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Here are a three short lessons for haters and hypocrites who want to run for office. When you enter into the electoral politics, you will find bigotry, parochialism and disdain for “the other” your most potent weapons in the campaign battlefield.
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The first and most important lesson is that some opponents and points of view are so universally disliked that it is okay to hate and mock them openly. For example, uber-GOP operative/attorney/major news columnist Kevin Rennie recently engaged in red-baiting.
Red-baiting is the age-old sport of hating communists.
Right after Gov. Dannel Malloy appointed unionista Sharon Palmer as his commissioner for the Department of Labor, Rennie posted a hammer and sickle on his website and asked “has it come to this?”
His complaint, apparently, is that a decade or so ago, Palmer took an award from the Communists. Rennie, thinking this enemy of capitalism long since vanquished, just couldn’t take it.
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Joelle Fishman, a Connecticut leader of the Communist Party USA, had her own share of red-baiting this summer, courtesy of the right-winging Yankee Institute.
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If you want to run for office as a conservative, you can never whip the dead horse enough. Fishman leads the New Haven People’s Center, a progressive institution with a long history.
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The People’s Center sits on Howe Street in an 1851 brick Italianate building, with gorgeous trim. Yet the mortar is crumbling and the paint is peeling. Gov. Malloy and the City of New Haven wanted to bond $75,000.00 through the bonding commission for repairs.
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Enter the ghost of Joe McCarthy. A bunch of white guys held signs in front of the People’s Center and created a firestorm, forcing Malloy to withdraw his funding request.
See, Commies are so hated, that even a liberal, picket-line walking, death penalty hating, medical weed legalizing governor will fold in the face of red-baiting.
The People’s Center sin, it seems, is progressive politics. Founded in the late 1920s, the People’s Center has long been a bastion for the little people.
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During the Great Depression, the People’s Center served as an organizing hub for the unemployment insurance and social security movement. The first anti-fascist and anti-Nazi meetings in New Haven occurred there.
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Anti-racist rallies against lynching and segregation originated at the People’s Center in the 1940s. The McCarthy era saw a serious crackdown on activities there, but it remains a credit to political courage that it remains open.
For Fishman, red-baiting against the People’s Center is an attack on reason itself.
“It’s the last resort,” Fishman said. “There is no rational thought behind it. It is the same thing as racism or other bigotry.”
Fishman and the People’s Center will not give up on restoring this historic building, but they fight a fierce enemy.
Essentially, if a political idea like communism is believed universally hated, then it is okay to hate it in public.
That hatred against American communists, though, would not exist is they were calling for a larger military budget, Fishman said.
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“We’re talking about raising minimum wage jobs and serving youth needs,” Fishman said. “Red-baiting traditionally has hurt progress for working class people.”
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Thus it takes unusual courage to stand up to such a potent force of hatred. Currently, Islamophobia and the boogeyman terrorist threat enjoy the same level of cultural immunity in the United States.
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This leads to our second lesson, if you do hate, but your hatred is not acceptable, in normal discourse, how do you hide it so as to make it palpable for mass consumption?
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For example, you really don’t like black people, but you can’t sit there and say racist things in public and expect to get elected. You know there are other racists out there, how do you show them you are one of them and to be trusted to enact non-racist appearing but really discriminatory racist policies?
Coded language. Republican strategist Kevin Phillips has long since disavowed his late 1960s strategy of appealing to Southern racists who were formerly Democrats.
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Law professor Michelle Alexander in her best-seller The New Jim Crow, documents how the “tough on crime” language espoused by so many Republicans is really saying “we’re tough on non-whites.”
Ronald Reagan reached the apotheosis of this when he opened his 1980 campaign for president a few miles from Philadelphia, Mississippi. That, of course, is where civil rights workers Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner were lynched. That incident was later made into the movie “Mississippi Burning.”
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Reagan opened his campaign with the language of state’s rights, which is code to southern racists that “We think the state’s should be allowed to do whatever they want to their coloreds without no sissy-pants sending in the National Guard to force integration.”
There is plenty of other coded language, but the results of these appeals to covert racism has been mandatory minimums and the largest prison population in the world. (Although some argue that coded language is a thing of the past in this twitter-driven media world, I think it remains…)
It is really tough to find actual racists, because disavowals are so easy. It’s not like GOP-appointed federal judges in Montana go around sending beastiality-laced and racially-tinged President Obama jokes on e-mail everyday.
When you are Senate approved, saying you aren’t racist, and didn’t think it was racist, makes the problem mostly go away. (update on 10/5/12 – Judge Richard Cebull is taking senior status as a federal judge to try to quell this controversy.)
So what happens when you do get caught engaging in the hate that is not necessarily allowed in civil discourse? For instance, what if you are a presidential candidate who, at a $50,000.00 a plate fundraiser, get caught enunciating your disdain for the half of the American citizenry who make less than $50,000 a year?
If you’re Mitt Romney, you double down. You say that you weren’t articulate, but you essentially think what you said was straightforward.
What Romney said that was even worse: If he was Latino he would have a better chance of being elected president. This hasn’t gotten as much play, because Americans try to avoid confronting racist discourse wherever possible.
So we focus on Romney’s apparent classism and class hatred. Today, it is not acceptable to hate someone because they are poor. Romney got caught doing so.
If Romney was smart like Linda McMahon, he could show he didn’t hate poor people by giving away little percentages of his fortune to cash-strapped urban not-for-profits.
This has a dual advantage – you surreptitiously buy votes without having to report these donations as electoral expenditures to the Federal Elections Commission and you get access to audiences who would normally disregard you’re Republican politics.
Also, if you’re Linda McMahon, when the spotlight is kind of on you, go ahead and recite Mitt Romney’s false talking point about the 47 percent of Americans who are commies who think housing and food are universal rights.
But, months later, when Romney creates a firestorm for uttering the same pathological classist contempt for the poor, blaming them for their own misery, if you are Linda McMahon, you go on the record as saying you are shocked, shocked that any GOP candidate would ever engage in this kind of filth.
See, when you’re Linda McMahon, you are the model candidate for all other hypocrites and haters who want to run for office. Because she knows something most other politicians don’t acknowledge: the lowest common denominator.
Linda made her millions selling violent smut and hatred. She knows how to sell crap without getting dirty.
She knows citizens have a short memory, and that people don’t mind swimming in the gutter as long as it’s good, clean fun.
So, keep all these lessons in mind if you, too, want to enter electoral politics, but do not want to be seen as a hater or a hypocrite.