The Color Of His Presidency

by John Holbo on April 15, 2014

That’s the title of this really good (in my opinion) Jonathan Chait cover article in New York Magazine. At this point it would be customary for me to extract a nut graph but, you know, that results in a lot of squirrels fighting it out in comments about just the nut. I think the whole article deserves considerate discussion. So do that instead. (I will be Chait’s defender! Although, of course, if someone picks on one of the places where his foot slips … well, I can’t defend that.)

UPDATE: Sorry, original link was to a subsection not the whole article. And original post title was a subsection title, not the actual article title. Not that it really matters.

{ 280 comments }

1

Ben 04.15.14 at 8:45 am

The argument’s a mess.

– Thesis: “Liberals dwell in a world of paranoia of a white racism that has seeped out of American history in the Obama years and lurks everywhere, mostly undetectable. Conservatives dwell in a paranoia of their own, in which racism is used as a cudgel to delegitimize their core beliefs. And the horrible thing is that both of these forms of paranoia are right.”

Evidence for the first claim – that liberal paranoia is right – is on the level of broad, mass-based political action: vote percentages, laws enacted, political science studies sampling from the entire population.

Evidence for the second claim, that conservative paranoia is right: Slate writers, MSNBC hosts, and blog posts.

This is Both Sides Do It – ism for the sake of framing the story.

– The bizarre section beginning “By February, conservative rage against MSNBC had reached a boiling point”, in which Chait claims 1) There is a very real question about the legitimacy of the Republican Party, in that the party and its underlying political ideas are rooted in racial resentment, a fact that “is almost too brutal to be acknowledged” but that 2) individual beliefs of conservatives “can’t be dismissed”, for the same reason liberal ideas can’t be dismissed because of anti-Semitism, even though 3) conservatives on both an elite and grassroots level do not recognize the existence of racial animus except as a cudgel liberals use to de-legitimize them (look at the strength of Chait’s language, here: “[T]his is the only context in which they appear able to understand racism”, “Facts like the persistence of hiring discrimination do not exist in this world”) which never-the-less is understandable because 4) liberals do in fact wield that cudgel.

Besides the zany drunken zig-zag course of this argument, the evidence for 1) and 3) is again multi-leveled and concrete and indeed cascading, while the evidence for 2) is a ThinkProgress post, and the evidence for 4) is nothing, because it is an assertion.

Chait uses a funny metaphor to describe conservative rhetoric about race as “let-me-tell-you-again-how-I’m-over-my-ex”; his argument here is along the lines of “my husband The Republican Party might beat me up regularly, but it’s only because I provoke him.”

– Less important but still silly: Chait’s analysis of political “epochs”.

“The racial-policy agenda of the Obama administration has been nearly nonexistent [compared to every president's tenure from Truman to Clinton].” Quick: what were the political fights, among the size of “desegregation, busing and affirmative action”, during the Clinton administration? And were those more or less vociferous than the ones Chait references later in the piece, about voting laws?

During Obama’s term, like so many others issues, ones about race have moved from the Congress to the Courts and the state level, because the MO of the conservatives has been to shut Congress down and work on levers of power that are less accountable democratically / more easily influenced by money.

Another howler: “But if you instead set out to write a social history of the Obama years, one that captured the day-to-day experience of political life, you would find that race has saturated everything as perhaps never before . . . Whereas the great themes of the Bush years revolved around foreign policy and a cultural divide over what or who constituted “real” America, the Obama years have been defined by a bitter disagreement over the size of government, which quickly reduces to an argument over whether the recipients of big-government largesse deserve it.”

Which would make The Bush Years an aberration from the two-generations-old-at-least Republican strategy of equating government action with size of government with government handouts to you-know-who. How someone can write the above paragraph and then explicitly reference the Atwater quote a few pages later is completely beyond me.

Notice that in both instances these mistakes serve to soften the blow against the Republican party / conservative ideology by masking its policy and political strategies.

Too long and understandably didn’t read: Chait’s argument is “conservatives get this wrong about the world, while liberals get this wrong about the world”. But the warrants for that argument are so hilariously one-sided that it’s almost as if Chait wanted to write a scathing indictment of the racial components of Republican political strategy and conservative ideology, but had to frame it as a mealy-mouthed “both sides do bad things” cliche in order to get it published.

2

reason 04.15.14 at 9:17 am

I don’t understand this paragraph:
“The Simpson episode actually provides a useful comparison. The racial divide was what made the episode so depressing: Blacks saw one thing, whites something completely different. Indeed, when Simpson was acquitted in 1995 of murder charges, whites across parties reacted in nearly equal measure: 56 percent of white Republicans objected to the verdict, as did 52 percent of white Democrats. Two decades later, the trial of George Zimmerman produced a very different reaction. This case also hinged on race—Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teen from his neighborhood in Florida, and was acquitted of all charges. But here the gap in disapproval over the verdict between white Democrats and white Republicans was not 4 points but 43. Americans had split once again into mutually uncomprehending racial camps, but this time along political lines, not by race itself.”

ummm… These statistics aren’t comparable in the least , because the cases aren’t comparible.

3

Niall McAuley 04.15.14 at 9:36 am

Chait: Whatever Lee Atwater said, or meant to say, advocating tax cuts is not in any meaningful sense racist.

Even though what Atwater said was that the whole point of saying “tax-cuts” in a campaign is that everyone knows they hurt blacks worse than whites, and that’s the message you want to send? We hurt blacks?

4

Ronan(rf) 04.15.14 at 10:36 am

His foot slips, ever so slightly, when he writes off reams of”historical, sociological and psychological work” as “insane.” Then at the end, when Jonah Goldberg makes an appearance, he starts hurtling down the ravine into a pride of waiting, hungry mountain lions.
Na, I’m only joking. It’s alright I thought. Muddled at times, contradictory at others. Largely pointless as an argument. It might have made an alright blog post rather than a 7 page cover story.

5

Main Street Muse 04.15.14 at 10:46 am

Gawker has links to the ongoing conversation Chait and Ta-nehisi Coates have been having WRT to race. Will be reading this myself when I catch up on grading. http://bit.ly/1p6dmdd

Chait is fantastically and stupidly wrong about the Atwater quote. Atwater’s interview was a remarkable statement made by a man who helped reshape the GOP into the racist, hating, un-American party it is today. Here’s a link to a Nation article that has a link to the 1981 Atwater interview: http://bit.ly/Z7q7VI. Here’s the quote about taxes in full:

“You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

Atwater is, after all, the man who shoved Willie Horton into the national spotlight. Nothing racist about that political ad…

How did the Atwater themes play out? I think a trip to Obamaville is in order… http://bit.ly/1ao5arq (official Rick Santorum 2o12 campaign video).

6

Colin R 04.15.14 at 10:55 am

I think Ta-Nahesi Coates has pretty thoroughly demolished Chait’s arguments on race over there past few weeks. Chait just comes off as an apologist to me; he argues that we cannot presume racism as a motivation for Republican policy, because accusations of racism are super-hurtful. Boo hoo.

7

CP Norris 04.15.14 at 10:57 am

I liked Jamelle Bouie’s take: “It’s a story, in other words, that treats race as an intellectual exercise—a low-stakes cocktail party argument between white liberals and white conservatives over their respective racial innocence.”

8

Barry 04.15.14 at 12:26 pm

04.15.14 at 9:36 am

Chait: “Whatever Lee Atwater said, or meant to say, advocating tax cuts is not in any meaningful sense racist.”

Niall McAuley: “Even though what Atwater said was that the whole point of saying “tax-cuts” in a campaign is that everyone knows they hurt blacks worse than whites, and that’s the message you want to send? We hurt blacks?”

And this was after about one full page of text, wherein Chait demonstrated linkage after linkage after linkage, none of which made sense except with racism as a major, if not the primary driver.

I have never seen somebody spend several hundred words making an argument, and then casually and dishonestly hand-wave away their very own argument.

Frankly, it’s a lousy article. It’s fit to be used an example of liberals not taking their own side in an argument. It’s also a classic piece where a white liberal tells blacks what’s really going on with racism and race relations. It can also be used as an example of what’s wrong with centrism, because ‘centrism’ means that any and all acts on the right have to be dismissed, denied, or balanced with something on the left, no matter how minor that something is.

9

Barry 04.15.14 at 12:32 pm

John, I seriously have to ask – are you kidding? Did you read that and actually think that Chait successfully explained anything?

10

Consumatopia 04.15.14 at 1:19 pm

Given the scale of inequality in this country, the racial disparities in distribution, and the historical reasons for those disparities, opposition to redistribution isn’t code for racism, it is racism. Even if Atwater had never said that, how could a non-racist look at the current distribution of wealth and income relative to race and think that it’s okay?

Chait may have a point that liberals are less optimistic about race or less willing to give their opponents the benefit of a doubt. I think the right question to ask is not “why are liberals paranoid now?” but “why are liberals only seeing the truth now?”

11

John Holbo 04.15.14 at 1:19 pm

Ha! You are all falling into my trap!

No, seriously.

Chait recently came out the worse in his recent debate with Coates, so his stock has fallen a bit on this topic, in particular; and I know that everyone is going to disagree with this piece, too. But I actually think it’s quite good – despite the fact that I, like most people, disagreed with him in the whole Coates go-round.

There ARE problems with the piece. I am not surprised by these comments. But I also think there are very smart bits. You’ll just have to wait for me to start defending it tomorrow. Tonight I have something else I simply have to get done with. As you were!

12

Ben 04.15.14 at 1:24 pm

Seconded. Coming after that mobius strip post about Eich it almost feels like there’s some sort of trap here . . .

13

Ben 04.15.14 at 1:26 pm

(Bah, meant to post after Barry. Glad to see my IT’S A TRAP instincts are sharp!)

14

CP Norris 04.15.14 at 1:27 pm

There’s a joke apocryphally attributed to Margaret Atwood that goes “Women are afraid men will rape and kill them. Men are afraid women will laugh at them.”

Jonathan Chait seems to have written the unironic racial version of that joke.

15

Main Street Muse 04.15.14 at 1:57 pm

Chait is way off base in many areas. “What made the Cheerios ad notable was that MSNBC, through its official Twitter account, announced, “‘Maybe the right wing will hate it, but everyone else will go awww.’”

Actually, what made the Cheerios ad notable was that the company had to shut down YouTube comments due to the racist hatred spewed within them. The MSNBC blip was a minor kerfluffle in comparison. And Cheerios got a lot of PR mileage when they brought the family back in a Super Bowl ad…

16

Barry 04.15.14 at 2:02 pm

John: “There ARE problems with the piece. I am not surprised by these comments. But I also think there are very smart bits. You’ll just have to wait for me to start defending it tomorrow. Tonight I have something else I simply have to get done with. As you were!”

John, perhaps you could have held off on this until such time as you had time to actually defend your position.

I do look forward to pointing out the smart bits, but even then that’s not much – I count high-speed divided limited access highways [wink, wink!] as a smart bit of work, but the overall, ah – flavor of that first government to build them still reeks.

17

Barry 04.15.14 at 2:04 pm

CP Norris +1.

And it’s a rather good rebuttal of Chait’s thesis – John, could you deal with that? One of the things I feel about Chait’s article is that it’s classic BS ‘centrism’. It hand-waves away facts in full view, and desperately seeks to find some little thing to justify a claim that ‘both sides are at fault’.

18

John Holbo 04.15.14 at 2:10 pm

OK, having baited my trap, and trapped you, I guess I have to feed you something before morning, when I set you free.

Here is a very short version of why I think it’s a good article: “It’s a story, in other words, that treats race as an intellectual exercise—a low-stakes cocktail party argument between white liberals and white conservatives over their respective racial innocence.”

This is the critique of Chait, by Bouie, linked above. (I wasn’t aware of Bouie’s critique, before posting, but I did feel Chait was open to this, while I was reading Chait.)

Bouie is obviously right. But only in one sense. It’s obviously a problem if debate about race is an argument between whites and other whites over their respective racial innocence. That’s kind of crazy. Nevertheless, I think Chait is right that this is the crazy debate we’ve got, and it really is a hugely powerful rhetorical driver of elite opinion. He’s sort of saying: if you want to get what’s going on in elite white heads, this is it. And I also think that Chait perfectly well sees how crazy this is, although he could have done a better job of framing it to preclude the criticism that he doesn’t see it

I do feel that Chait draws back, unfortunately, from the natural conclusion of his piece. He makes a nice argument for a conclusion that he then shades with ambiguity:

“Whatever Lee Atwater said, or meant to say, advocating tax cuts is not in any meaningful sense racist.”

The problem is that this is ambiguous between a claim that is obviously true and a claim that is obviously false. And we need to think through both.

I think Chait is also innocent of lazy ‘pox on both your houses’ thinking – although, again, he really needs to do more to guard against appearances to the contrary. I see that.

Well, more tomorrow.

19

P O'Neill 04.15.14 at 2:17 pm

Chait’s responses to the 1st wave of criticism is worth a read.

http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2014/04/obama-racism-and-the-presumption-of-innocence.html

20

John Holbo 04.15.14 at 2:19 pm

“One of the things I feel about Chait’s article is that it’s classic BS ‘centrism’. It hand-waves away facts in full view, and desperately seeks to find some little thing to justify a claim that ‘both sides are at fault’.”

Yes, I see the problem. Clearly. But I think – despite his clear failure to do enough to preclude this unfavorable reading – that this isn’t what Chait is saying. I’ll have to take it up tomorrow.

21

Ronan(rf) 04.15.14 at 2:19 pm

I read his point ‘re attwater that it doesn’t make sense to see attacks on the welfare state as always racist (this might be a straw man admittedly) and that there are principled, conservative reasons independent of the southern strategy and racism to call for less taxes, cuts in public spending etc (which is true. The southern strategy was an attempt to use race to push conservative econ and social policies, right? Not vice versa. So it makes sense that what attwater said in the 70s (60s?) has declining relevance today. Of course race is always tied up in the US context, but there are small government conservatives in racially homogenous countries as well.) I think this is largely a trivial point , and as I said knocking down a strawman, but that’s what he was sayin I think. (On phone apologies for incoherence)

22

Ronan(rf) 04.15.14 at 2:21 pm

I crossposted with most of the above

23

PGD 04.15.14 at 2:22 pm

I don’t think that this is a very good article — it’s got a strong TLDR factor and is very meandering and unclear — but he’s right to take on the simplistic elements of the ‘Republicanism=racism’ equation. Do you think race would have played out the same way if our first black President had been Alan West? Alan Keyes? Is Obama somehow ‘blacker’ than they are, even though he is half white and went to an elite private school in Hawaii? Just like Republican ideology is infused with racial overtones, so liberal ideas about race are infused with ideological overtones, such that people who don’t align with liberal ideology aren’t ‘really’ black in the same way.

The racialized reaction to Obama is all bound up with the culture wars of the 1960s *in general*, not black/white divisions alone. Obama isn’t just our first black President, he’s also our first President with a Muslim/foreign name, our first President born to a single mother who engaged in an interracial relationship with an African Marxist, our first community organizer President, well acquainted with Bill Ayers, etc. etc. etc. He’s a perfect culture war figure along so many dimensions of his background. The fundamentally moderate nature of his character and policies has worked against this, but it only goes so far.

None of this is to say that race doesn’t have an independent effect — I’m pretty sure we would have seen some racist backlash under (to take more realistic figures than West or Keyes) a First Black President Colin Powell or a First Black President Condi Rice. But it would have been far more marginal I think.

24

John Holbo 04.15.14 at 2:23 pm

Thanks for the link P. O’Neill. He says this to Bouie: “That is flatly inaccurate — the essay describes not only elite opinion but also important changes in mass public opinion, both anecdotally (through man-on-the-street quotes) and through Michael Tesler’s study of the survey data.”

Which admittedly contradicts my defense of him above as really having written a kind of descriptive account of a very real elite psychodrama that has sort of seeped into everything. Oh well. Like I said: tomorrow. Perhaps I will have to invent my own Chait, to some degree.

25

P O'Neill 04.15.14 at 2:48 pm

The imminent Crooked Timber group post giving the Grand Unified Theory of Eich-Chait-Coates-Krugman-Piketty-PHRMA is going to be the greatest blog post of all time.

26

Belle Waring 04.15.14 at 2:57 pm

Honey, I’m sorry, but Jonathan Chait has totally lost the argument he has been having with Ta-Nehisi Coates on the subject of the centrality of racism to American ordinary life and political thought. This article made him have lost worse. The Atwater thing, taken all on its own, should be enough to completely hole Chait below the waterline here and sink him full fathoms five, and he’s got apparently 20 tons of lead down below too. “Someone is mean to racist Republicans on the internet” != “actual black citizens of America can apparently be shot at will by white citizens on the streets of Florida without serious legal repercussions such as generally attend murder,” or, if we are to be more charitable (?!) “black citizens are being prevented from exercising their right to vote by racist white fellow-citizens bent on preserving an unjust hegemony they cannot win in a free and fair election.” No, no, no, and no. General CT readers, I like to mention this as often as possible, but I knew Lee Atwater when I was a girl because he was best friends with my step-father Edmund Kirby-Smith when they were at the University of the South together, and he was interested in underaged girls when he was drunk. So not entirely pubescent. Wow. In case you didn’t think he was bad enough of a person, I just like to share that with people. HE WAS ALSO RACIST. I know, right? Sometimes, almost all of the time, in American politics, advocating tax cuts supervenes on racism.

