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Editorials and Opinions

Don’t be fooled by the right: they’re wrong

By Jamie Zhang
Published: December 2007

Once upon a time, conservatism sought to build its support on a bigoted backlash against the Civil Rights Movement. Pioneered by Richard Nixon and perfected by Reagan, this tactic played perfectly into the racism still prevalent in the South and heightened racial fear in white suburbia.

Reagan, while never articulating any blatantly racist messages, sprayed his speeches with racial undertones so that when he spoke of the “Cadillac Queen” (a fabricated figure who allegedly bought a Cadillac on welfare checks), there remained no ambiguity as to the Queen’s color.

By exploiting racial backlash, right-wing Republicans were able to undermine America’s welfare state, coming closer than ever to its eventual goal of repealing the New Deal. Now, the times have changed. Racism and overall bigotry are at their lowest points in American history. The story is a rather uplifting one: In 1957, an editorial in the National Review, on the subject of black discrimination, claimed that “the White community is so entitled [to subvert black rights through segregationist Jim Crow laws] because, for the time being, it is the advanced race.”

Now let us fast forward to 2002, when Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott blurted out in a eulogy to Strom
Thurmond that, had the ardent segregationist been elected in 1948, we wouldn’t have had “all these problems,” referring to the turmoil of the Civil Rights Movement and beyond.

This implicit support for segregation resulted in his forced resignation from leadership positions in the Senate. Recently, when Senator George Allen called an Indian from an opposing campaign a “macaca,” he was promptly defeated in the 2006 midterm elections. Thus, with their arsenal of prejudice depleting, modern right-wing demagogues are forced to look elsewhere to warp America’s collective conscience into a renewed state of fear. They’ve focused on two very scary issues: “Socialist medicine;” and what they call “Islamofascism.”

I’ll deal with the latter first. Ostensibly, the term is supposed to be a condensed way of addressing extremist regimes and radical groups in the Middle East. But just as Reagan never explicitly expressed racist sentiments, choosing his words carefully to avoid major controversy, the term “Islamofascism” seeks to equate Islam itself with the memory of Adolf Hitler.

By juxtaposing these two words, the goal is to tap into our fear of an exotic religion and conjure up an image of some clash of civilizations, one between the righteous West and the “fascist” Muslims. It’s a desperate ploy to sound “tough” on foreign policy, making it seem as if only Republicans, with their misleading rhetoric, will be able to protect America from another 9/11.

Somewhere rooted deeply in our minds, we have an intrinsic need to generalize – to have a “they vs. us” mentality that puts the world in perspective. It’s convenient to see the post-9/11 world as a struggle between good and evil, and through seemingly-legitimate terms like “Islamofascism,” those like Rudy Giuliani seek to use our ignorance and bigotry for political gain. (The irony here, of course, is that Giuliani, far from shielding America from terrorism, has only injected more terror into our political discourse).

In short, there’s absolutely no economic justification for our current system. Right-wing politicians, knowing that they can’t win the health care debate on substantive grounds (“letting innocent people die isn’t that bad at all, people!”), must instead disguise the issue by using terms like “socialism” to scare their constituents. It’s part of their legacy of using fear and ignorance to their political advantage. Ultimately, what sometimes seem like semantics are often deliberate ploys to mislead voters; don’t be fooled.

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