Talking to the Void

August 16, 2010 5:07 a.m.

Mark Halperin has a highly unusual and painfully quaint column today imploring the GOP not to demagogue the Mosque issue for votes in the mid-term election. The reason simply being that it’s not right. This is “your moment”, he writes and commends Republicans for having “restricted yourself as much as possible to an economic message, eschewing social issues and foreign policy as you try to establish contrasts for the electorate between your brand and the Obama-Pelosi-Reid record.”

What stands out most is not only Halperin’s general aping of Republican language but his seemingly genuine belief that there’s anyone there to appeal to. As Eric Cantor might say, C’mon. The institutional Republican party has fully (though with some notable and honorable exceptions) hoisted its sail to xenophobia and religious hatred. And as Halperin notes, at least for motivating their own voters, it’s simply good politics. This is not something anybody happened into.

I’ve given a lot of thought to how we’re going to cover this now that we’ve got our full complement of reporters back from vacation. And we have various ideas on particular questions that we’re going to dig into. But some of what’s required is simply to provide witness.

For most of us who are anything but quite young, we grew up in America where Islam, as a domestic social or cultural reality, was close to invisible. That doesn’t mean there weren’t any Muslims in the US. The fact that some of our most searing and for many of us some of our first experiences with Islam came in the form of a catastrophic terrorist attack by Islamic radicals creates a situation ripe for exploitation. And here we have it. We’re in a midst of a spasm of nativist panic and raw and raucous appeals to race and religious hatred. What effects this will have on the November election strikes me as not particularly relevant. What’s important is compiling some record of what’s afoot, some catalog for understanding in the future who was responsible and who was so willing to disgrace their country and their principles for cheap advantage.

(Ed.Note: Reading this post over again, while I believe Halperin’s take is naive and ignoring how much Republican elected officials have already made the decision to juice up and fan this fire, still the most important distinction today is between people who will stand up and say this is wrong and those who stand silent.)

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