During the past year, the Republicans have run one of the most openly racist political campaigns in their entire modern history. That is saying quite a bit, considering that they are the party of the notorious Nixon era "Southern Strategy" and of the vicious "Willie Horton" advertisements in the 1988 presidential campaign. In fact, according to a recent article in the New Yorker, Larry McCarthy, one of the people responsible for creating the Willie Horton ads is now in charge of creating Willard Romney's attack ads against his main opponents. Should we call them "Willie" Gingrich and "Willie" Santorum?
What was the strategy behind the Willie Horton ads? According to another adviser to the 1988 Republican presidential campaign, Lloyd Green, writing in the January 25 Financial Times, it is essential for Republicans to appeal to the white working class. What better way to do this than to focus on Willie Horton, the convicted African-American killer who had committed additional acts of violence while out of prison under a state furlough program for which the Republicans held the Democratic presidential candidate, Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis, responsible?
Now, the Republican strategy does not involve just demonizing a single person. It involves demonizing 11 million people, namely every foreign citizen, man, woman and child, who is in this country without authorization. It also means demonizing their American citizen children, the so called "anchor babies". It means depriving millions more minority US citizens of the right to vote thought restrictive voter ID laws under the guise of protecting against virtually non-existent "voter fraud".
(Here, I have to admit, one qualification is needed. There has been one high-profile voter fraud conviction recently - against Charlie White, Indiana's Secretary of State, a Republican responsible for administering that state's own laws suppressing minority voters.)
The Republican strategy has also been to demonize legal immigrants. Foreign professional workers have long been attacked for "stealing" American jobs by working for low wages, with visas allegedly obtained by fraud, something for which there has never been any widespread evidence, though what government program of any type is ever entirely free from abuse? Family immigration has been attacked as "chain immigration". "Amnesty" is competing with the word "terrorism" as the most hated word in the English language. The image is of an America taken over by Spanish-speaking and other minority immigrants who are destroying America's (white) "culture".
Up to now, the Democrats, and even most pro-immigrant advocates, have been strangely silent against this assault. But now, the sleeping lions are beginning to wake up. To be continued.