Sunday, May 2, 2010

Frank Rich - Arizona Isn't The Real Problem

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.

That's an ominous way to begin a column that proceeds to examine the reactionary immigration legislation recently passed in Arizona as a "which came first, the chicken or the egg?" conundrum instead of a more populist "us vs. them" equation. But Rich makes a number of salient points.

Arizonans, like all Americans, have every right to be furious about Washington’s protracted and bipartisan failure to address the immigration stalemate. 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. 

True. Ever since Barack Obama's ascension to America's highest office become a fait accompli, segments of the population have become whirling dervishes, spitting out cultural molasses in their attempts to slow the force majeure of white descent as the majority demographic.

That's two French phrases in one paragraph. Need some Freedom Fries before we move on?

It wasn't election night that set these factions in motion. As soon as Obama began knee-capping Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary race, the rumbling began. There's enough video of McCain supporters with monkey puppets and bigoted misspelled signs to fill several days worth of Fox News airtime, not to mention the countless Photoshop pics of the White House as a watermelon patch, or Obama caricatured as the Huggy Bear of 21st century American politics.

If absolute power corrupts absolutely, then loss of power most certainly turns folks into frightened, shrill dingbats.


To the “Take Back America” right, the illegitimate Obama is Illegal Alien No. 1. It’s no surprise that of the 35 members of the Arizona House who voted for the immigration law (the entire Republican caucus), 31 voted soon after for another new law that would require all presidential candidates to produce birth certificates to qualify for inclusion on the state’s 2012 ballot. With the whole country now watching Arizona, that “birther” bill was abruptly yanked Thursday.

The legislators who voted for both it and the immigration law were exclusively Republicans, but what happened in the Arizona G.O.P. is not staying in Arizona. Officials in at least 10 other states are now teeing up their own new immigration legislation. They are doing so even in un-Arizonan places like Ohio, Missouri, Maryland and Nebraska, none of them on the Department of Homeland Security’s 2009 list of the 10 states that contain three-quarters of America’s illegal immigrant population. 

Ah, yes. The bed-wetting, hand-wringing, "what if they change the American symbol from a bald eagle to Cheech Marin?" crowd has mobilized, determined to dig into their very own ultranationalist Alamo, forgetting two key historical points - the Mexicans kicked Texian ass, and only two Alamo defenders survived.

But what of the current racial tensions permeating our national discourse? One hopes that clearer minds will prevail, but then again, no one puts Baby in the corner. And that's where many who have enlisted in the alabaster army fervently believe they've been forced.

It's not true, of course. Sadly, rational ideas and fear mix like the Gulf of Mexico and BP oil. Nate Silver could set the loyalist gringos straight with some metrics and fancy graphs and trendlines, but facts and figures are no match for cultural hysteria.

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.

In a development that can only be described as startling, the G.O.P.’s one visible black leader, the party chairman Michael Steele, went off message when appearing at DePaul University on April 20. He conceded that African-Americans “really don’t have a reason” to vote Republican, citing his party’s pursuit of a race-baiting “Southern strategy” since the Nixon-Agnew era. For this he was attacked by conservatives who denied there had ever been such a strategy. That bit of historical revisionism would require erasing, for starters, Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms, not to mention the Willie Horton campaign that helped to propel Bush 41 into the White House in 1988. 

Sound the bugles, you pallid jingoists. Want to read a history book on your Kindle while you wait?

Image via Wikimedia Commons

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