As the recall circus comes to town in California, one of the nastiest aspects is the rightwing campaign to paint Cruz Bustamante as a "racist" and even a Latino Nazi. Seriously.
How do rightwingers make such a crazy accusation against a man the San Francisco Chronicle calls "short and unassuming" who has made a "career of quietly coming through the middle" of the political spectrum?
Because, in the charge of Rush Limbaugh, he was once a member of the student group, MEChA (translated from the Spanish as the Chicano Student Movement of Aztlan), supposedly a "racist" "radical" organization.
What is MEChA? Let's be clear what MEChA is -- it's been the major student organization of Latino youth in California and other southwestern states for decades. It is so mainstream that almost every major progressive Latino in California was a member at some point. When I was a student in California, MEChA involved the main leadership of Latino activists on campus fighting for education funding and a range of other issues.
So if you call MEChA racist and fascist, you are basically saying that most Latino politicians in California are the equivalent of Nazis.
Which is what the Right wants to do in their nice Orwellian strategy -- make racist false changes and cloak it under the mantle of a defense of tolerance. Take this argument from an article by conservative columnist Michelle Malkin. She reaches back to an old MEChA document, sort of its early "Port Huron"-style manifesto, which argues for liberation of Latinos discriminated against in the southwestern USA.
Malkin quotes the "El Plan de Aztlan" from 1969, which states:
"We do not recognize capricious frontiers on the bronze continent. Brotherhood unites us, and love for our brothers makes us a people whose time has come and who struggles against the foreigner 'gabacho' who exploits our riches and destroys our culture. With our heart in our hands and our hands in the soil, we declare the independence of our mestizo nation. We are a bronze people with a bronze culture."
Tough militant language but pretty par for the course for 1969 on student campuses. But what does it mean, according to conservatives like Malkin, especially in 2003, when MEChA chapters spend most of their time today lobbying for more student aid?
Malkin argues, "Substitute 'Aryan' for 'mestizo' and 'white' for 'bronze.' Not much difference between the nutty philosophy of Bustamante's MEChA and Papa Schwarzenegger's evil Nazi Party."
Yes, let's do that substitution. Now what does "mestizo" mean? To take a basic dictionary definition: Mestizo -- a person of mixed racial ancestry (especially mixed European and Native American ancestry).
So what this Malkin says is that celebration of race mixing and outrage against white racism is the same as the racial supremacist doctrines of Hitler.
Well, what about the "bronze nation" nationalism? Now there's a shocking betrayal of American history -&endash; imagine an exploited group talking about its ethnic solidarity. The Irish never engaged in such rhetoric or engaged in political cronyism based on ethnic ties -- or if they did, they were all Nazis? The Jews never speak of international solidarity with other Jews in, say, a small country in the Middle East?
American Imperialism in the Southwest: The only difference between MEChA-style ethnic nationalism and most historic white ethnic groups is that the Latinos have a clearer grievance by historical standards. It was racist white nationalism that fueled "Manifest Destiny" to take over the whole southwest in a series of wars.
Sorry, the only thing that looks like historic Nazism is the "white man's burden" conceit of America backed by military invasion that allowed it to attack Mexico and annex its land to the USA. A bit too harsh? I'm hardly alone with that characterization. As the conservative Economist magazine noted just this past month in discussing the historic context of more recent US imperial invasions: "In pursuit of its 'manifest destiny', which would have been called Lebensraum (room to grow in) in 1930s Germany, 19th-century American expansionists laid claim to most of their continent."
What is more twisted than labeling the victims of racist military imperialism as Nazis? Those attacking MEChA and Bustamante should be ashamed of themselves.
Conservatives should be embarrassed at the historical existence of those "capricious frontiers," not condemn the potential first Latino governor of California as a "Nazi" for having been a member of an organization that continues to point out that historical injustice.
But that's the Big Lie technique of the modern rightwing. Come election day, Californians will hopefully reject their lies and smears.
Nathan Newman is a lawyer and longtime community activist. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or see www.nathannewman.org.