On Sunday night, a racially-charged Super Bowl ad highlighted the underbelly of U.S. politics.
Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Michigan Pete Hoekstra ran a highly controversial ad depicting an Asian woman riding a bike through a rice paddy declaring, in broken English, the superiority of the Chinese economy over the U.S. The ad also encouraged viewers to visit debbiespenditnow.com, which features more stereotypical Asian imagery as well as accusations against Hoekstra's opponent in the race, Democrat Debbie Stabenow.
"Claiming that the other party is in cahoots with China, or recklessly or naively playing into its evil clutches is nothing new in U.S. political contests," said Susan Jakes, Arthur Ross Fellow at Asia Society's Center on U.S. China Relations, "but this ad takes that already deplorable campaign tactic to new lows."
Indeed, while this is not the first time China-bashing has been used as a political tactic, it is the first time it has gone viral so quickly, thanks to its bold Super Bowl placement (in Michigan), and alert Twitter pundits and media critics. It's hard to tell exactly when the ad became more than a Michigan phenomenon, but some of the first tweets we saw about it came from Republican political consultant Mike Murphy (who called it "really, really dumb") and Foreign Policy magazine Managing Editor Blake Hounshell (who labeled it "despicable").
Yunfan Sun, Program Officer at the Center on U.S.-China Relations agreed, pointing out glaring flaws in Hoekstra's polarizing "Pete Spend-it-Not" position.
"It is precisely the 'Spend-it-Not' mentality in the United States that has been sending jobs overseas, where cheaper labor and materials, as well as tax breaks, lead to increases in the bottom lines of big corporations," Sun said. "And the fact that the U.S. government can't or won't spend on infrastructure is precisely why Chinese companies get to build things like new subway lines in New York City."
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