Jul 24th 2012

Beyond Bachmann: A Challenge for the GOP

by James J. Zogby

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of Arab American Institute

During the past week Congresswoman Michele Bachmann was sternly rebuked by Senator John McCain and other GOP leaders for her attack against State Department official, Huma Abedin, and her call to investigate and root out other "Muslim extremists" who may hold sensitive posts in the U.S. government. But before we assume that the story is over, it is important to recall that this "bait and smear" campaign directed against Muslims and Arabs didn't start with the letters written and co-signed by Bachmann and her four colleagues. And it doesn't end there, either. The problem is older, bigger, and runs deeper.

This wasn't the first time Members of Congress instigated a "witch hunt" targeting American Muslims or Arab Americans in government. Just three years ago, Congresswoman Sue Myrick and three Republican colleagues called on the House of Representatives' Sergeant-at-Arms to investigate the presence of "Muslim extremists" working as Congressional staffers. And during the Bush Administration, Islamophobes tormented a number of Muslim American White House appointees: among them, Suheil Khan and Ali Tulbeh. Even anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, came under relentless attack for his efforts to encourage conservatives to reach out to the Muslim community. Many of these and other earlier attacks were all too often met with official silence, causing personal pain to those who were targeted and to others who feared that they too might be  suspect because of their religion or ethnicity.

There are two factors that made this most recent attack different. First, it appears that in picking on Abedin, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton's long-time aide, Bachmann and company took the "witch hunt" a step too far. Having been by Mrs. Clinton's side since her days as First Lady, Huma Abedin is known and deeply respected in Washington and beyond. During the past two decades, Abedin has been repeatedly vetted by the Secret Service, FBI, and CIA. That Bachmann would hurl bizarre charges and flimsy allegations at Abedin and her family suspecting them of "Muslim extremist" ties based on no hard evidence other than their faith and where they lived, was considered by many an outrage.

Other reasons that brought this situation to a boil were the person of Bachmann herself and the courage of one of her colleagues to challenge her. The sensation-seeking Congresswoman has often provoked the GOP leadership. Many were infuriated by the way she attempted to co-opt the grass roots "Tea Party" movement, by starting and then declaring herself head of the "Tea Party Caucus" in Congress and the harsh "slash and burn" attacks that characterized her quixotic presidential bid. In rejecting her attacks on Abedin, Bachmann's former campaign manager, Ed Rollins, a Reagan Administration official, echoed Senator McCain's description of Abedin as "an honorable woman, a dedicated American, and a loyal public servant.” At the same time, Rollins accused Bachmann of a "grievous lack of judgment and reckless behavior,” suggesting that, for her, such behavior has come to be expected.

Even with Huma Abedin's sterling character, and Bachmann's reckless and irritating penchant for show-boating, it took the challenge from Congressman Keith Ellison, the first Muslim to serve in Congress, to force the issue into the open. After all, the letters from Bachmann and company had been released a month ago and had been endorsed by the chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence. It was not until Ellison wrote his piece and several writers echoed his concern, prompting television shows to ask questions, that attention was paid to Bachmann's charges. This moved Senator McCain to act to defend Huma Abedin and to denounce Bachmann. And once McCain spoke, other GOP leaders and editorials in major daily newspapers quickly followed suit. In the end, the loony Members of Congress who co-signed the Bachmann letters were left stripped of supporters - save for crackpot fringe groups and real haters of Arabs and Muslims.

So far, so good. But before believing that the problem of Islamophobia has been solved, it is important to note that several underlying problems remain. The Center for Security Policy (CSP)- the group that was behind the Bachmann letters, and the earlier Myrick effort to investigate Congressional staff, and the attacks on Bush-era appointees and Norquist - is still spreading poisonous lies targeting American Muslims and Arab Americans and those who work with them. The CSP is a key element in what the Center for American Progress has termed the "Islamophobia Network.” They, and their companion organizations, are well-funded, with established ties in our law enforcement agencies, the conservative media, and some parts of the conservative movement. It is true that some groups, like the American Conservative Union have ostracized CPS, and some law enforcement agencies have begun to review their training programs to remove trainers and material originating from this "network.” But they have, over the years, done real damage. Thousands of law enforcement officials have been trained with their hate-filled material. Millions of Americans hear them frequently as commentators on right-wing TV and radio networks and programs. And as our polling demonstrates, their propaganda campaigns have fed a deep partisan divide on attitudes toward Islam, Arabs, and the Middle East, in general. In one poll we conducted a year and a half ago, we found that while 55% of Democrats had a favorable view of Muslims and 35% had an unfavorable view, among Republicans only 12% had a favorable view, with 85% holding an unfavorable view. This was part of the reason why several of the 2012 GOP presidential aspirants indulged in anti-Muslim demagoguery during the past primary - they were looking at the polls and playing to their "base.”

