January 24, 2008

Bigotry Should Disqualify a Presidential Candidate

Remember Don Imus? How about George "Macaca" Allen? Try to imagine what would happen if video got out in which one of the Presidential candidates used the dreaded "n-word." That campaign would be over in an instant. Why? Because that type of bigotry would not be tolerated and would be accepted by an overwhelming majority of the American people as grounds for disqualification. Unfortunately, other types of bigotry are not only accepted but are actually an important strategic component of many Republican campaigns. I long for the day when anti-gay and anti-atheist bigotry will disqualify a candidate as quickly as racism.

It is no secret that politicians are going to pander to our fears and prejudices. The real story is about how the media covers such pandering, especially when it crosses the line into bigotry, and how this coverage varies based on the target of the bigotry. We can learn a great deal about which prejudices remain socially acceptable and which will bring rapid condemnation by examining some recent examples.

Overt bigotry directed at African Americans is not tolerated from Presidential candidates and other high-profile politicians. We saw a powerful example of this in Allen's case. More subtle forms of this bigotry generate predictable outrage from well-organized African American groups, but will not necessarily lead to disqualification if the politician can successfully deny of distance him or herself from them. The Bush campaign's assault on John McCain during the 2000 South Carolina primary comes to mind.

And yet, bigotry directed at the secular and GLBT communities is not only acceptable but appears to be an intentional part (some would even say a central part) in the campaign strategies of many Republicans.

John McCain, who had previously referred to Jerry Falwell as an "agent of intolerance," received considerable praise for his 2007 statement that America needs a Christian president. His campaign, floundering at the time, has rebounded well. At the time he made this statement, the blogosphere erupted, but the mainstream media did not see a big story.

Mitt Romney linked religion and freedom and demonstrated his ignorance of the Constitution in a prominent speech. The implication, clear to those who watched or read the speech was that atheists did not deserve the same sort of freedoms reserved for religious Americans. Romney's anti-atheist bigotry was clearly on display. Again, this did not end up being the huge story it should have been. This strikes me as quite revealing about how the mainstream media views atheists.

And here in 2008, we have Mike Huckabee calling for a Christian theocracy, denying evolution (video), and comparing homosexuality to bestiality. He has a long track record of theocratic statements, so this does not appear to involve a recent strategy. Where is the media outrage? Here we have a man running for President who actually opposes the very Constitution he would be asked to defend! From the manner in which the mainstream media has covered him, I'd have to conclude that they either agree or are so afraid to engage in what could be perceived as criticism of Christian extremism that they refuse to expose this important story.

It is time for Americans to ask ourselves whether bigotry is a characteristic we desire in our leaders. If not, it is our responsibility to speak out. Clearly, the corporate-owned media on which we depend is not going to do it for us.

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