For all of its many benefits, Twitter's brevity can cause trouble for plenty of political voices. Yesterday, for example, the Republican National Committee decided to honor the anniversary of Rosa Parks' "bold stand," which seemed like a perfectly nice gesture. The RNC added, however, that Parks played a role "in ending racism."
Not surprisingly, the message was not well received. Despite what you may have heard from Supreme Court conservatives in the Voting Rights Act case, racism hasn't ended, it certainly wasn't vanquished on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955.
A few hours later, realizing that they'd made a mess of things, RNC officials returned to Twitter to say, "Previous tweet should have read 'Today we remember Rosa Parks' bold stand and her role in fighting to end racism,'" which was a welcome clarification, though the damage was done.
In fairness to the Republican National Committee, it's hard to believe the party was trying to be deliberately offensive. For that matter, I rather doubt the RNC believes Rosa Parks helped end racism 58 years ago. This was likely the result of clumsy tweeting, not ignorant malice.
But in the larger context, stories like these resonate because the party no longer qualifies for the benefit of the doubt. Too many incidents come quickly to mind: the Nevada Republican who'd embrace slavery, the North Carolina Republican whose appearance on "The Daily Show" became the stuff of legend, the birthers, the fondness for Jesse Helms, the widespread voter-suppression laws that disproportionately affect African Americans, the Maine Republican who wants the NAACP to kiss his butt, the former half-term Alaska governor who's comfortable with "shuck and jive" rhetoric, etc.
The RNC, in other words, can't lean on its credibility on racial issues to easily dismiss poorly worded tweets. The fact that the party can't even say a nice thing about Rosa Parks without screwing up and getting itself in trouble only helps reinforce the extent to which race is a systemic problem for the party.