I received a lot of supportive feedback about my last post in which I criticized Gov. Mary Fallin for trying to boost her reelection campaign by generating collective anger towards the refugee children now housed at Fort Sill in Lawton.
Fallin’s campaign has started a petition drive that aims to force President Barack Obama to move the Central American children—most of whom are fleeing violence in countries such as Honduras and Nicaragua—from the federal facility in Oklahoma. The petition drive is superfluous. Its only purpose is to create anger among conservative Oklahoma voters and activate them to support Fallin, who has been sinking in the polls recently.
The children are part of a widely reported exodus of Central American young people seeking asylum and refuge in the U.S. They have been labeled “migrant” or “illegal aliens” by the media and right-wing here, but the reality is they’re political refugees and victims of botched U.S. international and immigration policies.
The Oklahoma governor’s message is clear and simple: We don’t want these children in Oklahoma. As I wrote, this is a craven message and really tests the limits of Oklahoma voters. Do they really have that much hate inside themselves that they would allow children to suffer and even die and revel in it? Fallin’s campaign is banking on it. It’s also banking on the fact that voters won’t look more deeply into the issue and note a policy enacted under former President George Bush has prevented the federal government from acting more quickly to resolve the issue. Blame Bush, not Obama.
Here are some more extended arguments about the issue:
(1) Both the Catholic Church and, more importantly for Oklahoma, some Southern Baptist Church leaders have come out in support of giving aid to the children and treating them humanely, but the local right-wing religious folks have been fairly silent on the issue. Fallin’s campaign ploy really sets a new low in arousing “group hate” against a group of vulnerable children. It sets an unbelievable precedent in hatred and cravenness. The fact that Southern Baptist Church leaders here, in particular, aren’t fully criticizing Fallin’s lack of compassion shows how craven this religious denomination—rooted in racism—has become at the local level.
(2) To extend the argument further, I think about all the sanctimonious Oklahoma people who make mission trips to impoverished countries, preaching their gospel and undoubtedly furthering the anti-abortion cause among people. But now that these brown-skinned people are in their home state in the U.S., the home-grown “missionaries” turn their backs on them and become red in the face with anger and indignation. These people simply lack moral compunction. Their religious beliefs are twisted and sordid.
(3) What about American “exceptionalism,” the right-wing canard? So our country is so exceptional that we’re going to deport children back to countries in which they face death and misery and impoverishment?
(4) The cliché is that Oklahomans are so nice, but what type of craven people would support a politician who agitates essentially for the mistreatment of children? What type of people would get some type of visceral thrill by mistreating children? Let’s be clear: Many, many Oklahomans are not “nice” at all in any traditional sense. They burn inside with hatred and spite. It’s the state’s shame, and the dirty little secret you won’t find on any state tourist brochure.
(5) Let’s also be clear about this: Fallin’s campaign ploy is racist. If these children were white, would there even be a question about helping them? Fallin’s attempt to agitate the hateful mob is rooted in the darker side of the American story, the racist story, the one coated over with euphemisms in our elementary-school textbooks.
Conservative politicians, of course, have a long history of whipping up anger among voters in order to get votes while deflecting attention way from issues that matter, such as income inequality. So there’s nothing really new here, with the exception that these are young children who need our help. Fallin may well reverse her slide in the polls, but let it be noted at the very least that doing so at the expense of vulnerable children is an ugly way to do so.
Gov. Mary Fallin’s attempt to make a group of impoverished refugee children fodder for her reelection will surely test the limits of the Oklahoma electorate’s cravenness and ignorance.
Fallin has been greeted with bad news recently when it comes to her reelection bid. First, SoonerPoll found that her approval rating has plummeted by approximately 20 points over the last year. Second, a Rasmussen poll shows she and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Joe Dorman are locked in a tight election with Fallin leading Dorman by a slim 45 percent to 40 percent edge. Until now, political pundits have considered Fallin, a state Republican who has never lost an election, virtually invincible in her reelection bid.
Fallin’s response to this bad news has appeared to be to distance herself from the draconian, high-stakes testing policies of outgoing and controversial state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi and to arouse conservative anger over the housing of some 1,100 Central American children at Fort Sill near Lawton. The children are part of an exodus of younger people trying to escape the violence of their countries, which include Honduras and Nicaragua.
