Column: Party of Lincoln needs to look in the mirror

Earlier this year, a tape of NPR's head fundraiser, Ron Schiller, making remarks critical of the GOP and the Tea Party surfaced. In the tape, Schiller referred to the Republican Party as "anti-intellectual" and described the Tea Party as "racist," "Islamophobic," and "xenophobic." He went on to opine that "Jews" control America's major newspapers.

Schiller's bizarre and conspiratorial anti-Semitic remarks are disturbing and offensive. His remarks about the GOP, though, warrant further analysis for a simple reason - they are perceptions widely shared in our society.

Conservatives reacted to Schiller's comments with anger. In their eyes, it was just one more example of a liberal establishment standing ever ready to portray Republicans and conservatives in a negative light.

That reaction was a mistake. In truth, Schiller created an opportunity for discussion and critical self-analysis about racism within the Republican Party. This was an opportunity, not for anger, but for self-examination.

Simply put, it's time for the Party of Lincoln to take a good look in the mirror.

Although conservatives were quick to dismiss Schiller's remarks, there is ample evidence available that would lead reasonable people to such conclusions.

One can point to examples such as Sharron Angle's 2010 anti-immigrant campaign television ads, and to more recent comments by Kansas State Representative Virgil Peck suggesting that unauthorized immigrants should be hunted down and shot like feral swine.

And then there are the emails. Nationally, Republican staffers and local party officials have made headlines forwarding racist emails about President Obama to friends and colleagues. Most recently, the reaction within Republican circles to an offensive cartoon distributed by a local GOP officer and Tea Party activist, Marilyn Davenport, led a prominent African American leader active in the California GOP, Ken Barnes, to leave the Party.

Writing in the Sacramento Bee about his decision, Barnes noted that the cartoon at issue "depicted President Barack Obama and his parents as chimpanzees, while simultaneously implying that the president is not a legitimate American, but rather an African-born interloper." For Barnes, "(h)ad this been an isolated event, it could be set aside as a mere aberration. However, when placed in the context of similar offenses by the same self-identified tea party-conservative Republicans, there emerges a disturbing pattern of extreme intolerance."

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Polling data from earlier this year suggested that a significant number of Republicans believed President Obama was born in a foreign country or is secretly a Muslim. The accuracy of these polls was illustrated by the meteoric rise of Donald Trump as a potential Presidential candidate after he publicly embraced and began promoting the Birther canards.

How did the Party of Lincoln come to such a pass? I think the answer is simple. For far too long, we have refused to confront, and condemn, the vestiges of political racism that have, over the course of the past 30-40 years, found a new political home within the Republican Party. I'm speaking here primarily of the movement of the segregationist Dixiecrats (and kindred ideological spirits) out of the Democratic Party, and into the GOP - a movement personified, in some ways, by the late Senator Strom Thurmond.

This alliance has poisoned the very soul of American conservatism by tying it to belief systems that are reprehensible and indefensible. It has permitted a dangerous pathology to survive, and today, at a moment of great social stress, despair and anxiety about the future, to move back toward the political mainstream. It was, and remains, a fundamental betrayal of the founding ideals of the Republican Party.

Truth and decency need referents in the world, especially during difficult times. Today, it is essential that Republicans of goodwill confront the racists and the xenophobic elements in our midst.

In doing so, we are keeping faith with the best traditions of our Party and preserving an alternate more welcoming and inclusive vision of political conservatism in America - one in which Conservative is not synonymous with Confederate.