Creating False Equivalencies and other Nasty Campaign Tricks

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.


18 Comments on “Creating False Equivalencies and other Nasty Campaign Tricks”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    Wonderful post. I’m starting to get really worried about the swift boating. I don’t think Democrats have learned much about fighting back.

    I’d be shocked if Warren got any benefits from checking the Native American box. She probably got more for her gender. But why should she have to deny who she is? Ethnicity is part of identity for most people.

    • dakinikat says:

      There’s supposedly the Obama truth squad that’s been reignited again. I always thought that was too contrived. I think it should come from the party head. Maybe Debbie WS will be better at it than Howard Dean.

      • bostonboomer says:

        She probably is better. But she needs to find a lot of surrogates to go on TV and radio and counter the craziness.

      • RalphB says:

        The birthers never went away, the media just ignored them for some time. Now that they will sell again I expect the media to beat the drum along with them. We all deserve better!

    • Seriously says:

      Honestly, the prejudice that Native Americans who present as Native Americans face right here in MA still is unbelievable. She should maybe see if she could find some people who would be willing to share their stories and point out how ridiculous it is to think that she would receive some kind of sinister, unspecified benefits. Then maybe go on the offensive and explore how someone like Scott Brown could have risen so far despite being scary stupid and having no discernible talents or qualifications in any area. What benefits have accrued to him to advance his career when he’d be underqualified at, well, every job on the planet?

  2. northwestrain says:

    When my grandmother was alive she actively hid the fact that she was part Cherokee. It wasn’t until my uncle researched the family tree that he found the other half of his grandfather’s heritage living in Oklahoma. My grandmother’s response was typical for the era she came from — she was NOT part Indian. But at the same time she would go on and on about her Boston ancestors and how her great great great great etc. grandmother went to sea with her ship’s captain husband.

    Anyway most of my ancestors have been in North America since the days of the colonies — one even escaped from Jamestown to settle Plymouth. There are some real old American names — along with the Cherokee and a couple more women with either no name or a first name who could be Native Americans. Irish Quakers were known to marry Indian women.

    There is nothing you can do about your heritage — but there is nothing wrong to know who your ancestors were and to acknowledge them. Especially if your ancestors happen to be Native American — because at one time that was a dirty secret and thousands of Indians left the reservations or escaped the death marches and claimed to be French or some acceptable European nationality. To survive for many Native Americans was to kill off part of themselves and become more white than the neighbors. Evangelical ministers told the single white men to marry a “squaw” and save her and eliminate the male Native Americans. (that is the sanitized version of what was really said by the racist whites who stole and murdered their way west.)

    If you want to read the racism in their own words — try reading military reports in the National Archive.There are several books about the deliberate genocide to clear land for the whites. Utah is an example of massive Indian genocide — the Mormons also killed a whole wagon train of non Mormons and blamed it on the Indians. Which ended in open season on local Indians. This crime was only recently acknowledged by the Mormon church.

    Anyway Elizabeth Warren has every right to acknowledge her Native American heritage. Back when she came out as being part Indian there was still a lot of active prejudice against Native Americans. I know — my sister looks like she is full blood Native American and I take after my Nordic heritage (which is actually less than my Native American blood). My sister has heard nasty remarks about how she looks like a “dirty” Indian all her life. Even today some idiots still sound like throw backs to the genocidal jerks who cleared the west of Indians and Buffalo.

    • bostonboomer says:

      That is so sad about your grandmother. I think it’s really important to connect with ancestors. I think this whole “birther” business is ugly.

    • RalphB says:

      My great grandmother was Native American, though you wouldn’t know it from looking at me. I’ve always been somewhat proud of the fact.

      Warren’s ancestry is just more right wing fauxrage but, unfortunately, it will sell papers for the lousy MSM. I really hope her campaign and the Dem party pushes back and hard.

  3. bostonboomer says:

    Check out these Republicans from North Carolina.

    Richard Hudson, a GOP candidate in the race to unseat Rep. Larry Kissell (D) in the 8th Congressional District, made headlines in April when he told a Tea Party group “there’s no question President Obama is hiding something on his citizenship.” The Charlotte Observer reports one of his challengers, Dr. John Wheatly, recently called Obama’s birth certificate a “poorly reproduced forgery.”

    Jim Pendergraph, a candidate who recently campaigned with “America’s Toughest Sheriff” Joe Arpaio in his effort to win North Carolina’s 9th Congressional district, said he has “reason to be suspicious” about Obama’s birthplace.

    “I haven’t seen the facts. I think there’s a lot of smoke and generally when there’s smoke there’s got to be fire somewhere,” Pendergraph said.

    • RalphB says:

      Like bananas, idiots must come in bunches.

    • .0bama may at some point used his Indonesian passport — if he indeed had one. But that childish behavior is long in the past. Once his backers bought the white house and installed him as king — and the other guy has money from the same source — the GOP tea freaks need to stop and take a look at reality. The racist haters are being used. The old divide and conquer game.

      In Hawaii there is a story of why Hawaiians can’t get ahead. All Hawaiians are like captured crabs — as soon as one tries to climb up the side of the bucket — s/he is pulled right back down. The crabs are doing the fisher’s work — keeping other crabs in the bucket.

  4. NW Luna says:

    Genetically speaking, there is no such thing as “races” of humans. We all have far more in common than different. I forget what the nth degree of cousin we are to each other, but it’s far closer than some of these idiots want to believe.

  5. Seriously says:

    Thanks, dak. This is an amazing post. Brown is a disingenuous pig, and Warren doesn’t need lessons in appropriation or metritocracy from an overprivileged moron. What’s ironic is that the “approved” means of sharing one’s identity for the right wingers is bringing up their Native American ancestry only in reactionary opposition to policies of import to Native Americans. It also reminds me of the stupidity of making so much out of the fact that Obama’s half white, as if that somehow innoculates him from racism even though he’s clearly perceived as a Black man. Of course it’s going to work, he knows exactly who and what he’s playing to.

    • dakinikat says:

      Thanks Seriously. This stuff is really getting to me.

      • It’s unreal. They’re birthering Elizabeth warren in Massachussets… seriously, if Nikki Haley hadn’t got elected in South Carolina of all places–which maybe was a fluke, or maybe there’s something to it. That needs more thought. Anyhow, I’d be even more depressed over this Elizabeth Warren thing than I already am…and I still am not over the fact that the Democratic party let Martha Coakley lose to an Empty Coke Can speaking from the back of a pickup truck.

      • Seriously says:

        Don’t be too depressed yet. It’s in large part Massachusetts and our eternal bipartisan “woman problem.” Nikki Haley couldn’t have gotten elected here. Ann Richards couldn’t have gotten elected here. Hell, Hillary Clinton probably couldn’t get elected Governor or Senator here. Birthering Ezra Warren wouldn’t be effective, but Brown knows what he’s doing and what will work here, he pulled something similar on Elena Kagan. She doesn’t have enough experience to be on the Supreme Court, he says with a straight face,

      • NW Luna says:

        “Empty Coke Can speaking from the back of a pickup truck.”