There is something about an election year that seems to make the rampant nonsense that passes for political discourse in Washington hit increasingly impressive levels of stupidity. Just when we think we’ve bottomed out, some congressman opens up his mouth and we feel the floor give way beneath our feet once again.
This week Rep. Steve Israel, D-New York, helped to keep the bar low when he announced to a shocked public that he had discovered there are racists within the Republican Party. Most of us are probably still trying to process this completely unexpected development. Fortunately, the news isn’t all bad -- he added that he doesn’t think that all of his GOP colleagues are cross-burning white supremacists. But he made it clear that, according to his undoubtedly extensive research into the subject, there are elements of the Republican base that are “animated by racism.”
And in equally shocking news, the sun will most likely rise again today. Of course there are racists within the Republican Party. There are also elements in the Democratic Party that are “animated by racism.” Ever hear a Democrat refer to the GOP as a party for “rich white men” or label conservative black Republicans as Uncle Toms? If you haven’t heard that then you haven’t been paying attention, and you also lack a basic understanding of human nature.
The truth is that if you were to randomly scoop up any substantial number of Americans there would be some racists in the bunch. There would also be sexists, homophobes and people who look down on fat people, short people, old people and people who dress funny. People discriminate against those who aren’t like them, and that’s not a problem that’s limited to conservative Republicans. We all do it.
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Decent people are aware of this fact and try to refrain from it when they can. A sad few embrace their bigotry and let it define them. It’s not a pretty thing and we should oppose it whenever possible. But that’s not what Rep. Israel was doing with his ground-breaking statement.
He knows his vague and unsupported accusation is not going to make a single Republican look in the mirror and ask himself if he can be a better, more inclusive, human being. What he was doing is known in the field of logical analysis as an ad hominem attack. It’s basically a way of trying to win an argument by attacking your opponent’s character in ways that have nothing to do with the subject at hand.
In this case, the “argument” Israel wants to win is the upcoming election, and what we voters want to know from politicians is why they will do a better job representing us than the person they’re running against. That means we need to know what their specific solutions are to specific issues we’re facing.
But there’s an obvious problem with that. Many of our biggest problems lack solutions that don’t cause other problems, which make them unpopular and could lose a politician some votes, so they resort to the proven strategy of slinging mud on their opponents.
Rep, Israel knows that non-white Americans tend to vote Democratic, and he wants it to stay that way. By highlighting the idiots who vote Republican and also think they’re superior to everyone else just because they sunburn easily, Israel wants to keep the lie that all or even most Republicans are racist active in the imagination of non-white voters.
I guess labeling this sort of juvenile name-calling a waste of time is unfair though, because it is often effective. We’ll forgive candidates like this for having no discernable ideas about how to deal with the deficit or aid our still-ailing economy. We’ll vote for them because we buy into their assertion that those people in the other party just dislike us and are, therefore, our enemy. Unless at some point we stop rewarding this kind of campaign tactic with term after term in office we will continue to be a country led by overgrown children who have nothing interesting to say and no useful ideas.
Bill Ferguson is a resident of Warner Robins. Readers can write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.