Race, the Moulin Rouge and retrograde Republicans

The Moulin Rouge was Thurgood Marshall’s kind of place and probably not Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle’s. That is not the only connection between some recent developments:

• Solicitor General Elena Kagan, whose list of achievements includes being dean of Harvard Law School and an earlier appointment as a federal appellate judge that Republicans buried because a Democrat appointed her, went before the Senate Judiciary Committee for her Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Republicans spent a great deal of time complaining that Marshall, the Supreme Court justice for whom Kagan once clerked, was an “activist” judge.

• The Las Vegas Historic Preservation Commission approved demolishing the remnants of the Moulin Rouge, which a fire largely destroyed in 2003 after long neglect, benign and otherwise. Some originally thought the site could remain on the National Register of Historic Places, but knocking down the remaining structure may mean no listing.

• Angle unveiled her new website, which mysteriously eliminates earlier pronouncements about privatizing Social Security, the Millennium Scholarship program’s evils, her endorsement by the Minuteman PAC and how global warming is a hoax.

Back in 1968, Richard Nixon ran for president using the “Southern Strategy,” with code language like “law and order” reassuring Southerners he supported their fight against equality. In 1980, Ronald Reagan opened his post-nomination presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Miss., where white supremacists killed three civil rights workers in 1964, and endorsed “states’ rights”—but he meant nothing racial at all.

The old saying goes like this: When they say it isn’t about race, it’s about race. Many hoped that electing an African-American president would be a long step on the road to removing one of the greatest stains on our nation—racism and its effects. So, a South Carolina Republican shouted “You lie!” at President Obama during a speech to a joint session of Congress, and his party leaders and faithful embraced him, but they forced a Texas Republican to apologize for expressing his party’s position that BP has been wronged.

Now, at Kagan’s confirmation hearing, Republicans denigrated Marshall. They may not know that before he was an “activist” justice, he argued numerous NAACP cases before the Supreme Court, culminating in Brown v. Board of Education, which made segregated schools unconstitutional.

One wonders how stupid the GOP thinks African-Americans are. Marshall is a heroic figure for all, not just for blacks. He literally risked his life seeking justice for those denied it.

In Nevada, we have come a long way from when this was “the Mississippi of the West.” The Moulin Rouge symbolizes that. It opened in 1955 as the first interracial resort in the Valley. It closed quickly, for a variety of reasons. For half a century, various people and groups have tried to revive the Moulin Rouge, with little success.

Sadly, no one has had the money and vision to turn it into what it should be: a museum and community center that might actually attract people to West Las Vegas and revitalize the area. It probably can’t be saved and will join the list of historic local sites that disintegrated.

Angle has joined her fellow Republicans and our community in losing sight of their history. She fits in well with the theory behind the Southern Strategy and with trying to slime both Kagan and Marshall’s memory. And when Angle isn’t in the warm cocoon of Fox News or the Las Vegas Review-Journal, she backtracks as much as possible on advocating violence against government officials.

Thus, the irony. Earlier this year, a book reported Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., making a well-intentioned but insensitive statement about Obama. Republicans tried to use it against Reid, but Obama and other African-Americans defended him because they know his character, and the issue blew over. Senate Republicans and Angle are showing what’s in their hearts—a very different blackness than the kind for which the Moulin Rouge stood. The former hotel-casino may soon been toppled. The same should be done to leaders who don’t understand what it stood for.

Michael Green is a professor of history at the College of Southern Nevada and author of several books and articles on Nevada history and politics.