27

Bloix 04.15.14 at 2:58 pm

Chait says:

“MSNBC has spent the entire Obama presidency engaged in a nearly nonstop ideological stop-and-frisk operation.”

This is a revolting sentence. It’s a third-generation iteration of the right-wing trope that the only real racism is racism against white people. It belittles the true racism of racial profiling and harassment of law-abiding residents of New York and at the same time presents powerful Republican office-holders and media billionaires as beleaguered and powerless at the hands of the MSNBC thought police.

And other than the reverse racism accusation, what does it mean? In what way does calling out racism (even if it’s not there) resemble stopping people on the street in a search for drugs and guns? The metaphor has no explanatory power at all; it’s 100% heat and no light.

I’m sure Chait and his editors thought it was a remarkably clever and provocative in a Slate-contrarian kind of way. But I don’t have the time or inclination to spend seven pages with someone who wants to feed me this kind of slop.

28

John Holbo 04.15.14 at 3:06 pm

“MSNBC has spent the entire Obama presidency engaged in a nearly nonstop ideological stop-and-frisk operation.”

OK, you are right. That is a revolting sentence.

29

William Timberman 04.15.14 at 3:16 pm

Revolting ain’t the half of it. Ta-Nehisi gets it right, but he’s far too polite. Belle gets it much righter. I grew up with these folks, and with their apologists — somewhat farther down the Dixie social ladder than Belle apparently did, but like her, I’m not about to forget who they are.

30

Consumatopia 04.15.14 at 3:20 pm

I guess I made the same argument Ed Kilgore did, so it’s worth noting that Chait’s response–the “objectively pro-Communist” stuff–is nonsense. Communism is an ideology, and opposing a policy that would result in dead Communists doesn’t mean that you share any of that ideology. On the other hand, if you support a policy that harms black people unjustly, then you simply are, objectively, anti-black.

If someone were arguing that free speech helps racists therefore free speech is objectively racist, then the comparison would fit. But there’s a huge difference between saying “you’re objectively racist because you support this policy that helps racists” (doubtlessly many good policies help racists as racists are people and policy tries to help people) and “you’re objectively racist because you support a policy that unfairly hurts black people”.

I do agree that supporting tax cuts isn’t racist merely because Atwater was racist. But a non-racist tax cut agenda would look very different from any currently being proposed (Expanding EITC? Empowerment zones? I dunno, they can figure that part out.)

31

Cranky Observer 04.15.14 at 3:28 pm

I’m reminded of previous discussions here about the theory of the firm, in which I’ve pointed out that even if you fit the cultural profile of a large organization & are liked by the controlling powers it takes about 10 years before you are trusted with even the first glimpse of how strategic decisions are actually made.

Similarly in my wanderings around the semi-rural areas where most US manufacturing takes place today: even though I can ” pass” as a right-thinking conse
Murican (albeit a spy from HQ) it takes upwards of six months before the guys at the site tell me even a little about their personal feelings towards others (for example, minorities & gays). How exactly does this get factored in? Does Chiat actually believe that anyone has told the truth on any poll of racial attitudes since 1970?

32

nnyhav 04.15.14 at 3:32 pm

I blame David Brooks. Chait’s looking like a mirror image, and about as self-reflective.

It’s symptomatic of a wider tendency, commentary morphing into “curation”, that bodes ill for opeditorial debate, see f’rinstance Elias Inquith in Salon, or How Politics Makes Ezra Klein Stupid”.

33

Anarcissie 04.15.14 at 3:37 pm

Chait’s article is boring because it has no depth. It has no depth because Chait accepts the linguistic and conceptual mishmash of popular and especially mainstream-media discourse on the issues discussed, so that nothing much can be uttered except a regurgitation of the previously gobbled mishmash. This nugget or that may be pecked out for special attention, but basically there’s no there there.

34

AcademicLurker 04.15.14 at 4:01 pm

Among the several reasons Chait’s article is annoying is that should be howlingly obvious what agenda is being served by promoting the “but it’s so terrible to suggest that someone is motivated by racism” line.

If the norm can be established that suggesting that a person acts out of racist motivations is the most unspeakably horrible thing imaginable (getting shot for walking down the street minding your own business is mere minor inconvenience by comparison), then accusations of racism get ruled out of acceptable discourse, leaving people free to act as blatantly racist as the please without getting called on it.

35

dn 04.15.14 at 4:22 pm

The article is hopeless.

Liberals dwell in a world of paranoia of a white racism that has seeped out of American history in the Obama years and lurks everywhere, mostly undetectable. Conservatives dwell in a paranoia of their own, in which racism is used as a cudgel to delegitimize their core beliefs. And the horrible thing is that both of these forms of paranoia are right.

This is Chait’s thesis, and it is a bullsh*t framing of the issue. This cannot be about “liberals” and “conservatives” conceived as homogenous blocs. If he is trying to tease apart race from other issues, so as to establish to establish that American conservatism and liberalism are not defined by racism and anti-racism (a project that I would welcome!), he needs to actually make distinctions within the actually existing conservative camp. He won’t do it, because it’s nigh-impossible to separate out racists from non-racists when the whole GOP moves in lockstep on everything from healthcare to immigration to voter ID. Particularly in the light of Lee Atwater, whose quote Chait incomprehensibly brings up and elaborates on at length only to hand-wave it away as irrelevant.

The piece is full of this stuff.

Whereas the great themes of the Bush years revolved around foreign policy and a cultural divide over what or who constituted “real” America, the Obama years have been defined by a bitter disagreement over the size of government, which quickly reduces to an argument over whether the recipients of big-government largesse deserve it.

Another bullsh*t framing. What, does Chait think the Obama era isn’t equally about the “real America” question? How the hell does he get through seven meandering pages about racism in the Obama era without once mentioning the phenomenon of birtherism? (Anyone remember Obama’s routine at the 2011 WH Correspondents’ Dinner, where he used Hulk Hogan’s theme “I Am A Real American” as his entrance music? It was gold.)

36

KenB 04.15.14 at 4:47 pm

If you are a Republican and you are not a racist don’ t you have an obligation to, for example, call out Rush Limbaugh? That’s what gets me. Seems like they are endorsing it by their silence.

37

Lee A. Arnold 04.15.14 at 5:09 pm

It might help to state the facts straight-forwardly: The Republicans are against welfare spending on the poor, and they usually state two different reasons: 1. it weakens their moral fiber, and 2. government spending is economically less efficient. (Let’s put aside the fact that both of these reasons turn out to be, in the long term, mostly wrong.) Then add to it: Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” allied the national electoral prospects for the GOP with racists in the south (Lee Atwater was merely a later guitar-playing continuation.) Following right on that, “reverse discrimination” (later called “affirmative action”) hiring policies in the early 1970′s for entry-level jobs in both private business and government, resulted in a lot of temporary management problems, and alarmed and enraged many poorer whites, especially including northern whites, who were to become Reagan Democrats.

So it is possible to argue that the GOP is not racist, but that it has racist components. The reason for making this distinction is that is an historical contingency, and could be short-lived.

The more important idea is that the Republicans have run into an historical cul-de-sac.

Nationally, the GOP is slowly going out of business. They feel it, and that is the source of the anger. They feel it but do not quite understand it, and part of the rage, the almost unverbalisable rage, of non-racist Republicans is from the fact that they are losing the argument on ALL fronts, emotionally and intellectually, and have come to the end of the line: because inequality is increasing due to the unregulated working of the market system; because the welfare state is necessary and it is going to get a little bigger; because they themselves have benefitted most from the financial bail-outs; because the expansion of healthcare to universal access is moral and legitimate; and because they’ve got an insoluble conundrum on immigration, in the face of a massive and growing Hispanic electorate. And almost everybody else likes taco chips. They are losing the logical argument on all fronts. The fact that the Democratic President at the moment they’re caught wearing no clothes happens to be BLACK, while they are being called racists, is just the final straw.

Now, take the Democrats. Please! No, that’s just the old joke. But really the Democrats are little better. However, the parties are not symmetrical in their problems. Ideologically they are asymmetrical: the Dems do not have a coherent point of view. Thing is, you don’t need one politically, when your opponents are imploding all on their own. So the Democrats are the anti-GOP.

I think Chait gets one thing wrong, though. The Dems aren’t anti-Semitic, but many of them are against Israel’s response to the Palestinian problem. Tellingly this includes a lot of big Jewish donors to the Democratic Party.

The thing to do? Put the Republicans out of business while they are still reeling on the ropes. Then we can put the Democrats out of business, or else get them to move forward on reducing inequality and to deal with climate change.

38

Barry 04.15.14 at 5:12 pm

PGD 04.15.14 at 2:22 pm

” I don’t think that this is a very good article — it’s got a strong TLDR factor and is very meandering and unclear — but he’s right to take on the simplistic elements of the ‘Republicanism=racism’ equation. Do you think race would have played out the same way if our first black President had been Alan West? Alan Keyes? “

No, because in that case race would have been running against partisan politics, which would have partially neutralized it. But only partially, and only for specific things.

Note that people on the right can have a major loophole for a certain black man in black(!) robes sitting in a white building in DC.

39

Barry 04.15.14 at 5:27 pm

“Liberals dwell in a world of paranoia of a white racism that has seeped out of American history in the Obama years and lurks everywhere, mostly undetectable. Conservatives dwell in a paranoia of their own, in which racism is used as a cudgel to delegitimize their core beliefs. And the horrible thing is that both of these forms of paranoia are right.”

This is an extremely dishonest statement. White racism has shaped America since the grandparents of the ‘Founding Fathers’ were in diapers. Coates has done yeoman service in documenting a lot of stuff (reading him is an education).

40

Bruce Wilder 04.15.14 at 5:48 pm

Follow the money.

That is all.

The deep political problem of a kleptocracy is to legitimize a political program that benefits only a tiny percentage absolutely, and actively harms a majority greatly to achieve that benefit.

Racial sentiments (resentment) are a means to an end, viscera for the sausage factory. Political theatre and rhetoric are about means of establishing legitimacy. Politics is about policy that reaches ends.

Tax cuts aren’t racist; they’re tax cuts. That doesn’t make the policy innocent or without consequence.

At bottom, slavery wasn’t racist, either. It was a foundation structure for kleptocracy. Racism was invented to legitimize it.

American political discourse — the Fox News v MSNBC version, at least — features “racism” to stir emotions and sentiments, to frame the search for “interesting” motives in political opponents, etc., but it studiously ignores the kleptocracy in the room. Obama and the Democratic establishment works for the kleptocrats, and we get to ignore that and its consequences.

41

Bruce Wilder 04.15.14 at 5:50 pm

Coates writing on race is genius singing an opera. I almost feel sorry for Chait.

42

Laurens M. Dorsey 04.15.14 at 5:58 pm

Towards the end of his article, Chait writes:

This fervent scrubbing away of the historical stain of racism represents, on one level, a genuine and heartening development, a necessary historical step in the full banishment of white supremacy from public life. [On another, ...etc.]

Which should ring a bell, I think. Cue the somnambulating queen (Macbeth 5.1):

Here’s the smell of the blood still. All the
perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this
little hand. O, O, O!

Chait, I think, does not accept that race (and class, the elder twin) are not merely incidental to the United States, not pages to be turned, chapters to be closed, problems to be solved, stains to be lifted. That what has been done cannot be undone, whether forgiven or not, whether atoned for or not. That the country’s history is tragic. That that is what we are.

43

Thornton Hall 04.15.14 at 6:01 pm

Here’s what is absolutely infuriating: Chait is the person who one must read on the subject of asymmetric insanity in the two parties. His “Fact Finders” piece in TNR is a seminal exposition of the problems with objective, pox on both, political coverage.

In that context, it’s almost a betrayal to come back and say, oh yeah, the GOP is bats**t crazy on everything, but not race. And the fact that he’s wrong in fairly obvious ways leads to the horribly frustrating: “Why?” Why would Chait choose to make the world a worse place by publishing this?

My answer: it’s personal. The TNR was racist and this was pointed out by Coates, among others. (See Pareene piece in Gawker) He’s retrospectively defending his time there, when he was in favor of some seriously bad things like the Iraq war.

44

Barry 04.15.14 at 6:22 pm

“Here’s what is absolutely infuriating: Chait is the person who one must read on the subject of asymmetric insanity in the two parties. His “Fact Finders” piece in TNR is a seminal exposition of the problems with objective, pox on both, political coverage. “

I think that groupthink has a strong gravitational pull. The establishment *loves* fake centrism. They love to high the misdeeds of the elites with ‘both sides do it’. Adding on to Bruce’s comments about kleptocracy, false balance is a very useful and very powerful propaganda tool.

45

Anderson 04.15.14 at 6:32 pm

“Chait, I think, does not accept that race (and class, the elder twin) are not merely incidental to the United States, not pages to be turned, chapters to be closed, problems to be solved, stains to be lifted. That what has been done cannot be undone, whether forgiven or not, whether atoned for or not. That the country’s history is tragic. That that is what we are.”

Well, I don’t accept that either, at least if your implication is that America will always be racist. And if you’re just being trite that the Moving Finger writes and all our tears will not wash out a word of it, then okay, sure.

46

JW Mason 04.15.14 at 6:34 pm

What a fantastic comments thread. I can’t remember the last time I saw so many people being right on the internet.

47

BJN 04.15.14 at 6:37 pm

@43

While that might be true, we can’t keep dismissing all the Chaits of the world as simply tools of the establishment. He has been wrong before and he will be wrong again, but sometimes he is very right, and in ways that would be impossible if he weren’t capable of criticizing power. What I’m afraid this shows is just how cocooned all aspects of our elite are from actually thinking of race outside of the cocktail game Bouie brought up. He might be one of the best in the game, but it doesn’t seem fair that Ta-Nehisi Coates is going to be doomed to forever be push this boulder up a hill while the rest of us cheer him on. At some point, white people have got to start learning.

48

Rob in CT 04.15.14 at 6:42 pm

You thought that article was “really good” huh? I thought it was a muddled mess, personally, full of false equivalence and (worse) ignoring basically everyone who isn’t a professional pundit or politician.

49

Rob in CT 04.15.14 at 6:49 pm

And seriously, the “stop & frisk” line is awful. When I first read the article, that one stopped me dead for a minute or two, and made me question whether Chait was drunk or something.

50

Laurens M. Dorsey 04.15.14 at 7:37 pm

@44
Thanks, Anderson. Fair enough. But if ever there is a post-racist America, it will not, I think, be some glorified America, its ideals triumphant at last.

Just as there can be no ex-alcoholics, America will never be ex-racist. At best, recovering. Maybe someday.

(And while we all remember Peter O’Toole as Col. Lawrence answering that obdurate Finger with “Nothing is written”, unfortunately, after 500 years on this continent, a lot has been written. But by no invisible hand, no divinity. We wrote it. It is us. That is where we start from today.)

51

js. 04.15.14 at 7:48 pm

Chait recently came out the worse in his recent debate with Coates

That is… understatement? That was a proper (and well-deserved) evisceration Coates delivered.

52

JG 04.15.14 at 7:50 pm

So where does this leave those many of us who have given up long ago on both parties and are proud to be left radicals? Bruce Wilder is right on re the money – the ever increasing gulf between rich and poor simply means that fewer people control the money gates of both parties. Seems to me that moderates (Obama) now focus on evading the most important truths about our nation today: rich people control and occasionally get fined, poor people have less than ever and go to jail. The rest of us try to ignore and get by. So what is to be done? Or do we just want to beat on Chait?

53

rea 04.15.14 at 7:56 pm

my step-father Edmund Kirby-Smith

Goodness, you are a southerner!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edmund_Kirby_Smith

54

BJN 04.15.14 at 7:57 pm

JG, I’m not sure I understand your question. Wealth inequality is the most important issue of the day, but the persistence of racism both as social fact and political tool exists beyond simple class in this country, though our elites are shockingly bad at understanding this. Are you complaining that anybody is talking about anything other than wealth inequality?

55

Anarcissie 04.15.14 at 8:17 pm

If the social order is based on domination and exploitation, then both wealth inequality and tribal conflicts, including those of race, religion, gender, and so on, will be produced, as individuals struggle to get the better of one another and use whatever means come to hand. Wealth inequality and racism are not two different problems; they are two manifestations of the same problem.

56

js. 04.15.14 at 8:23 pm

And thanks to everyone on this thread for saving me the trouble of reading what sounds like an overwhelming disaster of an article.

57

Lee A. Arnold 04.15.14 at 8:25 pm

Domination and exploitation are based upon “calculative thought”, as Heidegger termed it. Plotinus called it “audacity”, as translated by McKenna.

58

Bruce Wilder 04.15.14 at 8:52 pm

Thornton Hall @ 42: it’s almost a betrayal to come back and say, oh yeah, the GOP is bats**t crazy on everything, but not race. And the fact that he’s wrong in fairly obvious ways leads to the horribly frustrating: “Why?”

I think he was trying, and failing miserably, to explain how utterly trapped even “the good guys” (aka soi disant liberals and progressives) are, by the power of the taboo against racist politics, and how the power of that taboo, and the corresponding exploitation of racial resentments on the Right, has shaped, and paralyzed the partisan political dialectic in the Obama era. He felt he had to navigate between Scylla and Charybdis to do so, and his ship was wrecked on Scylla, when he tried to explain that the conservative political agenda is not particularly focused on racist goals, and almost inadvertently absolved the Republicans of their sins, as he identifies the paralysis of politics and political rhetoric as a case of “mutual suspicion”.

