New York Times reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg went into a defensive crouch on behalf of the Democratic Party as it was being “vilified” by the GOP in Monday’s “Republicans Hope to Sway Voters With Labels That Demonize Democrats.” The online headline was even less objective: “Republicans Already Are Demonizing Democrats as Socialists and Baby Killers.”
Stolberg’s lead resembled more the work of a whining liberal columnist than a hard-nosed political reporter:
In the 116th Congress, if you’re a Democrat, you’re either a socialist, a baby killer or an anti-Semite.
That, at least, is what Republicans want voters to think, as they seek to demonize Democrats well in advance of the 2020 elections by painting them as left-wing crazies who will destroy the American economy, murder newborn babies and turn a blind eye to bigotry against Jews.
The unusually aggressive assault, which Republican officials and strategists outlined in interviews last week, is meant to strangle the new Democratic majority in its infancy. It was set in motion this month by President Trump, who used his State of the Union address to rail against “new calls to adopt socialism in our country” and mischaracterize legislation backed by Democrats in New York and Virginia as allowing “a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth.”
Then last week, Republicans amped it up, seizing on a Twitter post by a freshman representative, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, which even some Democrats condemned as anti-Semitic, and ridiculing the “Green New Deal,” an ambitious economic stimulus plan unveiled by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a self-described democratic socialist. Suddenly even Jewish Democrats were abetting anti-Semitism and moderate Democrats in Republican districts were Trotskyites and Stalinists.
The article’s intent appears to be dilute the force of the (undeniable) Republican charges through exaggeration.
The spots are the first in what will be a national campaign, according to Zach Hunter, a spokesman for the fund. The stark ads, featuring stern-looking images of Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, offer a preview of how Republicans intend to vilify her in much the same way they have vilified Speaker Nancy Pelosi, caricaturing her as a radical from San Francisco.
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The Times has worked the same “mean Republicans are caricaturing and vilifying Pelosi” angle in the past. Then Stolberg played the race card. Oddly enough, the Times had no problem with “vilifying” Judge Brett Kavanaugh for weeks on end.
Democrats see an insidious effort to use women and minorities, especially women of color, as the new symbols of the radical “other.” And they are calling out Republicans as hypocrites, noting that Mr. Trump and other Republicans trafficked in anti-Semitic tropes and racist dog whistles long before anyone noticed Ms. Omar’s Twitter feed.
Certainly no one at the Times noticed Omar’s Twitter feed, or if they did, kept it to themselves.
A little balance crept in around the middle section, but even those lines had a distinct “Republicans pounce” quality.
But Republicans like Mr. Emmer say they are simply repeating Democrats’ own words, and they have been aided by Democratic stumbles. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s team published an early draft of the Green New Deal — which has been backed by several top-tier Democratic presidential candidates — that contained phrases those candidates did not endorse, including a call for economic security for “all who are unable or unwilling to work.” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez deleted the draft from her website, but Republicans took it and ran.
Stolberg assumed that the Republicans were exaggerating Democratic perfidy, worried only that voters might believe them.
But Democrats must be careful not to let those exaggerations take hold. They are well aware that their path to keeping the majority runs through districts like Ms. Bustos’s, which the president carried in 2016.