GIVING ‘GET HIM TO THE GREEK’ A WHOLE NEW MEANING…. A few months ago, we first started hearing about Rep. Mark Kirk’s (R-Ill.) uncontrollable mendacity about his background, especially his military service. The Republican Senate campaign’s initial defense seemed weak, but inoffensive: “While Mark Kirk wore a U.S. Navy uniform, Alexi Giannoulias wore a basketball uniform in Greece.”
I assumed at the time that this was just a way to emphasize Kirk’s military background. It was a way of saying, “Oh yeah? Our guy may be a pathological liar, but at least he wore the uniform, unlike your guy.”
But Amanda Terkel had a really interesting item this week, highlighting the way in which that initial response plays into a larger pattern.
In recent months, Mark Kirk, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate from Illinois, has increasingly been bringing up the financial crisis in Greece as a warning of what could happen if America doesn’t reduce its own government spending. The undertones of these comments, however, seem to be directed at raising questions about the ancestry of his Democratic opponent, Alexi Giannoulias, who is the child of Greek immigrants and has been painted as a “mobster” by Republicans during this campaign season.
To say that Kirk brings up Greece constantly is an understatement — the Republican seems to incorporate the Greeks (or as George W. Bush called them, “Grecians”), whether it makes sense or not, into a wide variety of attacks.
There have also been ads playing up ethnic stereotypes and portraying Giannoulias as a mobster. The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) put out an ad in February saying — in a stereotypically ethnic Italian accent — Giannoulias would “make Tony Soprano proud” and calling him a “wise guy.” The NRSC released a similar ad in August, saying, “Al Capone would be impressed” and showing a generic picture of an Italian-looking family sitting around a table with a red-checkered cover.
Now, it’s possible this is a coincidence, and unrelated to ethnicity. Giannoulias’ family owned a troubled bank, which has become the centerpiece of the GOP strategy against him. For that matter, Kirk isn’t the only Republican foolishly trying to equate Greece’s financial crisis to the U.S. economy (an argument that’s so unusually dumb it’s hard to believe so many conservatives make it).
But there is a larger context. Much of the Republican message lately has been about characterizing Democrats as “The Other.” We’re told that “Real Americans” live in red states, far from urban areas. The undertones of recent GOP obsessions — Park51, the New Black Panther Party, Birther nonsense, Beck’s focus on “liberation theology” — all seem focused on scaring the bejesus out of white people.
And it’s in this light that we consider the Senate race in Illinois, where the white Republican candidate seems more than a little preoccupied with his opponent’s ethnicity, and the Republican attack ads play up crude ethnic stereotypes.
Maybe I’m being overly sensitive here, but given the larger GOP narratives, Kirk’s attack strategy would be less troubling if he could go a whole day without using the word “Greek.”