Here’s Chait’s thesis sentence:

. . . every Obama supporter believes deep down, or sometimes right on the surface, that the furious opposition marshaled against the first black president is a reaction to his race. Likewise, every Obama opponent believes with equal fervor that this is not only false but a smear concocted willfully to silence them.

That’s the “there are two kinds of people in this world . . .” rhetorical trope he wants to use to organize his essay. As a writer’s technique, it is hackery. And, the hackery gets him into immediate trouble, as he forgets he’s people, too, and in this division of the house, he cannot remain a voice from nowhere and be heard. In his very first example, of Maher and Kristol confronting one another, he notes that each of them usually distance themselves subtly from the controversies in which they introduce their own talking points, adopting “a weary cynicism” in their respective poses and voices, so as to gain a modicum of authority and wit. But, where’s Chait’s own “weary cynicism”, when he needs it so badly?

If the final peroration of this essay is any indication, it is hopelessly lost under a thick blanket of complacent white guy pseudo-idealism:

. . . It’s a weird moment, but also a temporary one. The passing from the scene of the nation’s first black president in three years, and the near-certain election of its 44th nonblack one, will likely ease the mutual suspicion. In the long run, generational changes grind inexorably away. The rising cohort of Americans holds far more liberal views than their parents and grandparents on race, and everything else (though of course what you think about “race” and what you think about “everything else” are now interchangeable). We are living through the angry pangs of a new nation not yet fully born.

I don’t know whether to laugh or vomit.

59

CarlD 04.15.14 at 9:10 pm

I also thought the article was a meandering mishmash of false equivalence and facile deflationism. But what Chait did that I quite liked is that he told the all-Republican-politics-is-racial-politics story well enough for the first couple of pages that I passed through contented agreement to uneasiness and finally disgust. The problem is that exactly the same argument works, and has, if you substitute “Commies” or “women” or “King George” or “Papists” for race as the operator. And that means there’s something else race is tracking, and it would be better analysis to sort out what that is and how it works through race, and other things, rather than getting too tangled up in the syndrome.

Chait himself doesn’t get that analytical turn right, as I’ve now seen is characteristic from his debate with Coates. But he’s right to see that there’s a problem with the way race has been dogmatized as a final answer, he’s right that the public high ground nowadays makes that very difficult to talk about amidst all the moral preening, and I’m really hoping John comes back to this rather than giving up because the conclusion has been foregone in the commentary.

60

Anderson 04.15.14 at 9:23 pm

49: ” it will not, I think, be some glorified America, its ideals triumphant at last”

That would be “no country ever.”

61

Thornton Hall 04.15.14 at 9:34 pm

So is there a consensus that to the extent that Chait is saying, “don’t be overly reductive about political motives” he’s right, but when he starts arguing about specific instances he gets it wrong?

62

Flemming 04.15.14 at 9:52 pm

I am somewhat surprised by the various – and almost uniformly negative – reactions amongst so many intelligent people. Needless to say, my reaction was different, I winced a little at the choice of stop-and-frisk line as well and would have made different decisions in terms of presenting the argument. However, I cannot help but feel there are some willful misreadings of Chait, or at least insufficient hermeneutic charity.

1) On the “Chait blames both sides, that’s not fair”

a) Indeed, he does say racial taboo operates on both Democrats and Republicans in terms of how they view each other, but is this not true? I think this is one of the more indisputable parts of his essay – whatever significance you wish to attribute to it. See Bruce Wilder above.

b) He does not make evenhanded moral judgments of the two sides – at all. Had he in any way said that falsely accusing people of racist beliefs is the morally equivalent of campaigning on Willie Horton that would be something. But he doesn’t. That’s not what the article is about.

2) Jonathan Chait excuses/denies racism of Republicans.

This reveals a very cursory reading. He repeatedly states that racism is integral to both Republican campaigning and undergirds much Republican policy. In fact, when all Americans process all policy through a prism of race, and political conservatism and racial conservatism have become the same thing, it would be strange if it were not the case. In no reasonable reading does Chait excuse or deny the centrality of racism in Republican Party – quite the opposite.

3) This is a cocktail argument between white people.

The article very clearly is about mass opinion.

I think the question for those left of center to deal with is this quotation:

“If conservatism is inextricably entangled with racism, and racism must be extinguished, then the scope for legitimate opposition to Obama shrinks to an uncomfortably small space.”

Obviously, the answer would be Obama can be criticized for being too conservative, but that’s not really the point. As Chait makes clear in his follow up, everyone probably exists on some sort of continuum on economic redistribution, so would it be legitimate to everyone to accuse you all for being racist by someone whose desirable level of redistribution is higher than yours? After all, your lower level of desired redistribution disproportionately affects people of colour. Of course, being on the left and firmly in the liberal group provides some sort of sanctuary from presumptions of racism if the only question is where on the left one is.

Finally, I think saying Republican policies disproportionately harms minorities is a valid consideration and Republicans should explain why other considerations should outweigh it or convincingly dispute the claim. But openly stating that no politically conservative argument can be non-racist and therefore must be considered presumptively racist is, I agree with Chait, insane.

63

Jonathan Mahew 04.15.14 at 10:53 pm

–We’re not racist but…

[Obama uniquely incompetent, Muslim, socialist, foreign-born, etc... ]

–Well, then you are racist, right?

–Then we’re even! Calling someone racist, even if we are, is the moral equivalent of being racist.

The best Republican argument would be that they were as bitterly partisan against Bill Clinton, so that’s the way they act with any democratic president, and that the racist stuff is just a fringe element. But is it?

64

Main Street Muse 04.15.14 at 11:04 pm

Do you know what’s wrong with Chait’s story? He’s missing most of the narrative. GOP is not just racist – and it IS racist. GOP is misogynous (see what any Republican says about rape – as birth control, legitimate vs other rape, God’s will, etc.); they are “creationists” who don’t believe in science, global warming, evolution, etc.

We are in the midst of some very weird gravitational shift that is pulling us back several centuries. Soon, the powers that be within the GOP will be gung-ho about how flat the earth truly is…

65

Ronan(rf) 04.15.14 at 11:08 pm

“At bottom, slavery wasn’t racist, either. It was a foundation structure for kleptocracy. Racism was invented to legitimize it. “

I’m largely a dilettante on US history, but is this true?
My understanding is that there *certainly was* a theory of (and belief in) racial hierarchy largely independent of the needs to ‘provide a foundation for kleptocracy’, or at least so deeply entangled that it’s impossible to divide one from the other.
But regardless of what came first, does it really matter? Even if you ‘invent’ these arguments and then develop institutions specifically to create a system that classifys a group of people as not only second class but something less than human, over time those arguments shape society and the institutions structure politics and public life. They don’t exist at the whim of political elites or partisan politics; they become largely independent, firmly entrenched, self replicating social norms and political institutions.

So isn’t there something deeper here than an elite centred theory ? Wasn’t Jim Crow in some ways (or places) a bottom up process , in part ? Discrimination, segregation and violence in small, closed communities ? Or during the New Deal wasn’t it Southern unions that were the point of exclusion? Or the sidelining (from what I’ve heard, though Im open to correction) of black women in the feminist movement ? Self segregating neighbourhoods in the north ? Excessive policing at the hands of specific police departments ? Black men being locked up, disproportionately, in local courts ? Black communities not being able to get funding from local political legislatures? So on, and on..

From this angle isn’t ‘white supremacy’ a major force ordering American politics and society, with Lee Atwater, partisan politics, Phil Robertson and even kleptocratic elites as little more than bit players?

66

roger gathman 04.15.14 at 11:10 pm

This seems to be Chait sourcing his old TNR self, back in the happy days of 2004, when he was a huge Lieberman for President supporter. He’s been quietly shedding his Bush years punditry since going to New York magazine, but it is like some M.R.James ghost story where he is overcome by a horrible and undescribable thing – which pulses through him to the keyboard and then to the magazine.
Perhaps the horrible and undescribable thing is the spirit of Joe L. himself?

67

JG 04.15.14 at 11:11 pm

BJN, sorry I was unclear, I think it is profoundly important to continue to talk about racism, in a time when (outside of TV) black and white Americans have less human contact than ever, one of the great sorrows of our times. But I don’t understand how we can talk about racism in any context other than inequality. Blacks and whites don’t talk, rich, middle and poor folks don’t talk, black and black, white and white, or black and white, don’t talk either. We have no idea, and don’t know how to talk about, what we’re all of us missing, and at what cost.

68

Stephenson quoter-kun 04.15.14 at 11:15 pm

I read Chait’s article as acknowledging the existence of people who advocate tax cuts despite not being racist, and nothing much more than that. Chait feels sympathy towards these people, because they’re hindered in making a basically innocent technocratic argument about tax rates by the fact that racist shitbags like Atwater went around telling people that arguments for lower taxes are just coded racism, and Chait has natural sympathy for anyone who is making an honest (if wrong) argument, and is mildly antagonised by the thought that some people may be arguing at cross purposes (that certainly winds me up when it happens). I think he’d be OK with a discussion about whether the tax cuts may have racist consequences so long as we didn’t automatically assume racist intentions, and maybe that might be a better conversation to have anyway.

I pretty much agree with the gist of what he’s saying, but I’m not sure how important it is. I mean, there are certainly times when the right-wing side of the debate doesn’t get a fair hearing because they fail to distinguish what they’re saying from racism, but is this really common enough to worry about? And isn’t that kind of their own fault anyway?

As someone who is insulated from the American culture wars by an ocean and a fairly detached way of looking at things, I am sometimes a bit puzzled by the things in American culture that turn out to be racism. For instance, Paul Ryan’s (or Ryan somebody, that guy, I’m sure you know who I mean) recent thing about “inner city culture” is, to me, indistinguishable from the kind of language that British politicians use when talking about poor white people, but in the US it’s seen as definitely racist. Perhaps it’s a good thing that the American left is more willing to shoot down racism than the British left is willing to shoot down classism, or perhaps it’s a good thing that Britain has fewer taboos and is more willing to engage in problem-solving discussions (or at least that would be the case if any problems ever got solved). This is always the problem for people like Chait, really – he’s probably right to say that accusations of racism stifle debate, but they also stifle, well, racism too, and you can’t easily find a way of encouraging positive debate whilst keeping the racists out, given that the racists have no scruples about smuggling their arguments in under someone else’s banner.

Ultimately, the only thing Chait-sympathisers (counting myself as one, just about) can do is fight racism. Once we’ve got rid of the racism, we can have a conversation about tax rates without anyone being able to deploy the fully general counter-argument of racism, because it won’t exist any more. Simple, really, when you think about it.

69

David 04.15.14 at 11:20 pm

Am I the only one who longs for a world where Left-Liberals do not feel that pretending Republicans have good points is the way to intellectual respectability?

70

Main Street Muse 04.16.14 at 12:35 am

SQK @ 65 – “I read Chait’s article as acknowledging the existence of people who advocate tax cuts despite not being racist, and nothing much more than that. Chait feels sympathy towards these people, because they’re hindered in making a basically innocent technocratic argument about tax rates by the fact that racist shitbags like Atwater went around telling people that arguments for lower taxes are just coded racism, and Chait has natural sympathy for anyone who is making an honest (if wrong) argument, and is mildly antagonised by the thought that some people may be arguing at cross purposes (that certainly winds me up when it happens).”

Please tell me who these reasonable Republicans are who are making those innocent technocratic arguments about tax cuts. I am not aware of any.

What Republicans are framing things like tax cuts in non-coded terms? Paul Ryan is adept at this language as he chats about the “tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work.”

This is a party that nominated a rich white guy (with Paul Ryan as his running mate) to go up against the black guy. The GOP candidate was the guy who gave a passionate appeal to a select group of rich people, tapping into their deeply held beliefs that their wealth was being held hostage by half the people in the country – all those Americans (47% of the citizens) who Romney identified as takers and moochers and not worth much consideration at all from those GOP politicians in high office. http://bit.ly/15Ia0Ty

And to Bruce Wilder @39, slavery may not have been “racist at bottom” – it was racist to the core. Kleptocracy in American required a sophisticated and pervasive racism to thrive. The inherent racism – the antipathy toward “the other” – was vital to the establishment of slavery. The kleptocrats could not have propped up their system without the racial hatred that enabled people to own other people.

71

dn 04.16.14 at 12:48 am

What Main Street Muse said. Such people are undoubtedly out there somewhere in America – but where, exactly? Not in the Republican Party, that’s for sure! Atwater-style politics have become the party’s bread-and-butter; essentially no one in the GOP is willing to take an overt and consistent line for civil rights and against racism, which makes it impossible to take such protestations seriously.

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jonnybutter 04.16.14 at 1:09 am

… a discussion about whether the tax cuts may have racist consequences so long as we didn’t automatically assume racist intentions, and maybe that might be a better conversation to have anyway.

American reactionaries who want more and more tax cuts on wealth don’t want to have a coherent conversation about the actual consequences of their policies. They are the ones using race (and sex, and et. al.) for misdirection in the first place. B. Wilder is basically correct above – this is about class hierarchy.

I think it’s interesting that no one – esp. Chait himself – notices what I do: that whipping up racial hatred/fear that you don’t necessarily feel personally (the ‘I don’t have a racist bone in my body’ cliche GOP assholes use over and over) is, in a way, worse than the blind seething racism that is being whipped up. It’s worse because if you use race but really aren’t a racist, then you know better. The guy with veins popping out of his forehead is at least sincere in his delusion. Only in a place as sick and ethically rotten as Washington DC could ‘using race’ in electoral politics, ostensibly without being personally racist, be seen as remotely acceptable (much less ‘smart’).

Chait’s piece was almost unreadable, afaiwc. Muddled, pointless, wrong. LONG. Very very long.

73

shah8 04.16.14 at 1:16 am

Some of us read stories like The Underground Railroad:

http://www.thecoli.com/threads/by-popular-demand-true-coliwood-stories-college-athletics.129787/page-37

Plenty of those attempts at spreading wisdom around, with more, or less, misogyny. Point is, though, is that racism is pretty integral to some of the most intimate decisions we make, and is at the base of wildly disparate and seemingly unrelated social communications and policies–primarily through the prodigious use of hypocrisy and silence. So Chait’s analysis, to the person in the same internet reading circles as mine, has no actual inherent intellectual merit–the signal was not found within the communication, but by the fact that Chait made this peculiarly confessional communication. So what TNC has to say about Chait’s argument doesn’t actually matter in any grand sense. Nobody who read it, and who has any real grounding in (and preference for) reality, would buy what he’s selling. Likewise what John Holbo plans to present. Three separate arguments, to three separate audiences–and we have this silly redundancy and teakettle storms because we are compelled to take Chait seriously, because we are compelled to acknowledge the importance of Chait’s audience, specifically.

That’s how it is, in America.

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shah8 04.16.14 at 1:21 am

dn, there has been a number of hispanic ex-Republicans who have left the party because of its racism, and said so.

Now, white Republicans…that’s another sausage altogether.

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jonnybutter 04.16.14 at 1:44 am

I think it’s interesting that no one – esp. Chait himself – notices what I do: that…

OK, this was poorly worded. Maybe others have noticed and chose not to address it. I wonder why not, though?

A few years ago, it became more/less common knowledge that George Wallace of Alabama may not have been as big a racist as he seemed; that he chose, later in his career, to be a symbol and conduit of racial hatred, but did so for electoral purposes rather than due to personal race hatred. Doesn’t that make him more of a monster rather that less?

Here’s the problem with our stupid race ‘card’ here in the US: it is a ridiculous conceit to pretend that racism and other bigotry are rare, anomalous outrages. In fact prejudice of some sort is such a common part any (perhaps not to say all) human culture that it helps to actually define that culture. Only elite white guys can pretend that racism is rare and that the problem is how we talk about it.

76

Belle Waring 04.16.14 at 2:19 am

People do notice that about “put-on” racism, and having (totally accurately) said that ol’ Lee Atwater was racist I can tell you he was actually a damn sight less racist than Strom Thurmond or somebody of that generation or the following. Atwater didn’t hate black people to where he’d be rude to someone for the sake of it, or refuse to shake somebodies hand, or something. He was a pretty good guitarist, as is known, and played with a ton of black musicians, although why the headline was not “Blues Musicians Getting Too Old For This Bullshit” I do not know, especially since he was a man who would wear, not a fedora, but a straw snap-brim. I mean, he was a young man when he pulled all that shit, a baby boomer who smoked pot and snorted coke and sat around listening to Blind Lemon Jefferson! In some sense the vein-popping nigger-hating is an act, a put-on for the rubes. Then again, we were print subscribers to Southern Partisan magazine, and so was he. Hooo chile some shit was racist up in there. Stinky pants.

By contrast, I don’t mean to malign my sister’s grandma Mrs. Colonel Edmund Kirby-Smith Sr. (or Peccary as she was known) but I don’t think she’d really mind my saying that as a proud Daughter of the Confederacy she was…pretty racist. She was always kind-hearted and generous and lovely to me personally. She gave us bottles of Postum. I drank Postum when I was young, before I drank coffee. And, to 53, these are indeed the Kirby-Smiths of Kirby-Smithdom, 6-generations of Edmunds, each with their own peculiar demesnes.

77

Clay Shirky 04.16.14 at 2:28 am

I kept scrolling and kept scrolling, smdh all the way, waiting for the moment when Holbo would reveal some hermeneutic hocus-pocus that would make having read Chait’s piece worthwhile, and now here I am at the bottom, and all there’s been is “Mr. Godot won’t come this evening, but tomorrow he will redeem this weakly argued but deeply confused piece of junk.”

