Sunday, October 24, 2010
The Southern Strategy rises again in 2010
- Heading back to the debate in Appalachia
- Redistricting process must be taken from pols
- A shutdown remains a very real possibility
- U.S. Navy Vets case argues for campaign limits
From the RoundTable blog
"We will take America back." As we approach the midterms, you hear that sentiment expressed more and more.
Whenever I hear someone say that, it raises two questions in my mind: Who is "we," and who are we taking America back from?
The answer is becoming increasingly clear.
We is white America, and "we" -- white as I am, please don't include me, thanks -- want to take America back from the "angry Negro" in the White House.
Before I go further, let me make clear what I am not saying here. I am not saying that anyone who opposes President Obama is a closet racist. I am not saying that there are no legitimate political differences between Democrats and Republicans that have nothing to do with race.
What I am saying is that Republicans are going to greater lengths than I can remember in recent years to emphasize identity politics, and I don't think it's coincidental that they are doing so while running against a black president whom way too many Americans wrongly believe is a Muslim.
In the same year that Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, black himself, acknowledged that his party had relied for 40 years on a race-based Southern Strategy, that strategy is rising again.
Don't believe me? Then how come the Islamic cultural center proposed for New York City was praised by Republicans and Fox News (sorry, I'm being redundant) when it was first proposed last year, but was subject to an intense smear campaign by the very same people as this November's election drew nearer?
How come, despite the fact that illegal immigration is down and the Obama administration has strengthened border security efforts, GOP candidates across the nation are airing ads featuring shadowy Hispanic men sneaking around fences?
How come so many Republicans in key positions -- from the Republican nominee for governor in New York to the chairman of the Virginia Beach GOP -- seem to feel comfortable sending blatantly racist e-mails among their circle of friends?
How come the GOP candidate for governor in West Virginia drew snickers when he made fun of the name of Obama's Secretary of Energy Steven Chu? He referred to him as "Dr. Cho or Dr. Chow or Dr. Chow Mein ... I don't know what his name is."
In a segment last week taking note of this same phenomenon, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow pointed out many similar incidents this year that, in recent years, would have been politically fatal "macaca moments" -- referring to Sen. George Allen's career-derailing mocking of an American of Indian descent. As Maddow said, though, this year's "macaca moments" don't appear to be having any political ramifications.
Thus, Sen. Harry Reid's opponent in Nevada, Sharron Angle, can tell a group of Hispanic high school students asking her about an offensive ad that "Some of you look a little more Asian [than Hispanic] to me," and apparently suffer no political consequences.
Kentucky Republican Senate nominee Rand Paul can still lead the polls after saying that he wouldn't have supported the 1964 Civil Rights Act because private businesses should have the liberty to discriminate against minorities.
A July e-mail from former Virginia Beach GOP chairwoman Karen Beauchamp surfaced last week -- the second racist e-mail from prominent GOP activists in that area to come to light in as many days -- in which she forwarded a video rant from someone who called Obama an "angry Negro" who put "the wants and needs of moochers, leeches, looters and criminals ahead of the producers and the workers of America." The ranter said Americans don't want "15-20 million illiterate Mexicans and Chicanos as our new welfare society living like rats in our neighborhoods."
When she forwarded the message, Beauchamp said, "The language is a bit strong, but the sentiment is right! We will take America back."
That "sentiment" -- white America's fear of a dehumanized other -- is driving too much of the "take America back" refrain than should make any of us comfortable.
Again, there are legitimate political disagreements between the parties that could and should be driving this election. There are stark policy differences between the two parties -- grown far more stark as the Republican Party has lurched to the far right.
But I fear that much of the energy generated in this ugly campaign boils down to the rank sentiments expressed in Beauchamp's e-mail.
The next time you hear someone say they want to take America back, ask yourself what they really mean by that. Then ask yourself if you like the answer.
Radmacher is the editorial page editor of The Roanoke Times.