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Book Burning and the New Red Scare

Tom Hall: As the new Tea Bag Republicans virtually guarantee gridlock and a forced double dip depression, the voters will again turn on them, giving a chance, in 2012, to candidates who offer real solutions, real progress, real hope. If we can find any.
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While things are looking deservedly bleak for a Democratic Congress that has spent the past two years wallowing in an institutionalized contempt for any form of progressive action, the Republican Party has, in the past couple of weeks, made clear that its obeisance to the most short-sighted, crassly commercial and hypocritical business interests will yield policies in the new Congress, after the mid-term elections, that will easily reveal the Republicans as even more dysfunctional than the Democrats.

religious intolerance

Some may have thought that the Beck-Palin rally, to reclaim August 28 from its association with Martin Luther King, Jr. and civil rights, represented the lowest point in the Party’s self-degradation. But such was not the case. Last week, Bill Keller, an online televangelist, bragged that he had the closest ties to Satan, and access to Satan’s plans for America, of any of the religious right leaders. And this week, Terry Jones, the for-profit Prophet of a Florida church that preaches that Jesus was wrong about almost everything he said, came out proclaiming that his desire for personal gain and fame was more important than the safety of our troops in Afghanistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and all the other places we station them.

The Republican Party has embraced the movement to demonize Moslems with the same fervor with which it embraced the Beck-Palin program of “restoring honor” to the glory days of night-riding, segregated lunch counters and no citizenship for brown babies born in the United States. These are the people who will be unified in saying “no,” for the next two years, to any effort to build us out of the depression.

But in their excitement about the success of their excess, we are now seeing the beginnings of the internal divisions that will inevitably push people away from Republicanism as the Bush presidency finally did.

TheDove Worldwide Outreach Center, in Gainesville, Florida, was spearheading a Republican move to burn copies of the Quran. Prophet Terry Jones preaches that the Christian God and Christian Scriptures do not have the power to enlighten people, when in the presence of the Quran. To Prophet Terry, the Quran is Kryptonite to Christianity. He is terrified that if people actually read the Quran, they will be unable to retain their Christian faith.

This fear seems very much the sort of thing that is preached by Fred Phelps of the odious, but Republican, Westboro Baptist Church. Phelps preaches that Christian faith is powerless to survive in a world that also contains homosexuals. Phelps preaches that U.S. troop deaths in colonial wars are God’s punishment for not slaughtering gays here at home. The Dove Worldwide Outreach Center supports Phelps’ homophobia campaigns with even greater zeal than the Republican Party’s support of Prophet Terry’s plan to burn Qurans.

Over Labor Day weekend, while Republicans were disparaging the role of labor in our economy, General David Patraeus, formerly a hero to Republicans, spoke out about the troops who are laboring in Afghanistan. Patraeus said that organized public burning of the Quran would put our troops at risk. He said that such acts made the work of colonial domination harder for our military.

This announcement only spurred Prophet Terry on. In lock step with Fred Phelps’ preaching that every U.S. troop death is a good thing, Prophet Terry responded to Patraeus’ speech by announcing that the book burning will proceed. (He has since waffled on this decision. - Ed.)

The Republican Party takes the position that the campaign to demonized Moslems, by burning sacred texts and lying about the Park51 Center, is more important than the mere safety of any of our troops in the field. The pre-campaign campaign activity of the Beck-Palin ticket, the frontrunners for the 2012 Republican nomination, centers on Islamophobia.

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There isn’t any Christian component to this. Rather, it is another effort to find a group which can be demonized, for political and economic gain. In the 1840s and 50s, the Irish bore the burden. Then the Catholics and southern European immigrants. On the West Coast, the Yellow Peril served the same purposes that anti-Irish, anti-Italian, anti-Catholic, etc. bigotry served in the East. These people were all demonized as subhuman invaders, threatening the values and traditions of “real Americans.”

In the 1920s, the Red Scare introduced “The Communists” as new demon invaders. They were accused of attempting to destroy the U.S. by forcing such things as child labor laws, health and safety laws, and limits on adulterated foods. In the 20s and 30s, and into the 50s, unions became the enemy, with their evil plans to get workers living wages, safer workplaces and real retirement plans.

The last half of the 20th century saw the greatest threat to the U.S. as those uppity coloreds began to demand an end to segregation, actual schools for their children, and even such “white” privileges as voting rights and political participation. With the development of the “southern strategy” in the 1970s, the Republican Party has been on a consistent campaign to roll back the gains of the civil rights movement and re-restrict the rights of non-whites.

Finding groups to demonize is a commercial need. Historically, each group that has been demonized is a group which could either be underpaid, underprotected or workers whose fair pay and decent benefits come out of the profits of industry owners. The demonization isn’t driven by any substantive belief, but rather by greed.

But, when the possibilities for gain get too great, the people who benefit from bigotry start to tear at each other, to maximize their gains. So, Pat Robertson’s 1988 Presidential campaign foundered as competing religious businessmen worried that Robertson’s success could cut into the profits they milked from their flocks, and they withdrew support for Robertson.

In this context, the Beck-Palin campaign kick-off has been followed by signs of increasing competition and discord between groups seeking to grab the profits possible from exploiting new fears and hate. The eagerness to target the Park51 project spawned the plan to burn Qurans, with its crass marketing of hate t-shirts and other fundraising “outreach”. But the Beck-Palin folks don’t want to share the profits of demonization. So at least Palin opposes the Quran bonfire.

To avoid political competition, Beck-Palin have had to make laughably insincere claims that their pre-presidential campaign is really religious, not political. This has renewed the commercial competition that sank the Robertson campaign. Televangelist Bill Keller came out swinging, pointing out that Beck, as a Mormon, doesn’t believe in the Christian God and probably has very different ideas about what is honorable than most Christians have. Keller’s opening salvo shows that the commercial religious establishment won’t roll over and yield their profits to the Beck-Palin machine.

This is good news for democrats and progressives, despite two years of squandered opportunity. The new Congress will see Republicans like John Boehner, driven by pure greed, fighting with racist nutballs like Rand Paul, seeking an end to the14th Amendment. After the first blush of euphoric celebration, commercial pragmatism will butt heads with Tea Bag bigotry.

We have seen this before. As I noted in an essay last April, the 1850s “Know Nothing” movement swept the nation, taking state and congressional offices, but then disintegrated almost overnight in an orgy of trying to profit from their ascendency. We will see a repeat of this, starting the day after the November elections.

The Republicans have made refusal to govern a centerpiece of their campaigns this year. But no matter how angry voters are, they want government. When the Republicans forced government gridlock in the 1990s, the voters turned on them. As the new Tea Bag Republicans virtually guarantee gridlock and a forced double dip depression, the voters will again turn on them, giving a chance, in 2012, to candidates who offer real solutions, real progress, real hope. If we can find any.

Tom Hall

Tom Hall