Tilly: Aliens in the lobby

BY ZACH TILLY | JUNE 17, 2013 5:00 AM

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On the morning of June 13, Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, alerted 16,400 of his closest Twitter friends (of which I am one) to a particularly stunning piece of news: his office had been overrun by — you won’t believe this — “aliens.”

Apparently, a pro-Dream Act advocacy group called United We Dream paid a visit to King’s office to discuss immigration policy with him. Some reports note that the group went so far as to sit in King’s lobby.

Naturally, the presence of so many active members of the democratic process frightened and confused King, who seemed to believe that he was under attack.

“Twenty brazen, self-professed illegal aliens have just invaded my D.C. office,” he tweeted. “Obama’s lawless order gives them de facto immunity from U.S. law.”

King’s harried cry for help (it is unclear whether the National Guard ever arrived to extract King from the horde of invaders) was absurd, but far from shocking. King, one of the country’s foremost experts on xenophobic ranting, has spent the last decade in Congress turning out racist sound bites the way Tony Stark turns out Iron Man suits: with monomaniacal commitment to his craft.

Also like Tony Stark, King has the luxury of not being held accountable for anything.

See, even after the most recent round of redistricting, King’s district is sufficiently white and sufficiently conservative to insulate him from the political backlash normally associated with overt racism. Thanks to the folks he represents, King is allowed to make himself a public figure by being outlandish without consequence.

King isn’t being overrun by illegal immigrants, he’s sniping at them from an ivory tower.

And his approach works. In the middle of a major legislative debate on immigration reform, his reputation as an unabashed opponent of amnesty has routinely landed him on TV and in the news.

Journalists write stories about him and the many awful things he says and, as a result, he is probably the second most famous member of the state’s Congressional delegation (after Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, whose unintentionally hilarious Twitter feed has captured the nation’s imagination.)

This infamy has created a vicious circle that expands King’s reach even further: His notoriety makes him a go-to figure when the partisan media are putting together panel discussions on immigration.

He’s made numerous appearances on Fox News, he’s been quoted by a long list of conservative outlets, and he’s a perennial fount of material for liberal blogs in search of a whipping boy.

Between an electoral license to bloviate, a sturdy media platform, and some actual pull on a major national issue that is only tangentially related to his home district —King has got it all.

And as long as he stays holed up among his people in northwestern Iowa, he’ll hang onto it. In that respect, he was wise to stay out of Iowa’s 2014 Senate race. A statewide electorate would have forced King to water down his message to have a shot at victory. It would have damaged his brand.

King’s decision to stay put in 2014 ensures that we’re stuck a while longer with an insurgent bigot who wears the “Iowa” name just like us. What are we to do to defend our state’s reputation?

Well, we could all move to Sioux City and vote en masse against King next year. But that seems undemocratic and logistically improbable.

Or, I guess we could stop taking his bait and ignore the guy …

But where’s the fun in that?

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