Some shocking electoral results this week are providing new proof that the loony Tea Party movement has surged to levels of influence far beyond anything most of us could ever have imagined possible, with the key results coming in Arizona and Alaska.
In Sarah Palin's home state, it's looking quite a lot like incumbent Lisa Murkowski is going to be ousted by a little-known Tea Party candidate named Joe Miller.
If Murkowski loses, she would be the seventh incumbent and the fourth Republican to lose key primary challenges this year, with Tea Party activism being a driving force in many of those races.
In Arizona, John McCain trounced a Tea Party candidate named J.D. Hayworth by over 30 points in a primary race that was largely interpreted by the media as a repudiation of Tea Party values. I'm not sure they're right about that. McCain had to spend $20 million to fight off Hayworth – a staggering number for a Senate race – and beyond that, he had to bend himself completely ass-backwards issue-wise in order to maintain what's left of his cred with right-wing voters.
McCain's biggest problem with Republicans has always been his occasional willingness to describe Hispanic immigrants as human beings (remember his "Hispanic immigrants are God's children, too?" spot in 2008?). That occasionally culturally empathetic McCain got stuffed in a steamer trunk for this primary season, though. McCain always had nuanced positions on immigration, having once helped author the 2006 immigration proposal that would have created a difficult but feasible pathway to citizenship for illegals already here in the U.S.; now he's not only gone back on that, but has gone 100% caveman in a desperate attempt to hold on to his bigot constituency. Never an advocate of walls and fences, McCain in this race was shrieking that we just need to "complete the dang fence."
Meanwhile Arizona governor Jan Brewer completed a similar turnaround. Last year at this time she was in trouble politically because of a tax increase she proposed two months after taking office. Then she rammed through Arizona's notorious 1070 immigration law, and her political fortunes among Republicans changed instantly. By this summer she was following the Fox News script in telling phony scare stories about immigration (she told reporters the Arizona deserts were littered with beheaded bodies; the claims were later debunked by local law enforcement), and her status as the champion of America's first attempts at pass laws helped her cruise to victory in her primary this week.
Everyone involved with politics understands the current dynamic. It's not hard to grasp. You take very tough economic times, add them to a heavy dose of political opportunism, and multiply both by the aggravating factor of a nihilistic commercial media, and what you get is ethnic scapegoating on a massive scale.
There's no doubt that with the economy as bad as it is, this would – justifiably – be a bad time for incumbents under almost any circumstances. But this summer's wave of political discontent has been a completely new animal, with the racial-animus thing trending toward early-sixties levels. The difference between then and now, though, is that this wave of anger is being centrally directed.
A lot of Tea Party anger is driven by real local issues -- where I live in central Jersey, for instance, there are a lot of pissed-off white people crowing over a nutty state supreme court case in which a Central American drunk driver got off because cops didn't explain the consequences of refusing a breathalyzer in his native Spanish. But without the constant reinforcement of national 24-hour media, which has taken these isolated cases and presented them as a coast-to-coast massive conspiracy, the rage over stories like this would never reach the levels we're seeing.
In fact if you follow Fox News and the Limbaugh/Hannity afternoon radio crew, this summer's blowout has almost seemed like an intentional echo of the notorious Radio Rwanda broadcasts "warning" Hutus that they were about to be attacked and killed by conspiring Tutsis, broadcasts that led to massacres of Tutsis by Hutus acting in "self-defense." A sample of some of the stuff we've seen and heard on the air this year:
- On July 12, Glenn Beck implied that the Obama government was going to aid the New Black Panther Party in starting a race war, with the ultimate aim of killing white babies. "They want a race war. We must be peaceful people. They are going to poke, and poke, and poke, and our government is going to stand by and let them do it." He also said that "we must take the role of Martin Luther King, because I do not believe that Martin Luther King believed in, 'Kill all white babies.'"
- CNN contributor and Redstate.com writer Erick Erickson, on the Panther mess: "Republican candidates nationwide should seize on this issue. The Democrats are giving a pass to radicals who advocate killing white kids in the name of racial justice and who try to block voters from the polls."
- On July 6, the Washington Times columnist J. Christian Adams wrote an editorial insisting that "top [Obama] appointees have allowed and even encouraged race-based enforcement as either tacit or open policy," marking one of what would become many assertions by commentators that the Obama administration was no longer interested in protecting the rights of white people. "The Bush Civil Rights Division was willing to protect all Americans from racial discrimination," Adams wrote. "During the Obama years, the Holder years, only some Americans will be protected."
