Friday, January 15, 2010

They Don't Understand

Jon Chait, on Republicans ill-fated attempts to play the race game (they, it seems, are the only ones who see it as a game).
Steele perfectly embodies modern Republican racialism. Democratic racialism represents a perversion of the civil rights ideal--an opposition to racism taken to excesses of hypersensitivity, occasionally devolving into a mere political tactic. Republican racialism is an attempt to mimic Democratic racialism without first having any grasp of the original sentiment underlying it--a parodic replica of the original thing, like a person who decides to convert to Judaism by studying Madonna.

Republican racialism is not an expression of racism but, rather, a failure to understand racism. Obama’s appearance on the scene has made this misapprehension painfully apparent. On the right, there lies an enduring suspicion that Obama’s race has been his greatest, and possibly only, political asset. As Glenn Beck complained in 2008, “a lot of white people will say, ‘Look, I’m not racist. I voted for Barack Obama.’ ” Only white racial guilt could explain the inexplicable rise of this inexperienced, ultra-radical, teleprompter-dependent figure.

Chait notes that the first GOP response to the rise of Obama has been to "get their own Black guy" -- an instinct that also showed up in the Palin selection.

On the topic, see also LGM and Matt Yglesias


Mark said...

The linked post does not mention "game" at all. Apparently you are the only one in the room referring to it as a game.

I guess that's your game.

David Schraub said...

Inferences are a grievous sin, I know, but maybe you'll find it in your heart to look past it.

PG said...


You must not read much of your political peers' work if you think David came up with the phrase or concept of "race game."

Meanwhile, could you explain to me what was racist about what Harry Reid said? Is the idea that acknowledging the existence of racism (which is what a political calculation about lighter skin and the use of standard English does) is itself racist?

David Schraub said...

After he answer's that, then he could answer how either "acknowledging uncomfortable but empirically demonstrable truths" or "using archaic and socially inappropriate terminology" even remotely approaches wishing that a White supremacist candidate running on a White supremacist platform won the 1948 presidential elections -- since the What About Trent Lott? seems to be the GOP headliner on this issue.

PG said...

Incidentally, I wish the authors of the book would release the full tape or whatever documentation they have of the incident. Reid has been so anxious to apologize and put it behind him that he has said very little of the circumstance in which the conversation occurred, but I find it unlikely that he wasn't basically answering a question of "Do you think Obama's race will affect his ability to win the general election?" (Since this was the question every Democrat was discussing during the early primary season, perhaps especially black Democrats who initially thought the likelihood of America's electing a black guy so slim that they supported Clinton until Obama won snowy Iowa.)

joe said...

Granted Republicans are either self-servingly disingenuous or idiots when it comes race relations and in the US and these attacks on Harry Reid are ridiculous, but I never understood the Trent Lott uproar. I mean, Strom Thurmond, the actual guy who ran as the actual white supremacist gets to keep his seat, everyone in the Senate treats him as a buddy or loveable old uncle, Democrats accept him as one of their own for 20 years then he decides to cross the aisle and Republicans welcome him with open arms for the next 35, even senility is no bar to reelection... and the outrage is the interpretation of what some other guy, speaking informally and vaguely, said at a toast?

Gimme a break!

This is the same reason I try not to freak out over Al Franken's old jokes, or Obama's "bitter-gate," or anything Bush, Biden, or Palin ever said. This is sideshow, either a childish game of gotcha or a compulsive parsing of rhetoric, rhetoric being the words people use to cloak concrete action and policy.

It's not particularly important how Harry Reid privately handicaps presidential elections or how Trent Lott talks with a couple drinks in him around the clubhouse. What matters is how they voted. Is the effect of these votes the perpetuation of white privilege (just one aspect of the Republican platform of "fuck you I got mine") or the combating of it.

PG said...

how Trent Lott talks with a couple drinks in him around the clubhouse

Except he wasn't at the clubhouse (we'll probably never know how he speaks there, since reporters generally aren't present). He was speaking at a semi-official event honoring Strom Thurmond's years of service in the Senate. It was televised on C-SPAN, and Lott knew it. Most of his remarks were prepared and read off papers that he brought to the podium; he wasn't just coming up with stuff off the cuff. I wish people would watch that video before saying what the Lott controversy consisted of, since memory fades in 7 years.

