Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

They Cried Racism

Andrew Breitbart is rightly furious at attempts to paint the Tea Partiers and Obamacare opponents as racists, but I think he misunderstands the purpose of the slurs.  Breitbart writes that "The Democratic Party and the political left cannot use the race card to shut up its opponents based on pure fabrication any longer."  That is very true, but also beside the point.  Those kinds of accusations of racism are much, much more likely to infuriate self-identified conservatives than intimidate them.  They also won't do much to win over white persuadables who haven't bought into the Paul Krugman theory of political history. Really, how is this supposed to work?

Persuadable Voter: Well I'm not sure if I support cuting Medicare to pay for a new entitlement, and I don't like the idea of a mandate.

Democrat Flack: The people who are out protesting the President's health care plan are racists. 

Persuadable Voter : Oh, well then I'm for it.

So why use this strategy at all?  Well we shouldn't totally discount an element of sincerity in some cases.  It isn't a stretch to believe that Janeane Garofalo and Keith Olbermann are shallow and insular enough to actually believe that protests against Obama's policies are driven primarily by racism.  A more cynical reason for this strategy is that the attempt to paint Republicans and Obama critics as racists is an attempt to consolidate the African American (and to a lesser extent Latino vote) around the Democratic Party. 

It is shrewd long-term strategy.  Democrats arn't going to win over many conservatives without major policy changes they don't want to make.  White persuadables have been trending Republican (as we saw in New Jersey, Virginia and Massachusetts), and probably won't be won over by November unless the labor roars back to health far faster than anybody expects.  But the racist slurs will quickly be forgotten by persuadables (conservatives will nourish a bitter resentment, but they weren't voting for liberal Democrats anyway, so no loss.) Those  same white peruadables will still be there and still be persuadable in 2012.  They will be open to vote for either party depending on the arguments and conditions of the moment.  Not a lot of white persuadables are going to vote against President Obama or Senator Debbie Stabenow in 2012 because of what John Lewis or some liberal journalist said about the Tea Party protests in 2009 or 2010.  But reinforcing the identification of Republicans as racists among African Americans and maintaing the huge margins Democrats enjoy among African Americans (and hopefully keeping the 2 to 1 margins Obama won among Latinos) is crucial for the long term health of the Democratic Party.

This PPP poll demonstrates the importance to Democrats of winning huge supermajorities among African Americans and broad majorities among Latinos.  Obama's approve/disapprove numbers are under water at 46% approve and 48% disapprove.  But the racial crosstabs tell a slightly different story.  Obama's disapprove among whites is 59% but his approval numbers are 17 to 1 favorable among African American and 3.5 to 1 favorable among Latinos.  And that is with a lousy labor market.  If anything, the numbers paint an even more depressing picture for 2012 when one looks at history.  As Henry Olsen pointed out in the Claremont Review of Books, Republicans have not won 59% of the white vote in a presidential election since 1988.  Based on experience, the huge current Republican margins among whites are probably unsustainable if conditions improve even a little - and that is with a demographic in relative decline.  But the Democratic margins among African Americans and perhaps Latinos are quite sustainable for the foreseeable future unless something changes.  

The demonization of Republicans and tying them to racial incidents has become a routine part of left-of-center politics in the last twelve years.  My first clear memory is of the the 1998 radio ad that slyly tied Republicans to church burnings. There was the James Byrd ad in 2000, the attempt to turn the Katrina into an example of Republican racism rather than incompetence (the incompetence of the Democratic state and local authorities not being racist of course), and now this feeding frenzy about Tea Party racism.  These are just the attempts to demonize Republicans as racist that have made their way into the mass media.

The strategy has worked so far, but the fact that Democrats feel that they have to take such loathsome efforts to maintain their huge margins indicates that their hold on those margins might be more fragile than one would think. 

Discussions - 4 Comments

I'm sure this is implicit in your comments, but this demonization is more tyranny of the majority tactics--that it's not respectable for fashionable people to be affiliated with putatively racist Tea Partiers, just as they should not be with Sarah Palin, Rush, anti-illegal immigration causes, etc. The media notables imply that the majority of respectable Americans don't associate with such types, so go back into your comfortable isolation! Perhaps this should be called the Silent Tyranny of the Would-Be Majority. Now it's harder to pull off with competing media voices and bloggers.

