The Party of Hate
In Washington, House Minority Leader John Boehner is struggling to rebrand a downtrodden and disheartened Republican Party in time for the 2008 elections. It's no wonder. Its agenda stymied and burdened by an unpopular war and an even less popular President, the GOP is being pulverized in the polls. And with its evangelical base splintered and big business supporters jumping ship, the only message seemingly uniting Republicans is disdain - of immigrants, of blacks, of gay Americans and above all, Muslims. The GOP is now the Party of Hate.
Boehner's task in recreating Newt Gingrich's marketing magic in the 1994 Contract with America is a daunting one. After all, heading into 2008, the Republicans are saddled with a bad product. The current Republican brand combines an unpopular President George W. Bush, an unpopular war in Iraq and unpopular positions across the gamut of domestic issues, all tainted by the GOP epidemic of corruption. The face of the GOP is now neither Lincoln nor Reagan, but Bush, Libby, Delay, Abramoff, Cunningham, Ney, Stevens and Fletcher. The enduring image of the Party is not Bush in a flight suit, but a Most Wanted Poster. And now the people who brought you Abu Ghraib, Terri Schiavo and Hurricane Katrina can only offer $100-a-barrel oil, a housing crisis, a credit crunch and saber rattling with Iran.
To help him in his Herculean task of marketing the Edsel that is the Republican Party, Boehner called on Richard Costello, the brain behind GE's famous "We Bring Good Things to Life" campaign. Sadly, in the era of George W. Bush, the GOP brand has been reduced to incompetence, greed, closeted gay bashers and utter disregard for the law.
The result, as I predicted in 2005, is schism and crack-up. First evident in the wake of the GOP's disastrous interference in the Terri Schiavo affair, the carefully crafted alliance between economic and social conservatives is coming apart at the seams. As the Wall Street Journal noted in October, "Some business leaders are drifting away from the party because of the war in Iraq, the growing federal debt and a conservative social agenda they don't share." And despite signs that evangelicals may yet rally around the candidacy of the pro-choice, twice-divorced and occasionally cross-dressing Rudy Giuliani, the leadership of the religious right remains split in the 2008 GOP race, creating the prospect their faithful supporters may stay home on Election Day.
Its privatization agenda dead, the GOP has morphed into the party of big government conservatism, massive deficits, self-defeating American unilaterlism, and, above all, fear. All that remains to unite the fractured Republican Party and its amen corner is hatred. Of immigrants. Of African-Americans. Of gay Americans. Of Muslims here and around the world. Bereft of ideas and increasingly rejected by the American people, the conservative movement's profound identity crisis leaves it certain of only one thing: hatred of the other.
Nowhere is this dynamic clearer than in the debate surrounding immigration reform, where the xenophobia of the anti-amnesty right has been transformed into demonization of Hispanics Americans. President Bush's proposals, which enjoyed broad Democratic support, are dead, stillborn thanks to overwhelming Republican opposition in Congress and the massive mobilization of right-wing radio.
When Bill O'Reilly claims immigration reform advocates want to "change the complexion" of the United States and Michael Savage calls the National Council of La Raza "the Ku Klux Klan of the Hispanic people," it helps ensure that Duncan Hunter and Tom Tancredo (who labeled Miami a "third world country") and not John McCain are more in line with GOP primary voters. It also helps explain the decision of virtually all of the Republican White House hopefuls to skip the September 16 Univision debate in Miami.
This politics of hate may endear Giuliani, Romney et al to their party's hard right, but could also produce devastating defeats for Republican candidates among Hispanic general election voters. Coming on the heels of the July snub by the major GOP hopefuls of the convention of National Council of La Raza, Republican prospects among Hispanic voters are quickly dimming. John Kerry carried only 53% of the Hispanic vote in 2004, but by 2006, Democrats won 69% support among the nation's 43 million Hispanics who went to the polls. As NCLR's Cecilia Munoz put it in September, "It's not just that they are not coming. It's that some of them are visibly insulting us." (It's no wonder the GOP had a change of heart and will now attend a rescheduled Univision debate on December 9.)
Meanwhile, the GOP's race-baiting of African-Americans, so central to the Republicans' "southern strategy" since 1968, continues unabated in ways large and small. From the casual use of the "tar baby" slur by Tony Snow, Mitt Romney and John McCain to Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour branding African-American looters in New Orleans "subhuman," Republicans seem quite comfortable trafficking in the not-so-subtle language of racial intolerance. As the 2006 ad ("Call Me") in the Tennessee Senate contest depicting Harold Ford as a Mandingo playboy debauching the white women of the South showed, race-baiting can still help get Republicans elected. And just to be on the safe side, draconian voter ID laws in Georgia, Missouri, Indiana and Arizona are designed to keep minority voters from ever getting inside a voting booth.
Predictably, these Republican tactics are helping to ensure the African-American community remains monolithically Democratic. The Republican presidential candidates sent a clear message to the GOP base - and black voters - when they skipped NAACP and PBS events this summer. (The GOP can't win for losing when it comes to reaching out to black voters. During a July 2005 speech to the NAACP, former RNC chair Ken Mehlman confused victim and villain in the dragging death of James Byrd, one of the worst hate crimes in recent history. Mehlman described Byrd as "a racist killer in east Texas, who the president brought to justice.") In 2006, Democrats maintained their traditionally high level of support, winning the votes of 89% of African-Americans voters. That will no doubt continue.
