May 3, 2010

Frank Rich: If Only Arizona Were the Real Problem

I’m going to let Frank open in his own words, because I think they’re not only telling of what Arizona’s “Papers Please” law means (I’m going to refer to it this way from now on) but also what this might mean for the rest of America:

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.

If many of Arizona’s defenders and critics hold one belief in common, it’s that the new “show me your papers” law is sui generis: it’s seen as one angry border state’s response to its outsized share of America’s illegal immigration crisis. But to label this development “Arizona’s folly” trivializes its import and reach. The more you examine the law’s provisions and proponents, the more you realize that it’s the latest and (so far) most vicious battle in a far broader movement that is not just about illegal immigrants — and that is steadily increasing its annexation of one of America’s two major political parties.

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.

That’s right – the primary issue here is not one of immigration, or even legality, or even resources and costs associated with illegal immigration – we know that now that we’ve seen proof that Arizona has subsequently – and quietly – banned ethnic studies from its classrooms. This is an all out attack on all things American that aren’t white, pale, and Christian, and you can bet that Latinos in America, legal or not, won’t be the last people to suffer this kind of blow.

We’ll see weaking of anti-discrimination laws around the country, we’ll see the broadening of police powers and discretion, the same way we saw in the Jim Crow days. We’ll see more laws popping up where the sentiment is essentially “if you’re white and not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about,” and if you’re of any other religion, creed, race, or even remotely different appearance or socio-political persuasion, there’ll be hell to pay. Make note of this – these people want to tear apart the United States as we know it and remake it in their own black-and-white “Leave it to Beaver” image.

Think I’m kidding? Rich continues with what these same people think of President Obama – they’re still convinced he’s not an American citizen, and that they can somehow invalidate his Presidency by wishing that he weren’t:

The crowd that wants Latinos to show their papers if there’s a “reasonable suspicion” of illegality is often the same crowd still demanding that the president produce a document proving his own citizenship. Lest there be any doubt of that confluence, Rush Limbaugh hammered the point home after Obama criticized Arizona’s action. “I can understand Obama being touchy on the subject of producing your papers,” he said. “Maybe he’s afraid somebody’s going to ask him for his.” Or, as Glenn Beck chimed in about the president last week: “What has he said that sounds like American?”

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.

Now then, Rich dives into the tricky topic of race itself, and how as much as the Tea Party wants us to believe they’re not racially motivated, they entirely are. He’s absolutely right – this isn’t about Arizona, it’s about a wave of nationalist, far-right conservative hatred that’s sweeping across the country, piggybacked on the anger of white men that people they don’t resemble are starting to take their rightful place alongside them as the people who steer our country. His own remarks can close:

The one group of Republicans that has been forthright in criticizing the Arizona law is the Bush circle: Jeb Bush, the former speechwriter Michael Gerson, the Homeland Security secretary Tom Ridge, the adviser Mark McKinnon and, with somewhat more equivocal language, Karl Rove. McKinnon and Rove know well that Latino-bashing will ultimately prove political suicide in a century when Hispanic Americans are well on their way to becoming the largest minority in the country and are already the swing voters in many critical states.

The Bushies, however, have no power and no juice in the new conservative order. The former president is nearly as reviled in some Tea Party circles as Obama is. Even conservatives as seemingly above reproach as Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina now invite the nastiest of blow-back if they fail Tea Party purity tests. When Graham had the gall to work with Chuck Schumer of New York on an immigration reform bill, the hard-line Americans for Legal Immigration punished him by spreading rumors about his private life as loudly as possible. Graham has been backing away from supporting the immigration bill ever since.

It’s harder and harder to cling to the conventional wisdom that the Tea Party is merely an element in the G.O.P., not the party’s controlling force — the tail that’s wagging the snarling dog. It’s also hard to maintain that the Tea Party’s nuttier elements are merely a fringe of a fringe. The first national Tea Party convention, in Nashville in February, chose as its kickoff speaker the former presidential candidate Tom Tancredo, a notorious nativist who surely was enlisted precisely because he runs around saying things like he has “no idea where Obama was born.” The Times/CBS poll of the Tea Party movement found that only 41 percent of its supporters believe that the president was born in the United States.

The angry right and its apologists also keep insisting that race has nothing to do with their political passions. Thus Sarah Palin explained that it’s Obama and the “lamestream media” that are responsible for “perpetuating this myth that racial profiling is a part” of Arizona’s law. So how does that profiling work without race or ethnicity, exactly? Brian Bilbray, a Republican Congressman from California and another supporter of the law, rode to the rescue by suggesting “they will look at the kind of dress you wear.” Wise Latinas better start shopping at Talbots!

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.

The rage of 2010 is far more incendiary than anything that went down in 1988, and it will soon leap from illegal immigration to other issues in other states. Boycott the Diamondbacks and Phoenix’s convention hotels if you want to punish Arizona, but don’t for a second believe that it will stop the fire next time.

[ If Only Arizona Were the Real Problem ]
Source: The New York Times

2 Comments »

  1. […] This post was originally published at Not So Humble. Click here to read the post in its original habitat! […]

    Pingback by Frank Rich: If Only Arizona Were the Real Problem « Not So Humble @ AlterNet — May 3, 2010 @ 1:51 pm

  2. […] Arizona, you never cease to amaze me. This was mentioned back in May of 2010 when the depths of the Arizona Republican establishment’s xenophobia, nativism, and […]

    Pingback by Not So Humble dot net || Proud Member of the Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy » Arizona Bans Ethnic Studies and, Along With it, Reason and Justice — January 3, 2011 @ 2:32 pm

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