Republicans are finally learning that if you call Americans “un-American,” Americans won’t like you.
Minnesota Rep. Michele BachmannMichele Bachmann'Real Housewives' producer 'begging' Conway to join cast Ex-rep admires furs amid PETA inaugural gala Why Republicans took aim at an ethics watchdog MORE (R) had no idea what she’d unleash after grinning at “Hardball” host Chris Matthews Friday and saying, “I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out: Are they pro-America or anti-America? I think people would love to see an exposé like that.”
The smear exploded just hours after Sarah Palin, at a North Carolina fundraiser, said, “We believe that the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit, and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America, being here with all of you hardworking, very patriotic, um, very, um, pro-America areas of this great nation.”
In the past, this kind of paint-by-numbers divisiveness might have cowed Democrats. But after years of being labeled unpatriotic for having the temerity to oppose the misguided war in Iraq (we were right) or George Bush’s economic stewardship (we were right), Americans on the center-left have had enough.
Palin’s comments immediately became fodder for anti-McCain efforts, but the McCain campaign is already in a death spiral. Bachmann, on the other hand, appeared to be cruising to reelection, far better-funded and better-known than Democratic opponent Elwin Tinklenberg. Yet with the video of her hateful invective zooming around the Web at breakneck speed, activists finally had a positive way to fight back against Bachmann’s McCarthyist politics of division.
With virtually no organizational prompting, donors flooded the Tinklenberg campaign with $450,000 in the 24 hours following Bachmann’s ill-advised cable appearance, and over $800,000 72 hours later. The Democrat, who’d previously raised $1 million over his entire campaign, nearly doubled his fundraising over a single weekend. House Democrats piled on with a new $1 million expenditure in Bachmann’s district.
In the face of this backlash, even Republicans were forced to respond. Colin Powell, fresh off his news-making endorsement of Democratic presidential nominee Barack ObamaBarack ObamaDem rep: Nunes ‘betrayed’ Intelligence panel’s independence Why Trump should support CBC priority Trump defends several unsubstantiated claims in interview MORE, strongly and specifically condemned Bachmann’s remarks. “[W]e have got to say to the world, it doesn’t make any difference who you are or what you are, if you’re an American, you’re an American,” he said, explaining his presidential endorsement. “And this business, for example, of the congressman [sic] from Minnesota who’s going around saying, ‘Let’s examine all congressmen to see who is pro-America or not pro-America’ — we have got to stop this kind of nonsense, pull ourselves together and remember that our great strength is in our unity and in our diversity.”
As if that weren’t enough, Bachmann’s Republican primary opponent announced a write-in campaign aimed at Republicans disaffected by her extremism. Heck, even Palin joined in the denunciations: “I would think that anybody running and wanting to serve in Congress is quite pro-American because that’s what the mission is, to better this country, so I would question the intent of that.”
But Bachmann isn’t a lone kook questioning her opponents’ patriotic bona fides. When the very top of the GOP ticket is writing off entire regions of the country as not “pro-American,” we are facing a far more troubling — and systemic — problem.
On Monday, at a McCain rally in North Carolina held after Bachmann’s implosion, embattled Rep. Robin Hayes (R) declared, “Liberals hate real Americans that work and achieve and believe in God.”
Such rhetoric once worked. But people have witnessed the results when they give in to such divisiveness instead of attending to governance: endless war and economic upheaval. At last, it appears progressives have learned how to fight back.
Moulitsas is founder and publisher of Daily Kos .