Monday, April 07, 2014

What the elephant left in the room

Perhaps, though, it would be better to start off with a better question. Shorter Jonathan Chait:
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]

11 comments:

Julia said...

How nice of him to also ignore the many explicitly racist comments the GOP regularly makes about Obama and African-Americans. Instead he pretends this is all in the heads of the Liberals.

It is interesting because this meshes nicely with the many discussions about Eich oozing back under his rock. Many Concerned People are queuing up for the nearest swooning couch because the little people dared to object to his actions because ... something about free speech.

But what it boils down to is everyone who is not a rich white heterochristian should shut up and let their betters speak.

Carol Ann said...

I agree with the least sentence. See how DiFi is dissed because of her "emotionality" and Hilary because she is, you know, "old" and so on and so on. WASPOM all the way

Yastreblyansky said...

To be fair, the article as a whole is much better than that: Chait recognizes the racism and being a gifted writer he characterizes it very well. Only then he gets Concerned.

Victor said...

Racism is part of it, sure. Even a large part of it.

But, there's also misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, and religious intolerance.

Add to all of that, the Reich-Wings reflexive gag reflex at any and every thing anyone to their left wants to do, and all you have is a group of bigots.

And these people are happy to do 180's on prior positions, if anyone to their left decides to accept them.

As the GREAT Charles Pierce says, "These are the mole people."

Hate, fear, and bigotry, are all that Modern Conservatism stands for.

Even William F. Buckley would be disgusted by the new zoo crew.
And, he wasn't exactly RFK.

aimai said...

Great, great post Yastreblyansky.

I just read a series of interlinked posts about why the MRA movement and individual MRAs get so upset when they are told they are "creepy" or that their behavior is creepy. The argument is that this is the word to which they have no rebuttal--everything else that a woman can say to a man who is agressing on her can be swatted away, or argued with, or lawyered down but when you move the discussion to your subjective experience of the guy ("You are creeping me out.") you've left them no room to maneuver.

I think that some liberals, like Chait, are almost as afraid of the power of the word "racist" as the Conservatives are. Conservatives hate it because its powerful and associated with America's longest war (the 400 years that non white people have struggled to gain equal rights) and because it was such a powerful motivator of the Civil Rights and Religious discourse around equality. But some liberals seem to hate it because it cuts them out of the discussion--it shifts the moral ground towards non white people (victims of racism) and makes it harder to have conversations about politics that are cerebral and are "above" this kind of ugly talk.

There can be no doubt that much of the attacks on Obama are out and out based on racism--the iconography and the language tells us that. And I agree with Y that much of the antipathy towards Clinton was racialized precisely in the way it was also sexualized and in the way it was classed. His "poor white trash" shtick was simultaneously a way of representing him as black. His sexuality and his appetites were both identified with the 60's and with blackness. So to deny what is obvious you have to figure that Chait and other liberals are getting something out of the denial.

aimai said...

I guess I've kind of left this hanging out there. My point here, and I do have one, is that there remains a kind of liberalism and liberal activism which sees racism as a problem, but not constitutive of all the problems, in US society. I've really long since abandoned that model of politics and political discourse. I mean--we could have a politics of economic and civil rights that was progressive vs conservative without having race in everything--but we don't. By the accident of history and the fallout of the regional groupings and politics in the post reconstruction era race is ineradicably in everything we do and touch. You can't have a political discussion without talking about racism and the use of racism by the oligarchy any more than you can take politics itself out of politics. I'm sorry if that makes people who are just in it for the money and the power and grinding the faces of the poor feel sad, or embarrassed, or unjustly accused. But it just can't be helped.

Yastreblyansky said...

Well, Aimai, (*blushes furiously*) the company over here is pretty stimulating.

aimai said...

I googled the link to your site, Y, "The Rectification of Names" and I came across your brilliant David Brooks parody. I've bookmarked it for the next time David Brooks' writings darken my doorway and I need an antidote.

Frank Wilhoit said...

The racism is fortuitous. Conservatism is (and has always and only been, in every time and place) the proposition that there should be in groups and out groups. The in groups are protected by the law but not bound by it; the out groups are bound by the law but not protected by it. The purpose of this is not to materially benefit the in groups, but rather to humiliate the out groups.

The question then becomes how the groups are to be defined. in the early days of homogeneous societies, the in group was the aristocracy. This was not racism, as everyone had the same ethnicity; but it was conservatism, even before the word was invented.

Today, it is more convenient to pick on out groups who can be visually identified. Then it may take the form of racism.

aimai said...

Very true, FW. If you read any account of an ethnically and racially homogenous but aristoractic society you see every racist trope invoked by the aristocrats against the lower orders--filth, ignorance, hypersexuality, lack of continence, drug addiction, etc..etc...etc... Of course a protestant/middle class revolution sometimes turns this on its head, briefly, and the aristocracy can be demoted and reimagined as worthless, effete, upper class wastrels. But basically there is a continuity of complaints about the powerless in which their situation is always their own fault.

Julia said...

In societies that may seem racially uniform, people are very good at creating ethnicities and sub-groups.

So you might be British, but you could be the wrong part of Britain, or worse, Welsh and so not really British.

In America the Irish, Polish, Italians and Jewish people were all seen as inferior to whites. In certain contemporary novels, the descriptions of the appearance, speech and habits of immigrants from these countries were just as offensive and cartoonish as those of African-Americans and Asians (usually Chinese).

This is all a long-winded way of saying that race is a social construct. Today, in America the current definition of race focuses on skin color and ancestral origin. If all of the brown skinned people were to disappear tomorrow, there would soon be new racial groupings with at least one group serving as the N-clang!