Saturday, May 01, 2010

In re. State of Arizona vs. decency and sense: It's not easy to reason away the Teabaggers' politics of rage -- bigotry and all


"Don't blame it all on Arizona. The Grand Canyon State simply happened to be in the right place at the right time to tilt over to the dark side. Its hysteria is but another symptom of a political virus that can't be quarantined and whose cure is as yet unknown."
-- Frank Rich, in his Sunday NYT column,

by Ken

The first thing that's occurred to me in connection with Arizona's new immigrant-bashing law is how hard it is to explain to "ordinary" Americans who don't get the whole concept of civil liberties just why it's so appalling. (Have you tried it? There's no easy or obvious answer to the notion that all the law is saying is that we've got a right, even an obligation, to check on people who don't belong here. Even as explained by a tried-and-true right-winger like Michael Gerson, I think it's beyond the understanding, or rather the willingness to even try to understand, of those ordinary Americans.)

In his Sunday column, Frank Rich makes a larger point about the Arizona law: "If Only Arizona Were the Real Problem." "To label this development 'Arizona's folly,' he writes, "trivializes its import and reach. The more you examine the law's provisions and proponents, the more you realize that it's the latest and (so far) most vicious battle in a far broader movement that is not just about illegal immigrants -- and that is steadily increasing its annexation of one of America's two major political parties."
To be angry about illegal immigration is hardly tantamount to being a bigot. But the Arizona law expressing that anger is bigoted, and in a very particular way. The law dovetails seamlessly with the national "Take Back America" crusade that has attended the rise of Barack Obama and the accelerating demographic shift our first African-American president represents.

The crowd that wants Latinos to show their papers if there's a "reasonable suspicion" of illegality is often the same crowd still demanding that the president produce a document proving his own citizenship. Lest there be any doubt of that confluence, Rush Limbaugh hammered the point home after Obama criticized Arizona's action. "I can understand Obama being touchy on the subject of producing your papers," he said. "Maybe he's afraid somebody's going to ask him for his." Or, as Glenn Beck chimed in about the president last week: "What has he said that sounds like American?"

"What a difference the Tea Party makes," Rich writes, pointing out that John McCain's former commitment to the rational immigration compromise pushed unsuccessfully (because of the split on the issue on the Right) by the Bush regime has given way to unapologetic nativist bigotry in the face of J. D. Hayworth's Tea Party-supported Senate primary challenge, and --
He is far from alone in cowering before his party's extremists. Neither Mitch McConnell, John Boehner nor Eric Cantor dared say a word against Arizona's law. Mitt Romney, who was mocked during the 2008 campaign for having employed undocumented Guatemalan immigrants as landscapers on his Massachusetts estate, tried to deflect the issue by vacillating (as usual). So did Mike Huckabee, who told The Dallas Morning News last week that "it's not my place to agree or disagree" with what happened in Arizona. If it's not the place of a talk-show host and prospective presidential candidate to take a stand on an issue of this moment, whose place is it?

Rich points out that "the one group of Republicans that has been forthright in criticizing the Arizona law is the Bush circle": brother Jeb, the aforementioned Michael Gerson, Tom Ridge, Mark McKinnon, even (more equivocally) Karl Rove. But "the Bushies have no power and no juice in the new conservative order. The former president is nearly as reviled in some Tea Party circles as Obama is."
The angry right and its apologists also keep insisting that race has nothing to do with their political passions. Thus Sarah Palin explained that it's Obama and the "lamestream media" that are responsible for "perpetuating this myth that racial profiling is a part" of Arizona's law. So how does that profiling work without race or ethnicity, exactly? Brian Bilbray, a Republican Congressman from California and another supporter of the law, rode to the rescue by suggesting "they will look at the kind of dress you wear." Wise Latinas better start shopping at Talbots!

In this Alice in Wonderland inversion of reality, it's politically incorrect to entertain a reasonable suspicion that race may be at least a factor in what drives an action like the Arizona immigration law. Any racism in America, it turns out, is directed at whites. Beck called Obama a "racist." Newt Gingrich called Sonia Sotomayor a "Latina woman racist." When Obama put up a routine YouTube video calling for the Democratic base to mobilize last week -- which he defined as "young people, African-Americans, Latinos and women" -- the Republican National Committee attacked him for playing the race card. Presumably the best defense is a good offense when you're a party boasting an all-white membership in both the House and the Senate and represented by governors who omit slavery from their proclamations of Confederate History Month.

It's really an ideal Teabagger issue: It appeals to hot-button emotions, against which reason is more than usually powerless.

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