The Fallin campaign has actually launched a petition drive to close the Oklahoma facility housing the children. The petition language appeal is couched in typical flaming rhetoric, such as “illegal alien minors,” and it, of course, blames President Barack Obama for the situation when, if fact, a policy initiated by former President George Bush has exasperated the problem of deporting the children. This is also a political refugee issue, not an immigration issue, created by years of immoral Central American policy based on U.S. pseudo-colonization interests. Both Republicans and Democrats have shaped this policy, which is based on exploitation and greed.
So, in effect, Fallin is asking her supporters and potential supports to do two things: (1) Condemn a group of children who are merely trying to escape certain death, and (2) completely ignore the actual bipartisan facts of why the children are here and why they can’t just be immediately deported back to their countries.
Fallin is appealing to the cravenness of Oklahomans to simply not care about the welfare of children in general and the ignorance of people to just randomly condemn Obama for what can be construed as much as a Republican problem as it is a Democratic problem.
Will it work? These Republican “group hate” appeals have certainly worked here in the past when it has come to immigration issues. The state’s cheerleaders like to make a big deal out of how nice everyone is here, but the reality is the state is filled with people who are terribly prejudiced and have mistrust of “the other,” which, in this case, is a group of poor children with brown skin.
Still, surely a majority of the state has grown past these racist ideas, especially in the last ten years or so. One wants to think this, of course, but racism is not quantifiable here. Fallin’s campaign tact, as racist as it can publicly get, is probably as good as any indicator where the state currently stands when it comes to tolerance. If she starts to move up in the polls, look for more group hate appeals. It’s clear, given this recent political move over the young refugees, Fallin plans to make her campaign as little about state issues as possible.
A new poll shows gubernatorial candidate Joe Dorman, a Democrat and a term-limited state representative, in a surprisingly tight election with incumbent Gov. Mary Fallin.
Rasmussen Reports shows Fallin leads Dorman by a remarkably thin 45 percent to 40 percent advantage. Eight percent of those polled are undecided. Seven percent favor independent candidates.
The prevailing wisdom among pundits and political observers has been that Fallin would easily coast to victory in Oklahoma’s current conservative political environment, but that narrative has now been shattered by the Rasmussen Poll and an earlier poll by SoonerPoll, which showed a steep drop in Fallin’s approval ratings.
It’s difficult not to see the polls, given the dramatic drop in support for Fallin, as a seismic shift in the governor’s race. It appears Fallin is vulnerable at least partially because of her support of controversial and outgoing State Schools Superintendent Janet Barresi, a hardline, high-stakes testing advocate. Barresi came in a lowly third in her recent primary reelection bid and is now serving out the remainder of her lame duck term.
Rasmussen Reports points out that Dorman’s main problem is his lack of name recognition throughout the state, but there’s still time to deal with that issue as he travels around Oklahoma. It’s also interesting to note that what some pundits consider Dorman’s greatest liability in Oklahoma—he shares the same party affiliation as President Barack Obama, who is deeply unpopular here—has not manifested itself in any particular manner so far. Dorman is a centrist Oklahoma Democrat in the tradition of former Gov. Brad Henry. One reading of the Rasmussen Reports poll—admittedly one favorable for Dorman—is that voters recognize this is a local election with local repercussions that has very little to do with Washington.
Have voters here simply become numb or indifferent to the Obama-bashing among state Republican leaders, such as Fallin and Attorney General Scott Pruitt? Has the bashing become stale, in particular, because Obama only has two years left in his last term as president? What’s going to be the point in bashing Obama, for example, once the 2016 presidential campaign gets underway?
The Dorman campaign has greeted the new polling with aggressiveness, specifically attacking Fallin on education issues. Meanwhile, the Fallin campaign, in a defensive posture, had to deny rumors that if reelected Fallin might appoint Barresi as Secretary of Education.
Fallin’s recent campaign style in her political career as a former U.S. Representative and now governor has been to use at least some extreme Tea Party rhetoric and stylistics. How will voters respond if she now softens her approach and tacks to the center in response to the new poll numbers? It could be problematic for her.
I think it’s fair and bipartisan to say that overall Oklahoma could benefit greatly by a close governor’s race because local policy and issues could ultimately decide it. Just fully discussing the issues—like funding for education—might help the state find solutions to some of its pressing problems.