Creating False Equivalencies and other Nasty Campaign TricksPosted: May 5, 2012
Politics has always been an ugly business in America. All you have to do is follow the lives of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, or Andrew Jackson to get some idea of how the personal can be turned into the ugly political. Rumor becomes fact. Innuendo becomes headlines. Character assassination becomes de rigueur. It’s hard to know exactly when modern politics went over the edge. I would definitely have to point to folks like Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich, and Frank Luntz. Although, Donald Segretti comes to mind too. The age of social media and blogs has created a sleaze industry. Andrew Breithbart was the sheistermeister of the internet and his site and sites like Red State continue the tradition of creating tropes, memes and canards to sucker an uninformed electorate. AM radio and Fox News certainly don’t raise the standard either. Sleazy politics is on steroids these days.
The funny thing is that some things do speak of character and other things appear to be manufactured to create faux outrage. I frankly believe that strapping your sick dog on the roof of your car for a long trip says something about your decision making and your humanity. I don’t think a small child in a third world country eating dog meat because that’s what he’s been given to eat by his parents to be an equivalent morality play.
We are clearly in the swift boat age. Right after the attack on 9-11 the politicizing of the event took off. It was bound to happen. I used to keep track of the number of times that Dubya used the term “lessons of 9/11” to justify torture, invasion of a country that had nothing to do with the attack on 9/11, and signing into law severe restrictions on our civil liberties and personal privacy. Every single SOTU address and re-election stump speech always contained the phrase “lessons of 9/11”. I’m actually pretty outraged that the Romney and some elected officials think they’re innocent of trumping up the “lessons of 9/11” while accusing the President of Politicizing the Bin Laden killing. Meanwhile, they’re politicizing the situation with a Chinese dissident while the Secretary of State is in active negotiations with the Chinese Government on the status of the dissident and his family.
All of this just drives me nuts.
The newest of these trumped up faux outrage moments is now called “Elizabeth Warren’s Birther Movement”.
If you are 1/32 Cherokee and your grandfather has high cheekbones, does that make you Native American? It depends. Last Friday, Republicans in Massachusetts questioned the racial ancestry of Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic Senate candidate. Her opponent, Senator Scott Brown, has accused her of using minority status as an American Indian to advance her career as a law professor at Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Texas. The Brown campaign calls her ties to the Cherokee and Delaware nations a “hypocritical sham.”
In a press conference on Wednesday, Warren defended herself, saying, “Native American has been a part of my story, I guess since the day I was born, I don’t know any other way to describe it.” Despite her personal belief in her origins, her opponents have seized this moment in an unnecessary fire drill that guarantees media attention and forestalls real debate.
This tactic is straight from the Republican cookbook of fake controversy. First, you need a rarefied elected office typically occupied by a certain breed of privileged men. Both the Presidency and the Senate fit this bill. Second, add a bit of interracial intrigue. It could be Kenyan economists eloping with Midwestern anthropologists, or white frontiersmen pairing with indigenous women. Third, throw in some suspicion about their qualifications and ambitions. Last but not least, demand documentation of ancestry and be dissatisfied upon its receipt. Voila! You have a genuine birther movement.
The Republican approach to race is to feign that it is irrelevant — until it becomes politically advantageous to bring it up. Birthers question Obama’s state of origin (and implicitly his multiracial heritage) in efforts to disqualify him from the presidency. They characterize him as “other.” For Warren, Massachusetts Republicans place doubts on her racial claims to portray her as an opportunistic academic seeking special treatment. In both birther camps, opponents look to ancestral origins as the smoking gun, and ride the ambiguity for the duration.
My children are 1/4 Japanese. My youngest daughter has absolutely no physical traits that would lead you to believe she has a Japanese Grandmother. My oldest daughter definitely has the mixed race look. But that’s not the point. Neither is the actual fraction or what’s historically been called the number of ‘drops of blood’.
Both of my children have a mixed identity because we fully embraced my husband’s mixed ancestry. We eat Japanese food. The kids went to Japan school for a period of time and can speak and write a bit of Japanese. My mother-in-law lived with us and our home was filled with her cooking, her language, and her upbringing. The girls also know about their family history from Japan and they’ve explored its culture. We also talk about a lot of different things including that my uncle was very responsible for the argument on the Japanese Internment policy to the Supreme Court for the Roosevelt Administration and that another uncle by marriage on my father’s side lost a cousin to the Baatan Death March. His aunt was appalling rude to my husband every time we went to family reunions. Both heritages are a party of our family story and our family traditions. We discuss the anti-Japanese hysteria of the World War 2 period, the Japanese War atrocities, and the H Bombs that ended the war as well as my mother-in-law’s experience as a starving teenager in Kyoto who had to smuggle rice in her kimono. All of this is a part of our heritage as melting pot Americans. When I first walked to the counter of the Japanese Grocery store here in New Orleans with my items I was told “You shop like Japanese housewife.” I am genetically as WASPY as they come. That’s what comes from being brought into a culture as a teen and surrounded by it for 20 years. There’s a very real part of me that IS Japanese now. I am a New Orleanian after 16 years living in the inner city of New Orleans and being surrounded by all if its rich heritage and neighborhoods. These identities will stay with me no matter where I go.
That’s the deal to me. If Elizabeth Warren feels connections to her Native American Ancestry and if its part of her family story and tradition, do we really need to question if her ‘drops of blood’ justify her connection and her identity?
Discussing real issues and real moral character is difficult in this age of swift boating, contrived outrage, and false equivalencies. It’s especially difficult because so many groups can get access to money and the media and push through some pretty outrageous tropes. Unfortunately, most of these tropes are head line grabbers and the customer-hungry media will jump on it and ride it as long as possible. It is really shameful that the noble pursuit of maintaining a healthy democracy seems to include such manufactured tit-for-tat. US voters deserve better.