RACISM? OR EMPATHY FATIGUE? OR IS THERE NOT MUCH DIFFERENCE?
In the course of defending Rick Perry (and, by extension, the rest of modern conservative America) against charges of racism for Rupert Murdoch's little-read iPad publication the Daily, Reihan Salam writes this -- a paragraph that's getting some left blog attention:
One thing that is undeniably true is that American conservatives are overwhelmingly white in a country that is increasingly less so. As the number of Latinos and Asian-Americans has increased in coastal states like California, New York and New Jersey, many white Americans from these regions have moved inland or to the South. For at least some whites, particularly those over the age of 50, there is a sense that the country they grew up in is fading away, and that Americans with ancestors from Mexico or, as in my case, Bangladesh don't share their religious, cultural and economic values. These white voters are looking for champions, for people who are unafraid to fight for the America they remember and love. It's unfair to call this sentiment racist. But it does help explain at least some of our political divide.
What's odd about this is that Salam tells us this as a way of explaining why conservatives whites might be attracted to Rick Perry and Rick Perry's Texas -- a state that, as he explains elsewhere in his piece,
has a population that is 37.6 percent Latino and 11.8 percent black. The United States as a whole is 16.3 percent Latino and 12.6 percent black.
So if conservative whites are nostalgic for a time when they didn't have to be subjected to those icky, horrible black, Hispanic, or Bangladeshi cultural values, why aren't they moving in large numbers to the whitest states in the union (Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, West Virginia, Iowa, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, Kentucky and North Dakota)? Why move to ethnically diverse Texas (or Arizona or Florida or Georgia or the Carolinas)?
I think the America these white conservatives miss is one in which they didn't feel they had to give a damn about those who were struggling, particularly those who were struggling and weren't ethnically like them. A focus on "the other America" is what they want to avoid, and politicians like Rick Perry give them permission not to focus, by keeping the social spending low and by arguing that social spending is bad for have-nots anyway (an argument Salam also makes). Is that racist? I'd say to a great extent it is, but, at the very least, it's pull-up-the-ladder-now-that-I've-climbed-up-ist.
Right-wing pols make empathy feel like a luxury the middle-class can't afford (and the squeezing of the middle class as the rich get richer reinforces that sense in a very literal way -- by the time middle-class people get done paying their bills with their dwindling share of America's gross income, they feel they literally can't afford empathy).
This is right-wing crypto-racism (sometimes not so crypto-) in the service of plutocrat class warfare. And the plutocrats, needless to say, are winning the war.