Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Pete Hoekstra and the Yellow Peril

In a 1998 episode of The Simpsons, Krusty the Clown appears at a comedy festival along with some comedians who aren't prehistoric vaudeville throwbacks. Krusty's act is, to him, classic "A material" and it leaves him baffled when it fails to elicit hysterical guffaws, while the audience is dumbfounded at Krusty's juvenile and obviously racist buffoonery.

It wasn't their intent, but the writers of The Simpsons have provided us with a metaphor for looking at some of the GOP's most virulent hate speech. We are the confused and alienated audience confronted with immature bigotry while wingnuts are rolling on the floor laughing at what is, to them, the Funniest Thing Ever. We've seen it again and again: Obama Bucks, a GOP candidate calling Energy Secretary Steven Chu "Steven Chow Mein"... And then there's this:
No doubt you've already heard of this, which immediately became the Most Racist Super Bowl Ad Ever.

Hoekstra's ad is racist, but it's a mistake to write it off as stupid, as it is a brazen act of Machiavellian animal cunning. The ad was, of course, immediately denounced as racist, and attacking as racist won't work, as many commentators have already noted, because that is exactly what he wants. Hoekstra's already refused to apologize and now he gets to play victim and complain about political correctness. It was clearly a calculated act designed to elicit a negative response. He's already sent out fund-raising mail stating "the liberals are doing what they always do - crying racism." And the wingnuts, who are already rolling on the floor laughing at the cleverness of Hoekstra's minstrel ad, don't see what all the fuss is about. They will turn to each other and say things like "the liberals are doing what they always do - crying racism" and nod sagely at each other in agreement. After all, in their world, the only real racism is when Chris Rock can use the n-word and they can't, which is a violation of Martin Luther King's dream or something.

This ad reminds me of the late 80s and early 90s, back when Japan was the terrifying foreign economic enemy. Hysterical complaints about the Japanese buying up American real estate like Rockefeller Center were rampant. Films and books were filled with cyberpunk dystopias of yakuzas and hackers stalking crowded city streets lit with neon Kanji. And conservative reactionary Michael Crichton captured the zeitgeist in Rising Sun by depicting the Japanese as sinister scheming businessmen out to bury our gingers in concrete tombs.
And of course we all know how that turned out. I for one honor our current Japanese overlords. Oh, wait... This suggests another line of attack. Instead of the being drawn into the racism trap, as a number of commentators have already suggested, Hoekstra and his ad should be attacked on the basis of the content, namely his flimsy scapegoating of the Chinese economic menace. James Fallows quotes a Republican strategist:
The more interesting angle is one of hypocrisy. Hoekstra voted for permanent MFN for China in 1999, and China's creditor status vis-à-vis the U.S. simply reflects all those good-paying union jobs Hoekstra shipped there (yes, I know international economics is more complicated than that, but would certainly put Hoekstra on the defensive.)
Instead of playing by the script, hit him hard on sending jobs overseas. Get his position on Solyndra on the record and then hammer him for capitulating to China on green jobs. Of course, all of this will draw complaints about how the Democrats don't support "free enterprise" and are engaging in "class warfare", but those are the complaints you hear when you have a winning message.