So I’ll just say…

In that context, it’s almost a betrayal to come back and say, oh yeah, the GOP is bats**t crazy on everything, but not race. And the fact that he’s wrong in fairly obvious ways leads to the horribly frustrating: “Why?” Why would Chait choose to make the world a worse place by publishing this?

…that Thornton @43 posts for me.

78

Anarcissie 04.16.14 at 2:34 am

Once upon a time, in some place or other, racism meant not ‘prejudice’ but was an actual political theory, consisting of such points as (1) there are physical races; (2) some are ‘better’ than others, or at least more fit for power; (3) something ought to be done about it. You could feel kindly and benevolent toward the lesser breeds, as long as they didn’t get out of hand, which if you were more powerful than they, they generally took care not to do in your presence. This is different from preference, prejudice and hatred, which could be quite egalitarian.

79

Bruce Wilder 04.16.14 at 2:34 am

Ronan(rf): . . . kleptocratic elites as little more than bit players?

Isn’t that pretty much your worldview in a nutshell?

Main Street Muse @ 70:

Kleptocracy in American required a sophisticated and pervasive racism to thrive. The inherent racism – the antipathy toward “the other” – was vital to the establishment of slavery. The kleptocrats could not have propped up their system without the racial hatred that enabled people to own other people.

Kleptocracy did use racism as a political means of securing wealth to a small elite. Not just in the case of the institution of slavery, and the later institution of Jim Crow segregation, but also in the very important case of taking land from the Native Americans. Racist ideas and prejudices figured prominently in the politics of immigration, of Prohibition, labor unions, university education, etc.

The think is, kleptocracy has notably survived the civil rights revolution. More than a mere remnant survivor, kleptocracy dominates the country today as it hasn’t, at least since Gilded Age and the 1920s. That’s the context in which Obama is taken by Chait as a symbol of racial progress, and in which Chait wishes to criticize the shape of the political discourse.

Flemming @ 62: The article very clearly is about mass opinion.

Is it? Because it seems to me that it is about enactments of pundit opinion, particularly and especially televised enactments, and how those ritualized enactments shape partisan divisions and policy struggles. Actual mass opinion doesn’t come up much, and even then it is only through the filter of polls or as something to be explained by pundits. Actual mass opinion is treated as an alien thing to be explained or manipulated, which, I expect, is how elite pundits like Chait, think of it.

80

Clay Shirky 04.16.14 at 2:42 am

And, elsewhere in tabs:

The Atlanta Braves have been deluged with hate mail after baseball great Hank Aaron’s recent comments about racism in America and President Obama’s critics.

According to USA Today, the Braves organization has received hundreds of letters, emails and phone calls since Aaron made his comments a week ago. “Hank Aaron is a scumbag piece of (expletive) (racial slur)” read an email from a man named Edward, according to USA Today. Edward evidently used the racist epithet five times. “My old man instilled in my mind from a young age, the only good (racial slur) is a dead (racial slur),” he wrote in closing.

http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/hank-aaron-atlanta-braves-racist-hate-mail

OTOH, the Democrats seem skeptical about the Social Security crisis, so it all kinda evens out, doesn’t it?

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AJtron the Invincible 04.16.14 at 3:02 am

+1 that the article is just hocus-pocus.

> OTOH, the Democrats seem skeptical about the Social Security crisis, so it all
> kinda evens out, doesn’t it?
Doesn’t even out, with due respect. Makes my life worse on both counts – the Democrats won’t plan for a better future and the Republicans, oh well, the Republicans just can’t get their act together on anything.

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John Holbo 04.16.14 at 3:14 am

OK, it’s morning. The birds are singing. Time to take my lumps for having trolled you all. I didn’t mean to troll you THAT hard. But I do confess to the intention to troll, mildly.

Here’s what I think. First of all, I think Chait is a good guy. I’ve always liked his writings. I also really like long, meandering essays, so long as I think the meanders have a point. (In case you were wondering whether I like reading stuff like what I write: I do!)

Re: more recent history. I thought his debate with Coates was good. He lost. His problem was sort of, as Hobbes said to Calvin: your report only had one fact and you made it up. Less unkindly, Coates did a good job of pointing out that Chait was assuming stuff as reasonable that, on reflection, just isn’t reasonable to assume. But I don’t think it’s fair to get suspicious about Chait’s motives or basic mental set. I’m not, anyway. He doesn’t WANT it to turn out that there’s a culture of poverty so he can feel better. Given how common that sort of wanting is, it is not unreasonable to suspect him, but I think he’s quite innocent. You are, of course, entitled to your suspicions to the contrary. I just don’t share them.

Also, I think Chait is healthily immune to ‘pox on both their houses’ false moderation. I base that on his whole body of work, not this piece. He’s written against ‘but they BOTH do it!’ and my main reason for defending the current piece was that I immediately thought: people are going to slam him for bogus false moderation. He opened himself up, and he’s going to get blamed for that, when he meant something else. I do not deny that there is considerable evidence of the pseudo-moderate ailment in the piece. I just think it’s an accident. I don’t think that’s what he meant. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Up to you.

Now, with my throat cleared, I proceed to the substance of the issue. I’m going to try to say something about what I think Chait should have meant by what he said. I take it this is what he did mean. But maybe he didn’t. Anyway, obviously it’s healthier to focus on what is right, whoever said it or didn’t, so even if you don’t think Chait meant what I’m about to say, do consider whether you think it sounds right. Or half-right.

Here’s a rather key passage, which I think bothered a lot of you, because it seems to be where Chait goes off the rails. He goes completely insane at precisely the point where he says: “it also happens to be completely insane.” (See whether that is an adequate encapsulation of your main complaints about the piece.)

“Yet here is the point where, for all its breadth and analytic power, the liberal racial analysis collapses onto itself. It may be true that, at the level of electoral campaign messaging, conservatism and white racial resentment are functionally identical. It would follow that any conservative argument is an appeal to white racism. That is, indeed, the all-but-explicit conclusion of the ubiquitous Atwater Rosetta-stone confession: Republican politics is fundamentally racist, and even its use of the most abstract economic appeal is a sinister, coded missive.

Impressive though the historical, sociological, and psychological evidence undergirding this analysis may be, it also happens to be completely insane. Whatever Lee Atwater said, or meant to say, advocating tax cuts is not in any meaningful sense racist.

One of the greatest triumphs of liberal politics over the past 50 years has been to completely stigmatize open racial discrimination in public life, a lesson that has been driven home over decades by everybody from Jimmy the Greek to Paula Deen. This achievement has run headlong into an increasing liberal tendency to define conservatism as a form of covert racial discrimination. If conservatism is inextricably entangled with racism, and racism must be extinguished, then the scope for legitimate opposition to Obama shrinks to an uncomfortably small space.

The racial debate of the Obama years emits some of the poisonous waft of the debates over communism during the McCarthy years. It defies rational resolution in part because it is about secret motives and concealed evil.”

Now, let me just say what I think is right here. (And again: if you want to object that you don’t think this is what Chait meant to say, that’s fine.)

A couple months back – I guess it was probably on MLK day? – I remarked that if MLK could come back today and see his legacy, he would in some ways be overjoyed: a black president! That’s more than anyone even dreamed of, in 1964, I think. He would also be dismayed by a lot of stuff. How can there be a black president and so many other basic things haven’t changed all that much, socioeconomically? And he would find things like the Paula Deen case kind of weird. Why is this sort of case sucking up all the oxygen, if only for a week or two? There are all these real problems of social justice, and here we are talking about one semi-randomly selected, semi-famous, semi-unreconstructed white woman. Well, obviously the answer is that people fighting for social justice exert leverage where they can. But that just pushes the question back. Why is this the place where people are finding they can exert some leverage, not anywhere else? It’s kind of crazy. What is it about our racial politics that makes Paula Deen’s mind, of all places, a worthy battleground?

Race is political psychodrama. Upthread I said it was an elite psychodrama, with different elite groups – ergo white people – fighting over whose tribe is more innocent. I think I should have said: it’s an elite psychodrama that also informs popular opinion very strongly, as elite psychodramas do. Now: saying it’s a kind of duel of more-innocent-than-thou makes it sound like bogus ‘they both do it’ false equivalence. The truth is that when Roger Simon writes something like this …

http://pjmedia.com/rogerlsimon/2014/03/25/democrat-war-on-blacks/?singlepage=true

… he is just out of his mind. No question. He’s deluded.

But, even though it’s a duel of innocence in which one side is way more guilty and the other side is more innocent (HINT: it’s the opposite of what Simon says) it’s still kind of crazy that our political culture is psychologically wracked by a racial debate framed primarily in these terms at all, no matter who is right and who is wrong. Because what keeps happening is that conservatives are being knocked back on their heels, harder and harder, on the race question – made to feel defensive and guilty. This is because they ARE more guilty, hence they’d better be on the defensive. All the same, it just doesn’t matter so damn much that Paula Deen has unreconstructed attitudes about race. Eyes on the prize this is not, so there’s a sense in which liberals have a tactical advantage, on race, that is not clearly a strategic advantage, where real problems about race are concerned. They can beat up conservatives, for having been – and still being – effectively the enemies of African-Americans. But it’s less clear that they can do so in a way that helps African-Americans.

Let me put it another way, confronting that admittedly awful line about MSNBC. “MSNBC has spent the entire Obama presidency engaged in a nearly nonstop ideological stop-and-frisk operation.” That’s awful. He shouldn’t have written that. But here’s a way to think something true in the vicinity.

US conservative politics is racial dog-whistle politics. That’s just true, to a first approximation. Or maybe a bit weaker: there is no other comparably simple claim about US conservative politics that is truer. And no account of US conservatism that does not confront this truth, head-on, can be insightful. Chait makes a perfectly good argument to that effect in the piece, then kind of weirdly draws back. What he should have said – what I think he meant – is that the dog-whistly nature of conservatism, which is obviously awful for conservatism, is also bad for everyone else trying to keep their eyes on what matters. We can all hear those whistles, actually, and it’s distracting – enraging to everyone.

Let’s try a different analogy. Conservatism not as dog-whistle but as SEO comment spam. Conservatives are a lot like those poor companies that worked hard to spam everyone’s comment boxes, back in the day, to juice their sites. And then Google went and changed the rules, and now all that spam is backfiring and lowering their page rank. But they literally can’t do anything about it. Toothpaste is out of the tube. So they write angry emails to site proprietors, accusing them of hosting comments that are harmful, etc. etc.

http://boingboing.net/2014/03/05/comment-spammers-threaten-to-s.html

Couldn’t have happened to nice guys!

Could there be a more perfect image of poetic justice than spammers reverse-spammed by their own spam? It’s positively Dickensian in its moral satisfactoriness.

You are fettered,” said Scrooge, trembling. “Tell me why?”

“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?”

The equivalent of Google changing the rules is: American sensibility on race shifting, and demographic shifts. Once upon a time, conservatives could juice their anti-tax stuff (for example) by associating it with race stuff. And they could indulge mild racism (via tax stuff) while knowing (wink wink) that they could get votes of more toxic racists that way. Now they are stuck with those strictly illogical associations. They can’t propose anti-tax stuff, and have it considered on the merits, without people associating it with racism. And every mild racist little thing is going to set off alarm bells about really toxic racism. So conservatives have to walk around on eggshells. Which seems terribly unfair. And, in a sense, it is unfair. But then, in another sense, conservatives have no one but themselves to blame that they have gotten themselves into this guilt trap. They built it themselves, carefully, over decades, so they could be unfair to other people. And now, because of it, people are being a bit unfair to them. They want to move on from past forms of unfairness that used to help them, but now hinder them. They want to lose the baggage. But they can’t. Because they made a point of illogically roping that baggage to a bunch of other stuff, poisoning the discourse with it.

Getting back to MSNBC: the thing they do, which Chait is describing as ‘stop and frisk’, is persistently embarrass conservatives with true evidence of usually fairly mild racism, knowing full well that this is extremely damaging to conservatives, given attitudinal and demographic shifts.

But poetic justice is not social justice. It seems to me that the thing that Chait is getting at, which is right, is that liberals have gotten themselves into a position in which they are extremely good at driving conservatives even more insane, because going around thinking ‘I’m being a bit unfairly tarred as more of a racist than I actually am, and I really have no one to blame but myself and my allies for that’ would be enough to drive anyone deeper into denial. But we don’t really have a good formula for trading in poetic justice for social justice. Which is a damn shame.

I hope he’s right about the optimistic note he strikes at the end: since it’s sort of all in our heads – the psychodrama, as opposed to actual problems of social justice – we can maybe age out of it and start to focus on real problems. But I have my doubts.

Am I saying that liberals should lighten up on conservatives, rather than trapping them in the toils of their backfiring devices for making all politics about race? No. If conservatives want to dismantle all that, THEY can do it. It will cost them. It ought to cost them. Instead, they will probably make it worse: doing their best to pass restrictive voting laws and etc. And then they will have to watch MSNBC accuse them of neo-Jim Crow, when the truth is that they don’t WANT Jim Crow. They just don’t want Democrats to get so many votes now, just because Republicans pursued the Southern Strategy in the 60′s. If minorities would just forget the past – as Republicans have done – and vote Republican, in reasonable numbers, Republicans would be happy to let bygones be bygones.

I just banged this comment out, kind of stream of consciousness. Probably unwise. But I really am trying to work out my thoughts about all this. And I felt that the Chait piece helped me do that. But maybe I’m all wrong, and Chait’s all wrong. Set me straight. Punish me for having trolled you all so hard.

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Belle Waring 04.16.14 at 3:18 am

Clay Shirky et al.: I can’t answer for John and think he will post about it again later, but I think he was over-charitable in his reading of Chait. That is, he took him to be saying something less idiotically pox-on-both-your-houses than he was, in part because John has been thinking of the efforts to, step one, classify “real racism” as “foaming at the mouth, I’ma shoot up a Jewish assisted-living facility” violence, and then as step two argue that any accusation of racism amounts to an accusation that a person’s only one magazine away from shooting up a Jewish retirement home. Since that really would be a cruel/serious accusation, this two-step dances people out of the danger zone in which people say, “that thing you said has a plain English meaning that is racist,” or “the policies you advocate would have disparate racial effects, so much so that the policies can’t be properly thought of as anything other than racist.” There are a variety of subtle points here, and they are worth making, and related to the question “is it worse to just plain old hate niggers like Strom Thurmond (because by god he did) or on some level be ginning up hate in others that you don’t deeply feel in your heart (like Lee was).” So, having thought about it like that, I don’t think John expected Chait to be saying something so dumb as he was, in fact, saying. Even though I tol’him he was. Sometimes married folks disagree. Even tho I’m allus right.

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rustypleb 04.16.14 at 3:28 am

Bruce W may be essentially correct without being completely correct.; and johnnybutter I’ve been thinking of your sentiment, the first degree, in cold blood premedicated Frank Underwood calculation of the whole construct. It’s just so…… well evil.

Allow me a little creative postulation. The Rice Kings had a problem in very early 18th century South Carolina as they were rapidly becoming completely, obviously and hence dangerously outnumbered by their slaves; so they began a program of encouraged a variety of European immigrants with land grants coupled with assembly representation. But this began to backfire politically when interests of the immigrant yeomen farmers were at odds with those of the Rice Kings and these increasingly independent small farmers also began to evidence the beginnings of a long standing antipathy to the large planters and their society. Then low and behold we have (predictably) the Stono rebellion and to their surprise the Rice Kings discover that the threat of a negro uprising has a nearly magical effect on bonding the yeomen and the Rice Kings in opposition to a perceived common threat. This may literally in these precise terms and conditions have been the first time this political experiment or situation had occurred. It was a eureka moment and the heirs of the Rice Kings have tested it again and again for nearly 300 years and never found it wanting. Now it has become in effect a national strategy, adaptable to many and diverse situations and as old as divide and conquer but also in it’s particulars singular.

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Ogden Wernstrom 04.16.14 at 3:45 am

Bruce Wilder @37: “I don’t know whether to laugh or vomit”

I think that’s a natural reaction. Laugh because he can’t be serious, can he? Then the motion sickness kicks in from so many lurching changes of direction in so few pages.

I hope that Holbo puts up the defense originally promised. I like surprises.

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Ogden Wernstrom 04.16.14 at 3:47 am

Not refreshing the page before writing a post leads to surprises.

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rustypleb 04.16.14 at 4:00 am

Geez John that’s a lot to ask. Forgive and forget it was just a bad strategy and now they’ve backed themselves into a corner so live and let live and so forth. Many of these people are the direct descendants in every sense of the same that maneuvered the country into a war that killed many more than all other wars in the history of the nation combined. A brutal savage war. And for what? That question Bruce Wilder has answered correctly.

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John Holbo 04.16.14 at 4:08 am

“Forgive and forget it was just a bad strategy and now they’ve backed themselves into a corner so live and let live and so forth.”

I agree it’s a lot to ask. That, among other reasons, is why I very explicitly – repeatedly, tediously even – am not asking for that.

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John Holbo 04.16.14 at 4:23 am

In case it really does look like I’m advocating some sort of unilateral rhetorical surrender on the left – I don’t have any idea why it would look like that, but just in case there is some reason why it looks that way – here is my proposal for a truth and reconciliation settlement. If conservatives all start saying what I say in comment #82, more or less, I’m willing to drop the next Paula Deen-type scandal.

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John Holbo 04.16.14 at 4:40 am

I do regret having typed ‘demographic shits’. I have now corrected that.

