03/10/2011 12:14 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

How to Shut Down the King Hearings

The upcoming McCarthyesque hearings by Rep. King into whether American Muslims are anti-American have been met with cheers from racists/xenophobic elements within the Tea Party/GOP base and with cries of outrage from the left. There is value in the unified voice being lifted by progressives, faith leaders, and others of good will against these hearings, but we also have to realize that Rep. King and the GOP leadership don't care what we say. It's important to stand for what is right, but it's also important to win ... something our side often loses track of.

If we want to ensure these sort of hearings and strategy of fear mongering is not repeated, critiques from the left -- especially since they tend to sound PC and focus on fairness, interfaith cooperation, and other laudable but ideologically limited messages -- are not going to accomplish that goal. King is doing this to appeal to the far right, and the GOP leadership is allowing the hearings to proceed because they energize a part of the GOP base. Attacks from the left only strengthen that response. We won't stop this hate by telling GOP leaders who benefit from it that they are wrong. We can stop it, however, by preventing the outcome they are hoping for and making them face the danger of unleashing a hateful mob.

If King, Fox, and GOP leaders want a witch hunt, let's make them defend their own witches too, which have actually been standing a little closer to the flames of late. Red State's home page lead during CPAC was how CPAC was funded by the Muslim Brotherhood, and basically every single GOP presidential candidate and a bunch of other conservative leaders spoke at that event. After a short statement on how these hearings are a bad idea, Democrats should say that if we're going to head down this road, we need to hold a uniform standard and force King's witnesses to answer questions about whether those associations between GOP candidates and "Muslim extremists" are things we should be concerned about. Should we be concerned that basically every candidate from one of our political parties is attending at an event that their side claims is funded by Muslim extremists? What does that say about the integrity of their decision-making and possibly influence of these extremists if they did win the White House?

One would have to craft the question carefully, but it would definitely get the press' attention, focus coverage on GOP hypocrisy, and mess up their narrative. This would be a lot harder debate for Fox to spin because it's no longer a clean right vs left where they attack and pick the battle ground and then we charge up the hill into their fortified positions.

It would also turn these anti-Muslim haters on their own. These folks are crazy enough -- and the GOP is divided enough -- that they very well might indict GOP candidates as being overly-influenced by Muslims. If that happened, the GOP candidates under attack would be forced to defend themselves and side with us on how these hearings are a farce. And if the witnesses tried to cover for the GOP candidates, the only way they could do so would be with arguments that would undermine all their other attacks.

Remember, it's their people who care about this stuff. So that means complaints by the left do little to change their minds, but it also means that these wackos can do real damage within GOP circles if they set their sights on their own and start demanding more vocal and public support of their racist and xenophobic positions from those leaders. It would put GOP primary candidates in a bind. And whether they went after their own or tried to backtrack and created an easy story for the media about the hypocrisy of these charges, it would make the GOP look bad. And that is how we get the GOP leadership to pull their support or at least think twice about heading down this road in the future. And best case scenario, this line of questioning could lead to a real blood bath on the Right.

I know this approach may make some uncomfortable. But the point is not to use their tactics, but to use their arguments to highlight their hypocrisy and to prevent these tactics (and all the harm they cause) from being used in the future. We need to be going on the offensive. We can make them pay a high price, and we can make their ground troops face the fact that these same arguments Fox and others fire at the left also apply to some of their own leaders whom they respect and know to be "patriots." That's how we change minds too ... hate wins when it is about an "other." But once a person sees the hate directed at those they know and relate to, that is where empathy and introspection start to come into play.

To take a note from history, McCarthyism thrived as long as it was gays and liberals and Hollywood actors and producers being blacklisted. McCarthy fell when he turned on the Protestant clergy and military, which middle America related to and knew better. Americans didn't abandon the witch hunt, despite it being so obviously un-American and unjust, until it was no longer about an enemy and "other" but instead affected people they knew and trusted. That may not be the way we wish things were, but it's the reality of human nature. We need to accept that and ensure this hearing focuses not just on turban-clad Muslims but force witnesses to either defend CPAC and their GOP leaders or attack them. Either way, we win because the defense of CPAC will undermine all their other arguments, or the attacks will force GOP leaders to join us in condemning this hateful hearing to speak in defense of their own.