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The New McCarthyism... in Michigan

Fasten your seat belts. We are in for another three and a half months in which President Obama and his surrogates will try to make us believe that Mitt Romney’s main goal is destroy the middle class and outsource every last American job to China.

Meanwhile, the Romney forces will try to make us think that President Obama is totally incompetent and single-handedly responsible for the long recession.

Hyperbole and exaggeration have been how campaigns have been conducted since George Washington’s time. But what has been taboo is reckless, vicious and false character assassination. We did have one very infamous practitioner of that kind of politics - Senator Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin, whose name we now use to define them. Back in the early 1950s, McCarthy destroyed lives, careers and reputations by recklessly accusing people of being Communists without the faintest shred of evidence.

Much of the nation was in a grip of terror. Eventually, McCarthy was stripped of his powers and soon drank himself to death. Ever since, there’s been agreement that there was such a thing as too far.

Until now, that is. A form of new McCarthyism has been growing across this nation and this state ever since President Obama was elected. My theory is that this was inspired by racism. There are millions who just can’t stomach that we have a black president.

Somehow, they feel, he has to be illegitimate. Usually, this has taken the form of saying his birth certificate was phony, though it clearly isn’t. Yesterday, however, there was a shocking new development, right here in Michigan. State Representative David Agema has long been out there on the far right.

He went off the deep end; he asserted that President Obama was a Muslim. Someone posted a video that showed the President appearing to compliment the spiritual side of Islam.

“That explains it all. He is a Muslim,” Agema said, and he wasn’t kidding. Until now, Agema’s biggest claim to fame has been deserting the legislature during a key budget debate to go sheep hunting in Siberia.

But now, the former airline pilot has topped even that.

Agema also added, “I disagree that Islam is a religion of peace. Just about every terrorist is a Muslim.”

Well, I am sure that would come as news to Timothy McVeigh or the Irish Republican Army, but there’s no evidence Agema has any interest in the truth; McCarthy didn’t either.

This comes during the same week in which Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann accused a highly respected state department official, Michigan native Huma Abedin, of trying to “destroy Western civilization from within,“ apparently by infiltrating agents of the Muslim Brotherhood into the government.

Bachmann was immediately denounced by a number of top Republicans, including John McCain and the Speaker of the House. The bad news is that not only have Michigan Republicans failed to denounce Agema, they recently elected him to the Republican National Committee. His party needs to repudiate his smears and strip him of that post.

Otherwise, they are headed down a slippery slope that could end with the destruction of civil society. Whether we allow that to happen is not just up to them, but to all of us.    

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Political Analyst.  Views expressed by Jack Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, the University of Michigan.