Here’s a multiple choice question that would fit into any SAT or GRE test:
Which one of these verbal miscues does not belong?
- Sarah Palin confuses the California city of Eureka with Eureka College in Illinois.
- David Vitter, Senator from Louisiana running for reelection, suggests that an appropriate group should go to court over the false accusation that President Obama has refused to produce a birth certificate.
- Tom Corbett, Republican candidate for Governor of Pennsylvania, says that large numbers of people have refused to return to jobs because they prefer to remain on unemployment.
- Sharron Angle, Tea Republican candidate for Senator from Nevada against Harry Reid, reasons that rape and incest are part of god’s plan as part of her opposition to all abortion rights.
- Rand Paul, Tea Republican candidate for Senator from Kentucky, says that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a bad thing.
It’s Sarah Palin’s nonsense that doesn’t belong for two reasons, one nonessential and one very important for understanding how right-wing candidates use the news media. The nonessential first: Sarah’s the only one not running for office.
Now for the profound difference: All Sarah did was to make another one of her factual misstatements, demonstrating once again that she is a “know-nothing.” The others all make inaccurate or inflammatory statements that are myths believed by their hardcore ultra-right constituency, e.g., there are people, goaded by the Vitters and Becks of the world, who inaccurately believe that President Obama was not born in the United States and there is a hardcore group of people who think that a 12-year-old girl raped by her father should not have access to an abortion.
To most people and to the mainstream news media, these are shocking views. The news media likes to report on them, but definitely tilts the coverage towards those who condemn these outrageous statements.
But the core loves these messages because they believe them, even (or perhaps especially) those that are racist or dismissive of the poor and those who have lost jobs and homes in the recession.
I don’t believe the approach of playing to the basest instincts of the hardcore right-wing works, and so far, the facts back me up. We know that after their remarks, Paul and Angle both dropped precipitously in the polls. Corbett has already backtracked on his harsh comments on the unemployed after a hailstorm of criticism across the state of Pennsylvania. And let’s not forget that Virginia Senator George Allen Jr. snatched defeat from the jaws of reelection victory by calling someone from the Indian subcontinent who questioned him at an event a “macaca.”
When politicians make these outrageously racist or in other ways absurd statements, it produces two negative effects:
- It turns “centrists” against the candidate and makes them reconsider the other side.
- It awakens some part of the eligible voters from the other side who were not previously likely to vote. This second effect is particularly dangerous to the T-R’s (Tea Republicans) because the big lesson of the 2008 and 2009 elections was that when groups who vote in low numbers such as minorities and people under 30 have a reason to vote as they did for Barack Obama in 2008 then the Democrats prevail. But when these voters stay home, as they did when Martha Coakley ran to replace Ted Kennedy in the Senate, then the Democrat loses.