Written for the opinion page of the Holland Sentinel, the newspaper of Holland, Michigan.
Perhaps I should just keep my mouth shut. I intend to question Republican senatorial candidate Pete Hoekstra’s approach to media, debate, and us, but in so doing, I may end up furthering his scheme to arouse, distract and sideline.
His Super Bowl ad has, after all, proven incredible. With just thirty seconds of football fanfare, Hoekstra has won over a million online views; the recognition of activists, community leaders, and politicians; coverage in national media; coverage in this newspaper; and commentary that I continue here.
To be sure, much of this commentary charges Hoekstra with pushing xenophobia. But has he really minded?
In his ad, a Chinese woman performs a script of pidgin English, inflaming a line of fears over foreign competition that Democrats and Republicans have long kept festering but contained. Mistaken though this provocation may be, one can hardly believe it an accident — not given that Hoekstra, himself a political veteran, made his ad with established California media strategist Fred Davis. Hoekstra in fact acknowledged that he anticipated the present controversy in a Monday interview with Fox’s Megyn Kelly, saying, “We expected it.”
I don’t mean to condemn all efforts to spark controversy. Begun earnestly, controversy can push us to discuss our differing views, yielding collective realization and progress. But by deliberately rubbing less-than-relevant sores, Hoekstra has sidetracked the discussion he wants about spending and the discussion we need about responsibility.
Instead, Hoekstra has seized a profoundly pessimistic conception of us, his electorate. This conception, more than possible xenophobia or steryotype, should devastate us, for it holds that we do not actively seek to learn about our democracy. Rather, we let messages wander to our preoccupied minds, retaining only the most flagrant.
Thus the Chinese actress’s predictably controversial language. Thus the distillation of two complex platforms into a pair of three-syllable epithets: Debbie “SpendItNow,” Pete “SpendItNot.”
Hoekstra hopes that these bites, reiterated here and in all manner of media, will remind us that he’s running long after we forget how he’s doing it.
Meanwhile, Hoekstra has promised a positive campaign against the other Republicans seeking to challenge Debbie Stabenow. His actual approach—neglect—aims to secure our votes through our ignorance. It is, after all, hard for us to support Scotty Boman, Clark Durant, Gary Glenn, Randy Hekman, Peter Konetchy, Chuck Marino or Rick Wilson if we don’t know they exist. And Hoekstra hardly expects us to inform ourselves of our options.
We have a few months before elections — just enough time to prove to Hoekstra and his “experts” that when we decide to control our understanding of politics, not all publicity is good publicity.
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