November 10, 2006

Disgusting

Message to America's hard-hard-right from all the rest of us: Stop trying to creep us out.

The mission, as they say, has been accomplished. And I mean, ewww. Or gaaah. Maybe even a yuck. Which is to say, we're all thoroughly, thoroughly squicked.

Not by the lurid images you conjure up of the terrible, no good, coming to your living room to lure your kids away tomorrow, very bad gay sex; though really, I don't want to have to be concerned with the details of anybody's sex life but mine. Not by the horrors of minority encroachment on the ivory towers of western civilization. Not by the awful prospect of women deciding that their lives don't need to be micromanaged by men, first their fathers and then their husbands. No, indeed the only thing truly creepy about these arguments is that someone living in the United States in 2006 would stand up proudly in public, bare face hanging out and everything, and make them. It's revolting, is what.

Take the Ford-Corker race in Tennessee. Ford was by no means a candidate I had great affection for, though if I'd been voting in Tennessee yesterday, I'd have had no trouble deciding to vote for him over the other guy. Pretty much for the reasons outlined by Jim MacDonald.

I did, after all, vote for Sen. Maria Cantwell, who's very good on energy and environmental policy. Also, as Sen. Russ Feingold reminded us when he swung through town, on civil liberties. I kept telling myself all that repeatedly while filling in the bubble next to her name. But if someone had run an ad against Cantwell basically suggesting that according to the worst extant stereotypes, she was too dumb to be in the Senate because she was a woman or should just stay at home for that reason, I'd have been furious in a way that no irritation with Cantwell could even approach. And that's what happened to Ford, kind of.

Probably the majority of people who've been plugged into the national election news have already seen the ad the RNC ran. It was full of the usual grade of distortion and dismissal, but it also featured a white blonde claiming to have met Ford at a party and then closing off the ad with a wink and a "Harold, call me." Some people were confused about why this was racist. It could be explained, but I think this does it pretty well.

republican_flier-06-midterm-NY.jpg

That's a flier distributed by the New York Republican Party. 'The coloreds are coming for our womenfolk' is one of the most tired and egregious pieces of racist fearmongering it's possible to tap. (h/t Alas, A Blog & BlackProf) It could have been a still from the racist, Klan propaganda film, Birth of a Nation, which portrays Reconstruction in the manner described thusly by Francis Hackett at The New Republic:

... We see the blacks flaunting placards demanding "equal marriage." We see the black leader demanding a "forced marriage" with an imprisoned and gagged white girl. And we see continually in the background the white Southerner in "agony of soul over the degradation and ruin of his people."

Encouraged by the black leader, we see Gus the renegade hover about another young white girl's home. To hoochy-coochy music we see the long pursuit of the innocent white girl by this lust-maddened negro, and we see her fling herself to death from a precipice, carrying her honor through "the opal gates of death."

Having painted this insanely apprehensive picture of an unbridled, bestial, horrible race, relieved only by a few touches of low comedy, "the grim reaping begins." We see the operations of the Ku Klux Klan, "the organization that saved the South from the anarchy of black rule." We see Federals and Confederates uniting in a Holy War "in defense of their Aryan birthright," whatever that is. We see the negroes driven back, beaten, killed. ...

Every time a white politician uses that sort of imagery, they're doing nothing better than bringing up Ku Klux Klan messages. Being disgusted by that doesn't make for a full journey towards commitment to racial tolerance, rather, it's the barest of human decency.

I think there's hope for us to get to a better place as a country someday, but it's going to have to start by being uniformly disgusted by groups who use messages that hearken back to the Klan, targeting black voters for attempted trickery, or trying to intimidate Latino voters. We'll have to hope that the racism that seemed to work against Ford in Tennessee was a death rattle and that the disgust over it that helped bring Sen. George Allen down in Virginia is the future.

And though same-sex marriage opponents got bans passed in several states, they won by narrow margins and lost in Arizona. The fear of gay people is slipping away and they just can't believe it. The future is the sky not falling on Massachussetts and the defeat of the homophobic Sen. Santorum through citizen mobilization and crude, relentless mockery.

Lastly, most people are pretty much over the idea of women as property. Certainly enough to be offended by someone presenting things as bluntly as all that. The segment of society that isn't disturbed by blatantly suggesting that a girl's father should be a kind of transitional love interest to 'cover' her and protect her virginity for her husband is shrinking fast. Like she isn't an autonomous person, but a thing to be handed off between men, her only value resting in her lap. To hear the most extreme members of the Republican leadership talk, this kind of basic attitude is normal and these sorts of opinions need to be given a policy voice, which only shows them to be the worst sort of fringe.

Even my very conservative, very religious family knows that something ain't right when a 17 year old girl is sitting on her dad's lap and saying that he's the reason she doesn't need a boyfriend. You don't have to be liberal for that to make your skin try and crawl right off your body towards the soap dish.

The days when playing on our worst fears and stereotypes about each other is going to work are coming, thankfully, to an end. As Bob Herbert noted the other day in the (un-firewalled for the week) NY Times opinion pages, it now seems perfectly normal to have women and blacks in positions of power. Nancy Pelosi will be third in the line of succession to the White House come January when she becomes Speaker. A woman's place was in the home, now it's in the House. Charles Rangel will be the chair of Ways and Means; a black man controlling the most powerful committee in the House.

Herbert is correct to point out also that Bush did his part in all this, by appointing Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice to high-powered positions in his administration. Steve Gilliard has maintained a long-running thread of commentary at his blog about why black people tend to deeply distrust black conservatives, people like former Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, and I see no reason to disagree with his analysis. But even if it were someday proved to be solely a manifestation of hypocrisy or tokenism, the person that America sent out as its top diplomat to the world for the past six years has been black. The apocalypse pointedly refused to occur. Their failings weren't blamed on their skin. Rice's failings weren't blamed on her gender in any serious discussion, or by anyone who wasn't already wrong about everything else.

As the fear goes away and as the once unthinkable becomes the norm without triggering catastrophe, manipulation of the lizard brain with hot-button issues will become more difficult. Politicians will have to come up with better arguments and more positive messages. People can evaluate the case for liberal politics based on whether or not they like it instead of being scared the other direction by misconceptions about security.

I could boast that at some future date, that positive message will beat bigotry, misogyny and divisive tactics based on getting people to fear their fellow citizens, but I don't have to because it's already happening. As Howard Dean noted yesterday, Democrats "got one-third of the white, evangelical vote" in this election. That's just the warm-up act. We may not succeed all at once, but it's time to work on getting the ick out of politics.

"We must indeed all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately." - Benjamin Franklin

Posted by natasha at November 10, 2006 12:57 AM | US Politics | TrackBack(1) | Technorati links |
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