So, the Republicans have figured out an election strategy. It can't be the economy, because they're already getting the full benefit of the Obama economic recovery program's shortcomings, and too much focus on the recovery would necessitate a focus on why a recovery was even necessary; and the electorate hasn't forgotten who is most to blame. It can't be corporate corruption, because the Republicans are wholly owned subsidiaries of the corporate plutocracy, and have opposed any Democratic attempts at regulation or forced responsibility. It can't be the environmental awareness that has awakened in the aftermath of the BP oil disaster, because criticizing the president necessarily leads to questions of an alternative response, and the Republican alternative of doing even less is not going to lead to more votes. Unemployment is out, because the Republicans don't want to help the unemployed. Health care doesn't work, because the Republicans don't want health care to work, and repealing the president's health care plan would start the whole mess all over again; and nobody wants to start the whole mess all over again. When you're the Party of No, you have to give the voters a reason to say "yes." Abnegation and abdication aren't good campaign themes.
So, the Republicans want to make the planned Islamic center and mosque that would be built sort of near Ground Zero into a nationwide campaign theme. And never mind that it has nothing to do with national politics. And more specifically, never mind the pain and suffering it inflicts on innocents who already have endured far too much pain and suffering. Certain Democrats deserve condemnation for their own efforts at playing politics with a bigotry that deserves scorn and vilification, and the best advice for elected Democrats has been that repeatedly offered by Big Tent Democrat: stop talking about it; but the Republicans aren't merely floundering around trying to sound nuanced and wise while at best only embarrassing themselves, they're deliberately exploiting the worse devils of human nature. They're not seeking understanding or reconciliation, they're seeking to inflame. It's what Republicans so often do, particularly on the national level. They stand for nothing that is good for the common humanity, so they try to divide humanity by inciting people to stand against one another. Fear-mongering. It's a tired and decrepit template, but it may be all they know to do.
The Cold War is over. The Soviet Union is gone. No one is afraid of China or Cuba or Nicaragua or Venezuela. Terrorism is a tricky topic, because Republicans don't want people to remember that 9/11 should have been prevented, and that the man most responsible for it got away when he should have been caught. People just aren't as frightened about what's out there in the world, right now, so the only way to fear-monger is to focus attention on what's right here at home. That the Islamic center and mosque would be a place of worship and dialogue and community-building is irrelevant. That it's not actually at Ground Zero is irrelevant. That there are other houses of worship in the vicinity is irrelevant. That the people who want to build and use the center and mosque had nothing at all to do with the devastating attacks of 9/11 is irrelevant. That they might not even have the funding and plans to build it is irrelevant. The only thing relevant to Republicans is that it is a possible opportunity to identify an Other against whom paranoia, xenophobia, and plain old bigotry can be used for political gain. If there was a viable alternative Other, even the Republicans wouldn't be wasting time and energy on this waste of time and energy. Many of those caterwauling about this probably aren't even really bigots in their own hearts. But that only makes them worse. Because bigotry often is based on ignorance and irrational fears. It often can be alleviated, and sometimes even eliminated, by communicating and educating with compassion and wisdom. But deliberately exploiting ignorance and irrational fears is something far more sinister. It is not ignorant, it is fully conscious. It is not irrational, it is meticulously planned.
As previously noted, the modern Republican Party was build on the exploitation of racism. Nixon's Southern Strategy. Reagan refining it, beginning with his speech on "states' rights" in Philadelphia, Mississippi. The first Bush and Willie Horton. And even now, we have the continued idealizing of the Confederacy, and the normalizing of racism by the likes of Beck, Breitbart, Coulter, Faux News, Limbaugh, and O'Reilly. But to some on the right, racism isn't an ends, it's a means. And race is but one aspect of that means. The key is to turn people against one another so that reason is clouded, fears are heightened, and just enough people are demonized and marginalized. If bigotry against blacks isn't enough, there's also homophobia. Lee Atwater, who ran the elder Bush's political operation, may at the end of his life have come to regret some of his behavior, as he famously apologized to Mike Dukakis, but he never apologized to the black community whom the Willie Horton ads so viciously attempted to stereotype. And when the younger Bush built his political career on the strategies of Atwater's old friend Karl Rove, it was the same basic idea but with a different targeted demographic. Rove has been called a lifelong gay baiter, and while he was working for Bush, Republicans nationwide began promoting state ballot measures banning gay marriage, often in states that never would have legalized gay marriage in the first place. The real goal was to drive turnout of homophobic voters, which was understood to equate with improving Republican electoral prospects. As Republican strategist Charles Black admitted, in 2006:
"It’s a game of margins," said Charles Black, a Republican strategist who consults frequently with Karl Rove, the chief White House political strategist. "You’ve got about 20 House races and probably half a dozen Senate races that are either dead even or very, very close. So if it motivates voters in one or two to go vote, it could make a difference."
Of course, by that year, the countless failures and disasters of the Bush-Cheney administration weighed more in the minds of even those marginal voters than did their fear of gay love. What had helped in 2004 didn't do much in 2006. But it was the attempt that mattered. It's hard to believe that most smart Republican strategists seriously worried about the mythical negative social impacts of gay marriage, but they certainly wanted to exploit those who did harbor such false fears. It's the demonization that counts; and if demonizing blacks or gays doesn't work, there are other demographics to target.
In 1994, California Republicans promoted the xenophobic Proposition 187, and Republican Governor Pete Wilson rode its coattails to re-election. In this case, the strategy ultimately backfired, because the law was struck down in court, Wilson's presidential ambitions went nowhere, and the political backlash ended up devastating Republicans among California's increasingly diverse populace. Democrats ended up controlling all state offices, and only the arrogance and ineptitude of Gray Davis allowed Republicans even but a foot back in the door. What is now happening in Arizona also seems to be helping an incumbent Republican governor, but an increasingly purple and also increasingly diverse electorate might soon enough coalesce around a different attitude. But once again, the specifics are less important than the intentions. Once again, the Republicans are seeking political gain by stereotyping a minority population, while consciously inflaming bigotry against it.
As campaign strategies, much of this makes sense. At times, it works. When it doesn't work, a new demographic group can be targeted. But for the Party of No, it's the only game in town. And by persistently pursuing a politics that attempts to turn people against one another, that deliberately shreds the very concept of a social fabric, and that can only succeed by exacerbating demographic distrust, the humanity of Republicans is called into question. What kind of people would do such things? What kind of people would do such things again and again? They are hurting the people they target, and they are also hurting the nation. Bigotry is bad enough, but this is worse. And they continue to get away with it, even when it doesn't produce the electoral results they intend. Because too many are too afraid to call them on it. The traditional media usually enable it. Their typically inane attempts to turn all facts into relativist partisan debates prevent an honest assessment of what really happened and what continues to happen.
Republicans exploit bigotry. They inflame it. They attempt to capitalize on it. This is not about politics, it's about that forgotten concept of basic human decency. People pursuing such strategies should not be enabled. They should not be tolerated. Because if anything should be absolutely intolerable, it's intolerance and the exploitation of intolerance. Pundits and reporters should not be allowing this to continue as an acceptable aspect of our political process. It should be identified for what it is. It should be condemned. Those responsible should be condemned. This isn't about Muslims or blacks or the LGBT community or immigrants, it's about all of us. It's about who we want to be. And the only people these strategies should be casting into the spotlight of public scorn are the people who create and use these strategies. How is it possible for such people to be allowed anywhere near the halls of power? How is it possible for such people to be taken seriously? The only question about them that really should be asked is how they live with themselves. How do such people become such people? Who are these people?