No, all Republicans aren't racists--there are any number of reasons that a principled person might oppose Obama that have nothing whatever to do with race. But as the contest for the Republican nomination tightens, the clamor of racial, McCarthyist and conspiratorial dog whistles--what I have come to call "the New Hate"--has become as deafening to those who can hear them as the blare of vuvuzelas at a World Cup soccer match.
"Nobody even knows what's going on in Libya," the born-again birther Donald Trump (who brags of his "great relationship with the blacks") complained back in April. "[Obama] said he has no control over [gasoline] prices, which he does if he gets on the phone or gets off his basketball court or whatever he is doing." Back in November, Rush Limbaugh coined the word "uppity-ism" to describe what he saw as Michelle Obama's overweening sense of entitlement. "There's no question in my mind," he opined to his radio audience just a few weeks ago, "That [Michelle and Barack Obama] view [the presidency]... as an opportunity to live high on the hog without having it cost them a dime. And if they justify it by thinking, we deserve this, we're owed this because of what was done to our ancestors, who knows."
Ron Paul has long-standing ties to the John Birch Society and has been a frequent guest on Alex Jones's 9/11 denialist radio show; he has delivered thoughtful speeches about the great wrong that was done to the South in the Civil War, has had documented associations with white supremacists, and has allowed racist and homophobic writings to be published over his byline. For all that (maybe it's precisely because of that), his presidential campaign has been relatively free of hate-mongering.
The same can't be said of the Republican front runners. During an interview with Forbes in 2010, Newt Gingrich talked about Dinesh D'Souza's book, The Roots of Obama's Rage.
"What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension," he asked of our Hawaiian-born president (whose Kansas-born mother was white), "that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]?....This is a person who is fundamentally out of touch with how the world works, who happened to have played a wonderful con, as a result of which he is now president."
In South Carolina two weeks ago, Gingrich repeatedly called Obama "the food stamp president."
Not to be undone, Mitt Romney--who had already accused Obama of wanting to "make us a European style welfare state....where government's role is to take from some and give to others"--kicked off his Florida campaign by telling a rally that "it's time we had someone in the White House who knows how to create jobs because he's had a job."
Gingrich is nothing if not ecumenical in his hatreds. He has fulminated against Shariah law in words that evoked Henry Ford's attacks on the Jewish Kahal in the 1920s, and has been demonizing his critics as Communists, traitors, and degenerates since he first entered politics in the 1970s.
"The centerpiece of this campaign," Gingrich said during his victory speech in South Carolina, "Is American exceptionalism versus the radicalism of Saul Alinsky....The founding fathers of America are the source from which we draw our understanding of America. [Obama] draws his from Saul Alinsky, radical left-wingers and people who don't like the classical America."
Some baffled pundits wondered if any of Gingrich's constituency even knew who Alinsky was. In fact, Gingrich was taking a page out of Glenn Beck's book, who invokes Alinsky's name almost as frequently as he does George Soros's, another left wing Jew. And why woudn't he? Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are both on the record as Alinsky's admirers. The mainstream media rushed to fill in the blanks about Alinsky for their readers, but they overlooked the most important thing. Alinksy dedicated his 1971 book, "Rules for Radicals" to Lucifer--"the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom."
Alinsky was being facetious of course, but for millions of Americans (hundreds of thousands of whom believe Barack Obama is the Antichrist), the Prince of Darkness is no laughing matter. For that is what this particular dog whistle is really about - the left's supposed alliance with Satan. And if you don't believe me, just Google "Alinksy" and "Lucifer" and see what comes up.
This is the power of the New Hate. What reels susceptible voters in isn't the policy prescriptions that go with this or that expression of it, but the narratives that justify them - horror stories about the impending erasure of white Christian heartland values (and at their most highly wrought, of white heartland Christians themselves). This is how a serial adulterer can lay claim to the moral high ground--by channeling a set of meta-stories whose antagonists are still lurking in the darkest corners of the collective imagination. Gingrich and other angry populists evoke the specters of Godless Dr. Frankensteins, tinkering with human life in their sinister laboratories; of angry black men and wandering Jews, thirsty for revenge; of predatory women who've strayed from their husbands' kitchens, and gays who've emerged from their closets, like vampires from their coffins, in search of new blood. Peel back yet another layer and there are witches and devils and changelings.
Heartfelt and sincere or cynical and opportunistic, the New Hate poisons our political discourse and divides us even more than we are already. But it operates most effectively beneath the threshold of consciousness. Subject its premises to critical or historical analysis, or merely expose them to the light of day, and they lose much of their potency. Just ask Ron Paul.
Arthur Goldwag is the author of The New Hate: A History of Fear and Loathing on the Populist Right [Pantheon, $27.95].