Last week, when I noticed that the American Medical Association (AMA) had started taking out television ads in support of our friend Syed Taj, I knew that racist attacks from the right were inevitable. The AMA ads signaled to me that the race was close (as the AMA doesn’t invest in races that aren’t winnable), and I knew that it was just a matter of time before someone on the right would play the race card in hopes of reversing his momentum. Well, that time has come, and the ads have started.
Here, before we get to the ad, though, is a bit of background on the race… Until recently Michigan’s 11th district was represented by Thaddeus McCotter, and it was thought to be unwinnable by Taj, who not only happens to be a Democrat, but a foreign-born Democrat, and a practicing Muslim. As we’ve discussed in previous posts, when the parameters of this district were redrawn by Republicans a few years ago, they thought that they’d created a safe seat in perpetuity for McCotter and his spawn. They’d neglected to realize, however, that, while conservative, a huge percentage of the population in this redrawn district is Asian. And they’d also not counted on their candidate, Thaddeus McCotter, being forced from office just weeks before the primary due to allegations of election fraud, leaving only an extremist Tea Party crackpot by the name of Kerry Bentivolio, who had recently been forced from his teaching position at Fowlerville High School due to his erratic and confrontational behavior with students, to represent their party in the general election. The Republicans weren’t thrilled with their candidate, but they thought that the race was in the bag, given the number of registered Republicans in the district, and they were willing to stand by him for the time being. (Their plan, according to my sources, was to get Bentivolio into office, have him serve his term, and then run a party insider against him in the next primary.) Something unexpected happened, though. Taj started to get traction in both the Asian community, and with educated professionals in the district, who respected his accomplishments as Chief of Medicine at Oakwood Hospital, and as an effective member of the Canton Board of Trustees. People in this conservative district, it would seem, were willing to consider him based upon his credentials, regardless of his party affiliation, his religion, or his race. And, the momentum seems to be on his side, as demonstrated by the fact that groups like the AMA are now seeing this race as winnable.
This, of course, is all good news, but it comes at a price. Now that Taj is posing a serious threat, the Islamophobic rhetoric is ratcheting up. The following ad, entitled “What do we really know about Syed Taj?” just began running in the district.
My favorite part:
ANNOUNCER: We know Syed Taj wants to advance Muslim power in America. Syed Taj: too extreme for Michigan. Too extreme for America.
The following is from Think Progress:
In a stunning appeal to Islamaphobia, a group linked to former Swiftboater and birther conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi has launched a smear attack ad on a Muslim-American Congressional candidate. The spot warns that Dr. Syed Taj, the Democratic nominee in Michigan’s 11th Congressional district, wants to “advance Muslim power in America.”
Freedom’s Defense Fund, a right-wing PAC that has spent at least $150,000 on ads in support of Missouri Senate candidate Rep. Todd Akin (R) despite his comments that victims of “legitimate rape” are unlikely to become pregnant, reported spending at least $30,000 on ads against Taj and for his opponent Republican Kerry Bentivolio, a Tea Party activist and Santa Clause impersonator…
Taj’s campaign responded to the racist attack earlier today, issuing the following statement.
This past Friday, a super-PAC ironically named Freedom’s Defense Fund began airing a despicable and dishonest ad attacking Dr. Taj. The ad is a blatant attempt at fear mongering based on Dr. Taj’s ethnicity and personal religious beliefs. Freedom’s Defense Fund is hoping by painting Dr. Taj as a scary Muslim they can distract voters’ attention from their candidate’s extremism and sordid past.
These tactics are hardly new to the Freedom’s Defense Fund. This super-PAC is the spawn of Jerome Corsi and is funded by secretive right-wing donors. Mr. Corsi’s resume is a highlight reel of fringe right-wing extremism. From the “Swift boating” of John Kerry to the laughably ridiculous “Birther” conspiracies there is one constant – Jerome Corsi. So, there is little wonder that his group would be behind these racially-tinged desperate attacks against Dr. Taj.
This election cycle, Freedom’s Defense Fund has spent heavily on Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin in Missouri and the failed Presidential campaign of Rick Santorum. The super-PAC was also one of Kerry Bentivolio’s supporters in his GOP primary against write-in candidate Nancy Cassis. Contrasting Freedom’s Defense Fund’s list of supported candidates with Dr. Taj’s list of supporters paints a clear picture of who are the real extremists.
Not surprisingly, in addition to being a clear attempt at Islamophobic fear mongering, the ad is also laced with gross distortions:
1. The ad claims Dr. Taj relies on funding from the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). Dr. Taj’s FEC filing is publicly available; the Taj Campaign has not received any funding from the DSA. A physician colleague, who also happens to be on the DSA board, hosted a fundraiser in his home at which individuals made donations to Dr. Taj’s campaign.
2. The ad claims that the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) is a front group for Hammas. This is once again more anti-Muslim fringe rhetoric found only on the right-wing blogosphere. Does any rational person actually think the Bush Justice Department would not have prosecuted CAIR had there been even a shred of actual evidence to these claims? The only word in this segment of the ad that is important is “un-indicted.” Dr. Taj does not apologize for having the support of Muslims, nor does he apologize for having the support of Catholics, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, or Baptists.
3. The ad claims Dr. Taj wants to advance Muslim power in America. This is the ad’s biggest stretch as it takes a quote from the Muslim Observer newspaper about forming a Muslim Caucus with Congressmen Keith Ellison and Andre Carson completely out of context. The entire article can be found here.
Islamophobia and half-truths – can we expect much more from the likes of James Corsi? The people of the 11th District deserve better. It’s too bad Freedom’s Defense Fund and their candidate Kerry Bentivolio seem to think otherwise.
Upon learning of the ad, Dr. Taj offered the following statement:
“I wish I could say I was surprised by these commercials. But I knew that at some point my personal religious beliefs would be made an issue by my opponent or his right-wing friends. My religion is not an issue, no more than Mr. Bentivolio’s religion is an issue. My beliefs are my beliefs, and while they provide me with inner strength and commitment, they are part of my private life – not public life. Part of what drew me to this country was the ability for everyone to freely practice their religion and respect the rights of others to do the same. I remain steadfastly committed to this ideal and I am disappointed that others would seek to score political points simply because I attend a mosque. The people of the 11th District should know that no matter my personal beliefs I will serve all of them in Congress and fight for everyone to enjoy the American Dream.”
I know it’s not a ton of money, but, if anyone out there is willing to contribute a few dollars to Taj’s campaign, I’d be happy to match the first $100. This is an incredibly important race for me, not only because I genuinely like Taj, and feel as though he would do an incredible job for us in Washington, but because I think we need to start fighting back aggressively against the racist fear mongers like Jerome Corsi, who feel as though this kind of behavior is acceptable. We need to demonstrate to him, and others like him, that the American people aren’t stupid, racist, or fearful of their moderate Muslim neighbors, and that we’re willing to outspend him at every turn… Please join me in sending that message today.
[note: My interview with Dr. Taj, if you haven't yet seen it, can be found here.]