In more ordinary times, Minnesota Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann might be regarded as a kook. Actually, she's far more traditional in a Republican Party that has institutionalized appeals to redneck hate and fear of "others."
Last Friday, Bachmann accused Barack Obama of "anti-American views," then embellished her unhinged TV tirade on MSNBC with an appeal to U.S. media to conduct "a penetrating exposé" of Congress to reveal members who are "pro-American or anti-American." We must await Rep. Bachmann's definition of what is a true American.
Her accusations are shades of the 1947 House Un-American Activities Committee investigation of Communist influence on Hollywood films, thereupon followed by blacklisting of writers, actors, producers and directors who refused to answer. It took Sen. Joe McCarthy's psychotic, Capt. Queeg-style, 1950s search for Communists in the Pentagon and State Department to bring Congress to its senses and—temporarily, at least—stop falsely stigmatizing contrarian beliefs.
But then came Richard Nixon's 1968 "Southern Strategy"—striking fear into white voters that their culture was threatened by civil rights equality programs, thus pioneering what has become the GOP's permanent xenophobic politics.
Yet, the Republican National Committee, John McCain's campaign and their inflammatory surrogates have added slime.
When Gen. Colin Powell endorsed Sen. Obama, radio racist Rush Limbaugh shouted into the mic, "It's all about race!" Nothing new for Limbaugh. He dubbed Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa "a shoeshine guy." Limbaugh was forced off sports TV after saying Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb's popularity with media was due to his skin color.
McCain leaves no doubt about how cheaply he treats the personal "honor" he claims to embody. He hired mudslinger Tucker Eskew to write Sarah Palin's rhetoric -- the very man McCain denounced in 2000 as deserving "a special place in Hell" for smearing him with lies about fathering a black illegitimate baby.
"Secret" identities of under-$100 donors to Obama have been declared sinister by McCain campaign manager Rick Davis. Davis knows but won't say - the law only requires identifies of donations over $200. Obama is a Muslim, so go the whispers of RNC and McCain camps. He "pals around with a terrorist."
Shouts of "Terrorist!" and "Traitor!" and "Kill him!" at the mention of Obama's name at McCain Palin rallies are never rebuked.
If McCain disapproves and does nothing, hen he's the captive of manipulators. If he approves, he's a hypocrite.
Meanwhile, the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, reports that hate extremists have been dormant during this campaign.
Cynics might well argue GOP smears of Obama do just fine taking up the slack.