Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Shame on Democrats for race-baiting

By Ruben Navarrette Jr., CNN Contributor
March 7, 2013 -- Updated 1316 GMT (2116 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ruben Navarrette: Democrats borrow the GOP's playbook of nativist shenanigans
  • Navarrette: A progressive super PAC attacks Elaine Chao, wife of Sen. Mitch McConnell
  • He says the group resorted to anti-Chinese fears to stir resentment against McConnell
  • Navarrette: When Democrats do such things, they lose the moral ground to criticize Republicans

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette.

San Diego (CNN) -- Did you think the Republican Party had cornered the market on racism, nativism and ethnic demagoguery? If so, think again.

That is the GOP's modus operandi when it comes to the immigration issue. In an ugly trend that started in the Southwest in the 1990s but has now moved on to the South and Midwest, Republicans have learned to scare up votes by exploiting fear of changing demographics and the anxiety that many Americans have about an "invasion" of illegal immigrants across the U.S.-Mexico border.

But this fear of foreigners has proven just effective enough that Democrats are now borrowing the GOP's playbook to advance their own causes.

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

Here's the difference: The voters who fear-mongering Democrats want to manipulate aren't so much afraid of what worries many conservatives -- that immigrants are supposedly lowering our standard of living, changing the country's complexion and weakening our sense of national identity. They're more afraid that foreign workers -- either here in the United States or even in their home countries -- are going to take their jobs, lower wages, or prove so attractive to companies and factories that jobs go overseas.

In other words, the fears aren't cultural; they're economic. But the way that Democrats exploit those fears is still the same: racism, nativism and ethnic demagoguery.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Which takes us to Kentucky, where a super PAC allied with Democrats recently took the low road in attacking its No. 1 Republican target: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

In a juvenile and insulting display, Progress Kentucky recently resorted to anti-Chinese fear mongering to stir public resentment against McConnell. The goal might be to soften up the Republican a bit before his 2014 re-election campaign, where he could find himself running against Hollywood actress Ashley Judd.

Politics is about finding your opponent's soft spot and then pounding away at it like Joe Frazier. Progress Kentucky thinks that McConnell's soft spot is that he has -- gasp! -- an Asian-American wife, who happens to be former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao.

The group has been pounding away at this absurd idea that McConnell's wife's ethnic heritage (Chao was born in Taiwan and came to the United States with her family when she was 8 years old) has led him to support outsourcing jobs to -- wait for it, wait for it -- China.

In a February 14 tweet that was "re-tweeted" several times, Progress Kentucky said this about Chao:

"This woman has the ear of @mcconnellpress -- she's his #wife. May explain why your job moved to #China!"

Not really. You want an explanation for why your job went to China -- or for that matter, India, Pakistan, Brazil or some other country? Fine. How about the fact that powerful unions have driven up wages and benefits and pension plans to the point where they've placed many U.S. workers out of the market and made foreign labor more attractive in comparison?

Tweet that, pal.

Other anti-China tweets from Progress Kentucky included:

"@mcconnellpress Mitch and his $$$ have VERY strong ties to #China (that place your job moved to)"

"I think you'd have to go to NY NJ TX & China to find the people #MitchMcConnell represents! @mcconnellpress"

"Is #MitchMcConnell too close to China? Dissident Wu 'very surprised' at Chao pick po.st/v4qoi7 via @worldnetdaily.com"

"China Premier grateful to McConnell father-in-law/@kygop contributor-4 his role in developing China industry ow.ly/i2Qjv #kyga13"

Characterizing the Twitter messages as "racial slurs" and "the ultimate outrage," McConnell quickly came to his wife's defense -- and his own.

"They will not get away with attacking my wife in this campaign," he said. "Elaine Chao is just as much an American as any of the rest of them. In fact, she had to go through a lot more to become an American."

Earlier, Jesse Benton, campaign manager of McConnell's re-election campaign, accused Progress Kentucky of "race-baiting" and said the people responsible ought to be fired and should "really be ashamed.

Oh yes, they absolutely should be ashamed. When Democrats do things like this, they lose the moral ground to criticize Republicans the next time. They also tell the rest of us that maybe that outrage they claimed to feel when criticizing Republicans for similar tactics wasn't all that authentic.

You know who did come off as authentic and admirable in all this? Judd. As someone who seems more and more interested in challenging McConnell in 2014, she wasted no time in condemning the attack. Judd tweeted:

"Whatever the intention, whatever the venue, whomever the person, attacks or comments on anyone's ethnicity are wrong & patently unacceptable."

She's right. Good for her for saying so. But the intention of Progress Kentucky is quite clear -- to paint Chao as un-American and her husband to be under her influence.

After initially trying to downplay the whole affair and denying any intent at "race-baiting," Progress Kentucky eventually had to swallow its medicine and apologize. But, juvenile to the end, the group didn't apologize to McConnell, who was after all the subject of the attack. In a statement posted online, Executive Director Shawn Reilly apologized only to Chao for what he called an "unnecessary comment."

Speaking of medicine, let's hope now that Republicans have had a strong dose of their own, and having been subjected to this line of attack, they've learned a lesson and will think twice before engaging in nativist shenanigans in the immigration debate.

I know. That won't happen. But we can hope.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette Jr.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2108 GMT (0508 HKT)
The NFL's new Player Conduct Policy was a missed chance to get serious about domestic violence, says Mel Robbins.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 2253 GMT (0653 HKT)
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Rip Rapson says the city's 'Grand Bargain' saved pensions and a world class art collection by pulling varied stakeholders together, setting civic priorities and thinking outside the box
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2310 GMT (0710 HKT)
Glenn Schwartz says the airing of the company's embarrassing emails might wake us up to the usefulness of talking in-person instead of electronically
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2233 GMT (0633 HKT)
The computer glitch that disrupted air traffic over the U.K. on Friday was a nuisance, but not dangerous, says Les Abend
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the CBO didn't provide an accurate picture of Obamacare's impact, so why rehire its boss?
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 0040 GMT (0840 HKT)
Russian aggression has made it clear Ukraine must rethink its security plans, says Olexander Motsyk, Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 0046 GMT (0846 HKT)
The Senate committee report on torture has highlighted partisan divisions on CIA methods, says Will Marshall. Republicans and Democrats are to blame.
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1833 GMT (0233 HKT)
It would be dishonest to say that 2014 has been a good year for women. But that hasn't stopped some standing out, says Frida Ghitis.
ADVERTISEMENT