Thurmond, so far as I know, since the 1970s has adopted the stance that he accepts and participates in integration. (As his defenders like to note, he was one of the first Southern senators to hire a black staffer.) The problem with what Lott said is that he was expressing the socially and politically unacceptable view that Thurmond's 1948 platform was not a regrettable error (but hey a lot of otherwise-decent people took time to get right on race), but in Lott's view a still-desirable concept. It indicates that Lott doesn't see being pro-segregation as an embarrassing chapter in Southern politicians' histories.

joe said...

I did see the video. As you point out: "It was televised on C-SPAN, and Lott knew it."

Which goes directly to my point.

I find it highly dubious that a modern politician would so publicly make a remark with the intent of conveying specific support for a segregationist platform. If we accept the description as a formal speech it becomes even more unlikely.

Because embarrassment and loss of a leadership positions would be extremely foreseeable if that was the speaker's intent. Occam's razor suggests Lott isn't that dense.

On the other hand, if the remark was something else, more in the spirit of backslapping and reminding us just how old Strom Thurmond was, it makes a lot more sense.

Now, does that make the remark politically adroit? No. Was it insensitive? Yes. I'd even say it effectively whitewashed an important bit of history, but that's how many conservatives genuinely view the world--all that nasty stuff is in the past and entirely disconnected from events in the present (of course, on some level that's the rationalization of the privileged, but typically that's subconscious). And whitewashing is a very common impulse. It's why the bulk of the sin and injustice we as a society purport to reject is effectively ignored in the common historical narrative (as opposed the understanding of actual historians) of individuals we as a society label Great Men. From the founding fathers on down.

And ultimately, divining intent from some speech or private conversation is still a sideshow, and still unreliable. Again I say look at the votes.

PG said...

if the remark was something else, more in the spirit of backslapping and reminding us just how old Strom Thurmond was, it makes a lot more sense.

Since he didn't specify it was the 1948 election in which Thurmond ran for president, it doesn't make any point about Thurmond's age.

And "backslapping" about how we "wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years" had other states done as Mississippi did and supported Thurmond instead of Truman's pro-integration platform is precisely what was wrong with what Lott said. The entire reason for Thurmond's breaking from the Democratic Party and running independently for president was the Southern Democrats' disapproval of Truman's executive order to racially integrate the military, as well as proposed fair employment commissions and federal anti-lynching laws. There was no substantive reason to vote for Thurmond instead of Truman other than support for the maintenance of white supremacy in the South.

And the other people present at the event were aware that Lott had said something questionable. If you've seen the video, you might recall that whereas Lott's other statements in praise of Thurmond were repeatedly interrupted with applause and laughter, the "wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years" was met with silence. I don't think Lott was specifically thinking about racial integration as "these problems," but his one-man nostalgia show indicates that, like many conservatives, he doesn't recognize what has happened since 1948 as progress and improvement, instead deeming those the Good Ol' Days.

joe said...

If he wasn't thinking of racial integration what are we saying here? I completely agree it was a typical example of conservative cluelessness. Is that really worth outrage in excess of all the votes by nearly all conservative politicians that manifest this ignorance?

I think not.

And demanding he step down from a leadership position just to be replaced by someone with an interchangeable conservative understanding of race? That's nothing more than a pick-up game of gotcha.

PG said...

"If he wasn't thinking of racial integration what are we saying here?"

I said he wasn't specifically thinking of racial integration, but a large part of certain conservatives' nostalgia for their youth is not having had to deal with diversity. It is fundamental to the literally conservative mindset to be suspicious of change and protective of the status quo, and this is a mindset that's much easier to embrace when the status quo favors people like you and change might challenge your privilege.

I don't agree with your purely voting-record-based determinations of who are the good and the bad, because I think the motive for the vote matters. For example, if someone consistently takes a strict view of the interstate commerce clause and on that basis votes against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, I disagree with his vote but I respect his rationale (particularly if he urges states to pass similar laws that would not be constitutionally suspect in his reading of the Constitution). In contrast, someone like Ron Paul who opposes the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as unconstitutional, but votes for the federal government to regulate abortion providers who are no more engaged in interstate commerce than Ollie's Barbecue was, has shown where his priorities lie: stopping racial discrimination isn't important enough to override concerns about the commerce clause, but deciding which particular procedures doctors can perform is.

I would much rather have someone with a consistent principle for his votes in the leadership -- even a principle with which I disagree -- than someone who opportunistically votes in whatever way will advantage his own group (whether that group is defined by race, sex, socioeconomics or geography).