Great literature has always been centered around conflict: Man -vs- Man, Man -vs- Nature, Good -vs- Evil... It makes for an interesting narrative, and the reader is always wondering who will win out, and how. Politicians intrinsically understand this basic function of the human brain to separate people into different groups, and then compare and contrast, and ask "which is better"?
It makes it easier to pick the one side if it is a case of "good -vs- evil". Evil of course is a relative measure, which means that painting an opponent as the worst possible thing makes the choice rather obvious. Sometimes, though, that "worst possible thing" is an idea or combination of ideas, and they are attributed to the opponent in what is commonly known as a "smear".
In the early to mid 20th century, those boogeymen were based on a person's perceived or actual national origin. Irish were persona-non-grata for a while, and any person with an Irish name (or accent) would have a hard time. After Pearl Harbor, Asian-Americans were suspect; everyone is aware of the camps that were set up for those of Japanese descent.
After the war, "Communist" was the new boogeyman. How many careers (in politics and in Hollywood) were ruined because someone was accused (falsely or not) of being a member of the communist party? Was belonging to a political party and supporting some of the political ideals anti-American? Of course not... but politicians and their accomplices in the media painted it that way.
Communism gave way to the 60s and feminism, black power, and socialism. There was a lot of social upheaval, and political power brokers tried (generally unsuccessfully) to paint this all as anti-government. There was still the Red Menace in Russia, but the "communist" epithet didn't really carry much weight anymore. It was a time of great advancements in legislation and rights...
That is - until Iran.
In 1979, the Shah was deposed, and the American embassy there was overrun. Fifty-two Americans were held hostage for well over a year. Besides denying President Jimmy Carter a second term, it created a new boogeyman that has endured ever since: The Islamic Fundamentalist.
That boogeyman was not very popular initially. Once the crisis was resolved, Americans went back to thinking about those problems as "over there", and didn't give it much thought. As long as we avoided going to the Middle-East, who cares?
Even as recently as 1994, "Muslim" wasn't a dirty word. In Newt Gingrich's 1994 memo providing Republicans with a list of words to use to describe Democrats
, that word does not appear.
No, it took the 2001 attacks for America to sit up and take notice. In one day, an entire religion, and anyone that looked vaguely Arab (including Indian Sikhs, who wear turbans too) was automatically suspect. "Islamic", "Arab", and "Terrorist" became synonymous. Liberals - who advocated NOT tarring an entire religion based on the actions of a small group of terrorists - were labeled as "aiding and abetting terrorism". Where did you stand in the "War on Terror"? The lines drawn would have made the Founding Fathers shudder.
This is all a rather long prelude to where were are now. The rhetoric has toned down, but the boogeyman is still there, and is referenced by implication. Is President Obama a Muslim or a Christian? What about Mitt Romney? Frank Graham (son of Billy Graham) says he "doesn't know if they're Christians
", despite overwhelming evidence that they are. Mormons consider their holy book to be the third testament of the Christian religion. President Obama has been going to Christian churches his entire adult life.
Graham also said he thought that Santorum and Gingrich were definitely Christian. I personally find this interesting because I know Protestants who consider Catholics to be "idol worshippers". In 1960, there were questions about whether JFK was "too Catholic", and would enforce his religion's dogma. Fast-forward 50 years, and the question is whether President Obama is Christian enough
, and too
conciliatory of other religions.
Considering how Republicans are suddenly rushing to defend Catholics over birth control, the boogeyman is still the "Islamic" label, or even a more watered down but still potent "anti-Christian" label. The message is loud and clear: a vote for Obama is vote to destroy Christianity.
This is what we will be seeing in this election season. Watch for it, and be ready for it. The boogeyman still wears a turban.