The Politics of Scaring the Crap Out of People

Meet Pete Hoekstra (R-MI): Congressman, Michigander, and candidate for the U.S. Senate. He’s also a fear monger, possibly a racist. Exhibit A: a campaign micro-site.

I’ll give Congressman Hoekstra the benefit of the doubt: he’s probably not a racist. Let’s assume that he does not realize that it is offensive to portray Asians speaking broken English in a rice paddy like an extra in Full Metal Jacket, or that a font and color scheme cribbed from a Chinese takeout restaurant is probably not the best choice. But what he is doing–and is, I suspect, well aware of–is fear mongering. He knows that his voters are concerned about sovereign debt. He knows they have unreasonable fears about the Chinese. And nothing gins up political support like a healthy serving of fear.

Yes, there is some actual information in there about his opponent, Senator Debbie Stabenow. But those factoids are so cluttered with racist garbage that it’s difficult to take them seriously. He fails to separate himself from Senator Stabenow by articulating why he’s better for the job. What are we left with? “If you vote for Debbie Stabenow, the Chinese win. And will possibly kill your household pets.”

So much fear! What would Yoda say? Oh yeah…

The Congressman is not the first or the only person to promote this kind of campaign. There’s also this, and this, and of course this. It’s a special form of xenophobia called Yellow Peril. When you combine ads like that with the undercurrent of Manichean, with-us-or-agin’-us patriotism that’s all the rage in the U.S. these days it looks as if the GOP is using the playbook from 1955. It’s not good politics, it’s not constructive, and as Senator Daniel Iouye (D-HI) remarked, such thoughts “are not welcome in the United States Senate.”

The Congressman has a valid point somewhere beneath that odious xenophobia. Sovereign debt is a very big deal, no matter whether the primary shareholder of that debt is China or Canada. But rather than engage the people of Michigan in an adult conversation about his strengths as a candidate against Senator Stabenow, he’s chosen to wrap his campaign in cartoonish racial fears.

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