The bottom line is that, as important as it is it is to defend Huma Abedin or to rebuke Michele Bachmann, Sue Myrick, and their colleagues, this is not enough. We must commit to changing the way we talk about Islam and the Arab World, and our nation's Muslim and Arab communities and join Senator Scott Brown in making it clear that hate-filled personal attacks "have no place in our national discourse.” This is important, as Senator McCain observed, because "what is at stake in this matter is larger even than the reputation of one person. This is about who we are as a nation, and who we still aspire to be.” And for Republicans, this challenge is particularly important because, as Ed Rollins notes, the GOP is "the party founded by Abraham Lincoln...that fought slavery and intolerance at every level.”   



Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Apr 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Some presidents indulge in the “Mount Rushmore syndrome” making an obvious effort to achieve greatness. Normally soft-spoken and apparently modest Biden is making his own bid for immortality."
Apr 9th 2021
EXTRACT: "New ways of thinking about the role of government are as important as new priorities. Many commentators have framed Biden’s infrastructure plan as a return to big government. But the package is spread over eight years, will raise public spending by only one percentage point of GDP, and is projected to pay for itself eventually. A boost in public investment in infrastructure, the green transition, and job creation is long overdue."
Apr 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " One can, and perhaps should, take the optimistic view that moral panics in the US blow over; reason will once again prevail. It could be that the Biden era will take the sting out of Trumpism, and the tolerance for which American intellectual life has often been admired will be reinvigorated. This might even happen while the noxious effects of American influence still rage in other countries. For the sake of America and the world, one can only hope it happens soon.  "
Mar 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "By refusing (despite having some good reasons) to end electoral gerrymandering, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., has directly enabled the paralyzing hyper-partisanship that reached its nadir during Donald Trump’s presidency. By striking down all limits on corporate spending on political campaigns in the infamous 2010 Citizens United decision, he has helped to entrench dark money in US politics. And by gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, Roberts has facilitated the racist voter-suppression tactics now being pursued in many Republican-controlled states."
Mar 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "the UK’s tough choices accumulate, and the problems lurking around the corner look menacing. Britain will have to make the best of Brexit. But it will be a long, hard struggle, all the more so with an evasive fabulist in charge."
Mar 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "Over the years, the approach of most American policymakers toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been Israel-centric with near total disregard for the suffering endured by the Palestinian people. The architects of policy in successive US administrations have discussed the conflict as if the fate of only one party (Israel) really mattered. Israelis were treated as full human beings with hopes and fears, while Palestinians were reduced to a problem that needed to be solved so that Israelis could live in peace and security.  ..... It is not just that Israelis and Palestinians haven’t been viewed with an equal measure of concern. It’s worse than that. It appears that Palestinians were judged as less ​human than Israelis, and were, therefore, not entitled to make demands to have their rights recognized and protected."
Mar 8th 2021
EXTRACTS: "XThere’s a global shortage in semiconductors, and it’s becoming increasingly serious." ...... "The automotive sector has been worst affected by the drought, in an era where microchips now form the backbone of most cars. Ford is predicting a 20% slump in production and Tesla shut down its model 3 assembly line for two weeks. In the UK, Honda was forced to temporarily shut its plant as well." ..... " As much as 70% of the world’s semiconductors are manufactured by just two companies, Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC) and Samsung."
Mar 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Back in 1992, Lawrence H. Summers, then the chief economist at the World Bank, and I warned that pushing the US Federal Reserve’s annual inflation target down from 4% to 2% risked causing big problems. Not only was the 4% target not producing any discontent, but a 2% target would increase the risk of the Fed’s interest-rate policy hitting the zero lower bound. Our objections went unheeded. Fed Chair Alan Greenspan reduced the inflation target to 2%, and we have been paying for it ever since. I have long thought that many of our economic problems would go away if we could rejigger asset markets in such a way as to make a 5% federal funds rate consistent with full employment in the late stage of a business cycle."
Mar 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Under these conditions, the Fed is probably worried that markets will instantly crash if it takes away the punch bowl. And with the increase in public and private debt preventing the eventual monetary normalization, the likelihood of stagflation in the medium term – and a hard landing for asset markets and economies – continues to increase."
