On Sunday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) emphatically denounced the comments from Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) last week as “stupid,” “hurtful,” and “wrong.” He slammed white supremacy and white nationalism as “evil” and urged leaders from both parties to condemn King’s comments.
“What Steve king said was stupid. It was stupid, it was hurtful, it was wrong, and he needs to stop it,” Cruz declared. “I think all of us ought to be united, regardless of party, in saying white supremacism white nationalism is hatred, it is bigotry, it is evil, it is wrong. We need that clarity and I’m certainly going to urge everyone to provide that clarity.”
Last Thursday, The New York Times quoted an interview with King in which the congressman said, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive? Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?”
King faced wide denunciations for these statements, from former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Liz Cheney, and most notably Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.). Bush called on Republicans to support King’s primary challenger.
It’s not enough to condemn @SteveKingIA's unconscionable, racist remarks. Republican leaders must actively support a worthy primary opponent to defeat King, because he won't have the decency to resign. https://t.co/MRAMnuJaym
— Jeb Bush (@JebBush) January 11, 2019
King defended himself last Thursday, calling the interview a “freshman mistake” and suggesting his words were taken out of context:
Today, The New York Times is suggesting that I am an advocate for a white nationalism and white supremacy. I want to make one thing abundantly clear: I reject those labels and the evil ideology that they define. Further, I condemn anyone that supports this evil and bigoted ideology which saw, in its ultimate expression, the systematic murder of six million innocent Jewish lives. It’s true that like the Founding Fathers, I am an advocate for Western civilization’s values, and that I profoundly believe that America is the greatest tangible expression of these ideals the world has ever seen. Under any fair political definition, I am simply an American nationalist.
King further insisted that “it’s not about race; it’s never been about race. One of my most strongly held beliefs is that we are all created in God’s image and that human life is sacred in all of its forms.”
Even so, the congressman has a troubling history of flirting with white nationalist groups, and he never explicitly said the quote was false.
Last Thursday, I called King’s statement linking “white” identity politics to Western civilization both “disgusting” and “utterly false.”
King is right to shoot back against attacks on Western civilization, but this statement, linking Western civilization to “white” nationalism and white supremacy, is disgusting and utterly false. Western civilization’s virtues have everything to do with culture and nothing to do with race. My Irish ancestors would not have been considered “white” until recently, and Western civilization started with olive-skinned and likely many black people in the Middle East. Even the Greeks would not have been considered “white” in the early 20th century, when pseudo-scientific racism had its heyday.
Also, “white nationalist” and “white supremacist” are rightly offensive terms because they describe a pride in racial identity that looks down on others based on the color of their skin. Never, never equate these things with Western civilization. Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and Martin Luther King Jr. are great leaders in Western civilization. Sorry, it has nothing to do with race.
Cruz finished his remarks denouncing King by recalling a “movement from some activists that asked to remove a local official in Ft. Worth who was a Muslim. I spoke out actively because it was my home state, I spoke actively against that. I said, ‘Listen, we believe in religious freedom, we believe in free speech, we believe in diversity.'”
Western civilization is not racist, and key principles of American freedom — like the religious freedom Cruz defended — do not depend on the color of one’s skin. King’s original remarks suggested that they do, and his later speech on the House floor was a welcome correction to that. Americans will have to judge the authenticity of King’s retraction for themselves.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.