Last week I had occasion to mention the famous author Upton Sinclair, and his now-forgotten campaign for governor of California in 1934. Afterwards, a friend told me, “I’ll bet that’s the last time you bring that up for about ten years.“
More likely, 20, I thought. Well, guess what. Here we go again. The reason I mentioned Sinclair was that his campaign was one of the first examples of moneyed interests spending lavishly to destroy a candidacy with outrageously false advertising, something we‘ve seen happen many times since.
What I believed, however, is that things had gotten better in one way. The campaign against Sinclair was big on ethnic slurs. In one commercial shown along with the newsreels, a dirty, disheveled man with a Bolshevik-style beard and a thick phony Russian accent is allegedly interviewed at random.
“I am for See-n-clair,“ he rasps. “His system vorked vell in Russia. Vy shouldn’t it vork here?” Well, at least we’re beyond that sort of thing, I would have thought last week.
Yesterday, Pete Hoekstra, the leading Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, ran an ad during the Superbowl which was a disgrace. It begins with a gong and faux oriental music, and shows a pretty Chinese girl riding a bicycle down a path between rice paddies.
The girl stops her bike, smiles devilishly, and begins speaking pidgin English. “Thank you, Michigan Senator Debbie Spend-it-now,“ she chirps. “Debbie spend so much your economy get very weak. Ours get very good.. You borrow more and more from us. We take your jobs. Thank you, Senator Debbie.”
I have to say I was astonished by the cheap and crude stupidity of this ad. Stabenow can ironically take comfort in the fact that apparently she has gained awesome new powers in the eyes of the Republicans. For the last ten years, they’ve been complaining that she was weak and ineffectual. Now, she is evidently capable of single-handedly revitalizing the Chinese economy. After the ad ran, I got an unsolicited e-mail from Tom Watkins, the former state superintendent of schools. These days, he is a business and education consultant working to build ties with China. “Pete Hoekstra should be ashamed. Even in the rough and tumble worlds of politics, there should be no room for xenophobia and racism,“ he said.
China is, like it or not, a fast-rising economic power. Apart from the cheap racism, Hoekstra is acting much like a politician he probably would prefer not to be identified with, Jennifer Granholm.
She attempted to win votes by bashing those who, she said, “shipped jobs to China.” Never once did she visit the world’s largest nation while she was governor. Ohio‘s leaders were smarter.
Today, Chinese investors are pouring millions into Toledo, just across our border. Our state is getting diddley-squat.
Watkins said it best: Our politicians need to “stop using China for division and subtraction and start developing a plan to assure that China’s rise results in addition and multiplication of jobs in Michigan.”
In other words, Pete, it’s time to grow up.