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Bruce Wilder 04.16.14 at 5:06 am

rustypleb: Bruce W may be essentially correct without being completely correct

the story of my life . . . [sigh]

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Thornton Hall 04.16.14 at 5:11 am

As a defense attorney I represented a murderer who was a good kid who got his head turned round until he believed he was doing good by killing someone. In sentencing, the jury wants to know, “is he remorseful?” The thing was, to be remorseful required admitting to himself that he was wrong about an entire world view. And if that was going to happen, it would take a lot more time than the year or so between the murder and the sentencing. So to prove he was a “good kid” (which he was) required something that was too much to ask, something that was physically impossible.

His life was spared anyway, and now, a decade later, he is, in fact, starting to be remorseful. He’s redeemed. The world is a better place because we didn’t execute this kid, who didn’t show remorse at the time.

You, me, and Coates are the jury. To get to that objectively better world, we have to have mercy on a murderer who won’t show remorse, who probably, as of today, physically can’t show remorse. But we are absolutely correct when we picked remorse as the criterion for mercy. Basically, the GOP needs the grace of God: love that they don’t deserve.

But, you, me and Coates, were not God, were not even a jury, that can go home, never to interact with the murderer again, ever. We are people who day in and day out have to take care of the victims of Reaganism. The murders keep happening. Even if we forgive the past harms, how do we forgive the death due to no Medicaid expansion that happens tomorrow, and the one the next day, and the next?

It’s too much. The only solution is for the GOP to stick to its Reaganist guns as it goes the way of the Whigs. A new Conservative party will take its place, and finally 50 years from now, the last elected member of the GOP will die in his office in the South Carolina Statehouse.

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bad Jim 04.16.14 at 6:22 am

The insanity of the reaction against Obama isn’t significantly different from the insanity of the reaction against Clinton. Conservative rage is always dialed up to 11. The meter is always pegged. Eisenhower was a Communist.

If anything, Obama’s very presence in office is an excuse for conservatives to claim that race is no longer an issue, and that liberals are mistaking any opposition to the Kenyan usurper for racism. They do have a point; they were just as inflamed by Bill Clinton’s mild liberalism, and they’ll likely be just as inflamed by Hillary’s. Having a black president hasn’t driven them crazy. They’ve always been that way.

I’m disgusted by any demographic discussion of America that doesn’t make regional distinctions, because the Confederate states are different. The Democrats don’t have a problem with white voters; they get majorities in the Northeast and an even split in the West. The South is another matter. As net beneficiaries of federal expenditures, they’re certainly not victimized by taxes, but that’s not the way their white people vote, and they’re oddly obsessed with keeping other people from voting. People reveal themselves by what they fear, and never more so than when the fears are groundless.

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shah8 04.16.14 at 6:35 am

Holbo@82:

The outline sounds very much like what a conservative trying to gaslight nonconservatives would sound like.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaslighting

in the basic sense that nonconservatives consciences are coopted to ameliorate the consequences of conservatives own actions, like nonconservatives are the well grounded, intelligent, housewife being the helpmate of a pleasingly flawed corporate hubby in a 50′s sitcom. And Chait’s just telling said housefrau not to henpick the dear so much, he’s getting better! Is that what you’re trying to take from him?

Nah…

basic premise: People who trip on stuff, whether that be drugs or power, have a tendency to blame others when things aren’t going well for them and the habit is interfering with good function. Constructive behavior is precisely avoiding doing any of their psychic work for them, and not indulging them.

also: Anyone who looks at the consequences of racist policies on their preferred victims squarely cannot, in good conscience, adopt such a sophisticated view of the dialect without suspecting FUD sophistry.

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John Holbo 04.16.14 at 6:50 am

” And Chait’s just telling said housefrau not to henpick the dear so much, he’s getting better! Is that what you’re trying to take from him?”

Well, I’m obviously not saying anything like that. (I hope it’s obvious.) I’m pretty sure Chait isn’t saying anything like that either. (But I guess I could be wrong. But I doubt it.)

Sorry, I’m not sure whether you are saying that I’m gaslighting you – our readership. That is, I’m trying to deny that there are problems with conservatives. Or are you saying that I’m saying that conservatives are trying to gaslight liberals? Neither really.

The problem is that gaslighting is too calculating. All this is more instinctive. More confabulatory.

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John Holbo 04.16.14 at 6:55 am

Well, there’s more problems than that. But, for starters, clarify where you are getting the ‘don’t henpeck the dear so much’ idea.

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Hey Skipper 04.16.14 at 7:27 am

Small government conservative = racist hater.

That’s pretty much what virtually all the comments on this thread boil down to.

Paul Ryan says something that is, in effect, identical to things Pres. Obama and Bill Cosby have said. How is that racist?

Arguing confiscatory taxation is a bad idea isn’t racist. Believing that Great Society programs have created a culture of dependency isn’t racist; indeed, it can’t be. Viewing affirmative action programs as likely to harm their beneficiaries and inherently racist isn’t racist. Concluding that the ACA has made a dysfunctional system worse, and was sold only by grotesque lies isn’t racist. (And using Lee Atwater to tar these arguments makes no more sense than dismissing progressivism because Pres. Wilson was a thoroughgoing racist who thought eugenics a good idea, or FDR put Japanese-Americans in concentration camps.)

The result is the Liberal Gulag. After all, it is so much easier to dump out another barrel of Racist Hater™ than countering an actual argument.

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Bruce Wilder 04.16.14 at 7:51 am

countering an actual argument

When Paul Ryan or Rush Limbaugh or anyone on Fox makes “an actual argument” be sure to give us a call.

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John Holbo 04.16.14 at 7:58 am

“After all, it is so much easier to dump out another barrel of Racist Hater™ than countering an actual argument.”

All right then, what’s the argument?

Let me help by getting you started.

“Believing that Great Society programs have created a culture of dependency isn’t racist; indeed, it can’t be.”

This is false.

Even you should be able to see this simply by taking the form of your own accusation against liberalism, abstracting it from liberalism, and considering hypothetically how a similar critique could be made of conservatism. You think the problem with the liberal indictment of conservatism is that it’s really just a kind of made up fantasy. Liberals would be flattered by believing x, hence they come to believe x.

Now consider how something similar could be true of conservatives and the Great Society. Let’s suppose we have a racist (unlikely, I know, but bear with me.) Let’s suppose, additionally, that this person is a bit tender (within and without) about admitting his/her racism. What will this person think of the Great Society? They won’t like it (see above). But they can’t really say why not (because that could touch the tender spot). So (to provide extra protection for the tender spot) they will tend to form the belief that Great Society programs will have all and only effects that are diametrically opposed to those they are supposed to have.

Do you get the form of the concern, now?

As to your objection that “Small government conservative = racist hater” is not a conceptual truth: this is true. Nevertheless, the sociology is disturbing. From Chait’s article:

“And the truth is almost too brutal to be acknowledged. A few months ago, three University of Rochester political scientists—Avidit Acharya, Matthew Blackwell, and Maya Sen—published an astonishing study. They discovered that a strong link exists between the proportion of slaves residing in a southern county in 1860 and the racial conservatism (and voting habits) of its white residents today. The more slave-intensive a southern county was 150 years ago, the more conservative and Republican its contemporary white residents. The authors tested their findings against every plausible control factor—for instance, whether the results could be explained simply by population density—but the correlation held. Higher levels of slave ownership in 1860 made white Southerners more opposed to affirmative action, score higher on the anti-black-affect scale, and more hostile to Democrats.”

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Stephenson quoter-kun 04.16.14 at 8:02 am

MSM @70:

Please tell me who these reasonable Republicans are who are making those innocent technocratic arguments about tax cuts. I am not aware of any.

What Republicans are framing things like tax cuts in non-coded terms? Paul Ryan is adept at this language as he chats about the “tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work.”

Really? There aren’t any Republicans who are arguing for tax cuts who aren’t racist?

Obviously, there exist in the world ethnically homogenous societies in which, by historical chance, “racism” does not exist as a major factor in domestic politics. These societies will have people who advocate tax cuts. It is therefore possible for a person to propose tax cuts without race being a factor in their decision to do so, and without significant race-contingent outcomes. But what you’re saying is that it’s not possible for an American to propose tax cuts without race being a factor? The problem I have with that is that, as a hypothesis, it only requires the existence of a single counter-example to be false, and I’m sure there’s at least one.

Maybe you’re saying that race isn’t necessarily a factor in their decision at all, but given the fact that the impact of tax cuts will be felt disproportionately along racial lines (viz. white people benefit more), the policy itself is racist even when proposed by the purest of heart. The tax-cutter is proposing a racist policy, and their innocence not a get-out-of-jail-free pass for the effects of their proposal. I prefer that line of argument, because it’s about judging the real-world effects of the proposal rather than attempting to peer into the soul of the person proposing it.

We can take this further and say that it’s more straightforward to say that tax cuts give disproportionate benefits to the wealthy, and cause harm to the poor (who will see their own taxes rise, benefits fall or services decline). You don’t actually need to mention race at all, and this is therefore a strictly better argument in that it gets at the truth more accurately – race correlates with wealth, but so do lots of other things and it’s not immediately obvious why race should be your preferred frame. It doesn’t ignore the existence of poor white people or rich black people as the “tax cuts are racist” argument does. Yet it would appear to be a less effective argument, despite being more accurate. It’s only a very small wrong, in the grand scheme of things, but I guess it makes Chait a tiny bit uncomfortable, and it gives some Republicans the right to believe that although they lost the debate, their opponents basically cheated. Of course, if the Republicans are dog-whistling anyway then they are cheating too, and in a much worse way. So neither side can risk abandoning slightly-dubious arguments because they know that the dubious arguments are the most effective, and the other side sure ain’t giving theirs up first, with the result that success in political debate is linked to one’s willingness to make dishonest arguments. Chait is probably right to recognise that this has become a game which has relatively little to do with actual victims of racism.

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shah8 04.16.14 at 8:10 am

“Getting back to MSNBC: the thing they do, which Chait is describing as ‘stop and frisk’, is persistently embarrass conservatives with true evidence of usually fairly mild racism, knowing full well that this is extremely damaging to conservatives, given attitudinal and demographic shifts.

But poetic justice is not social justice. It seems to me that the thing that Chait is getting at, which is right, is that liberals have gotten themselves into a position in which they are extremely good at driving conservatives even more insane, because going around thinking ‘I’m being a bit unfairly tarred as more of a racist than I actually am, and I really have no one to blame but myself and my allies for that’ would be enough to drive anyone deeper into denial. But we don’t really have a good formula for trading in poetic justice for social justice. Which is a damn shame.”

You seem to ascribe here, a lot more agency + responsibility to “liberals” than any reasonable judge would mete out. I mean, for example, conservatives and “stop and frisk”. Why do conservatives get mad when you call their support for such policies racist? Because they are racists, and they resent the idea that others have a clear vision of the motives behind the policy, reducing its effectiveness in their lights. Well, why ruin anybody’s appetite at dinner by calling out racism? Because “stop and frisk” policies aren’t genuinely legal for constitutional reasons, and are an avenue for a demonstration of societal dominance, milder than lynchings or coups, but no less the intent to coerce certain targeted people from living their lives in the fullness of dignity. Moreover, we Americans live in the traditions where public conservative truculence create the social space for conservative illegality and violence. Public pushback is a key mechanism in reducing such social caprice. In other words, there is a utility to the act of engagement that goes beyond seeking the loss of face of conservatives.

I mean, that’s what this is about, right? The loss of face ought to be the paramount consideration, and that we liberals are the helpmate that makes far too big a deal of a crooked tie, right? It’s not going to make a huuuuge deal at the big meeting, right?

Lastly, I’m not really saying that *you* are gaslighting. I’m saying that your attempts at making a better picture of what Chait is saying puts the facts and burdens in such a distorted light that it looks like a gaslighting situation from the objective standpoint of the reader, when analyzing the relationship between the conservative and not conservative in print.

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bad Jim 04.16.14 at 8:25 am

Whenever I encounter Steve Sailer in a comment thread, or Jonah Goldberg most Tuesdays in the L.A. Times, I’m reminded that ad hominem is a nifty time-saver: I don’t even have to read this. The guy is an idiot. That’s not to say that they’re always wrong, nor that people I like are always right, but they’re guaranteed to be a waste of time. If they make the least bit of sense, it’s something I already know, and if it’s the usual hateful ignorant nonsense I’m going to go into a blind rage and dismember the driver of the next Lexus who doesn’t understand the right-of-way, and sooner or later the police will figure out who’s doing this. I do try to be careful, of course.

103

Ronan(rf) 04.16.14 at 8:57 am

“Isn’t that pretty much your worldview in a nutshell?”

lol, yeah. To a point I guess.

104

Belle Waring 04.16.14 at 9:21 am

I think John should mebbe just promise to let me point out Republican and conservative politicians and political thinkers to him in the future as they gleam past sick and red on the LED stock ticker of public life: “racist…racist…oh Jesus it’s McMegan, fuck me right in the ass with one of them nopal paddle thingummies…racist…racist…soulless technocrat…dag, racist as a motherfucker; what even with this shit…well, she seems OK I guess…he’s just a libertarian Rush fan who grew up in Washington state and has never had any real cause to interact with his black fellow citizens in ordinary life but may be a racist who won’t admit it to himself, idk.” Stuff like that. What do y’all think? On account of my allus’ being infallibly correct? Solid plan, right?

“A new Conservative party will take its place, and finally 50 years from now, the last elected member of the GOP will die in his office in the South Carolina Statehouse.”
Holla! South Carolina represent! You know we were in at the beginning, we’re going to hang on till the bitter end. Well, we were out (5000, USofA) first, more like, but still, we’re going to be bitter enders!

Hey, Hey Skipper. “Arguing confiscatory taxation is a bad idea isn’t racist. Believing that Great Society programs have created a culture of dependency isn’t racist; indeed, it can’t be…. The result is the Liberal Gulag. After all, it is so much easier to dump out another barrel of Racist Hater™ than countering an actual argument.”
Please provide an argument to counter? Additionally, however poorly supported you think our claims are, you must realize it’s nonsensical to claim that it’s impossible for a belief in a culture of dependency created by social welfare programs to be racist. That’s false in a tautological and very trivial way, as the production of a single KKK member who holds such a belief as a racist belief will demolish the entire assertion in one go. Surely you’re aware we could find one such person, and that’s all that’s required. If you are going to come into the thread and desecrate the torture, suffering, and millions of deaths experienced by the sufferers in the Soviet Gulags by equating this horrific agony to the hurt feelings of a Republican MSNBC viewer you should try not to fail at basic logic. It’s already insulting to the memories of those people to pretend that any such gulag exists, and if you have a shred of decency within you that would prevent you from saying Liberals were providing the Final Solution to Republicanism then you should extend that to the victims of communism’s camps and retract your statement. Unless you don’t take Stalin’s crimes as seriously as Hitler’s for some reason. I would be interested to know why not.

105

Abigail 04.16.14 at 10:08 am

All I can say is, if Chait’s intended point was really the one John Holbo ascribes to him, then he is a fantastically bad writer. Since I don’t believe that’s the case, I strongly doubt that John’s interpretation is on the money.

106

Clay Shirky 04.16.14 at 11:02 am

Well, I never thought it would happen, but John @82, you’ve come close to giving me the feeling I had reading Rorty on Derrida: A writer I love and almost always agree with using so many words to offer a charitable reading of an unredeemable argument that I’m left with the opposite of the intended reaction.

If it takes that much work to argue that Chait is saying something he does not seem to be saying, maybe a) he is not saying that thing and, b) you should probably just have argued what you wanted to argue without trying to make it look like an agreement with Chait.

I know @82 was stream of consciousness, but John, if I wanted to try to get you to walk the cat back, I’d start here:

Because they made a point of illogically roping that baggage to a bunch of other stuff, poisoning the discourse with it.

How might you modify your argument if you believed that said roping was not illogical?

What if managing the terms of racial discrimination mattered for everything from the labor market to health care to gun control to old age insurance to the state’s involvement in family formation? And what if, once the issue became partisan, it was actually completely logical to rope it with everything a majority of Americans thought it should be roped in with?

Also want to undersign Shah8 @94 on gaslighting — the problem with getting Republicans to even try to say the things you are saying is that they would be instantly strafed by their own party, as on immigration. Where would such Republicans even come from? The Northeast?

And for bonus cat-back-walking points: In a political context, one way to contemplate the utility of an argument is to see what allies it gets you, in which context I just have to say “Hey Skipper @99″.

107

novakant 04.16.14 at 11:12 am

I think Chait is a good guy.

Why? He was aggressively wrong about Iraq and has been warmongering ever since.

108

Barry 04.16.14 at 1:26 pm

bad Jim 04.16.14 at 8:25 am

” Whenever I encounter Steve Sailer in a comment thread, or Jonah Goldberg most Tuesdays in the L.A. Times, I’m reminded that ad hominem is a nifty time-saver: I don’t even have to read this. The guy is an idiot. That’s not to say that they’re always wrong, nor that people I like are always right, but they’re guaranteed to be a waste of time. If they make the least bit of sense, it’s something I already know, and if it’s the usual hateful ignorant nonsense I’m going to go into a blind rage and dismember the driver of the next Lexus who doesn’t understand the right-of-way, and sooner or later the police will figure out who’s doing this. I do try to be careful, of course.”

