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Perhaps the ugliest Republican debate yet

By Amanda Marcotte
Tuesday, January 17, 2012 14:01 EDT
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I expected, going in to the Republicans having a debate on MLK day in the first state to secede and fire shots in the Civil War, that there would probably be a few jaw-dropping dog whistles blown to race-bait a crowd that’s got a lot of people still bitter about a federal holiday honoring the civil rights movement. Seems to me that the whole point of the scheduling by Fox News was to stoke racial hostilities and keep Republican enthusiasm for kicking the black President out of office high, especially since Romney’s presence is hurting Republican enthusiasm in the polls. So I was a bit surprised that Juan Williams broke the rules that require race to be discussed through dog whistles and insinuations, and tried to get it all out on the table. I mean, his personal motivations for that are obvious—the whole scheduling thing plus the candidates’ increasingly racist rhetoric is just plain offensive, and the urge to call bullshit must have been high—but considering how much Fox pays him, I was still mildly surprised that he decided to use the debate to actually provoke the candidates into being more blunt. Of course, the flip side of that is that he had to have known that if he did provoke one of them into saying something super racist, his picture would be on the front page of every newspaper today.

Turns out that worked out better than even the most ambitious debate moderator could have hoped, because the crowd’s naked hatred of Williams for daring to bring up race, instead of letting conservative candidates talk about it in euphemism, guaranteed he’d be the talk of political media today. Most of the coverage I’ve seen is of Gingrich taking the opportunity to really pull the string and let the asshole out in full force. 

Of course, Williams dropped the ball, because there’s a number of ways to challenge Gingrich’s lie about the President “putting” people on food stamps. You can ask, for instance, if he’s saying that the better solution is for poor people to starve. You could ask how people are going to make it to that job training he’s so up about if they’re going hungry. You could ask him if he sincerely believes that we have 9% unemployment because people prefer to get $150 a month in food stamps rather than have a job, and if so, why did the number of people that he believes “choose” not to work has doubled in the past four years. You could ask him when he’s getting a job, instead of living off direct mail donations. There’s many fun ways to go about this.

That said, I honestly don’t blame him for dropping the ball. It’s got be unnerving being dressed down by a soulless monster while booed by a blood-hungry crowd of Southerners who are still pissed about the 60s and are looking for torches to light. And honestly, I don’t care about why or how Williams went about this. I’m just glad he tried. The Republicans have really come to believe that they are entitled to race-bait without anyone calling them out on it, or even asking them an honest question about it, and they simply aren’t. Someone needs to call bullshit on that. 

As far as that goes, one moment that really stuck out to me was how the crowd booed the idea of being born in Mexico.

In a report last week, NBC revealed that Romney’s great grandfather, Miles Park Romney, had fled to Mexico with other Mormons to escape persecution for polygamy. Romney’s father, George, was later born in the northern Mexico colony of Colonia Dublan.

When this was brought up, the audience booed simply at the mention of being born in Mexico. It was a naked moment of irrational hatred. What, do they think that the soil itself taints you? Would they refuse to travel there for fear of getting cooties? I’m rarely surprised at the ugliness that percolates below the surface in much of conservative politics, but even I was taken aback by how the mere mention of Mexico and being born there set them off. Interestingly, the Romney family and mine have this in common—my grandfather’s parents were British citizens but my grandfather was born in Mexico and then moved to the U.S. as a child—and my grandfather is all about this Tea Party stuff. Wonder if they’d boo him, too. 

Romney’s stock answer—that he supports immigrants who can claw through the mountains of paperwork and obstacles put in their way to move here legally—tends to satisfy a lot of people, but his family’s story should really show why it’s not good enough. It’s not just that, but for Native Americans, we’re all descended from immigrants. It’s that most of them got here in ways that would now get them labeled “illegal”. Moving back and forth between the U.S. and Mexico was actually really common back when the Romney’s were doing it, mainly because you could do it without getting tied up in mountains of red tape that is now there because our government has decided to make it nearly impossible to legally immigrate here. And that doesn’t even touch the problem of people who, like the Romneys when they were living in Mexico, are probably not looking to lay down permanent roots. Looking at the past with clear eyes makes it obvious that the purported dangers of having more permeable borders are just so much nonsense, and that increasing restrictions on immigration is pretty much always tied to racist hostility, which is why we’ve had laws aimed, at different points in time, at keeping out Germans and Irish, Italians and Eastern Europeans, then Asians, and now Mexicans and South Americans. 

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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