This story originally appeared at TomDispatch.com
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Here in Washington, everyone, it seems, has an idea about how to solve Washington’s debt drama. Many Democrats, including the White House, want a “balanced” deal, a $4-trillion grab-bag that mixes spending cuts and new revenues achieved through closing tax loopholes or ending tax breaks. Top Republicans in Congress want all cuts and no tax hikes, while the GOP’s Tea Party wing in the House of Representatives opposes raising the nation’s $14.3-trillion debt ceiling at all, seeing default and economic catastrophe as the chosen path to an American reckoning for a profligate government.
There’s one group, however, we’ve heard little from: Republican presidential candidates. When they’ve spoken up at all, Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich, and the rest have largely ducked, hewing to the party line on the policy battle gripping the nation’s capital. Only Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN), the flame-throwing leader of Congress’s Tea Party caucus, has loudly rejected any debt ceiling increase unless Democrats agree to a Christmas-in-July deal that would slash spending to the bone and repeal President Obama’s health insurance reform bill. Godspeed, Michele.
Presidential candidates live and die by polling data, and so it’s not surprising they’ve been relatively mum on the debt talks. After all, majorities of Americans in multiple polls support a mix of spending cuts and tax increases (and oppose any meddling with the Social Security system, Medicare, or Medicaid). A GOP candidate who stumped for tax increases in a red-hot state like Iowa could count on kissing his White House dreams goodbye, but going too strongly on the record against revenue raising could be unhealthy in a race against President Obama next year.
On the other hand, Muslim-bashing as a campaign tactic is an absolute no-brainer, a surefire way to win over the far right, get attention, and triumph in elections — or is it? Sometimes, common knowledge is so common that no one bothers to check it out, and sometimes it’s wrong. So prepare yourself for a surprise when, alone among his journalistic peers, TomDispatch regular Stephan Salisbury explores just how effective railing against Islam has actually been in past election campaigns and the role it might play in 2012. (To catch Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Salisbury discusses the changing feelings of Americans regarding Muslims and Islam in the context of the 2012 election, click here, or download it to your iPod here.) Andy Kroll
Islam-Baiting Doesn’t Work
It Failed in Campaign 2010 and Will Do Worse in 2012
By Stephan Salisbury
During the 2010 midterm election campaign, virtually every hard-charging candidate on the far right took a moment to trash a Muslim, a mosque, or Islamic pieties. In the wake of those elections, with 85 new Republican House members and a surging Tea Party movement, the political virtues of anti-Muslim rhetoric as a means of rousing voters and alarming the general electorate have gone largely unchallenged. It has become an article of faith that a successful 2010 candidate on the right should treat Islam with revulsion, drawing a line between America the Beautiful and the destructive impurities of Islamic cultists and radicals.
“Americans are learning what Europeans have known for years: Islam-bashing wins votes,” wrote journalist Michael Scott Moore in the wake of the 2010 election. His assumption was shared by many then and is still widely accepted today.
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