Peter Hoekstra Wins the Super Bowl of China-Bashing: The Ticker

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By Michael Newman

Mitt Romney's recent comments on China, while craven and nonsensical, are hardly surprising: China is to the 2012 campaign what George Bush was to 2008 (i.e., something to run against). Even so, Peter Hoekstra's Super Bowl ad, which aired in six Michigan markets yesterday during the game, deserves special mention.

Hoekstra, a Michigan Republican and former member of the U.S. House, is running against Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow. One of his issues, so his ad informs us, will be China. Cue the Chinese gong (literally): The ad begins with an image of rice paddies as Chinese music plays in the background. Soon an Asian woman riding a bicycle appears. "Your economy get very weak," she says. "Ours get very good. We take your jobs! Thank you, Debbie Spenditnow!"

Leave aside the terse, awkward phrasing, which is not uncommon among American politicians for whom English is supposedly a first language. We can even overlook the grade-school-level name-calling -- which Michigan Democrats answered with an equally mature insult. Making fun of your opponent's name is a valuable part of American political discourse.

What's puzzling is the message the ad is trying to send. The usual (and more defensible) critique of China, as people like James Fallows have pointed out, is that it is harming the U.S. manufacturing sector through currency manipulation and the wanton disregard of environmental and labor standards. Yet there are no images of smokestacks or factory squalor here. Only dusty paths through rice paddies.

Apparently, if the ad's script and imagery are any indication, what Hoekstra is upset about is this: Young female Chinese rice farmers are getting jobs and money, and possibly free bicycles, from Democratic members of Congress. If true, this is scandal that deserves far more scrutiny. Perhaps Hoekstra can elaborate on these claims in a future advertisement.

(Michael Newman is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board.)

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-0- Feb/06/2012 20:03 GMT