"Republican Message Machine" of Talk Radio, Racists Fight Immigration Bill

Bush's immigration bill died on the Senate floor Thursday morning, losing a cloture vote by a surprisingly wide margin. Supporters needed 60 votes to invoke cloture and end debate, but got only 43.

One wonders how the sensitive Times will react in tomorrow's edition, given today's piece by Jeff Zeleny, "Immigration Bill Prompts Some Menacing Responses," which lets wavering Republicans lash out at the "racism" of some of their constituents.

"The threat came in the weekend mail.

"The recipient was Senator Mel Martinez, Republican of Florida, who has been a leading advocate of the proposed legislation for changing the immigration system. His offices in Washington and across Florida have received thousands of angry messages in recent weeks, but nothing as alarming as that letter he received at his home.

"'I'll turn it over to Capitol police, and we'll go from there,' said Mr. Martinez, who declined to elaborate on the nature of the threat.

"On the eve of a crucial vote on the immigration bill, the Capitol Hill switchboard was deluged again Wednesday as thousands of citizens called their members of Congress - and, perhaps, someone else's - to weigh in. Not since the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, several Senate aides said, have the lines been so jammed by a single issue.

"Republicans who support the immigration bill are facing unusually intense opposition from conservative groups fighting it. This is among the first times, several of them said, that they have felt the full brunt of an advocacy machine built around conservative talk radio and cable television programs that have long buttressed Republican efforts to defeat Democrats and their policies.

"While the majority of the telephone calls and faxes, letters and e-mail messages have been civil, aides to several senators said, the correspondence has taken a menacing tone in several cases.

"Senator Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican who is undecided on the final immigration bill, said his office received a telephone call recently that 'made a threat about knowing where I lived.' Mr. Burr passed it along to the authorities. 'There were enough specifics to raise some alarm bells,' he said."

Of course, no one condones death threats or hate mail, though the Times left the details a bit vague.

It's too bad the Times doesn't police its own web site for similar threats against political figures. When Vice President Cheney made a speech last February to the Conservative Political Action Conference(CPAC), reaction by Times' readers was almost unanimously (and sometimes violently) hostile. Here's a comment left on the Times "Caucus" blog (and still posted there as of late June): "Cheney addressing CPAC? Darkness reaching for darkness. If some enterprising terrorist wanted to do this country a favor, for a change, they'd take out the lot of them."

Back to Zeleny on Thursday: "Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who is one of the architects of the immigration overhaul, said he also had received threats in telephone calls and letters to his office. Mr. Graham said several other senators had told him privately that they also received similar messages.

"'There's racism in this debate,' Mr. Graham said. 'Nobody likes to talk about it, but a very small percentage of people involved in this debate really have racial and bigoted remarks. The tone that we create around these debates, whether it be rhetoric in a union hall or rhetoric on talk radio, it can take people who are on the fence and push them over emotionally.'

"The immigration legislation, a priority of President Bush's, has divided the Republican Party. For the past month, no other issue has been debated as passionately among conservatives as this bill, which calls for the most sweeping changes to immigration law in two decades.

Of course, talk radio is a culprit, part of the scary "Republican message machine."

"At the heart of the opposition rests conservative hosts on talk radio and cable television, which often are a muscular if untamed piece of the Republican message machine.

"Several senators said Wednesday that they did not care to be identified speaking critically of the broadcasters, fearing the same conservative backlash that befell Senator Trent Lott, a Mississippi Republican, this month when he declared: 'Talk radio is running America. We have to deal with that problem.'"

One would hope the liberal Times would at least say something against a powerful senator basically threatened to regulate talk radio, but no such luck.