- July 12: Rush Limbaugh says Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder "protect and represent" the New Black Panther party.
- July 28: Rush says Supreme Court decision on 1070 strips Arizonans of their rights to defend themselves against an "invasion": "I guess the judge is saying it's not in the public interest for Arizona to try to defend itself from an invasion. I don't know how you look at this with any sort of common sense and come to the ruling this woman came to." That same day, Rush says this: "Muslim terrorists are going to have a field day in Arizona. You cannot ask them where they're from. You cannot even act like we know where they're from. You cannot ask them for their papers. We can ask you for yours. Not them."
- July 29: The Washington Times asks "Should Arizona Secede?" and says the Supreme Court "is unilaterally disarming the people of Arizona in the face of a dangerous enemy" with the aim of creating a "socialist superstate." The paper writes: "The choice is becoming starkly apparent: devolution or dissolution."
- July 29, Fox and Friends host Steve Doocy continues the Radio Rwanda theme, saying, "If the feds won't protect the people and Governor Brewer can't protect her citizens, what are the people of Arizona supposed to do?"
There's nothing in the world more tired than a progressive blogger like me flipping out over the latest idiocies emanating from the Fox News crowd. But this summer's media hate-fest is different than anything we've seen before. What we're watching is a calculated campaign to demonize blacks, Mexicans, and gays and convince a plurality of economically-depressed white voters that they are under imminent legal and perhaps even physical attack by a conspiracy of leftist nonwhites. They're telling these people that their government is illegitimate and criminal and unironically urging secession and revolution.
The Fox/Rush/Savage crowd in the last 18 months has taken the anti-Muslim fervor that launched a phony war in Iraq, carried George Bush to re-election, and pushed through the Patriot Act, and re-directed that anger at a domestic nonwhite enemy. In doing so they've achieved a perfect storm of political cross-purposes: they've almost completely succeeded in distracting the public from the real causes of their economic misfortune (i.e. Wall Street corruption), they've re-energized a Republican party that was devastated by eight years of Bush-era corruption and incompetence, and, as usual, they've made Rupert Murdoch a shitload of money.
I'm convinced that none of the key actors here – the Wall Street banks shrieking about government takeovers and advertising on Rick Santelli's CNBC, the Republican Party's career hacks who have been scheming for a new horse to ride ever since Bush imploded, and the right-wing TV and radio networks – none of these actors is pushing this crazy movement out of any real desire to stoke a race war. For these institutional leaders and patrons of the Tea Party movement, this is all about material expediency: overcoming the real threat of new financial regulations after the crash, winning elections, and making TV profits. It's just our bad luck that driving frustrated/broke white suburbanites into a race-hatred frenzy happens to be good business for these folks. And all of this is race-baiting-for-cash is borne out of the same short-term, indifferent-to-consequence thinking that we saw from the Wall Street guys in recent years -- who created mountains of deadly leverage capable of destroying the global financial system for the sake of a few one-year bonuses.
The fact that Fox and co. are doing what they do for these dreary commercial reasons makes it even worse, of course; at least Hitler really hated Jewish people. But that also means there's a bright side. One of the few positives in this Tea Party phenomenon is that it's shown how quickly masses of Americans can be convinced to completely change their minds about shit. The same Americans who six or seven years ago were looking skyward in search of poison-distributing Saddam-drones and buying duct tape and bottled water to protect themselves against imminent Muslim attack are now probably not spending five minutes a week worrying about Muslim terrorists -- and instead arming themselves against the coming black-Mexican-leftist-communist state. To me that indicates that if Fox and Glenn Beck can be induced to jerk off to some perhaps similarly profitable but less toxic hate-fantasy (midgets from New Zealand are taking our jobs!), all of this – well, it maybe won't go away, but it won't have us steaming toward widespread racial violence like we are now.
I'm beginning to wonder why effective boycotts against these hate-media channels, and particularly Fox, haven't been organized yet. Why not just pick out one Fox advertiser at random and make an example out of it? How about Subaru and their unintentionally comic "Love" slogan? I actually like their cars, but what the fuck? How about Pep Boys and that annoying logo of theirs? Just to prove that it can be done, I'd like to see at least one firm get blown out of business as a consequence of financially supporting the network that is telling America that its black president wants to kill white babies. Isn't that at least the first move here? It's beginning to strike me that sitting by and doing nothing about this madness is not a terribly responsible way to behave.