Friday, December 16, 2011

Playing to the Baser

A generation or so ago some American evangelical Christians - but clearly not all - demonized three groups of their fellow Americans: Jews, Roman Catholics, and African Americans. In the past few decades that has changed. Many evangelicals, for reasons that have little to do with respect of Judaism, have made common cause with Jewish Americans in support of Israel. They have also joined Roman Catholics in opposition to abortion, and have found themselves in agreement with many African-American evangelicals on social issues.

But political campaigns often requirs enemies and in the past two decades some Republican candidates have courted evangelicals by demonizing gay and lesbian Americans. Among the latest of these appeals to the baser instincts in voters is the recent Rick Perry ad. The ad appears to have backfired, as Joshua Green pointed out in a recent column in the Boston Globe. In the wake of the negative reaction to Perry's ad I would have thought that Newt Gingrich would have avoided demonizing another group of people by claiming that Palestinians are an "invented people." As smart as he appears to be, Gingrich went ahead with that blatant lie and has not backed down when challenged about it. I hope that another column in the Globe, this one by New Hampshire's former Republican Senator John Sununu, will convince Gingrich to stop appealing the the baser instincts of voters, but I doubt it will.

I had heard the "invented" comment more than twenty years ago, that time from a rabbi who   thought that it was actions of the Israeli government, actions which he did not support, that had helped to create a sense of national identity among Palestinians. I think that was a reasonable observation. A similar observation could have been made about how the actions of the English government helped create a national identity among the people of the American colonies. In a sense we are all "invented people," with national identities that have been created by the events of history. 

Gingrich's observation, however, was not intended to highlight the role of the Israeli government in creating a Palestinian national identity. His comment was intended to dismiss the aspirations of Palestinians, perhaps to garner support among Jewish voters, but more likely to appeal to voters who see all Arabs and Muslims as the enemy. I hope Gingrich's appeal doesn't work, not because I don't want him to be President, which I don't, but because I want to see an end to the use of bigotry and demonizing in American politics.

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