If there’s one surefire way to tell if an Iowa Republican is worried they’re about to lose an election, it’s this: they start running race-baiting ads.
That’s exactly where Sen. Joni Ernst finds herself as we close in on the final week of the campaign. After making an absurd series of lies about Theresa Greenfield at Republican events and then in debates, Ernst has taken her “systemic racism” attack to the airwaves.
When @GreenfieldIowa calls our police racist, it’s an insult to all the men and women who put their lives on the line every day to keep our communities safe.
This is the type of talk you’d expect to hear from Portland or San Francisco, not someone who wants to represent Iowa. pic.twitter.com/ODPLrBfRsg
— Joni Ernst (@joniernst) October 23, 2020
“Being a cop these days is hard enough, so it doesn’t help when liberals like Theresa Greenfield call us ‘racist,'” says an Iowa law enforcement officer named Justin in Ernst’s latest ad.
This is a continuation of Ernst’s insistence that because Greenfield said we need to fight against “systemic racism” in Iowa, that meant that Greenfield was personally calling all police officers racist. It’s a willful and ridiculous false statement, one that Ernst and her team know is wrong, but continue to spread it because they have little else to run on.
“Greenfield says there’s systemic racism in Iowa law enforcement. That’s offensive,” former far-right state representative Clel Baudler chimes in with.
“She attacked police and called us racists,” Justin adds.
Let’s be absolutely clear what this is: a play for the type of white voters who get more upset at someone being called a racist than they do at actual racism. Rather than attempt to fix racial disparities in Iowa, Ernst would rather gin up fake outrage for political gain, all in a manner that ensures the state doesn’t actually confront tough truths about racial issues.
In a video on her YouTube page, Ernst claims Greenfield “triples down on calling police racist” for a line where Greenfield says, “We have to address the kind of systemic racism throughout all of our systems — health care, housing, education, policing…”
Notice that Ernst is not also feigning outrage and trying to suggest that Greenfield attacked health care workers by mentioning that. But then we already know what Ernst thinks of them.
And oddly enough, it was Ernst herself who literally called at least some police officers racist in the last Senate debate. Though largely overshadowed by the soybean gaffe, there was a long section on racial justice in that debate, and Ernst was pressed on whether systemic racism existed in relation to policing. She argued it didn’t exist at all in Iowa, but stated there were certainly individuals who are racist.
“I believe that you will find racist individuals in those systems, but I don’t believe that entire systems of people, of people, are racists,” Ernst said. “There are racists out there, yes, there are.”
Given they were talking about policing, that’s Ernst saying there are some racist police officers. Greenfield has just talked about “systemic racism” as a whole.
The point about “systemic racism” or “institutional racism” or “structural racism” is that a system is designed in a way that creates and maintains disparities along racial lines. You can have plenty of good people working in health care or housing or education or law enforcement, all of whom are doing their best, but the system they’re in still creates unequal outcomes.
In reality, it’s both — the system is designed in a way that creates disparities, and there’s certainly at least some within who are racists themselves.
It’s not entirely clear that Ernst is really that blind or foolish to think that there are no racial disparities or inequities in any governmental or societal system in Iowa. But by going so hard against Greenfield on the “systemic racism” line, Ernst backed herself into a corner where she had to say that it simply didn’t exist at all in Iowa, thus becoming a very major part of the problem.
In a different new ad, Ernst has brought back out the tragic death of Sarah Root, a Council Bluffs resident killed by a drunk driver who happened to be an undocumented immigrant. Republicans in Iowa have repeatedly used this death to cast immigrants as scary and dangerous. The mother agrees with doing these things, but that doesn’t mean you have to put her on TV or present her at press conferences.
“Joni Ernst is fighting to keep violent illegal aliens behind bars,” Michelle Root says in the ad.
Republicans like to run these ads and pretend like they’re a perfectly legitimate thing to do, not out of the mainstream of American politics. But they’re still incredibly wrong. They just are. We all know what they’re aimed at — demonizing immigrants for their own political benefit. And these TV ads, seen by hundreds of thousands of Iowans every day, have an impact beyond the campaign — reinforcing racist stereotypes and making Iowa a worse and more dangerous place to live, especially for people of color.
Were none of that enough, Ernst has taken to personally lying about Greenfield in media interviews in the hope she doesn’t get called out for it.
“I think it is absolutely horrible what Theresa Greenfield, my opponent, and her liberal allies are doing — they are pushing a misinformation campaign,” Ernst falsely said on Fox News last week of Greenfield and a fake email going around on Twitter last weekend.
The Fox News host noted that Greenfield’s campaign had denounced it didn’t share it. Ernst immediately retreated, caught in the lie.
“While she may not have shared it personally, we know that her supporters are sharing it,” Ernst replied.
None of these desperation plays are new for Iowa Republicans, but it is interesting to watch Ernst engage in it so heavily given few thought last year she’d be in this place, on the cusp of a possible reelection loss.
And just as Ernst has failed to distinguish herself from Trump or the Republican Party, she too now is going to the standard well of GOP racial animus politics (the exact things that helped Trump take over the party in the first place, by the way). It’s telling of the senator’s character, what she’s really willing to stoop to when her political future is on the line.
There’s a lot of unsaid things in these types of race-baiting ads that Ernst is closing with, all the little inferences and dog-whistles she hopes a certain kind of voter picks up on. But there’s something else it says about her, something Iowans should consider as Election Day nears: Ernst sees racism as something that can politically benefit her and not something she should use her position as a senator to fight.
by Pat Rynard
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