@blakehounshell I am attempting to explain how this question can be answered, accurately, in different ways.Perhaps, though, it would be better to start off with a better question. Shorter Jonathan Chait:
— Jonathan Chait (@jonathanchait) April 7, 2014
Sure, they're mostly racist, but it doesn't explain what they do. After all, they called Clinton "boy".Actually I've long thought the quip about Clinton's being America's first black president had a lot of truth in it—not in terms of who he was as president, but of how conservatives saw him: according to racist stereotype as an irresponsible slave of his gross animal appetites and incorrigible jive talker, incapable of serious discussion. By the same token conservatives really see Obama according to stereotype as the first Jewish president, a chilly cerebral conspirator simultaneously representing the mysterious elite (foreign George Soros) who already rule the world behind the scenes and driving the terrifying revolutionary mobs who are going to parade through your streets with your head on a pike. A neat trick, that, but something conservatives can imagine.
A better question would be: Why do conservatives use racism as a political tool, and do they have an alternative?
Because it's not really important whether a given Republican operative—Richard Nixon or Lee Atwater—is a racist or not. What's important is the way they took to mobilizing around racism back in the 1960s, gradually absorbing the old white Democrats of the South and the frightened white proletariat of cities like Los Angeles and Cleveland and Detroit and Newark, or the suburbs to which they had fled, into an intrinsically racist institution, the new Republican party, which took what Corey Robin calls the aggrieved conservative "sense of loss" and focused it into a sense of having been robbed by, specifically, dark-skinned people who take taxpayers' money and throw it away on lobster and lottery tickets.
Chait seems to be flirting with the idea that liberals in the Obama presidency use the facts of Republican racism in an unfair way, and a way that damages the political discourse:
many liberals believe that only race can explain the ferocity of Republican opposition to Obama. It thus follows that anything Republicans say about Obama that could be explained by racism is probably racism. And since racists wouldn’t like anything Obama does, that renders just about any criticism of Obama—which is to say, nearly everything Republicans say about Obama—presumptively racist.But excuse me, we've been calling this stuff racist forever: when conservatives protested against "forced" integration, and enforcement of voting rights, and anti-poverty assistance, and every other progressive item on the agenda since the end of World War II. The difference now, because of Obama (and I know he really hates this, but it's true), is that when we call racism people believe it, and they believe it because it can't be rationalized away. The elephant in the room could be a hallucination, but not the dump it just took on your rug.
And if conservatism can't find a way around that, it deserves to die.
[Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names]