MSNBC's Countdown Sees GOP 'Hard Turn to the Right' Alienating Middle America

On Friday's Countdown show on MSNBC, substitute host Brian Unger lived up to Keith Olbermann's habitually liberal standards as he portrayed recent efforts by Senate Republicans to declare English America's official language and to ban gay marriage as a "hard turn to the right." He hearkened back to the "exclusionary rhetoric" of the 1992 Republican convention that spelled a "political disaster" for Republicans, and wondered if it could be "1992 all over again." Regarding the proposed gay marriage ban, Unger referred to it as part of the "far right's greatest hit list," and characterized the Senate Judiciary Committee vote for a constitutional amendment as "tossing social conservatives a straight-as-an-arrow bone."

In spite of a recent Zogby poll showing 84 percent of Americans, including 77 percent of Hispanics, support making English the nation's official language, Unger teased the show wondering if Republicans would "alienate the American middle": "Could these two right turns alienate the American middle? What playing to the Republican base could mean for the President and voters come midterm election." He introduced the show by recounting the 1992 Republican convention which renominated former President George H.W. Bush: "The 1992 Republican convention was widely regarded as a political disaster in which the party's social conservatives managed to alienate swing voters with their exclusionary rhetoric. A new cultural war was launched, and not coincidentally, it was the Democratic ticket that managed to win the '92 election. Our fifth story on the Countdown, could it be '92 all over again?" (Transcript follows)

Unger then portrayed recent pushes by Republicans on illegal immigration and gay marriage as a "hard turn to the right": "The Bush administration hoping to rally the base with a hard turn to the right on a host of exclusionary issues. Some merely call them wedge issues, but most call them downright divisive. Gay marriage and immigration among them. The question, whether the strategy might do more harm than good. President Bush hitting the road Friday to stump for Republican candidates ... The immigration debate taking its own hard turn to the right. The Senate voting to make American, rather, English, the official language of the land."

A piece by Mike Taibbi, which also ran earlier on the NBC Nightly News, elaborated on a Senate proposal to declare English the national language, during which Taibbi notably claimed that "the debate has turned nastier," referring to "conservative commentators" who have criticized a watered-down version of the proposal, and showing a clip of Rush Limbaugh from his radio show.

After Taibbi's piece, and before bringing aboard Time's Mike Alan to discuss the issues further, Unger focused on the gay marriage issue: "Now, also on the far right's greatest hit list, gay marriage. In case you've forgotten, they're against it, not for it. They being the Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, tossing social conservatives a straight-as-an-arrow bone. The committee voting along party lines in favor of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages ..."

Below is a transcript of relevant portions from the May 19 Countdown show:

Brian Unger, in opening teaser: "Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? America talk English, only? Sayanara, pig latin. The Senate votes to make English America's official language. Plus, the Senate push to ban gay marriage picks up steam today. Could these two right turns alienate the American middle? What playing to the Republican base could mean for the President and voters come midterm election ..."

Unger introduced the show: "And good evening. I'm Brian Unger in Los Angeles for Keith Olbermann. The 1992 Republican convention was widely regarded as a political disaster in which the party's social conservatives managed to alienate swing voters with their exclusionary rhetoric. A new cultural war was launched, and not coincidentally, it was the Democratic ticket that managed to do win the '92 election. Our fifth story on the Countdown, could it be '92 all over again? The Bush administration hoping to rally the base with a hard turn to the right on a host of exclusionary issues. Some merely call them wedge issues, but most call them downright divisive. Gay marriage and immigration among them. The question, whether the strategy might do more harm than good. President Bush hitting the road Friday to stump for Republican candidates, which doesn't look nearly as much fun as what he was doing on Thursday dune-buggying along Arizona's Mexico border. That's more like it. The immigration debate taking its own hard turn to the right. The Senate voting to make American, rather, English, the official language of the land. Correspondent Mike Taibbi has all the details, almost all of them in English."

Mike Taibbi: "At the New York Language Center in Queens, New York, they learn one language -- English, America's national language if a Senate amendment to a new immigration law passes."

Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN): "English is part of our national identity. It's part of our blood."

Taibbi: "But opponents say the bill's wording that unless otherwise authorized, 'no person has a right to have the government provide services or materials in any language other than English' is aimed squarely at Hispanics, the bulk of this country's illegal immigrants."

Harry Reid, Senate Minority Leader: "While the intent may not be there, I really believe this amendment is racist."

Taibbi: "The official White House position is that command of the English language should be a requirement for citizenship. The students who come to schools like this one already know that. But as the debate has turned nastier with conservative commentators attacking a less restrictive amendment-"

Rush Limbaugh: "They vote to make English the what, national language, and then they say, 'Screw it, it doesn't mean anything.'"

Taibbi: "-immigrants concerned about their status are avoiding classes like these."

Barbara Dick, New York Language Center: "Because people are afraid. They don't know what's happening."

Taibbi: "And while the national language amendment has mostly symbolic importance, some critics say it could kill the chance for any meaningful immigration law."

Deborah Notkin, American Immigration Lawyers Association: "These kind of things are being used as poison pills to break down the legislation."

George W. Bush audio, followed by Spanish translation: "This week I nominated General Mike Hayden."

Taibbi: "From the top of our government to the wording of our currency to the signs and symbols at every direction you look, this has always been a multilingual country. But in the current atmosphere, the label of English as the official language is closer than ever to becoming the law. Mike Taibbi. NBC News, New York."

Unger: "Now, also on the far right's greatest hit list, gay marriage. In case you've forgotten, they're against it, not for it. They being the Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, tossing social conservatives a straight-as-an-arrow bone. The committee voting along party lines in favor of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages like these. How come we don't have video of the vote? The committee meeting behind closed doors, but not, I repeat, not in a closet. One Democrat on the committee, Senator Russ Feingold, storming out as a result. It did get ugly. Committee chairman Arlen Specter bidding Feingold good riddance, telling him, quote, 'I don't need to be lectured by you. You are no more a protector of the Constitution than am I.' Feingold, however, with the last word, saying, 'I've enjoyed your lecture, too, Mr. Chairman. See ya.' That's right. 'Mr. Chairman.' Even during a political stunt, manners never hurt. The measure going next to the full Senate for debate and a vote has been scheduled for June 5th."

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