U.S. Senate hopeful (R) Pete Hoekstra aired a despicably racist television ad Sunday night featuring an anonymously Asian woman who, in broken English, celebrates the destruction of the Michigan economy – supposedly as a result of the economic policies of (D) Debbie Stabenow – to the benefit of an anonymously Asian economy.
The response to the ad ranges from tepid to disgusted.
The disgusted included GOP commissioner of Washtenaw County Alicia Ping, and GOP consultant Nick DeLeeuw. Both DeLeeuw and Ping were clear in calling the ad ‘racist’ and ‘xenophobic.’
Counted among the tepid responses is Chairman of Michigan Democratic Party, Mark Brewer, who called the ad a “hypocritical attempt at a Hollywood-style makeover because the fact is, Pete spends a lot.”
Brewer, of course, misses the point. This is perhaps attributable to the fact that he is not unfamiliar with the use of race-baiting tactics to attack political opponents. As Politico notes, in the 2006 gubernatorial race Brewer “provided fortune cookies to reporters with messages that said GOP gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos ‘would outsource your jobs to China'” and developed an ad that “featured a loud gong and Chinese music.”
Not surprisingly, there are rabid apologists in the ranks of the GOP, including Governor Snyder’s former advisers. Take for example, the cynical defense offered by John Weaver. “Are we saying everybody in China only speaks Mandarin or perfect English? They’ve gained attention on the topic, which is vital,” Weaver said. “I think the Republican elites who — no offense — follow POLITICO aren’t going to affect the average voter in Michigan.”
Hoekstra and his staff have also gone out of their way to defend the campaign by means of pernicious distortions. Hoekstra’s spokesperson, for example, claimed: ‘The fact that a Chinese girl is speaking English is a testament to how they can compete with us, when an American boy of the same age speaking Mandarin is absolutely insane, or unthinkable right now.”
Despite the apparent consensus that the woman featured in the ad is Chinese and the economy discussed is the Chinese economy, there is nothing in the ad that indicates this other than the deployment of a few disgusting cultural and racial stereotypes.
Herein lies the destructiveness of the ad: Anyone deemed ‘Asian’ becomes the potential object of resentment and anger of the struggling Michigander Pete Hoekstra targets.
As Juan Cole dutifully reminds us, this kind of discrimination is not without historical precedent in the State of Michigan, and has even resulted in racially-motivated violence. In 1982 Chinese-American Vincent Chin was murdered by an out of work member of Chrysler management, Roger Ebens, who attributed his unemployment to competition with the Japanese auto industry.
The Washtenaw Community Action Team stands with those persons and organizations denouncing this ad as racist and destructive. We want to send the clear message that this ad is racist before it is disingenuous about Stabenaw’s record; it is racist before it is a ‘really, really, really, dumb’ campaign strategy (GOP National Consultant Mike Murphy); it is racist regardless of the motivation of members of the GOP who have attacked the ad.
It is racist. Full stop. And for that reason alone it is unacceptable and deplorable.