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The Summer of Republican Race-Baiting

Posted: 08/25/2010 5:47 pm

Earlier this year, Republican Party chairman Michael Steele admitted that the GOP has engaged in Southern Strategy politics: employing racial, anti-minority code language and fear-mongering as a means of energizing the party's white Christian base.

This is a fact. The Southern Strategy is real, though it's no longer exclusively "southern."

There's no disputing its widespread use. Come to think of it, for Steele to "confess" to the the GOP's use of the Strategy makes it seems as though it was previously a secret. It wasn't. Fact: the Republican Party routinely tweaks white fear, paranoia, prejudice and resentment in order to win votes and score political points at the expense of demonized minority groups. They engage in stereotyping and misinformation and they rarely, if ever, use the "n-word" these days, though they might as well. After all, as the Strategy goes, blacks and minorities aren't voting Republican anyway, so... let fly.

And it works. So well, in fact, that it's still actively used on AM talk radio and on Fox News Channel as a ratings-grabber, not to mention as a recruitment tool for the various tea party groups. If you can effectively convince the majority race that they're being somehow victimized by the significantly smaller minority, you have a seriously powerful (and clearly immoral) psycho-weapon in your arsenal.

This year has to be some kind of high water mark for white antagonism against minorities, and evidence that the Republicans, along with the array of far-right apparatchiks, don't really have a serious agenda for governing to sell or, for that matter, anything of value to say. And so they do this. They continue to tap into a mother lode of white majority self-pity and inchoate rage as a form of spackle over the gaping holes in their ridiculous policy arguments.

Take a good look at the big stories of the last several months -- the stories that have been driven by the far-right machine, injected into the mainstream and subsequently debated by the rest of the country -- partly as a result of the far-right's money, loudness and tenacity, and partly because these arguments are too obnoxious and outrageous, and therefore too irresistible, to avoid. I've been hearing a lot about August being "crazy month," but the crazy topics have spanned the entire summer and beyond.

What are they?

Shirley Sherrod.

The far-right machine and a serial con-man named Andrew Breitbart released a deceptively edited video of a black government worker appearing to tell an NAACP audience that she discriminated against a white farmer couple. Even after the video was widely debunked and Breitbart discredited as an overzealous attention-whore, white rage and white resentment was successfully fueled by conservatives across the media spectrum. White rage and victimhood was successfully tweaked at the expense of an innocent black woman who was, in reality, discussing racial understanding and unity. Mission accomplished.

Anchor babies.

Almost immediately on the heels of Sherrod fracas, the far-right resumed its ongoing attack on Mexicans. This time, Mexican babies, of all people. For all of its bluster and bullshit, the GOP can read statistics and they know that Hispanics are the fastest-growing demographic in America. But rather than embracing this often socially conservative, Christian population and planning for the future, the party and its subsidiaries are instead clinging to its present-day whiteness in hopes of both stemming and discouraging an increasingly brown America, and, again, energizing its base by marginalizing brown people.

In this specific case, the Republicans have stepped through yet another looking-glass by proposing the repeal of the 14th Amendment as a campaign issue. The 14th Amendment! The amendment that was ratified as a reaction against the racist southern Black Codes during Reconstruction. And why does the GOP want to repeal this amendment? To make sure that Mexican babies born inside the United States won't become automatic citizens.

A repeal will never happen, of course. But it doesn't matter. White fear of a growing brown population has been successfully tweaked. Mission accomplished.

The Park51 community center.

The Republicans are making another attempt to brand September 11th. But this time, there's a bonus racial component emerging in the usual anti-Muslim fear-mongering. A considerable number of American Muslims happen to be black, so not only does the Park51 issue serve to tweak jingoistic and religious bellicosity, but it also tosses African Americans into the mix.

The most obvious example of the latter is the disgusting video footage of an African American carpenter (who happens to be working on the new 1 World Trade Center tower) being accosted by a mob of screaming white protesters outside the old Burlington Coat Factory building. His trespass? He apparently seemed Muslim-ish to the crowd -- even after he shouted, "I'm not even Muslim!" I suppose his choice of a white Under Armour hat and his, you know, blackness screamed "evildoer." As we all know, Under Armour is a major supplier of popular sportswear and radical Islamic headgear. Hating America for its freedom requires fabric that wicks moisture (feel free to use that in your next commercial, Under Armour).

"Kenny" with his Under Armour hat isn't the only "Muslim-ish" New Yorker who's been assaulted. A New York cab driver was repeatedly stabbed this week, simply because he admitted to being a Muslim. It's not a stretch to suggest that the political demagoguery of Park51 is partly to blame for this.

Barack Hussein Obama.

And meanwhile, the ridiculous Muslim rumors about President Obama have resurfaced again. It's the other, and somehow more acceptable, Birther conspiracy. Glenn Beck, this week, implied that the president is either attempting to turn America into a radical Islamic nation or that he's trying to establish Sharia law or that the president intends to subjugate white Christian America.

Actually, it could be all of the above because Beck simply outlined a number of so-called Muslim-ish things President Obama has done, and then left the sinister conclusions up to the imaginations and paranoia of his viewers. And by the way, that's a major feature of the Strategy. Never draw the conclusion. Some examples. A black woman was talking about white people -- and you know what that means. Mexican babies are automatically citizens -- and you know what that means. The president with his mysterious religion and unusual name said positive things about Muslims -- and you know what that means. We don't know where Imam Rauf is getting his money -- and you know what that means. Wink, wink. White rage is successfully tweaked. Mission accomplished.

Whether or not these issues are substantive is entirely irrelevant. The ends justify the means. Winning more power is the goal. Demagoguery, racial politics and specious arguments are fair game as long as they work. As long as the enemy is defeated. This doesn't necessarily mean that every Republican is a racist (or, with regards to the specious arguments, an idiot). But what else do we call the deliberate inciting of racial bigotry and resentment for the sake of attaining power? It's unethical, immoral and obscene. It's race-baiting and it's a major component of the Republican strategic arsenal.

My biggest concern is that it will eventually become acceptable to the mainstream. I worry that the politicians, talkers and pundits who employ the Strategy will no longer be marginalized and disgraced -- that it will become just an ordinary fact of life, as it already has for the most cynical among us. Unfortunately, when it comes to people like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Mark Williams, we're already beyond the zero barrier.

A few years ago, Don Imus was fired for saying "nappy-headed hos." Today, Rush Limbaugh gets away with far worse every day and is given a pass, arguably because he makes lots of money for his bosses in part by employing the Strategy. Sarah Palin can insist that Laura Schlessinger "reload" her obvious racial insensitivities, including her gratuitous use of "nigger," and is given a pass. She can accuse the president of being a terrorist, and is given a pass. She can use racial dog whistles like "wealth redistribution" (taking money from white people and giving to poor black people), and is given a pass.

The Republican Party machine does it all the time and is still taken seriously as one of our two major parties. This is unacceptable. And so we have to keep talking about it and exposing anyone who plays this terrible game, while underscoring why it's such a stain on our politics and values. We have to prevent our discourse from moving beyond that point of no return -- to make sure that the exploitation of racial intolerance at the highest levels of politics and the media doesn't become just another accepted facet of the American debate.

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