A good sign that the Wall Street protests that have sprung up in New York and across the country have hit a nerve in the Republican Party? They’re playing the anti-American card. People on the right—ranging from Michael Bloomberg and Peter King to Herman Cain and Eric Cantor and Newt Gingrich—have been rolling out the ‘class warfare’, ‘anti-American’, ‘they want to kill jobs’ baloney. The surest sign of a weak argument is resorting to this kind of language.
Sadly, it must work, because it is a tactic wielded with frighteningly frequency by the electorally-successful Republican Party. It is the weapon that did in John Kerry, which defamed Barack Obama, and which is thrown in the face of anyone who disagrees with the economic and social dogma of the Republican Party.
Some recent polls say that Herman Cain is a candidate to be taken seriously. His mouth says otherwise, and it’s been running overtime over the last few days. The LA Times writes that he called “the protesters ‘jealous’ Americans who ‘play the victim card’ and want to ‘take somebody else’s Cadillac”. He also used the “anti-American” term, putting him down in the gutter alongside Eric Cantor who expressed worry about “growing mobs”.
It would never occur to me to describe anyone I know or have met as anti-American. I’m not sure whether that’s because I don’t know what the term means, because it’s absurd to suggest that there’s only room for people who have one viewpoint to express themselves in our country, because being ‘American’ is not my primary identity, or because if people like Cain and Cantor get to define what it means to be American, I want no part of it at all.
It could also be because anyone who respects free-thinking, debate, and basic rights of expression undoubtedly sees the ‘anti-American’ card for what it is: outright censorship. It is designed to work as a smear, to immediately push a particular point of view out-of-bounds.
Sadly, some in the Democratic Party and on the left have begun to use this approach, having learnt from past defeats that they must not let the Right do all of the defining. They’ve called it ‘patriotic’ to pay taxes, assumed that all members of the ‘Tea Party’ are racist, sought to suggest that there is only a single ‘American vision’ or ‘way’ as Obama has done in recent speeches, and have looked for other ways to limit the terms of the debate.
What protesters are doing on Wall Street and across the country is courageous. They, not entirely unlike the Tea Party, although in a less exclusionary, more positive manner, are practising the politics of the politically disenfranchised...the politics of all people in all places in all times who are pushed—by money, by violence, by the re-writing of the rules—out of the formal political sphere.
The suffragettes waged this fight, as did civil rights activists, the anti-apartheid movement, environmentalists and labour movements. All have made our society and world more just and more equal. There is nothing ‘American’ or ‘Anti-American’ about any of these struggles. They are decent they are motivated by a desire for equality, for treating people, land and the planet well. They deserve our support.