Don't have prior experience or credentials as a candidate? Don't have a clear platform or set of policies that you'd like to enact if elected? Don't want to get into meaningful policy discussions or debates? Don't worry. We have a strategy for you. It's called Islamophobia, and it's the new Southern Strategy.
Islamophobia plays on Americans' fears and misconceptions about Muslims. It's remarkably easy to do. Most Americans don't realize that the majority of Muslims don't even speak Arabic and live in the Asia-Pacific region, not the Middle East. Many also probably didn't know that there are 1.6 billion Muslims living in the world, and that only a very tiny percentage are extremists. (That means, based on some back-of-the-envelope calculations, only 0.001875 percent around the world actually belong to ISIS.) Hardly any know that Muslim women are the second most educated group of women in the United States, after Jewish women.
Facts didn't have much to do with the 'Southern Strategy' either. Brought to the fore by the venerable Richard Nixon and his retinue, it played on white voters' racism to win the South. It used scare tactics to make people envision what it might be like to have black neighbors, classmates, or coworkers. It played repressed ethnic groups against each other, regions against regions, Americans against Americans.
A 1970 New York Times article reminisces:
To the pure of heart, it all sounded spooky and a bit repugnant because it was premised on the alleged hostility of Irishmen, Italians, and Poles, whose ethnic traits were conservative, toward Jews, Negroes, and affluent Yankees, whom history had made more liberal.
Unfortunately, it worked. Wielding the Southern Strategy to great effect, Nixon put a lock on the South that has rarely been challenged in elections, whether gubernatorial, congressional, or presidential.
Today, almost everyone agrees it's unacceptable to openly express racism in elections. Even those who hold genuinely racist beliefs mostly don't feel comfortable vocalizing them - or do so in subtle ways that shield them from criticism. In many ways, this is a genuine sign of progress.
But lately, the Southern Strategy has taken on a new form. You can't be openly racist, but it's just fine to hate Muslims.
Somehow, that's seen as different. Yes, many Muslims happen not to be white. Yes, many American Muslims happen to be immigrants. But at heart, Islamophobia is just another brand of racism.
Under pretense of keeping America safe, we are again allowing politicians to attack an entire group of people for electoral gain.
And once again, it is working. You can bet that plans to reject Syrian refugees have won votes in the primaries. You can bet that newer plans to stop Muslim immigration will win more.
Just think: one of those people could be moving to a neighborhood near you! Do you really want your children going to school with those children? It's enough to strike fear into the hearts of more Americans than we would like to admit, and you can bet it will get them to the polls.
In this time of global anxiety and uncertainty, America should stand as a leader among nations. Our Constitutional values are admired around the world. Our economy is somehow moving forward in the midst of stagnating global growth. But if if we allow racism, xenophobia, and hatred to carry our presidential elections, then we will have betrayed our most cherished principles. There is nothing ISIS would relish more.
The Southern Strategy was rotten from its inception, un-American in its vision, and terrible in its efficacy. We cannot allow it to succeed again.