A guy named Daniel Davies had a neat comment once: “There is much made by people who long for the days of their fourth form debating society about the fallacy of “argumentum ad hominem”. There is, as I have mentioned in the past, no fancy Latin term for the fallacy of “giving known liars the benefit of the doubt”, but it is in my view a much greater source of avoidable error in the world. “

109

John Holbo 04.16.14 at 1:33 pm

“Also want to undersign Shah8 @94 on gaslighting — the problem with getting Republicans to even try to say the things you are saying is that they would be instantly strafed by their own party, as on immigration. Where would such Republicans even come from? The Northeast?”

Well, for the record, I’m not looking for allies on the right. Shah8 is, I think, worried that I’m not willing to be rude to conservatives. But obviously the thing I’m saying, true or not, is going to be enraging beyond endurance to conservatives. See Hey Skipper for representative reaction, I think. I’m not saying what I say because I think it’s diplomatically winning. I’m saying it because I think it’s true.

As to my lovely wife’s comment about how she is willing to enlighten me about who is who, in the racism department: don’t I know it! But I think Chait is right that we should emphasize how far we’ve come. And I think he’s also right that it’s important to keep in mind how strange it is that half of their complaint about the civil rights movement is that it happened, and the other half is that they can’t take credit for it. And now, once again, I have something else that will take up the rest of my evening – and probably my next two days – but my moratorium on posts about Eich is almost up. Maybe I’ll try to write something to pick up these pieces, or sweep them away to replace them with something better, by the weekend.

Apologies for trolling you all. I hope you found it amusing, at least.

110

Clay Shirky 04.16.14 at 1:39 pm

Also, John, let me be the Nth person to observe (where N is some number larger than the number you are thinking of) that you are very lucky to be married to Belle (@83 et passim, all the way back to John and Belle Have A Blog) and in addition to whatever ‘love, honor and cherish’ list you signed up for, you maybe should add “…and give veto power over public attestations of good faith on behalf of other people who are in fact making ‘false equivalence’ arguments about race.”

I know that seems an awfully specific post-hoc rider to your wedding vows, but as recent history has shown, it would be an emendation that would pay off in no time.

111

Clay Shirky 04.16.14 at 2:03 pm

John @109, I was writing my last comment as you were writing yours, but let me just observe, of Republican strategy, that this…

how strange it is that half of their complaint about the civil rights movement is that it happened, and the other half is that they can’t take credit for it.

…is not only not strange, it is a perfect description of what they have successfully done with feminism.

What’s the old adage? History repeats itself, first as farce, then as tragedy? That describes the arc from Phyllis Schafly to Sarah Palin, where a woman making a career for herself on the premise that women should not make careers for themselves was too grating to be more than a sideshow, in the 1980s, but had by 2008 become so commonplace that the party most responsible for killing the Equal Rights Amendment could, without any self-consciousness and little penalty from their voters, also put forward the most credible shot at a woman being President in US history, and no Democratic complaints about hypocrisy stuck while they did so.

African-American participation in American life has relied heavily on the Constitutional amendment as its mechanism. There are only a dozen substantive amendments in force (11, 20 & 25 were bug fixes, 18 & 21 were self-canceling), of which 4 are about race. (Per the upthread discussion, 24 doesn’t mention race, but c’mon, poll tax? Totes racial.)

Meanwhile, teh ladies only got the 19th Amendment, and the killing of the ERA happened 15 years after the Civil Rights act. And yet the Republicans have been able to co-opt the idea of women as national leaders without penalty, after only a generation of ‘healing’ or whatever you want to call the process of saying “La la la we can’t heaaaar you” until it was OK to nominate Palin.

Now gender is not race, so there are lots of obvious reasons why they could pursue a strategy of preventing an outcome they later took credit for with feminism but not racial integration, but even given that, it is not at all strange that they’d like a Get Out of Racist Jail Free card too.

112

John Holbo 04.16.14 at 2:04 pm

“I know that seems an awfully specific post-hoc rider to your wedding vows”

Post hoc wedding vows. Hadn’t really thought about that. Maybe we could get all living constitutional about it and find that one in a penumbra to one of the original vows or something. That would have the advantage of making Scalia mad.

113

Consumatopia 04.16.14 at 2:13 pm

What about other policy fights in which the racism is a lot closer to the surface? Xenophobes don’t even bother with Atwater abstractions–there’s nothing abstract about “no amnesty!”, its directly saying that any policy that fails to punish immigrants is injustice, because immigrants are terrible people who deserve to be punished. Or islamophobia–I mean, geez, the NYPD even called them the “Demographics Unit”. And neither of those fights seem to be driven by wealthy elites.

114

Layman 04.16.14 at 2:26 pm

“Apologies for trolling you all. I hope you found it amusing, at least.”

Amusing? Heck, you could sell tickets.

115

Barry 04.16.14 at 2:28 pm

Warning – John (others), this is long, and harsh in spots

John Holbo : “OK, it’s morning. The birds are singing. Time to take my lumps for having trolled you all. I didn’t mean to troll you THAT hard. But I do confess to the intention to troll, mildly.”

Note – what you did was definitely trolling. I’ve seen it on other sites, and frankly I’ve rarely seen somebody come back later with something worth it. It seems to be just an excuse for a bad argument.

“Re: more recent history. I thought his debate with Coates was good. He lost. His problem was sort of, as Hobbes said to Calvin: your report only had one fact and you made it up. Less unkindly, Coates did a good job of pointing out that Chait was assuming stuff as reasonable that, on reflection, just isn’t reasonable to assume. But I don’t think it’s fair to get suspicious about Chait’s motives or basic mental set. I’m not, anyway. He doesn’t WANT it to turn out that there’s a culture of poverty so he can feel better. Given how common that sort of wanting is, it is not unreasonable to suspect him, but I think he’s quite innocent. You are, of course, entitled to your suspicions to the contrary. I just don’t share them.”

Shorter – Chait’s ‘facts’ were simply not true (and not true in a way which is well known). That’s not a good thing for Chait. That’s rather bad, in a debate.

“Also, I think Chait is healthily immune to ‘pox on both their houses’ false moderation.”

By that standard, somebody who is busily filling the toilet from both ends is ‘healthily immune’ to stomach flu.

“ I base that on his whole body of work, not this piece. He’s written against ‘but they BOTH do it!’ and my main reason for defending the current piece was that I immediately thought: people are going to slam him for bogus false moderation. He opened himself up, and he’s going to get blamed for that, when he meant something else. I do not deny that there is considerable evidence of the pseudo-moderate ailment in the piece. I just think it’s an accident. I don’t think that’s what he meant. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Up to you.”

As an accident, it was several pages long. And as an accident (as I’ve said before), Chait at one point spent several hundred words making an argument, and then blithely hand-waved it away. Odd accident, that.

“Now, with my throat cleared, I proceed to the substance of the issue. I’m going to try to say something about what I think Chait should have meant by what he said. I take it this is what he did mean. But maybe he didn’t. Anyway, obviously it’s healthier to focus on what is right, whoever said it or didn’t, so even if you don’t think Chait meant what I’m about to say, do consider whether you think it sounds right. Or half-right.”

John, could you please rewrite this in English, in grammar, style, and actually making sense?

“Here’s a rather key passage, which I think bothered a lot of you, because it seems to be where Chait goes off the rails. He goes completely insane at precisely the point where he says: “it also happens to be completely insane.” (See whether that is an adequate encapsulation of your main complaints about the piece.)”

And this is ‘good’? This is not a classic case of dismissing an argument because ‘facts have a liberal bias’?

Chait: “Yet here is the point where, for all its breadth and analytic power, the liberal racial analysis collapses onto itself. It may be true that, at the level of electoral campaign messaging, conservatism and white racial resentment are functionally identical. It would follow that any conservative argument is an appeal to white racism. That is, indeed, the all-but-explicit conclusion of the ubiquitous Atwater Rosetta-stone confession: Republican politics is fundamentally racist, and even its use of the most abstract economic appeal is a sinister, coded missive.

Impressive though the historical, sociological, and psychological evidence undergirding this analysis may be, it also happens to be completely insane. Whatever Lee Atwater said, or meant to say, advocating tax cuts is not in any meaningful sense racist.

One of the greatest triumphs of liberal politics over the past 50 years has been to completely stigmatize open racial discrimination in public life, a lesson that has been driven home over decades by everybody from Jimmy the Greek to Paula Deen. This achievement has run headlong into an increasing liberal tendency to define conservatism as a form of covert racial discrimination. If conservatism is inextricably entangled with racism, and racism must be extinguished, then the scope for legitimate opposition to Obama shrinks to an uncomfortably small space.
The racial debate of the Obama years emits some of the poisonous waft of the debates over communism during the McCarthy years. It defies rational resolution in part because it is about secret motives and concealed evil.” [end Chait]

John, please note that the comparison to McCarthyism is 100% false – McCarthy didn’t find any communists; to make it valid, there’d have to be a large flat-out communist movement with a major presence in one of the two major political parties of his time. Also, those motives are ‘secret’ only in the sense that people openly admit them only some of the time, and generally use very well-known code phrases quite a bit. As for secret motives and concealed evil, just for one example, look at the GOP voter suppression efforts.

John: “Now, let me just say what I think is right here. (And again: if you want to object that you don’t think this is what Chait meant to say, that’s fine.)

A couple months back – I guess it was probably on MLK day? – I remarked that if MLK could come back today and see his legacy, he would in some ways be overjoyed: a black president! That’s more than anyone even dreamed of, in 1964, I think. He would also be dismayed by a lot of stuff. How can there be a black president and so many other basic things haven’t changed all that much, socioeconomically? And he would find things like the Paula Deen case kind of weird. Why is this sort of case sucking up all the oxygen, if only for a week or two? There are all these real problems of social justice, and here we are talking about one semi-randomly selected, semi-famous, semi-unreconstructed white woman. Well, obviously the answer is that people fighting for social justice exert leverage where they can. But that just pushes the question back. Why is this the place where people are finding they can exert some leverage, not anywhere else? It’s kind of crazy. What is it about our racial politics that makes Paula Deen’s mind, of all places, a worthy battleground?” [end John's quote]

IMHO, MLK wouldn’t even mention Paula Deen’s whackiness. It’s a triviality. He would notice the USA’s slide into open evil in eternal war against [insert whatever here, as appropriate]. He’d note that economic inequality had increased. He’d note that the elites are in open warfare against the rest of the USA. He’d note that the right is attempting to do the same things that they did in his time, only offering up other reasons as camouflage.

John: “Race is political psychodrama.”

Meaning, please?

“ Upthread I said it was an elite psychodrama, with different elite groups – ergo white people – fighting over whose tribe is more innocent. I think I should have said: it’s an elite psychodrama that also informs popular opinion very strongly, as elite psychodramas do. Now: saying it’s a kind of duel of more-innocent-than-thou makes it sound like bogus ‘they both do it’ false equivalence. The truth is that when Roger Simon writes something like this …”

Please, John – coherency, meaning, etc.

“http://pjmedia.com/rogerlsimon/2014/03/25/democrat-war-on-blacks/?singlepage=true
… he is just out of his mind. No question. He’s deluded.”
“But, even though it’s a duel of innocence in which one side is way more guilty and the other side is more innocent (HINT: it’s the opposite of what Simon says) it’s still kind of crazy that our political culture is psychologically wracked by a racial debate framed primarily in these terms at all, no matter who is right and who is wrong. “

BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZTTTTTTTTTTTTTT!!!!!!!!!!!!!
15 yards for actually slipping in ‘Both sides do it’.

John: “Because what keeps happening is that conservatives are being knocked back on their heels, harder and harder, on the race question – made to feel defensive and guilty. This is because they ARE more guilty, hence they’d better be on the defensive. All the same, it just doesn’t matter so damn much that Paula Deen has unreconstructed attitudes about race. Eyes on the prize this is not, so there’s a sense in which liberals have a tactical advantage, on race, that is not clearly a strategic advantage, where real problems about race are concerned. They can beat up conservatives, for having been – and still being – effectively the enemies of African-Americans. But it’s less clear that they can do so in a way that helps African-Americans.”

First, John, have somebody help you with your writing. I may be out of line here, but stream of consciousness is not an argument. And on top of that, the reason that the right is made to feel defensive and guilty is because they are guilty. Did you not look at Shelby v. DoJ and realize what they were doing? They asserted ‘states’ rights’ under another name. And they aren’t feeling that defensive; they are frequently on the offense.

“Let me put it another way, confronting that admittedly awful line about MSNBC. “MSNBC has spent the entire Obama presidency engaged in a nearly nonstop ideological stop-and-frisk operation.” That’s awful. He shouldn’t have written that. But here’s a way to think something true in the vicinity.”

‘Something true in the vicinity’. ?????

John: “US conservative politics is racial dog-whistle politics. That’s just true, to a first approximation. Or maybe a bit weaker: there is no other comparably simple claim about US conservative politics that is truer. And no account of US conservatism that does not confront this truth, head-on, can be insightful. Chait makes a perfectly good argument to that effect in the piece, then kind of weirdly draws back. What he should have said – what I think he meant – is that the dog-whistly nature of conservatism, which is obviously awful for conservatism, is also bad for everyone else trying to keep their eyes on what matters. We can all hear those whistles, actually, and it’s distracting – enraging to everyone.”

‘Kind of weirdly draws back’, where ‘weirdly’ means ‘quite dishonestly’.

John: “We can all hear those whistles, actually, and it’s distracting – enraging to everyone.”

Those whistles are evil, and they are calling people to evil, only camouflaging it for plausible deniability (like a Mafia don telling his subordinates that he’s ‘tired of’ some guy).

“Let’s try a different analogy. Conservatism not as dog-whistle but as SEO comment spam. Conservatives are a lot like those poor companies that worked hard to spam everyone’s comment boxes, back in the day, to juice their sites. And then Google went and changed the rules, and now all that spam is backfiring and lowering their page rank. But they literally can’t do anything about it. Toothpaste is out of the tube. So they write angry emails to site proprietors, accusing them of hosting comments that are harmful, etc. etc.”
http://boingboing.net/2014/03/05/comment-spammers-threaten-to-s.html
Couldn’t have happened to nice guys!

Could there be a more perfect image of poetic justice than spammers reverse-spammed by their own spam? It’s positively Dickensian in its moral satisfactoriness.”

John, how about an analogy which makes actual sense.

Dickens: “You are fettered,” said Scrooge, trembling. “Tell me why?”
“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?”

John: “The equivalent of Google changing the rules is: American sensibility on race shifting, and demographic shifts. Once upon a time, conservatives could juice their anti-tax stuff (for example) by associating it with race stuff. And they could indulge mild racism (via tax stuff) while knowing (wink wink) that they could get votes of more toxic racists that way. Now they are stuck with those strictly illogical associations. They can’t propose anti-tax stuff, and have it considered on the merits, without people associating it with racism. And every mild racist little thing is going to set off alarm bells about really toxic racism. So conservatives have to walk around on eggshells. Which seems terribly unfair. And, in a sense, it is unfair. But then, in another sense, conservatives have no one but themselves to blame that they have gotten themselves into this guilt trap. They built it themselves, carefully, over decades, so they could be unfair to other people. And now, because of it, people are being a bit unfair to them. They want to move on from past forms of unfairness that used to help them, but now hinder them. They want to lose the baggage. But they can’t. Because they made a point of illogically roping that baggage to a bunch of other stuff, poisoning the discourse with it.”

No, the reason that people are suspicious is that time and time and time and time again, these people are racist and/or quite deliberately and evilly using racism to advance their agenda.

John: “And every mild racist little thing is going to set off alarm bells about really toxic racism.”

Analogy: ‘Crap, I can’t even grope a woman without somebody telling her about why I spent 3-5 in prison!’

John: “Getting back to MSNBC: the thing they do, which Chait is describing as ‘stop and frisk’, is persistently embarrass conservatives with true evidence of usually fairly mild racism, knowing full well that this is extremely damaging to conservatives, given attitudinal and demographic shifts.”

It’s damaging because people are pointing out their tricks.

I read a lot of the scamblogs, and one thing that law school deans really hate is when people take their (BS) statistics, dissect them, and show people what the numbers actually mean, as opposed to what the deans want people to believe.

Analogy: ‘Crap, I go and cop a feel, and some jerk ‘stops and frisks’ me with a cellphone vid!’.

John: “But poetic justice is not social justice. It seems to me that the thing that Chait is getting at, which is right, is that liberals have gotten themselves into a position in which they are extremely good at driving conservatives even more insane, because going around thinking ‘I’m being a bit unfairly tarred as more of a racist than I actually am, and I really have no one to blame but myself and my allies for that’ would be enough to drive anyone deeper into denial. But we don’t really have a good formula for trading in poetic justice for social justice. Which is a damn shame.”

What ‘poetic justice’? That would be if the shoe was on the other foot, which it isn’t. It isn’t justice, it’s the fact that they’re having a harder time getting away with injustice.

John: “I hope he’s right about the optimistic note he strikes at the end: since it’s sort of all in our heads – the psychodrama, as opposed to actual problems of social justice – we can maybe age out of it and start to focus on real problems. But I have my doubts.”

It’s not ‘sort of all in our heads’, it’s not ‘psychodrama’. It’s actual things done by actual people, with actual effects on actual people.

“Am I saying that liberals should lighten up on conservatives, rather than trapping them in the toils of their backfiring devices for making all politics about race? No. “

Then what do you mean?

