of mind on the topic of race. Would that be an instant disqualifier? Shouldn’t it be? Could anyone overlook it in good conscience, particularly Wisconsin Jews who should know from history that prejudice against anyone is a threat to all minorities?
Johnson is a staunch supporter of Israel. He has consistently backed unconditional aid to Israel, opposed BDS and rejected the Iran deal. But if he — and any politician for that matter — holds racist views, isn’t it way-past-time Jews declare that that’s antithetical to all we believe in, and thus a non-starter in terms of our support?
The occasional slips of the tongue are not just moments of clarity for judging a politician, but even more so opportunities for us to look in the mirror and decide who and what we stand for.