NEW YORK – A senior Republican's distribution of a song titled "Barack the Magic Negro" has triggered a nasty battle for the soul of the struggling party.
Furious debates filled political blogs Tuesday, deepening Republican splits as the party tries to chart a course out of the political wilderness.
Chip Saltsman, campaigning to become chairman of the Republican National Committee, says he sent CDs of the song about President-elect Barack Obama, the first African-American to win the White House, as a joke.
Opponents say the joke proves the Republican Party is badly out of touch.
The song "is a racist, hateful, sophomoric act," one blogger posted on the Politico.com site. "I can't wait until all you ethnic puritan-maniacs are retired, voted out, or six feet under."
Even some prominent Republicans are expressing disquiet.
An online commentator for the National Review magazine, a pillar of U.S. conservatism, attacked Saltsman, saying: "The use of the term 'Negro' in the song rubs me the wrong way."
Newt Gingrich, a former Republican House speaker, told the New York Times that the song was "inappropriate" and said the flap should disqualify Saltsman from consideration as party head.
The song spoofs veteran black activist Al Sharpton supposedly complaining that Obama is not a proper African-American. It has been viewed more than 279,000 times on YouTube.
Set to the theme tune of children's film "Puff the Magic Dragon," the song opens with: "Barack the Magic Negro lives in DC."
The song goes: "The LA Times, they called him that 'cause he's not authentic like me. Yeah, the guy from the LA paper said he makes guilty whites feel good. They'll vote for him, and not for me 'cause he's not from the hood."
Republicans are struggling to recover from their crushing defeat by the Democrats in the November presidential and congressional races — in part because of low support from ethnic minorities.
The wording of the song, particularly the now rare use of the word "Negro," touched on the ultra-sensitive topic of race, an area where Republicans often have been painted as being behind the times.
The Hill newspaper quoted Saltsman as saying he meant to be "light-hearted."
The satirist who wrote the song, Paul Shanklin, accused critics of being "extremely politically correct," McClatchy Newspapers reported Tuesday.
Politico quoted another senior Republican on Tuesday as saying that the whole thing was overblown.
"When I found out what this was about I had to ask, 'boy, what's the big deal here?' because there wasn't any," Mark Ellis, Republican chairman in Maine, said.
Right wing radio king Rush Limbaugh points out that the theme of the song — that whites see Obama as an unthreatening black and therefore electable — refers to a column by a black journalist in the liberal-leaning LA Times.
The March 2007 article by David Ehrenstein was titled "Obama the 'Magic Negro.'"
"It's the left that's the racists. It's the left that looks at people's skin color and doesn't see it for what it should be or what it is. They notice it. They're the ones that are racists out there," Limbaugh fumes in the transcript of a radio show prominently posted on his Web site.
Matt Lewis, a blogger on news.aol.com/political-machine, said Tuesday that racist or not, Saltsman had sinned politically.
"Republicans who care about public relations also might want to think twice about electing someone who is either (1) out of touch with general societal mores, (2) lacks the ability to self-censor or self-edit, (3) simply doesn't care what people think."
Adding to the GOP's embarrassment was the revelation that another candidate for the Republican National Committee chairmanship, Katon Dawson, recently resigned from a country club that allows only white members.
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