“If conservatives want to dismantle all that, THEY can do it. It will cost them. It ought to cost them. Instead, they will probably make it worse: doing their best to pass restrictive voting laws and etc. And then they will have to watch MSNBC accuse them of neo-Jim Crow, when the truth is that they don’t WANT Jim Crow. They just don’t want Democrats to get so many votes now, just because Republicans pursued the Southern Strategy in the 60′s. If minorities would just forget the past – as Republicans have done – and vote Republican, in reasonable numbers, Republicans would be happy to let bygones be bygones. “

John: “If minorities would just forget the past – as Republicans have done – and vote Republican, in reasonable numbers, Republicans would be happy to let bygones be bygones. “

John, are you trying to pull a blame both sides here?

Analogy: ‘I only killed them because they didn’t pre-emptively submit. If they had forged chains, bound themselves, and presented themselves before me with all of their treasure (and hawt women) then I wouldn’t be making this huge pile of skulls. It’s all their fault’.

John: “I just banged this comment out, kind of stream of consciousness. Probably unwise. “

Yes. And particularly in defense of a really bad article.

John: “But I really am trying to work out my thoughts about all this. And I felt that the Chait piece helped me do that. But maybe I’m all wrong, and Chait’s all wrong. Set me straight. Punish me for having trolled you all so hard.”

The problem here is that you are not actually working out your thoughts. You’re just thinking, and typing what you think.

Sorry for the harshness, but this comment was even worse than Chait’s article.

116

Barry 04.16.14 at 2:37 pm

Consumatopia 04.16.14 at 2:13 pm

” What about other policy fights in which the racism is a lot closer to the surface? Xenophobes don’t even bother with Atwater abstractions–there’s nothing abstract about “no amnesty!”, its directly saying that any policy that fails to punish immigrants is injustice, because immigrants are terrible people who deserve to be punished. Or islamophobia–I mean, geez, the NYPD even called them the “Demographics Unit”. And neither of those fights seem to be driven by wealthy elites.”

You don’t think that wealthy elites are happy to fund and use those movements?
Remember, the Tea Party movement was started with lavish astroturfing.

117

Belle Waring 04.16.14 at 2:48 pm

I can think of more interesting ways to annoy Scalia, right?

118

Consumatopia 04.16.14 at 2:54 pm

No, I don’t think that wealthy elites are behind the push to restrict immigration. (Yes, some wealthy people are anti-immigrant, but more of them seem to want cheap labor).

And re:Islamophobia and the War on Terror generally, elites have certainly been willing to profit from it, but they didn’t invent it.

119

Barry 04.16.14 at 3:08 pm

Consumatopia 04.16.14 at 2:54 pm

” No, I don’t think that wealthy elites are behind the push to restrict immigration. (Yes, some wealthy people are anti-immigrant, but more of them seem to want cheap labor).”

Immigration is the one and only instance I can think of where the base actually b*tch-slapped the elites and made it stick (every so often, when you rile up a counter-reactionary force, you’ll have problems).

” And re:Islamophobia and the War on Terror generally, elites have certainly been willing to profit from it, but they didn’t invent it.”

In terms of Islamophobia, I think that Fox had a role there. And, of course, the War on Terror is entirely an elite creation (which has a lot of support from the base). And both are heavily linked to racism.

120

AJtron the Invincible 04.16.14 at 3:26 pm

Re: John @ 82 -

> But I don’t think it’s fair to get suspicious about Chait’s motives or basic mental
> set. I’m not, anyway. He doesn’t WANT it to turn out that there’s a culture of
> poverty so he can feel better. Given how common that sort of wanting is, it is
> not unreasonable to suspect him, but I think he’s quite innocent. You are, of
> course, entitled to your suspicions to the contrary. I just don’t share them.
Profs almost always have an incentive to write things that are not only far-fetched theories. The fact is that if all you are saying is what is reasonable and common sense, you are not going to get published as a cover article in New York Magazine.

The fact of the matter is that Obama has completely failed in his Presidency. He has failed to address the most pressing concern of the American people: unemployment. To bring in race as the real story of his Presidency seems to be in bad taste and a case of ‘changing the subject’.

Theories may sound far-fetched and wrong when they are … far-fetched and wrong. And
professors do have an incentive to publish these types of theories and no disincentive not
to do so.
-+-
A recent conversation in Cloud Cluckoo Land:

Prof : Dad, my paper has been accepted for publication in the American Psychologist!!
Father : Which page?
Prof : Page 17!
Father : Son, page 17? Are you tell me it was page 17? Joe next door had one on page 38.
Prof : Pshaw! Page 38 is nothing. I got Page 17!
Father : Yippee!
Mother : Am I supposed to say… wow?

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AJtron the Invincible 04.16.14 at 3:28 pm

* Profs almost always have an incentive to write things that not only sound like far-fetched theories, but indeed -are- far-fetched theories.

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Consumatopia 04.16.14 at 3:33 pm

I suppose if 9/11 hadn’t happened and the neocons still wanted all the oil, they would invented some pretext for us to hate them. But I have to think that even before Bush said “the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon”, that that sort of thing was already in the crowd’s mind.

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CJColucci 04.16.14 at 3:35 pm

Obviously, one can endorse right-wing economic and social policy without actually being personally racist. (I know several such people. The ones I know personally are too self-absorbed and care too little about anyone to bother hating them, whether for racial or other reasons.) In public life, there used to be examples of non-racist, small-government conservatives, like Jack Kemp, who showered with more black people than most other Republicans know. He had drunk the Kool-Aid straight, but didn’t imbibe racial hatred with it. Not only that, he seems honestly to have thought that (a) the economic and social policies he advocated were good for minorities and (b) that was a point in their favor. Can anyone confidently name a dozen such public figures now? Not: “Do you mean to say X is a racist? Where’s your proof?,” but a list of people you can say with reasonable confidence are not.

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NickS 04.16.14 at 3:37 pm

I remarked that if MLK could come back today and see his legacy, he would in some ways be overjoyed: a black president! That’s more than anyone even dreamed of, in 1964, I think. He would also be dismayed by a lot of stuff. How can there be a black president and so many other basic things haven’t changed all that much, socioeconomically? And he would find things like the Paula Deen case kind of weird. Why is this sort of case sucking up all the oxygen, if only for a week or two?

Reading that my response was, “that is an entirely reasonable thought, which you could only have if you don’t think about how politics actually works.”

As I’ve gotten older one of the things that seems increasing true to me is that political rhetoric specifically is much more inclined to find local minima than local maxima — that is given the political positions that each side holds it is likely that they will end up spending most of their time and rhetorical energy arguing about things which are very distinctly not the crux of their disagreement.

What’s more I think that there are good, and more-or-less correct reasons for this to happen. The problem is that political rhetoric never occurs in a vacuum; there’s (almost) always an opponent trying to make life difficult for whoever is speaking and, so, the rhetoric is adapted to shape the anticipated responses. The problem with arguing over substantial disagreements is that there are going to be real, significant, counter-arguments. So if some political actor says, “we think marginal tax rates should be higher because . . . utility function . . . natural log of income*” their political opponents are going to be delighted because even if everything in that statement is true, it scores no political points, and isn’t going to convince anybody who doesn’t already agree with that. What’s more the political opponent doesn’t even have to work to come up with a response, they can trot out their well-honed points about simplicity and opportunity, and everybody who doesn’t have a strong opinion about the argument will go to sleep thinking, “I’ve heard this one a million times before.”

But if you can talk about Paula Deen, that’s great, because it’s a chance to make a much less substantial point, but not one that makes everybody think, “I’ve heard this all before.”

There is also the not-at-all-coincidental fact that talking about Paula Deen offers a chance for white people who would like to oppose racism to agree with you, without having them be implicated at all in discussion. Now, you might say that this completely misses the point of structural racism, which is true, but is a reason why it can end up dominating the conversation for a couple weeks, not a reason for people to ignore it.

You might say, at this point, that we, talking politics on blogs, are not political actors, and talk in different ways than politicians would. Which is completely true but doesn’t really apply in this case because you are specifically talking about the nature of the political conversation about racism not the way in which racism affects contemporary US society.

So I think you’re right to say, in the bit quotes above, that MLK would find much to be disappointed with in contemporary US society (along with much to be happy about), and that he might even be surprised at the ways in which public discussion of race takes place. But that doesn’t mean that we need to be surprised.

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AJtron the Invincible 04.16.14 at 3:46 pm

I really meant to talk about professors -and- journalists, but somehow, the mention of journalists completely slipped my mind. In the above two comments.

126

Thornton Hall 04.16.14 at 3:57 pm

I think a huge source of confusion here is the slippery use of the word “ideology word that means, in a technical sense, a system of ideas and value judgments that are non-falsifiable and that shape how one views the empirical world. Example, correct use of the word: “Nationalist ideology holds that the individual’s primary loyalty is not to the lord of the manor but to the nation-state.”

Now, “ideology” as used by pundits and poli sci professors when referring to the 21st Century GOP:
“Conservative ideology holds that given 1981 tax rates, cuts on the top will stimulate economic growth and cause broadly shared prosperity.”

But that’s not ideology. It’s a declarative sentence making a claim about reality. It’s also false. When you go examine the conservative ideology closely, you end up with a list of false empirical claims.

Which leads to a point made by others upchain: true or not, it’s not interesting to point out that there are racially neutral interpretations of the Reaganist agenda.

When a group of people believes a long list of false statements to be true, the interesting bit is not parsing the false statements for the sake of balance, the interesting bit is the question, “Why do these good Americans believe so many false things and how do we get them to stop?”

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AJtron the Invincible 04.16.14 at 4:06 pm

> “Why do these good Americans believe so many false things and how do we get
> them to stop?”
Americans are woefully misinformed about a lot of things. A significant number of them can’t get anywhere close to finding Ukraine on a world map. Saying that this is all a case of (what shall we call it?) racism in disguise seems possible, but it is quite unlikely to explain the behavior of much more than a fringe section of any party.

In the article by Krugman so approvingly cited (“That Old-Time Whistle”), Krugman seems to be doing little more than indulging in that professorial love for far fetched theories.

Professors will always live in Cloud Cuckoo Land. That much is clear.

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AJtron the Invincible 04.16.14 at 4:07 pm

Saying that this is all a case of (what shall we call it?) racism in disguise seems impossible to reconcile with the facts, and it is quite unlikely

129

TM 04.16.14 at 4:14 pm

“If conservatism is inextricably entangled with racism, and racism must be extinguished, then the scope for legitimate opposition to Obama shrinks to an uncomfortably small space.”

I haven’t read Chait’s article (I gather it’s prohibitively long) but from the discussion on this thread, I have one question: who ever argued against tax cuts by saying that they are obviously racist now shut up? I never heard that. This seems a total straw man argument to me.

I would also object to the terminology in that quote. He means to say that the politics of the Republican party is “inextricably entangled with racism” but that is not the same as conservatism. Any sane leftist/liberal would be able to distinguish between the two. There is a huge difference between saying that Republican or right-wing opposition to Obama is to a significant extent motivated by racism (which is clearly true), and saying that no opposition to Obama can ever be legitimate because it is by definition racist (which is false and nobody has ever said except for right-wing straw-man batters).

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roger gathman 04.16.14 at 4:17 pm

The tax cut thing is strange. The avant garde republican position, sounded repeatedly in the Romney campaign, is that the rich pay too much and the poor pay too little – in other words, the GOP position is not tax cuts for all. Here’s a summary from the NYT:http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/19/us/politics/romneys-anxiety-over-takers-conflicts-with-longtime-gop-stand.html?_r=0
So let us get this right. While the makers do pay too much in taxes, the takers don’t pay enough.
Here’s a nice passage on the subject:
“It’s not necessarily a good thing for the country that more people are pulling more benefits out of the system than they’re paying in,” Mr. Brooks said in an interview. “That’s not a healthy thing for citizenship, and it’s not good for these people themselves either, if they feel attenuated from their government.”

The notion that too few Americans are paying income taxes has gained currency on the right in recent years. An influential 2002 Wall Street Journal editorial called the millions of American households that do not pay income tax “lucky duckies.” Last year, Erick Erickson, the conservative firebrand, started a Web site called “We Are the 53 Percent,” mocking the 99-percent theme of Occupy Wall Street and chiding Americans for failing to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.”

So why is it that in the liberal discourse, the desire of the GOP to raise taxes has sort of gone into a black hole? I would think this is because what conservatives do and say is filtered through various stereotypes deriving from the boiler plate produced by conservatives on ceremonial occasions, such as we want small government and the like.
So perhaps we can argue about whether it is racist to want to raise taxes on the “takers” and lower them on the “makers”.

131

Anarcissie 04.16.14 at 4:19 pm

Thornton Hall 04.16.14 at 3:57 pm @ 126:
‘… ideology ….’

Facts, too, must be constructed. And so:
‘It is the theory that decides what we can observe.’ — Professor Heisenberg
‘ Whether you can observe a thing or not depends on the theory which you use.’ — Professor Einstein.

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Thornton Hall 04.16.14 at 4:24 pm

@AJTron Reasoning from the premise: Americans are dumb is like reasoning from the premise that the sky is green: it’s false and doesn’t have anything to do with anything anyway.

Americans can’t find Ukraine on a map because they will never ever need to find Ukraine on a map. The “knowledge” that other nationalities possess that we don’t is exactly equal to the things we don’t need to know by virtue of being the superpower. If Europeans didn’t need to know about Rick Santorum because as commander in chief he could ruin their lives, you think they’d study up just out of a love of learning?

Second, which of these claims is not like the others:

A. Private charity significantly reduced suffering in the US at the end of the 19th Century.
B. Entrepreneurs can create jobs on their own, even if no one has any money to buy their products.
C. People are more likely to get a job if they are starving to death.
D. Ukraine is in Africa.

The answer: all four claims are false, but only (D) is a mistake that doesn’t lead in a clear and obvious way to suffering.

133

TM 04.16.14 at 4:29 pm

Somebody approvingly mentioned Chait’s “Fact Finders” (http://www.newrepublic.com/article/politics/fact-finders). It’s a pure fantasy narrative of American politics. In Chait’s account, “conservatism, unlike liberalism, overlays a deeper set of philosophical principles. Conservatives believe that big government impinges upon freedom. … As Milton Friedman wrote, “[F]reedom in economic arrangements is itself a component of freedom broadly understood, so economic freedom is an end in itself.””

Iow, liberals do not believe in freedom as a philosophical principle, an end in itself; conservatives do. Somebody must have switched the labels while we weren’t looking.

134

AcademicLurker 04.16.14 at 4:30 pm

The answer: all four claims are false, but only (D) is a mistake that doesn’t lead in a clear and obvious way to suffering.

If Putin mistakenly believed (D) don’t you think there would be suffering caused when the Russians invaded Africa?

135

TM 04.16.14 at 4:34 pm

130: “I would think this is because what conservatives do and say is filtered through various stereotypes deriving from the boiler plate produced by conservatives on ceremonial occasions, such as we want small government and the like.”

Right-wingers have simply succeeded in framing the political discourse. Their buzz-words, like “lower taxes” and “smaller government” are getting thousandfold repeated by the media and even progressives have gotten used to taking up the bait, just see my last comment.

136

AJtron the Invincible 04.16.14 at 4:46 pm

@132:
> @AJTron Reasoning from the premise: Americans are dumb is like reasoning from the > premise that the sky is green: it’s false and doesn’t have anything to do with anything
> anyway.
I am not saying that Americans are dumb. I am saying that they are not endowed with the smartness of Plato’s philosopher kings.

H1: Americans don’t have the intellectual ability of Plato’s philosopher kings.

If you want to refute me, refute H1. Not a straw man. I will say it again. Americans don’t have the intellectual chops to dig through the layers of obfuscation to get to the underlying truths of various matters. They cannot do statistics at an advanced level. Of course, they are smart -enough-. Most of them have enough intellectual ability to know how to drive a car. We all know that.

However, Americans are, by definition, mostly of only modest intelligence. They are unable, today, to see past the thicket of media and academia-based bullshit. Ukraine was only an example. They seem to be easily persuaded that the “theory” of evolution is “just a theory”. It may be partly because we don’t have a government run news organization such as the BBC. (Should we have one? I think so.) It may be partly because we don’t have good curriculums in schools. It may also be partly because our professors are inclined to shoot for bullshit rather than stay within the facts.

H2: American professors tend to propound far-fetched theories as explanations in important matters of economic policy. This phenomenon is much more pronounced in American than in Britain.

If you want to refute that American professors are -not- likely to be purveyors of far-fetched theories, refute H2, not some straw man.

-+-
Thrasymachos : Obama has completely failed to solve the major problem facing Americans today – unemployment.
Alcibiades : But you forget that he is black.
Thrasymachos : Hmm?
Alcibiades : Don’t you see? It is about race. He is black.
Thrasymachus : He is black?
Alcibiades : Yes, he is black.
Thrasymachus : And this means?
Alcibiades : This means that, as professors, we are free to bully anyone who disagrees with
us. It is fun for us. And we are justified in doing it too.
Thrasymachus : Because of?
Alcibiades : Race.

137

Thornton Hall 04.16.14 at 4:46 pm

@TM 133 Did you actually read the piece? It’s mostly about economics and how the conclusions of economists are presented in neutral terms that suggest they are all simply looking for the truth about how to maximize human welfare. But conservative economists have a list of a priori principles that trump, in their minds, the data.

Frequently they label these principles “freedom”, but it’s a misnomer.

More importantly, when they release their findings, conservative economists are rarely upfront about the fact that they don’t report the data and conclusions that are inconsistent with “freedom.” So you get people like Mankiw, Hubbard, and Cochrane making false claims about what “textbook economics tells us” that the press reports as valid, data driven conclusions.

