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 27, 2014 -- Updated 0127 GMT (0927 HKT)
The ability to manipulate media and technology has increasingly become a critical strategic resource, says Jeff Yang.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1617 GMT (0017 HKT)
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 2327 GMT (0727 HKT)
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
December 25, 2014 -- Updated 0633 GMT (1433 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT