Bush to Northeast: “Drop Dead”
Fantasyland, October 25, 2004 – Today John Kerry opened up a new line of attack on President Bush, charging that his policies and positions are a product of Texas, a state whose political culture lies far outside the American mainstream. “The former governor of Texas has governed like, well, like a former governor of Texas,” said Kerry to the laughs and hoots of the crowd. “He’s so far out on the right wing, he fell off the plane.”
Kerry also brought up Tom DeLay, the ultra-conservative congressman from the Lone Star state. “George Bush makes Tom DeLay look like a Texas moderate!”
The new line of attack came as an independent liberal group began airing a new ad in which an elderly couple says, “George Bush should take his NASCAR-loving, tobacco-chewing, trailer-park-living, redneck freak show back to Texas, where it belongs.”
Of course, we’ve never seen a story like this one – like all Democrats, John Kerry knows that if he criticized one state or one region of the country, the press and the Republicans would come down on him like a ton of bricks, charging him with being a Northeastern elitist who doesn’t want to be the president of all Americans.
But the rules are different on the other side of the aisle. In today’s politics, it is acceptable for Republicans to traffic in ugly stereotypes and assert outright that people who come from some areas of America are not really American. Some might remember the ad to which I referred, aired by the conservative Club for Growth, which said, “Howard Dean should take his tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading, body-piercing, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show back to Vermont, where it belongs.”
And now George W. Bush has gone on the offensive against the Bay State. To hear him tell it, Massachusetts is not a state now on its fourth Republican governor in a row or one with one of the lowest tax burdens in the country, as theBoston Globe recently reported, but some sort of Sodom on the Bay, with 90% tax rates, mandatory Wicca ceremonies in public schools, and an anarcho-syndicalist majority in the state legislature. How could “real” Americans be expected to accept a candidate from such a place?
Bush is hardly the first Republican to use this attack; when the DNC decided to hold its convention in Boston, former House Majority Leader Dick Armey said, “If I were a Democrat, I suspect I’d feel a heck of a lot more comfortable in Boston than, say, America.”
But Bush has added new gusto to the assault. His stump speech now includes a joke attacking Kerry, delivered identically to every audience: “In 20 years as a senator from Massachusetts, he has built a record of – [pause for comedic effect] – of a senator from Massachusetts.” This is greeted with loud guffaws from the crowd of true believers. When he’s in the West, Bush will say, “My opponent says he’s in touch with the West, but sometimes I think he means Western Massachusetts.” If he’s criticizing Kerry’s spending proposals, he’ll say, “His spending promises will cost about four times that much, more than $2.2 trillion. That’s with a ‘T.’ That’s a lot even for somebody from Massachusetts.”
Why does Bush get away with this? Because the press corps buys the Republican argument that the areas of the country where there are lots of Republicans are “really” American, and the areas of the country where there are lots of Democrats aren’t. So they never asked whether the fact that Bush was a “Texas conservative” would hurt him, while they constantly wonder about how damaging it is that Kerry is a “Massachusetts liberal.” Disparage Texas – or Alabama, or Mississippi, or Kansas – and you’re in for a heap of trouble. Throw insults at Massachusetts or California or New York, and the press will laugh right along.
Are there people in the South who have trouble relating to someone from Massachusetts? Sure. But there are just as many people – maybe more – who live in the Democratic strongholds in the Northeast and West who have trouble relating to Southerners. But as far as the media are concerned, in both cases that’s a “problem” not for the Southerners but for the Northerners.
But this will in coming years become very much the GOP’s problem. At this point, it’s hard to imagine them nominating someone for president who doesn’thail from the Old Confederacy, given the current makeup of their party and the relative power of the factions within it. As they become increasingly isolated geographically, more and more Americans will see the Republicans as the alien group that doesn’t understand their lives.
The “Massachusetts liberal” attack still has some gas left in it, and it’s one Bush almost has no choice but to wield. Without much to brag about, without positions that garner majority support, as he comes to the home stretch Bush plays his only remaining card: Kerry is a weird guy from a weird place with weird values – for all we know, he may even hate America (and if you listen to Dick Cheney, a Kerry victory would swiftly be followed by Armageddon – though this notion might lead a few end-timers to vote Democratic to hasten the coming of Jesus’ thousand-year reign).
But wouldn’t it be refreshing to hear Kerry stand up and say something like, “Mr. President, I’ve had it with you insulting my home state. Why don’t you try saying it to my face? Then we’ll see what you have to say when I knock you on your phony Texas ass.”