Since when did claiming ignorance become an acceptable response from politicians, our so-called leaders? Things have gotten so fringy and down-right ugly within the Republican Party that admitting or faking ignorance is what its members think is the best available option. Kentucky Republican state Rep. Savannah Maddox, a ﬁrst-term legislator, attended an Open Kentucky Now protest in early May where she posed for a photo with one protester ﬂaunting the “white power” hand sign. The protester— a woman dressed in camouﬂage and with an assault-style riﬂe around her neck — was from Florida and had been traveling the country attending anti-government shutdown rallies, The Courier Journal reported. She also had ties to fringe, far-right militia groups as well as pro-secessionist, neo-Confederate groups the Southern Poverty Law Center classiﬁes as hate groups, the paper wrote.
When called out for posing for the offensive photo, Maddox claimed ignorance of the symbol’s meaning. “I was unaware of this symbol or its signiﬁcance,” was Maddox’s response.
But when the leader of the Republican party (our president!) won’t disavow white nationalists, why should we expect more from an up-and-coming state legislator who is building her political brand on political extremism?
How could she not know?
In mid-December, the same hand sign made national news when an Army cadet ﬂashed it behind the broadcaster on ESPN’s pregame coverage of the Army-Navy football game. The Anti-Defamation League has classiﬁed it as a hate symbol. The ADL notes that the gesture can have multiple meanings, such as “OK,” but it has been spreading among alt-right and white supremacists since 2017.
Then, there is the context of the photo, because context matters. Maddox’s remarks at the Frankfort rally included these nuggets: “Nobody’s ever going to force me to get a vaccine!” and Healthy at Home exists to “make you become prisoners in your own home.” She had proposed legislation that would allow people and businesses to sue the governor over emergency restrictions they felt were too broad or too long. So, while protesters carried signs calling the governor “Adolf Beshear”and Confederate ﬂags, Maddox posed with a protester who ﬂashed the “white power” sign. I’m sure Maddox simply thought this woman was just saying she’s having an “OK” day. Former Speaker of the House, Repub-lican Jeff Hoover tweeted the photo and said: “This is sickening. Reprehensible. The ﬁnger gesture means white supremacy. Are you kidding me? An elected State Representative posing for a photo with this gesture? I ask @SavannahLMaddox @KYHouseGOP @KYGOP to immediately denounce this photo.” House Speaker David Osborne, a Republican, took the bold stance of: “The House Majority Caucus stands unequivocally against the abomination that is racism, bigotry, and discrimination.”
Osborne didn’t even denounce the photo or condemn Maddox by name, much less join in Hoover’s ultimatum to withhold campaign funds. The Republican Party of Kentucky said nothing… not even a lip-service denouncing of racism. As Hoover said, “Sickening. Reprehensible.” Not surprising.
This is the same gutless leadership shown by Osborne’s counterpart in the Senate, President Robert Stivers, a Republican. In late February, a video became public of freshman Sen. Phillip Wheeler campaigning in Rowan County by using pictures of Gov. Beshear with The Derby City Sisters — drag-dressing nuns. He aimed to stoke homophobia and voter turnout. Stivers told reporters he hadn’t seen the video.
I call bullshit.
More important, how is being so unaware of signiﬁcant current events a reasonable position, especially for a party leader? It’s clear Republicans have made the political calculation that they risk losing more votes by alienating even the outer fringes of their base than they stand to lose by hiding behind their ignorance. The rest of us have to live with their shortcomings, and that’s not OK.