Mar 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Massive fiscal and monetary stimulus programs in the United States and other advanced economies are fueling a raging debate about whether higher inflation could be just around the corner. Ten-year US Treasury yields and mortgage rates are already climbing in anticipation that the US Federal Reserve – the de facto global central bank – will be forced to hike rates, potentially bursting asset-price bubbles around the world. But while markets are probably overstating short-term inflation risks for 2021, they do not yet fully appreciate the longer-term dangers."
Feb 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, calls to “build back better” from the pandemic imply some awareness of the need for systemic change. But the transformation we need extends beyond constructing modern infrastructure or unlocking private investment in any one country. We need to re-orient – indeed, re-invent – global politics, so that countries can cooperate far more effectively in creating a better world."
Feb 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "So, notwithstanding the predictable release of pent-up demand for consumer durables, face-to-face services show clear evidence – in terms of both consumer demand and employment – of permanent scarring. Consequently, with the snapback of pent-up demand for durables nearing its point of exhaustion, the recovery of the post-pandemic US economy is likely to fall well short of vaccine development’s “warp speed.” "
Feb 20th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human rights abuses under Erdogan are beyond the pale of inhumanity and moral decadence. The list of Erdogan’s violations and cruelty is too long to numerate. The detention and horrifying torture of thousands of innocent people for months and at times for years, without being charged, is hard to fathom. Many prisoners are left languishing in dark cells, often in solitary confinement. The detention of tens of thousands of men and hundreds of women, many with their children, especially following the 2016 failed coup, has become common. It is calculated to inflict horrendous pain and suffering to bring the prisoners to the breaking point, so that they confess to crimes they have never committed."
Feb 20th 2021
Courtyard of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, circa 1670, (Job Adriaenszoon Berckheyde).
Feb 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "Global regulators will no doubt be concerned about a potential volatility spillover from digital asset prices into traditional capital markets. They may not permit what could quickly amount to effective proxy approval by the back door for companies holding large proportions of a volatile asset on their balance sheets."
Feb 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Since Russians began protesting opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s imprisonment, the security forces have apparently had carte blanche to arrest demonstrators – and they have done so by the thousands. If Russians so much as honk their car horns in solidarity with the protesters, they risk personal repercussions. The official response to the protests goes beyond the Kremlin’s past repression. It is war."
Feb 6th 2021
EXTRACT: ".......like Biden, Roosevelt was certainly no revolutionary. His task was to save American capitalism. He was a repairer, a fixer. The New Deal was achieved not because of Roosevelt’s genius or heroism, but because enough people trusted him to act in good faith. That is precisely what people are expecting from Biden, too. He must save US democracy from the ravages of a political crisis. To do so, he must reestablish trust in the system. He has promised to make his country less polarized, and to restore civility and truth to political discourse. In this endeavor, his lack of charisma may turn out to be his greatest strength. For all that he lacks in grandeur, he makes up for by exuding an air of decency."
Feb 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Europe must not lose sight of the long game, which inevitably will center on China, not Russia or relations with post-Brexit Britain. China is already establishing a presence in Iran, and demonstrating that it has the capital, know-how, and technology to project power and influence beyond its borders. Should it succeed in turning the Belt and Road Initiative into a line of geopolitical stepping-stones, it might soon emerge at Europe’s southeastern border in a form that no one in the EU foresaw."
Jan 29th 2021
EXTRACT: "One sign of this change is that, unlike all recent Democratic administrations, Biden’s hasn’t paid obeisance to Wall Street by giving bankers top jobs. The new Secretary of the Treasury, Janet Yellen, is a former Federal Reserve chair and academic who has made it clear that she understands the country’s pressing social needs. Moreover, Biden consulted Warren on her economic views, and has named a former Warren adviser as Yellen’s deputy. Yellen’s appointment demonstrates that Biden shares the insight that enabled Trump’s rise: that too many Americans feel that they cannot get a fair share. "
Jan 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "Barack Obama cautioned in his final speech as president that, “Our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted.” Yet isn’t that exactly what America has been doing? In a decade punctuated by the global financial crisis, the COVID-19 crisis, a racial-justice crisis, an inequality crisis, and now a political crisis, we have only paid lip service to lofty democratic ideals. ... Sadly, this complacency has come at a time of growing fragility for the American experiment. Internet-enabled connectivity is dangerously amplifying an increasingly polarized national discourse in an era of mounting social and political instability. The resulting vulnerability was brought into painfully sharp focus on January 6. The stewardship of democracy is at grave risk. "