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Tuesday, February 7, 2012


February 7, 2012
Posted by Evan Osnos
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Michigan Republican Pete Hoekstra’s anti-China ad has arrived in China, and instead of inspiring outrage it is being greeted by guffaws, pity for his math and language skills, and puzzlement that his propagandists—and this country knows a thing or two about propagandists—appear to have made rookie mistakes, including borrowing a backdrop that looks more like Vietnam or Laos.

“As a Chinese person, you don’t feel a thing watching this, because it appears to be in Southeast Asia,” commentator Michael Anti wrote.“My Vietnamese classmates are more insulted than I am,” according to Li Xiaopen. (I second Jim Fallows’s theory that it’s hardly an accident, but, rather, “a kind of visual dog-whistle” to Americans acculturated to seeing rice paddies as an arena of sorrow.)

The basics: The thirty-second spot—aired locally during the Super Bowl as part of Hoekstra’s bid for the U.S. Senate seat held by Debbie Stabenow—opened with the sound of a gong and showed a young Nondescript Presumably Scary Asian (N.P.S.A.) riding a bike between rice paddies, and saying, in broken English: “You borrow more and more from us. Your economy get very weak. Ours get very good. We take your jobs.”

Chinese viewers looked past the race-baiting to point out the kinds of aesthetic errors that would get Hoekstra fired from a fear-mongering-advertisement assembly line: That golden sunlight rarely breaks through Chinese smog; women of the actress’ age are too busy working in booming factories and thriving cities to be cycling between rice paddies. Even the N.P.S.A.’s breathtakingly ridiculous conical hat looks wrong: the fringe around the edge is less Guangxi than Hawaii. When I asked Lu Han, a researcher and translator about it today, she said, dryly: “Maybe they got our minority hats confused.”

Hoekstra’s bumbling continues when you follow his instructions to his Web site, which is adorned with bounding dragons, paper fans, chop-suey script, and lots of money. Hoekstra doesn’t strike me as the kind of man to lose sleep over the following freshman-Chinese mistakes, but they are worth noting in case anyone wonders if this man should be hiring people with your tax money. Every Chinese reference, more or less, has a mistake:

The Great Wall of Debt came out as “Debt That the Great Wall Owes.”

The Chinese characters throughout the site are of a variety not found in mainland China; they are visible only in Hong Kong or Taiwan.

The page is adorned with the pattern 花$ 花$, which he would like to mean “spend $,” but, in fact, means “flower $ flower $ flower $.”

For all the xenophobia and mistakes, the thing that might really worry a voter is that a man can get this far in the U.S. political system without a basic grip on the mechanics of his government. “You borrow more and more,” the N.P.S.A. says. But that is false, says the U.S. Treasury. Chinese holdings of U.S. treasury bonds, in fact, declined from November of 2010 to November 2011. “China has not been a major buyer of U.S. treasury notes on the margin for a couple of years now,” Victor Shih, an expert on Chinese economics and politics at Northwestern University, told me.

When Hoekstra’s point collides with fact, he calls in the help of a large font: he describes China as “the largest foreign holder of U.S. Treasury securities”—which is true—but then describes China’s holdings as increasing from 9.6 per cent in 2002 to twenty-six per cent in 2010. A voter might blanch at the idea of a foreign country holding over a quarter of U.S. Treasury debt, except that it’s not true. The twenty-six per cent is China’s holdings among foreign holders, not overall debt, and “the overall share of treasury held by foreign entities declined in the past couple of years,” Shih told me. (“One thing that Americans have to realize is that China may be a net lender internationally, but the Chinese government and state-owned enterprises borrow a huge amount of money domestically,” Shih added. “The racist caricature of those thrifty Chinese who take advantage of debt-loving Americans is widely off the mark because China is one of the most indebted countries in the world.”)

I’ll leave it to others to point out why Hoekstra is a hypocrite on spending, who is already driving away Republican supporters.

But since I’m a Michigan taxpayer—Berrien County, currently resident in Beijing—I’ll close by pointing out that Hoekstra will be responsible if Asian-Americans end up subjected to the kind of discrimination in Michigan that took the life of Vincent Chin. He was the Chinese-American man beaten to death in 1982 by two unemployed autoworkers frenzied about the threat from Japan.

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  1. Ah, irony. How delicious it is.

    Mr. Hoekstra, as a legislator, was certainly among the most enthusiastic Republican supporters of the war started by President Bush against Iraq, and funded directly by billions upon billions in cash infusions from the Chinese government. His support led directly to the debt we now owe.

    No war, no mountain of debt, certainly not at the level we see now. Pete, your votes and support helped turn our country into a debtor nation, and now you want to blame it on someone else. What a hypocrite.

    Voters, know that Republicans will always find a boogeyman to blame, using it to inflame their supporters. That's just how they roll. Time to knock them off the road and into a rice paddy.

  2. Clark Durant, Hoekstra's opponent is making hay both with this ad and Heokstra's hypocrisy vis a vis his past voting record. If I were a sane Republican, I'd be for Durant if simply for the fact that Hoekstra is the Tea Party and Janice Daniels's annointed one, see quote below from her, pre-Mayor days:

    "Once I realized that fact I came to the honest, heart felt conclusion that the only person in the Republican primary with an identifiable presence, a man who sat on the Armed Services Committee and fought hard to keep Gitmo terrorists from being housed in northern Michigan, who could win against the machine was Pete Hoekstra. Now say what you will about some of his votes - I don't like them either - not one bit - but I do believe that he is 100 percent pro-life and I believe that he stands for many of the values that the tea party and other conservatives stand for. Few of us really know what it is like to be bullied and misled in an elitist group of 545 people into believing that something might be the least of the untenable decisions placed before us. I don't for one minute think that Pete Hoekstra can be considered to be stabenow light and though I really really really wish we could elect Peter Konetchy, I know that we can't and to pretend otherwise is not productive. I prefer to win in small steps, but win nonetheless, than to continue to battle windmills in one fell swoop and lose everything"...Janice Daniels, Patriots for America website

    Hmmm, "bullied" seems to be a feeling that Janice has a lot, even before her gay slur days. Note also her smooth political operative talkese, this is no "Mr. Smith goes to Washington" for the people, novice outsider, also she has plans ala Pinky and the Brain, to take over the world ;-p