Mark Amodei, the former state senator and Nevada Mining Association leader now running as the Republican in Congressional District 2, has put out his first ad. It was about the debt ceiling, and he made clear that he stands with his party: Government needs to cut, not find new revenue. And he showed an ad that included Chinese troops in Washington, D.C., prompting charges that he was being racist.
This has been analyzed aplenty, but some have missed the historical parallels.
One goes way back. The other is of more recent vintage.
The “Wayback Machine” takes us to 1869, when Sen. William M. Stewart of Nevada was responsible for passing the 15th Amendment, which simply said the right to vote shall not be denied on account of race and Congress could enforce that. It left a lot of room to maneuver, allowing poll taxes, literacy tests and grandfather clauses to keep minorities from voting in rightful numbers until the 1960s. Stewart and his colleague, James Nye, felt Nevada should be the first state to ratify the amendment, and asked the state Legislature to act accordingly. The response was, does the amendment apply to the Chinese? Stewart and Nye replied no, not them. The Legislature approved it.
Anti-Chinese sentiment goes way back, indeed. Not that people campaign on that these days, and not that Amodei is racist or xenophobic—although it’s a fun historical fact that the mining industry really abused the Chinese in the old days, and Amodei, who represented the mining industry, is following in the footsteps of his forebears. ]But this brings us to more recent vintage: In the 1980s, Sen.Chic Hecht made a statement that said, essentially, South Africa is a sovereign nation and should be left alone to work out its own problems. At the time, South Africa still had apartheid, and thus Hecht came across to his critics (and for all we know to his supporters) as being pro-apartheid.
Was Hecht personally pro-apartheid? That would be hard to believe. Was he sending a signal to his base—the code language that Republicans occasionally deploy? That would be easier to believe, granting that Hecht wasn’t noted for those kinds of political games. But he certainly reflected his base, which was and is opposed to federal involvement in almost everything that doesn’t involve the military (and opposes it now when a Democrat is in charge of it).
Now, consider that a significant number of Republicans, especially the supposed libertarians or would-be libertarians who compose much of Congressional District 2, wants very much to be left alone. So, in one commercial, Amodei managed to attack the federal government and suggest that it’s being overrun not merely by those to his left, but by a foreign power whose people look different than the average rural Nevadan. And he tossed red meat to a base that likes it raw. You might even say he’s playing an angle.
Michael Green is a professor of history at the College of Southern Nevada.