Liberals, as the tired conservative slander goes, hate America. This, of course, is nonsense. Liberals simply want to deliver on the national promise of a more perfect union, to shorten the distance, as Bruce Springsteen aptly put it, "between American ideals and American reality."
But if the past three Republican presidential debates are any indicator, it would appear that conservatives hate Americans. Or more precisely, some Americans. As audiences of the faithful booed an active duty U.S. soldier because he is gay and cheered the deaths of executed prisoners and the uninsured alike, the GOP White House hopefuls on stage remained silent. All because, it seems, they had to. Sadly, that complicity is apparently now a requirement to lead a Republican Party in which demonizing gays, minorities, immigrants and Muslims - that is, hating Americans - is increasingly a centerpiece of its politics.
Reading the reactions of thoughtful commentators after the stage emptied, talking with conservative policy types and GOP political operatives later last evening and this morning, we know we're not alone. Most won't express publicly just how horrified--or at least how demoralized--they are...
The e-mails flooding into our inbox during the evening were less guarded. Early on, we received this missive from a bright young conservative: "I'm watching my first GOP debate...and WE SOUND LIKE CRAZY PEOPLE!!!!" As the evening went on, the craziness receded, and the demoralized comments we received stressed the mediocrity of the field rather than its wackiness.
But Kristol's discomfort was with his party's messengers, not its message. And for years, that message has been unchanged. On this Republican Animal Farm, some Americans are more equal than others.
That was clear during the 2008 election. Before Rep. Robin Hayes (R-NC) said - and then denied saying - "liberals hate real Americans," the sound bite was firmly established as a GOP talking point. A few days before, McCain spokeswoman Nancy Pfotenhauer explained that northern Virginia was not the "real Virginia." GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin amplified on the point during an event in North Carolina:
"We believe that the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit, and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America, being here with all of you hard working very patriotic, um, very, um, pro-America areas of this great nation."
To be sure, the Republicans' real Americans aren't Muslims. Long before Mitt Romney and Herman Cain first announced they would not appoint Muslim Americans to their cabinet, Republican leaders and their amen corner were calling for their profiling, internment and worse.
Keith Ellison, the first follower of Islam elected to Congress, was welcomed by Glenn Beck demanding he "prove to me that you are not working with our enemies" and his Virginia House colleague Virgil Goode warning about "many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran.") It came as no surprise that Republicans demagogued the Park 51 cultural center, the supposed "Ground Zero mosque" Sarah Palin asked Muslims to "refudiate." (What is surprising is that Park 51 opened this week with only a whimper from its right-wing foes.
Palin's Republicans seem similarly intent on "refudiating" that gay and lesbian Americans are "real Americans," either. Years before Rick Santorum used the Orlando GOP debate to denounce the "special privilege" gay Americans now receive by being allowed to serve their country, he introduced his frothy mixture of politics and hate by comparing same-sex marriage to "man-on-dog" relationships. It's no wonder that GOProud demanded an apology:
"That brave gay soldier is doing something Rick Santorum has never done - put his life on the line to defend our freedoms and our way of life. It is telling that Rick Santorum is so blinded by his anti-gay bigotry that he couldn't even bring himself to thank that gay soldier for his service."
For his part, Texas Governor and GOP frontrunner Rick Perry headlined "The Response" in August, an event co-sponsored by the American Family Association whose director Bryan Fischer explained in June:
"So it was homosexual thugs that helped Hitler to form the Nazi Party."
As for Michele Bachmann, whose husband Marcus' clinic received federal funds for helping patients "pray away the gay," proclaimed the "gay and lesbian lifestyle" is "personal bondage, personal despair, and personal enslavement" and "part of Satan." Those views should win her the support of GOP officials like Oklahoma's Sally Kern (who repeatedly claimed homosexuality is "more dangerous" than terrorism) and North Carolina's Paul Stam (who explained that gay people are "things" whose relationships can be "treated differently.")