In post-'64/'65 America; or the post-Cosby show America (or for that matter post-Jeffersons or post-Sanford and Son America); or the post-notable increase of college graduates and professionals of color America; or the post rise in popular influence of all sorts of black public figures America; or the post racial presidency of Barack Obama America--accusations of racism become incendiary to those whites who perceive themselves to have been left behind (to use the typical post-millennial dispensational theological language of all of our technocratic social reformers these days). This rhetoric serves Obama in bolstering his electoral coalition of blacks, Latinos, women, yadda yadda yadda. This all may be true, but in its unintended repercussions it seems deadly to me.

It has the tendency of exacerbating racial and ethnic discord. For instance, it has the tendency of "bringing out" the alleged always already racist attitudes of working class whites. The MSM played this up when Obama attended the death of the WV coal miners. "While many locals are opposed to Obama's policies, they..." When I see such political speech and deed in the media or amongst public officials, I sometimes think that these influential people (on both the left and right) truly desire to have the race war that has thankfully been avoided through the good character of most Americans, the use of persuasive rhetoric by exceptional Americans, functioning institutions in terms of the rule of law provided by founding Americans, and a general XN (even if secularized) notion of the dignity of each and every human being that most Americans adhere to as some sort of civil religion which still points to their individual salvation.

So Obama may win an election with such rhetoric, but he may lose a country. BTW--Obama is not the only gulity party here--there are plenty on the right who are ready to ratchet up the tribal ethno-racial political passions.

Somehow, I suspect that propagating libelous non sequiturs is something other than a 'shrewd long-term strategy' for the Democratic Party, or that the thinking of the three members of Congress peddling this tall tale was shrewd, strategic, or long-term. Back to your hobby horse.

Ken, on the subject of cries of racism, I don't think the primary intent or hope is to convince white conservatives that they are alone and should shut up or white persuadables to put aside their policy concerns in the moment. I don't doubt they would welcome such developments, just that I think they are smart enough not to expect them. On the general project of stigmatizing conservative figures and causes associated with the right, I think you have a point, but I think such efforts are aimed more to low information voters than to conservatives. I make it a point to try to listen to a half hour of CNN's Rick Sanchez during my drive home and his Monday first two segments on the Arizona law seemed to occur in some other universe. My favorite bit was Sanchez's and guest Gloria Borger's agreement that a) everyone agreed on border security and b) all that could reasonably be done on border security had been done. But there was nothing that would actually get a supporter of the law to change their mind. It left the general impression that Sanchez and Borger were incredibly insular (my personal choice), dishonest, or brain injured. I haven't seen how the three major network broadcasts have covered the law. I should make more of an effort to watch one of those after the first half hour of Special Report. I could probably get the first segment or two in before baby's bath time. I think that the alternative conservative media does some good in reinforcing conservative morale and making conservatives feel like they are not alone out there, but I think they do less good in winning over those voters that are the primary target of attempts at stigmatizing conservative figures and such. Thats not a complaint just that the audience for the alternative conservative media is not the majority of the country.

Anon, I don't really worry that tactics like the James Byrd ad, the church burning ad, ect. will lead to much social strife (unstable individuals aside, since who knows what might set them off.) I think that conservatives (at every part of the income distribution) resent the heck out of those tactics, white liberals assume that the tactics either reflects the truth or is what conservatives deserve for their historical sins, the association of large parts of the African American community with the Republican Party with racism is reinforced, and most white persuadables forget about it soon enough. Part of it is that I suspect that most of those tactics occur at a media level that is invisible to the vast majority of Americans, and for those who don't consume much conservative media, these kinds of tactics don't become part of our public memory. You won't see many stories that tie together examples Democratic race baiting in the MSM. Anyway I haven't.

AD, harsh and unfair criticism aimed at stigmatizing a group that a constituency is already predisposed to distrust could be a quite shrewd in maintaining one's margin of electoral advantage among that constituency. Which I presume is why (along with some sincerity in some cases) is why we see those tactics.

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