In word and deed, the GOP crusade against gay Americans is a strategic centerpiece of 21st century Republican political strategy. Despite the seemingly endless parade of Mark Foley, Jim West, Ted Haggard, Ed Shrock, Larry Craig and a host of other once-closeted conservatives, Republican demonization of gay Americans and the "homosexual agenda" is the reddest of red meat for so called "values voters."
The tactics and rhetoric of the gay-bashing are right are tied at the hip. In 2004, same-sex marriage ban ballot measures in key battleground states helped bring Karl Rove's four million new evangelical voters to the polls, ensuring President Bush's reelection. (Ironically, the same tactic failed the GOP during the 2006 mid-terms in the wake of the Mark Foley scandal.) Congressional Republicans uniformly opposed the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which last week passed the House 235-184 despite GOP maneuvers to bury the bill. President Bush, of course, has vowed to veto the bill protecting the workplace rights of gay Americans, on the spurious grounds that it threatens "the sanctity of marriage."
Then, of course, there are the words of the Republican leadership and its echo chamber. Ex-Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) and his one-time Texas colleague John Cornyn equate same-sex marriage to polygamy and bestiality, with "man-on-dog" and "man-on-box turtle" analogies. Columnist Ann Coulter, a Mitt Romney supporter and fixture on right-wing media, calls John Edwards a "faggot" and Al Gore a "total fag." There is a continuum of hate that runs from the fringe of the conservative movement directly to the Republican leadership; the distance from Fred Phelps to the Republican National Committee is a short one.
And in the wake of 9/11, Muslims are the latest group to receive the venom of the Republican Party and its conservative amen corner. Bush sycophant and Giuliani adviser Daniel Pipes called for the profiling of Muslim-Americans. Blogger and commentator Michelle Malkin urges World War II-style internment measures, likening the Muslim community now to wrongly imprisoned Japanese-Americans then. CNN host Glenn Beck demanded of Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim elected to Congress, "prove to me that you are not working with our enemies." Picking up on Beck's theme, Virginia Congressman Virgil Goode warned only his immigration position could prevent the specter of "many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Quran." Idaho Republican Bill Sali followed suit, mau-mauing the Muslim Ellison after the delivery of a Hindu prayer to open a session of Congress, claiming "they are not what was envisioned by the Founding Fathers."
But that pales compared to the language being used towards Muslims around the world by President Bush and his would-be successors. Continuing to play on Americans' fears in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, George W. Bush, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani and Mike Huckabee have adopted the "Islamofascism" talking point.
Beyond its usefulness in fear-mongering, the dangerously misguided "Islamofascism" formula serves three purposes for the Republicans. First, as Mitt Romney repeatedly demonstrates, it conveniently conflates all Muslims - Sunni and Shiite, friend and foe, guilty and innocent - into a single unified threat. (Romney's math? Al Qaeda in Afghanistan = Hamas in Gaza = Hezbollah in Lebanon = Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.) Second, the Islamofascism moniker is designed to help the GOP equate the fiasco in Iraq (and the next one in Iran) with the just war fought by the Greatest Generation in World War II. And last, the term provides a not-so-subtle Holocaust allusion to friends of Israel by implying that the next existential threat to Jews comes from Adolf Hitler's supposed protege in Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
It is interesting to note that while Bush was quick to drop his 2001 "crusade" language, those Republicans seeking to replace him in the White House continue to ratchet up their rhetoric of civilizational struggle against Islam and Muslims. As Mike Huckabee, darling of the religious right put it just last week:
"I think I'm stronger than most people because I truly understand the nature of the war that we are in with Islamo fascism. These are people that want to kill us. It's a theocratic war. And I don't know if anybody fully understands that. I'm the only guy on that stage with a theology degree."
Hate is not only a core value for the supposed values voters of the right. It is also an indispensable tactic. For example, in the span of just a few weeks, Rush Limbaugh led the conservative charge against kids' health insurance (S-CHIP) and action to fight global warming by attacking the children bearing the message. And when Limbaugh attacked as "phony soldiers" Iraq veterans opposed to the war (even comparing a Purple Heart recipient to a suicide bomber), Georgia Congressman Jack Kingston sponsored a House resolution commending him. And so it goes.
Contrary to a cherished conservative myth then and now, liberals don't "hate America." They simply want the United States to fulfill its promise and shorten, as Bruce Springsteen aptly described it, "the distance between American ideals and American reality."
But more and more, it is the conservative movement and its Republican Party that appear to hate Americans. Or at least, selected groups of Americans. As John Boehner is finding as he desperately labors to create a new brand and message for his party, in 2007 the morally and ideologically bankrupt GOP appears to have nothing left but its hate. To quote George W. Bush at the 2000 Republican National Convention, his is the party that has nothing to "offer but fear itself." They have become the Party of Hate.