While Arizona has sparked the latest national furor over immigration policy, and Western Republican pols are dancing around the issue like it’s a bonfire (which, politically, it is), some of the most impressive and immediate repercussions have been in the Deep South, where conservatives are stampeding to express solidarity with the Arizona governor and legislature, and, in one case, to revive the English-Only chesnut [sic]. Why is that?
He cites some demographic figures indicating that while immigrant populations are relatively small in Deep South states like Alabama, they are visible enough to become an issue but not yet large enough to provide decisive majorities of Latino votes. This leaves Republican politicians a relatively cost-free issue in bashing immigrants. It's also a way for Republicans in primaries to address "the difficulty of finding ways for Republican candidates to distinguish themselves in an atmosphere of monolithic conservatism on most issues."
Meanwhile, Bob Somerby looking down from his lofty height in his Daily Howler post of 05/10/10 blasts yet another columnist for even raising the possibility - and pretty half-heartedly at that - of white racism being a factor in Tea Party militancy. Somerby would no doubt be outraged, too, at any suggestion that white racism plays any role whatsoever in these current campaigns cited by Kilgore:
At about the same time as James’ ad, another struggling Deep South gubernatorial candidate, former congressman Nathan Deal, was making support for an Arizona-style law in Georgia his signature issue. Deal is mired in third place in most polls, and is battling the bad aroma of ethics charges that helped speed his resignation from Congress earlier this year. His base region is the highly immigrant-sensitive North Georgia mountain area (which includes the aforementioned chicken-processing town of Gainesville, along with the heavily-Hispanic-staffed carpet industry), which also happens to be the most heavily Republican part of Georgia.
Deal’s gambit hasn’t spurred his rivals to follow suit just yet, but it's likely. Secretary of State Karen Handel, who's running just ahead of Deal in most assessments of the race, is famous for championing a tough, controversial voter ID law that was generally understood in Georgia to be aimed more at Hispanics than at the traditional target of Republican "voter fraud" alarms, African-Americans. With the entire field sounding monotonously similar on most national issues, and equally prone to indulge in Tea Party rhetoric about state sovereignty and even nullification, it's unlikely that Deal’s opponents will give him a monopoly on the immigration issue.
Arizona Fever has spread much more rapidly in South Carolina, where at the first GOP gubernatorial candidates’ forum after the Arizona law was enacted, all four candidates called for adoption of a similar law. The most distinctive note was sounded by Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, the man who created a national stir earlier this year for comparing beneficiaries of subsidized school lunches to “stray animals” who shouldn't be encouraged to eat (he later apologized for the “metaphor,” but not for the sentiment). Bauer took the opportunity to suggest that South Carolina wouldn't be a magnet for illegal immigrants if lazy welfare recipients were willing to work. [my emphasis]
Somerby is also quite impressed with a Tea Party candidate's victory at the Utah Republican Party convention this past weekend over sitting Republican Sen. Robert Bennett: "On Saturday, the Tea Party movement took its biggest scalp yet; that scalp belonged to a white Utah Mormon."
The experience of the last week suggests to Somerby only that the Tea Party is a "potent political movement." Which it could turn out to be. It's just that he is very selective in the information he uses to draw that conclusion.
Kilgore notes of xenophobic rhetoric among Southern Republicans, "there are no real negative consequences in the Deep South to offset the incentives for such rhetoric."
This is exactly why Democrats in the political arena, and anyone who is actually concerned about racism and xenophobia as actual problems, have a reason to raise issues about this kind of demagoguery. Democrats can raise the very valid points that Arizona-type laws leads to discriminatory racial profiling, that in practice they encourage discrimination against Latinos, and that they interfere with actual law enforcement by making Latinos reluctant to report crimes or cooperate with local law enforcement.
Democrats don't have to question the motivations of particular advocates of Arizona-type "papers please" laws. But they can make the clear point that supporters of such laws are supporting measures that encourage racial discrimination. If they are effective in doing so, that will give advocates of abusive, discriminatory laws some "real negative consequences." Among those consequences, some voters may decide that Republicans and Tea Partiers that support such laws may have motives as pure as driven snow, but that they don't have priorities that those voters find reassuring.