Bigotry Charges Haunt Iowa Caucuses

As Republican voters in Iowa prepare to caucus, bigotry charges fly.

As Republican presidential candidates make their final pitches to the 41 percent of “likely caucusgoers” who are still undecided, charges of bigotry are flying. Here’s a breakdown:

Evangelicals Oppose Romney’s Faith; He Opposes Dream Act

Republican front-runner Mitt Romney faces prejudice in Iowa from evangelicals who are “suspicious” of his Mormon faith, The Washington Post reports, and Romney himself risks alienating Latino voters with his promise to veto the Dream Act for everyone except those who serve in the military. The act would conditionally allow undocumented immigrants who entered the country under the age of 16 to be eligible for legal status.

Santorum Opposes Gays; Journalist Opposes Him and the ‘Jesus Freaks’ Who Support Him

Meanwhile, social conservatives are rallying behind former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, even disillusioned ones like Chris La Tondresse, founder and CEO of an organization called Recovering Evangelical. In a column at CNN.com, La Tondresse said “there’s no questioning Santorum’s social conservative bona fides,” but “more than any other Republican candidate (and even more than some Democrats), Santorum speaks openly and passionately about his concern for poor and vulnerable people in the U.S. and around the world.”

David Brooks concurred at The New York Times, saying the working class raised Santorum “goes out of his way in his speeches to pick fights with the ‘supply-siders,'” “scorns the Wall Street bailouts,” and couches his economic arguments as “values arguments” that root “long-term competitiveness” in strong families and “wholesome communities.”

This is where Santorum gets in trouble with folks like Michelangelo Signorile, editor-at-large for The Huffington Post’s Gay Voices channel. Signorile said Santorum, who opposes same-sex marriage, wants to “forcibly” break up those marriages, giving “‘special privileges’ to people based on sexual orientation.” And, at Buzzfeed, Andrew Kaczynski reminds readers that in January 2011, Santorum said President Obama should oppose abortion because he is black.

Ron Paul Opposes the Civil Rights Act, Can’t Escape Racist Newsletters

The bigotry discussion that has dominated the race lately, however, is all about U.S. Congressman Ron Paul—specifically his opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and his connection to racist newsletters published under his byline in the 1980s and 1990s.

At Salon, Michael Lind succinctly said that “by equating the Civil Rights Act, which expanded American civil liberty, with the Patriot Act, which reduced it, on the grounds that both are federal laws with sanctions, Ron Paul displays the moral idiocy of someone who declares that a person who pushes a little old lady out of the path of a bus is just as bad as a person who pushes a little old lady into the path of a bus, because both are equally guilty of pushing little old ladies around.”

“It certainly is possible that Ron Paul never read [the] publications produced in his own name, just as it’s possible to sincerely believe that the Civil Rights Act destroyed personal liberties, and it’s possible to sincerely believe that if you are going to vote, you should be able to read the names of the candidates, or that Lincoln destroyed the original values of the republic. But it’s also true that those beliefs have long been used to shield more odious ones,” said Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic.

Calling Out the Watchdogs?

Finally, while The Week offered five theories as to why the Iowa caucuses are important, New York Times columnist Gail Collins said they’re not. “On Tuesday, there will be a contest to select the preferred candidate of a small group of people who are older, wealthier and whiter than American voters in general, and more politically extreme than the average Iowa Republican,” said Collins, with nary a hint of bias.

Perhaps she should read Get Religion, where media critic Mollie Hemmingway turned the spotlight back on journalists by excoriating University of Iowa journalism professor Stephen G. Bloom for writing an apparent diatribe in The Atlantic that allegedly characterized Iowans as “uneducated Jesus freaks.” Hemmingway reported that both Columbia Journalism Review and The Associated Press also came down heavy on Bloom and The Atlantic.

What Do You Think?

Is bigotry an important issue in the 2012 race or is it a distraction?

About the author, Christine A. Scheller

Christine A. Scheller is a widely published journalist and essayist, and an editor-at-large at UrbanFaith. She lives with her husband at the Jersey Shore and in Washington, DC, where she helps facilitate dialogue between scientific and religious communities.
  1. I think the most important issue is not bigotry, but how the American people can be manipulated by charges of racism and bigotry. This will blind many to what the real issues are about. What really gets to me about all these charges is the fact that real racism and bigotry will be ignored because folks are tired of the false charges made in the name of winning a political race.