It's often said that conservatives believe liberals are misguided, while liberals believe conservatives are evil — that we disguise our dark hearts through racist and Islamophobic "dog whistles" decipherable only our redneck base and to the lefty pundits who know our game. While I've long enjoyed hearing liberals explain to me the true, racist and otherwise bigoted intent behind my seemingly benign words and actions, I've rarely come across a more perfect expression of unshakable faith in the evil of the conservative heart than Will Saletan's most recent Slate column.
I must admit that I got roped in by the headline, which proclaimed that Republican presidential candidates went "down south" to "show how low they can go." Having missed any mainstream news of a recent Republican hate-bigot-fest, I was curious what Saletan had seen that was so dreadful and wondered if he'd just scooped the political world. So I made a mistake and read his piece. It of course contained an obligatory harsh quote from a random Republican member of a focus group, and a quote from Donald Trump being Donald Trump, but what about the actual Republican candidates? How low did they go?
Well, they expressed concern that excessive immigration (legal and illegal) was depressing wages. They also didn't confine their anti-jiahd rhetoric to just "terrorists and extremists," but attacked radical Islam more broadly. Here's Saletan:
Most of the candidates talked about immigration. Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, called for an end to "hyphenated Americans." "We are not African Americans, we are not Asian Americans, we are not Indian Americans," he said. Jindal acknowledged his family's heritage but played it down. He quoted his mother: "If I wanted to raise my children as Indians or even Indian Americans, I would have stayed in India."
Steve King, a Republican congressman from Iowa, opened the conference by insisting that there's nothing bigoted about criticizing foreigners who come to America, as long as you target illegal rather than legal immigration. But he was soon followed to the podium by former Sen. Rick Santorum, who targeted legal immigration.
Saletan then quoted Santorum attributing the decline in median income to an influx of tens of millions of unskilled workers. Next, he turned to tone policing, finding it suspicious how Rick Santorum emphasized the word "Islam:"
Every candidate denounced radical Islamists. Some confined their rhetoric to terrorists and extremists who pose a genuine threat. But others challenged Islam more broadly. "Radical Islam is confronting our country," said Santorum, emphasizing the I-word . . . As for ISIS, Santorum counseled simple annihilation: "If these folks want to bring back a seventh-century version of Islam, then my recommendation is, let's load our bombers up and bomb them back to the seventh century." That line earned a standing ovation.
Of course, no condemnation of bigotry would be complete without finding it somehow suspicious that Republicans are deeply concerned that Christian heads are being sawed off in the Middle East without showing appropriate humility for thousand-year-old Christian sins:
In their jeremiads against radical Islam, the candidates emphasized the rights of Christians. "When I see Christians from Egypt and elsewhere around the world shot or beheaded just because of their faith, that's something I feel right here," Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker told the attendees, gesturing toward his heart . . . Jindal ridiculed President Obama for suggesting that Christians should be humble in their condemnations of Islam because of Christianity's own bloody history. If Obama will "hunt down and kill those radical Islamic terrorists," Jindal quipped, "I'll be the one that'll be on the lookout for those medieval Christians."
To Saletan, it's also apparently "low" for Republican candidates to confront big business over its lack of support for religious liberty:
On social issues, the candidates didn't just repeat their usual lines about abortion and gay marriage. They went after the GOP's traditional ally, big business, for siding with the sodomites. Cruz blasted "big business" for joining Democrats "to say their commitment to mandatory gay marriage in all 50 states trumps any commitment to the First Amendment." Jindal decried "the assault … in Indiana and Arkansas," in which "corporate America joined up with the radical left to bully those lawmakers" who had defended religious exemptions from laws against anti-gay discrimination. The audience cheered as Jindal declared, "I'll also say this to these corporations that have already told me in Louisiana they don't want us to pass our own bill protecting the rights of individuals and businesses who support the traditional view of marriage. Don't even waste your breath trying to bully the governor of Louisiana."
He summed up the day with standard withering liberal contempt:
Mexicans, Muslims, gays, rats, roaches. Christian superiority, military contempt for the president, and gauntlets thrown down to queer-loving CEOs. It's going to be a long campaign.
Saletan looks at the Republican field and finds hate — no good faith policy disagreements here. No good faith concern for persecuted Christian's abroad or American workers falling steadily behind at home. No good faith concern for our nation's first liberty — religious liberty. Nope. Just a bunch of haters, going low. And this is from one of the Left's more civil pundits. I'll agree with Saletan on one thing and one thing only: It is indeed "going to be a long campaign."
This column was originally published on National Review.