Then there are immigrants, legal and otherwise. Long before Rick Perry defended his record in Texas by telling his detractors "I don't think you have a heart," his Republican Party showed it didn't have a brain, either.
Four years ago, most of the Republican candidates snubbed debates sponsored by Univision and the National Council of La Raza (events which they later scrambled to reschedule). John Kerry carried only 53 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004, but by 2006, Democrats won 69 percent support among the nation's 43 million Hispanics who went to the polls. President Obama similarly won their vote by a 2-1 margin two years later. Even in the GOP's 2010 landslide, Democrats earned the backing of 60 percent of Latino voters. (Subsequent studies suggest the actual Latino support of GOP candidates was much lower than reported.) As NCLR's Cecilia Munoz put it in September 2007:
"It's not just that they are not coming. It's that some of them are visibly insulting us."
And, of course, there is the case of African-Americans.
Slavery, unmentioned in the Confederate Heritage Month proclamations in Virginia and Mississippi, was in the words of Governor and former RNC chairman Haley Barbour "a nit." The GOP's neo-Confederate antebellum nostalgia runs deep. In 2009, Georgia Rep. Paul Broun declared, "If ObamaCare passes, that free insurance card that's in people's pockets is gonna be as worthless as a Confederate dollar after the War Between The States -- the Great War of Yankee Aggression." In February 2009, Missouri Republican Bryan Stevenson took exception to President Obama's support for the Freedom of Choice Act, legislation which would codify the reproductive rights protections of Roe v. Wade nationwide, announcing, "What we are dealing with today is the greatest power grab by the federal government since the War of Northern Aggression." So, it should come as no surprise that Arizona Congressman Trent Franks proclaimed in February 2010:
"Far more of the African-American community is being devastated by the policies of today than were being devastated by policies of slavery."
In response to African-Americans' monolithic support for Democratic candidates - 89 percent in 2006, 95 percent in 2008 - Republicans have come up with a novel strategy. Keep them from voting. Draconian voter ID laws first introduced in Georgia, Indiana, Arizona and Missouri have expanded to other states, most notably Wisconsin. Despite the almost complete absence of vote fraud in the United States, voter identification laws have joined unprecedented redistricting, barriers to registration and Election Day ballot box challenges to suppress minority (read "Democratic) turnout. As Georgia Republican Sue Burmeister explained the GOP smoke screen, claiming that when black voters in her black precincts "are not paid to vote, they don't go to the polls." It's no wonder some tea party Republicans have called for restricting suffrage to property owners and, along with GOP presidential frontrunner Rick Perry, want to eliminate the 17th amendment to the Constitution which enabled direct election of Senators.
And the none-too-thinly veiled racist venom is directed at Barack Obama, the nation's first African-American President. While Newt Gingrich likened the Obama presidency to the threat posed by the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany, the Republicans' tea party faithful have been even less subtle. While studies this year and last reflected the virulently racist attitudes of some tea party members, its elected officials called him "tar baby" and "boy" and have circulated emails portraying the President as a pimp, a monkey and a target for assassination.
After South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson interrupted President Obama's address to Congress by yelling out "you lie," supporters sent him hundreds of thousands of dollars of campaign cash. The Wilson episode was hauntingly familiar. In 1856, admirers sent canes to another South Carolina Representative, Preston Brooks, after he viciously caned abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner in the Capitol. As one laudatory editorial back in Brooks' home state put it, "Meetings of approval and sanction will be held, not only in Mr. Brooks' district, but throughout the State at large, and a general and hearty response of approval will re-echo the words, 'Well done,' from Washington to the Rio Grande."
And so it goes. Long after the Republican debates of 2011 are forgotten, the fear-mongering and demonization of some Americans will still be a staple of conservative politics. And right-wing bookshelves will still be populated with books like Treason, Guilty and Slander proclaiming things like:
"Liberals hate America, they hate flag-wavers, they hate abortion opponents, they hate all religions except Islam, post 9/11. Even Islamic terrorists don't hate America like liberals do."
(This piece also appears at Perrspectives.)