The political education of Pete Hoekstra, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum
and others like them
To understand the racist ad that former Michigan Congressman Pete Hoekstra, a darling of the Tea Party movement used against incumbent Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow on Super Bowl day is to know that there is a long history in the GOP political playbook where the race card has always been used by extreme far right candidates as a last resort to stoke the fears of White voters.
Not every Republican candidate plays the race card, but recently using it as a far right GOP strategy has led to familiar remarks like, “We want our country back,” a dominating theme of the Tea Party in their numerous protests against President Barack Obama.
Hoekstra’s ad against Stabenow showing an Asian woman speaking in broken English and thanking the Democratic senator for claims that she helped send jobs to China, is not only racially insensitive, but says a lot about the campaign of a candidate I once thought understood political decency and where to draw the line when it comes to racial and cultural sensitivity.
When Hoekstra was running for governor in the last gubernatorial election I recalled meeting with him at a downtown Detroit restaurant at which time he tried to sell me his ideas of why Detroit should support him in the race for governor.
He was decent and spoke well about how important Detroit was to the state. He specifically talked about education and repeatedly drew on his credentials of working with Democrats in Washington as well as getting the support of some in the labor movement. That, to Hoekstra, was his crossover appeal.
After that introductory meeting, I began observing Hoekstra’s campaign. Then I was surprised when he began keeping company with the Tea Party in Michigan. He thought the Tea Party would get him elected governor because it had proven to be an effective tool around the country.
But it was also clear to me that Hoekstra never denounced any of the hateful remarks and images of President Obama that some members of the Tea Party were showing during their Washington protests. Some of the images portrayed Obama as a monkey and other placards talked about “taking America back.” It was full-fledged racism in high gear.
Instead of apologizing for the Super Bowl ad, Hoekstra is defending the indefensible. He said in Birmingham Monday that he thought the ad was effective and sent a message. Another familiar theme in the GOP far right strategy — deny whenever the race card is played. Insist that liberals are being too sensitive to race and culture issues and that nothing was wrong with either their comments about racial insensitivity or as in the case with Hoekstra, the racist ad.
What world is Hoek-stra’s campaign living in?
Even a GOP consultant denounced the ad as racially insensitive.
Hoekstra sounds like Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich whose continued and blatant use of the words “Food Stamp President” to describe President Obama as a reference for Blacks on the welfare roll is mind-boggling. But it shows how desperate some GOP candidates are to unseat President Obama and every other Democrat in office this year.
Hoekstra’s ad also harkens to another Republican presidential candidate, Rick Santorum, whose recent unexplained statement that he does not want “to make Black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money” shows how the GOP presidential campaign is fueled with racism and what we are seeing in the senatorial campaign in Michigan is only a by-product of that larger extreme strategy on the national stage.
Santorum’s remarks forced more than 40 Catholic leaders and theologians to issue an open letter to both Gingrich and Santorum because both profess to be Catholic, warning the two candidates “to stop perpetuating ugly racial stereotypes on the campaign trail.”
Gingrich and Santorum have basically scolded President Obama and accused him for making poor people – African Americans – dependent on the government, even though research shows more Whites use food stamps than Blacks. About 41 percent of those who use food stamps live in households where family members are employed. And food stamp usage increased more under the administration of President George Bush than Obama.
In the open letter the men and women of the cloth who belong to the same faith as Gingrich and Santorum said “racist caricatures are irresponsible, immoral and unworthy of political leaders.”
The letter continues, “Some presidential candidates now courting ‘values voters’ seem to have forgotten that defending human life and dignity does not stop with protecting the unborn. We remind Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Santorum that Catholic bishops describe racism as an ‘intrinsic evil’ and consistently defend vital government programs such as food stamps and unemployment benefits that help struggling Americans.”
So I expect Hoekstra to show political maturity and apologize to the Asian community for that distasteful ad. If that is all he has to offer in his bid to unseat Stabenow, he will come up short.
Honest men and women of goodwill will not pander to racism or anything of that sort that appears to stoke the fears of one community against another.
While we understand that in politics its fair game, there is no excuse for using symbols or tactics that speak directly to the sordid past. We use them to educate and help us move away from certain ugly aspects from the past, not exploit racist symbols for personal gain.
This is where we differentiate the adults in the room to the children. This is where we show the difference between the grown-ups and those learning how to crawl in the political world.
The results of the recent U.S. Census report underscores a growing and very diverse America that will be even more so in the near future. Those who call themselves leaders should be speaking about diversity and how to make it more of a reality in this age. They should not be stereotyping an innocent Asian woman who cannot speak English.=”p6″> Hoekstra can do better. If he is student of history (which I suspect he is), he will learn from the Gingrich campaign and try not to become the issue in the Michigan senatorial campaign and, instead, talk about the issues that matter.
By using the now infamous Asian ad, he has shown himself to be not only a polarizing figure, but also one who will defend that title as well, much like Gingrich is doing on the campaign trail.
But I still believe Hoekstra can do better than that. Let him show Michigan that he did not drink the Tea Party Kool-Aid poison that suggests that Obama is the worst president ever and that every Democrat is evil.
Bankole Thompson is the editor of the Michigan Chronicle and the author of a six-part series on the Obama presidency, including “Obama and Black Loyalty,” published last year. His latest book is “Obama and Christian Loyalty” with an epilogue written by Bob Weiner, former White House spokesman. His upcoming books in 2012 are “Obama and Jewish Loyalty” and “Obama and Business Loyalty.” Listen to him every Thursday, 11:30 a.m., on WDET 101.9 FM Detroit, and every Sunday, 9 to 10 p.m. on the “Obama Watch program on WLIB 1190 AM-New York. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.