138

Main Street Muse 04.16.14 at 4:53 pm

To SQK @ 100 “But what you’re saying is that it’s not possible for an American to propose tax cuts without race being a factor? The problem I have with that is that, as a hypothesis, it only requires the existence of a single counter-example to be false, and I’m sure there’s at least one.”

Please name me a counter-example! Just one… that’s all I’m asking. You long, circuitous analysis of my insanity failed to do that.

I did not say it is not possible for an American to propose tax cuts without a racial motive. I’m saying it is not possible for the GOP to do so.

The GOP has gone off the rails. Period. They have absorbed Atwater’s Southern Strategy so that it now is part of their skin. It’s in there genetic structure. Hate-based rhetoric is what they do when they do anything. (N. Korea has more liberties than we have in Obama’s America… ring a bell?)

The GOP voices of reason have been stomped into silence. It is a party that appeals to division and hatred; it is a party that seeks governmental positions to dismantle government. The GOP hates science, women, blacks, immigrants and the environment. They love guns, God, rapists (God’s will! A great way to have sex and not conceive!) and money.

I live in a state held hostage by the Tea Party faction of the GOP. It is ugly and destructive and I hate it.

Please name me the names of the reasonable Republicans – and what they’re doing to effectively change anything. And I will concede you are right…

139

Thornton Hall 04.16.14 at 4:53 pm

@TM 133 I cited the “Fact Finders” piece because Chait was ahead of the curve in pointing out the underlying reason why an “objective” media was poorly equipped to examine the asymmetric claims of the two parties.

But if it helps, a more recent exposition of the same point is at:
http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2013/05/why-left-and-right-economics-cant-just-agree.html

“economic liberalism and economic conservatism are not mirror images of each other. Both have an interest in increasing human welfare, but economic conservatism is driven by deeper philosophical beliefs about the size of government in a way that liberalism is not. Liberals believe in bigger government as a means to the end of increasing human welfare — which is to say, how liberals interpret evidence about the effect of government on human welfare determines their stance. Conservatives believe in smaller government as a means but also as an end in and of itself. They consider bigger government a threat to freedom. There is no analogous philosophical liberal objection to smaller government (though of course liberals do have practical objections).”

140

Main Street Muse 04.16.14 at 4:53 pm

I wish we could edit our posts. Rapid writing creates typos. I hate typos.

141

Anarcissie 04.16.14 at 4:56 pm

TM 04.16.14 at 4:29 pm @ 133:
‘… Somebody must have switched the labels while we weren’t looking.’

And smeared them out so that they are nearly meaningless. In the U.S., a lot of people who describe themselves as ‘conservatives’ actually profess classical liberal ideas (however unrealistically), so they are conservative about classical liberalism. However, other ‘conservatives’ (or even the same ones) profess anti-liberal ideas, such as racial, religious, and other tribal preferences, classism, and social engineering. Likewise the term ‘liberal’ has been spread out to include (in theory) imperialism abroad and strong government intervention, surveillance, and regulation at home. Chait’s article participates in and advances the confusion.

142

Bruce Baugh 04.16.14 at 5:18 pm

Barry, that was epic and good. Thank you for doing it.

CJColucci: Thanks pointing at that distinction. One thing about people trying to deal seriously with a pervasive problem (whether it’s pervasive generally, in their favored subculture(s), their immediate family and associates, or whatever scale) is that it takes ongoing work.

You can see this in someone dealing successfully with an addiction, or depression. Some days life is good, some days not, and they have to keep fending off temptations and making a conscious effort not to lapse back into old habits. Sometimes they do relapse, and then have to re-do a bunch of recovery work. And even when they’ve pretty well got it mastered, it still takes a level of self-scrutiny that others don’t have to live with.

In my experience, managing the impulses that come from biased, discriminatory beliefs is very similar. On a conscious level, I’m committed to a bunch of the social justice stuff that right-wingers mock – I think it’s both just in itself and a good path to a society that’s better for everyone in all kinds of ways. But I still notice myself doing stupid bigoted things from time to time, and I keep learning bad implications of stuff I thought of as neutral or desirable and so having to rethink personal behavior and social/political preferences.

This is (I hope it’s clear) not to go whining about Whitey’s Burden. It’s just to note that shedding even some of the shackles of inherited ideological crap is an ongoing process…and it’s one I really, seriously don’t see the American right wing even wanting to do at all. Those who don’t rush to initiate the next round of racist action are still there joining in, supporting the initiator, making excuses, attacking anyone who points out the obvious, and resolutely insisting that the problem is all other people’s fault. People who wish to act on the basis of non-racist beliefs need to stop acting as partners and followers of racists.

143

js. 04.16.14 at 5:21 pm

Holbo (@109):

But I think Chait is right that we should emphasize how far we’ve come.

Coates (3/30/14):

Effectively Chait’s rendition of history amounts to, “How can you say I have a history of violence given that I’ve repeatedly stopped pummeling you?”

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t talk about how far “we” have come, but Chait’s version of this narrative quite indefensible (with the caveat that I haven’t read the article in question; basing this on what he wrote in the debate with Coates). So I really don’t see how Chait could be right on this point.

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Lee A. Arnold 04.16.14 at 5:27 pm

John #82, I tend to agree with you. Yes, I think that the conservatives deserve to get banged over the head by their Southern Strategy. As many times as possible. Even Saint Ronnie was not above the dog-whistle, and they just will not admit to it. But some liberals do respond to any conservative arguments against the welfare state with the charge of racism, when sometimes the issue is really not racism, but intellectual incompetence and social cognitive bias. It has infected over half the economics profession too, which has fallen in thirty years from being the premiere social science (in their own estimation, of course) to being a major example indeed paradigm of nincompoopery.

The Repubs are heading into an historical eclipse because their intellectual framework (once again, Reaganomics) is crashing into reality, after 30 years of denial and misinterpretation of the data. I have been making the argument here for years, of course. The fact that they ALSO adopted the Southern Strategy is, from this angle, merely a despicable sideshow. But I did not suppose that, on the other side, there was much danger that liberals would forget to fight the non-racist underpinnings of conservatism, which is this faulty economic belief system. That, I think, is the implied warning of Chait’s piece, which reads mostly like a “he said/she said” examination of political rhetoric.

I did not suppose there was much danger. However, I may have to revise this opinion about the left. The idea that many people here seem to have that racism is the GOP’s operating principle, and that their nutty economics is just the mask for it, is not only wrong in my opinion, it augurs a major mistake coming in political tactics and strategy on the left.

“Tax cuts” and “small government” are still the beliefs of over half of the economics profession. It is stupid, and it isn’t racism. I would guess that Reaganomics is still the dominant normative outcome of student opinions formulated in high-school economics electives for college placement exams, for example. It is stupid, and it isn’t racism. Yet these people are the production-line cannon fodder coming into the Republican Party: the new GOP voters. I think Chait’s implication will stand firm if liberals were to take the position that everything the GOP does is from racism. Because it will begin to denature the criticisms of their bad economics and bad sociology, because these people will resent being called racists, and despite being high school grads or college professors, most people think emotionally, NOT intellectually.

I just had a non-racist UCLA professor tell me that Obama increased the deficits and is breaking the country. This shit is all over the place.

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Thornton Hall 04.16.14 at 5:39 pm

The problem isn’t that the ideological labels got “smeared”. The problem is that ideological labels have never ever been an even marginally helpful way of understanding American politics.

We had an ideological fight once. It was called the American Revolution. Liberal democracy won. We are all in the same ideological category, making such categories useless. Thus, the endless academic debates about “conservatives in principle but liberals in practice.” Political scientists, having created categories that don’t match reality, can now endlessly debate why the data doesn’t match the theory. In another field you’d say, “well, maybe the data would make more sense if we imagine disease is caused by tiny microbes and not from unbalanced humours.”

Wm F. Buckley more or less invented the idea that a country full of pragmatic pioneers debating about economic interests and public morality were actually two sides taking up the mantel of Burke and, well, whomever he didn’t like. But no matter how much he supported the American Revolution, Burke explicitly hated “the people” and supported the rights of the titled and landed aristocracy. In other words, he was deeply un-American.

146

Consumatopia 04.16.14 at 5:52 pm

“But I still notice myself doing stupid bigoted things from time to time, and I keep learning bad implications of stuff I thought of as neutral or desirable and so having to rethink personal behavior and social/political preferences.”

Seconding this (and also the caveat re: Whitey’s Burden). “How can you accuse me of racism/bigotry?” Because bigotry is an easy trap to fall into, even for people who should know better.

It’s not racism that makes white working class conservatives hate Obama in 2014–they would hate a white Obama just as much. But racism has a lot to do with why there are so many white working class conservatives in the first place. Back when the Democrats were racist a lot of these people were happy with redistributionism.

147

Anarcissie 04.16.14 at 6:07 pm

Thornton Hall 04.16.14 at 5:39 pm @ 145:
‘… But no matter how much he supported the American Revolution, Burke explicitly hated “the people” and supported the rights of the titled and landed aristocracy. In other words, he was deeply un-American.’

George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Patrick Henry were un-American? Well, maybe after Lincoln and the Civil War. But if we used ‘conservative’ in its old meaning of ‘not desiring much change; keeping to an established order or fashion’ we have a conservative party, to wit, the Democratic Party. I don’t know what to name the Republicans, though; ideologically, the party seems like a rat-bag of unhappy remnants.

148

MPAVictoria 04.16.14 at 6:09 pm

“It’s not racism that makes white working class conservatives hate Obama in 2014–they would hate a white Obama just as much”

Hmmm. I think at least some white conservatives hate Obama more because he is black. I mean look at the chain emails conservatives forward around to each other.

149

Clay Shirky 04.16.14 at 6:17 pm

Lee @144:

But some liberals do respond to any conservative arguments against the welfare state with the charge of racism.

Is that true? If so, who are these liberals? Because I think (and I could be wrong, if you have counter-examples) that one of the asymmetries that Chait doesn’t assess is that many of the conservatives committed to maintaining disproportionate white leverage are in positions of power.

Consumatopia @146:

It’s not racism that makes white working class conservatives hate Obama in 2014–they would hate a white Obama just as much.

Contrast this:

In mid-August, Romney held a commanding 40-point lead over Obama among white working-class voters in the South (62% vs. 22%). However, neither candidate held a statistically significant lead among white working-class voters in the West (46% Romney vs. 41% Obama), Northeast (42% Romney vs. 38% Obama), or the Midwest (36% Romney vs. 44% Obama).
http://publicreligion.org/research/2012/09/race-class-culture-survey-2012/

Unless you mean to argue that there is also a 40 point gap in party identification among white-working class voters in the South vs. the West (Spoiler: nope), you’re left to explain why the only place Obama lost that group so badly was in the South. I have a theory as to why that might be, but I wonder what your theory is?

150

Clay Shirky 04.16.14 at 6:18 pm

Forgot to close the blockquote, that last graf is mine, not the quoted survey’s.

151

Bruce Wilder 04.16.14 at 6:21 pm

Well, duh, conservative politics is about the money. Do tell.

So, why do taboos on racism play such a large part in the dialectic between the parties?

Well, one reason is that it is powerful. You can get Paula Deen fired. You can get “stop & frisk” policies in NYC reformed.

Another reason is that the President is black. And, a conservative.

To argue against conservative policy, would require progressive Democrats to oppose and criticize their own party establishment, and to oppose them in elections. And, to advocate conservative policy would require conservative Republicans to support a Democratic President and a Democratic Senate majority in the enactment and administration of conservative policies.

Luckily, the Republicans have available a noisy, reactionary rump, which is just made for television. They can trot out Ted Cruz and Michelle Bachman, alongside scripted hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly, and make all kinds of nonsensical, emotional, tribal appeals, including racism and sexism. Glenn Beck can string together conspiracies in a cracked version of history, and cry on cue. It’s great stuff. Entertaining. Impossible to make any sense of it, really.

But, Democrats can make sense of it, and motivate their own tribes, with some familiar charges: “racism”, “war on women”. There’s a tribal connection, that motivates people on the basis of their personal and ideological identities.

The taboo will wear out, from overuse. Just like the Republicans pushing on the homosexuality hot-button wore it out. Hopefully, that leaves us in a default position, where not very many people feel very racist, in fact. That some billionaires fear that something like “racial animus” will shortly focus on them as a class seems like a hopeful sign to me, but I believe in the necessity, if not the viability of the bob mcmanus option.

In the meantime, you get Bill Maher asking why conservative Republicans don’t support a conservative Democratic President, and offering race as an explanation. And, a conservative Republican, Bill Kristol, denies that race has anything to do with the nonsensical rationales offered for passionate obstruction in Congress and the States. And, conservative economic policy prevails, by means of the impasse.

The structural underpinning for the politics of crying, “racist!”, is the betrayal of the electorate, by a political establishment, which wants to minimize mass participation in politics, to minimize the extent to which government must be responsive to mass needs and preferences, and to maintain its own power and position as hand servants to the plutocracy. The media establishment, owned and operated by the corporate executive class and the plutocrats, cooperates and abets this politics.

It is all about preventing a second New Deal in this Second Great Depression.

And, that entails ignoring all the very real problems of the present moment that do not parallel perfectly the problems of the 1930s, as well as not solving the problems which do repeat the past. Global warming, ecological collapse, overpopulation, peak oil, are not being discussed or addressed. Nor falling wages. Or, the serial destruction of countries across the globe from Spain to Venezuela to Thailand to Syria to Ukraine. (The list of nations and economies in various stages of collapse is frighteningly long.)

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Lee A. Arnold 04.16.14 at 6:26 pm

Thorton Hall #145: “But no matter how much he supported the American Revolution, Burke explicitly hated “the people” and supported the rights of the titled and landed aristocracy. In other words, he was deeply un-American.”

They ALL hated the commoners. Notice how we evolved out of that. The Founders set up a Constitution that would have respected a move toward landed aristocracy, toward the institution of titles had it so proceeded, in the Senate. The mechanisms to evolve out of it (e.g. division of powers and amending) could have accommodated almost any other direction that society went in, too. As I think both Jefferson and Madison pointed out afterward, there remains the danger of moneyed factions. The way to fight them is inhibition, moment by moment in liberal speech, until attitudes change or generations die away. Thus the real fight in a democracy is composed of the political rhetoric of any moment. The battleground therefore must be language. That we do this from one side or the other, perched illustriously in abstractions, is common, boring, and already accommodated in the system. Liberal democracy is the form of the argument.

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Thornton Hall 04.16.14 at 6:30 pm

@147 I’m aware of the Republic/Civil War/Democracy timeline. But there’s a difference between landed aristocracy (Jefferson) and hereditary nobles (British Tories), the latter being explicitly declared un-American in the Constitution itself.

The transformation from divine right of kings (the only alternative until 1789 at the earliest) to United States is a difference in kind. The move from a government of yeoman farmers to “of the people, by the people” is one of degree.

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Barry 04.16.14 at 6:31 pm

Thornton Hall 04.16.14 at 5:39 pm

” The problem isn’t that the ideological labels got “smeared”. The problem is that ideological labels have never ever been an even marginally helpful way of understanding American politics.

We had an ideological fight once. It was called the American Revolution. Liberal democracy won. “

Like WWII, when anti-fascism won, and the world live peaceably ever after?

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Bruce Wilder 04.16.14 at 6:31 pm

Yes, the Republican Party nominated as their Presidential candidate in the depressed aftermath of a great global financial crisis, a tax-dodging, job-killing Vulture Capitalist, with ties to the Northeast, Midwest and West, but not the South, and with a carefully calibrated campaign, the Obama managed to win by a small, but statistically certain (see Nate Silver) margin, without disturbing the partisan balance in Congress.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Yes, race explains something about the geography of the vote.

What else?

Where’s the dog that didn’t bark?

Where’s the contest over economic issues?

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Bruce Wilder 04.16.14 at 6:33 pm

Thornton Hall @ 153

I think Jefferson would be landed gentry, not landed aristocracy.

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TM 04.16.14 at 6:51 pm

Thornton 137: I am aware of what the piece is about, and I don’t disagree with the premise that right-wing economic prescriptions are mostly based on ideology and oblivious to empirical reality. I take issue with the way in which Chait frames the terms conservatism and liberalism, taking right-wing buzzwords and talking points like “big government” and “freedom” at face value. It is simply not true that right-wingers care much about freedom as a “philosophical principle”, and neither is it true that they object to “big government” on principle. What they object to is specifically government helping the poor and the freedom they really care about is the freedom of capital. When leftists allow the right to frame the debate, they have already lost. I keep saying this but even on CT it feels like talking to a brick wall (is that idiomatic?). Right-wing discursive hegemony is one of the most frustrating features of US politics and apparently you have to be an outsider to even notice it.

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Lee A. Arnold 04.16.14 at 6:53 pm

Clay #149, I thought someone above wrote that the GOP’s talk of “tax cuts” is usually racist. But the fact is, “tax cuts” would reduce the “welfare state” simultaneously with the resulting “increased personal investment” causing the “economic growth” to make that portion of the welfare state unnecessary (or more). It is about trying to do without government. It is the money cycle presenting, identifying, as the disease of circular logic. It is the perfect waiting-for-godot no-exiter. And this is as far as “intellect” goes with these people. As soon as they “see” it, it must be so: they get stars in their eyes, they get religion. This must be distinguished from racism. Of course there is “power” trying to use both forces.

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Trader Joe 04.16.14 at 6:53 pm

@138 Main Street Muse

“Please name me a counter-example! Just one… that’s all I’m asking. You long, circuitous analysis of my insanity failed to do that. “

How about Herman Kaine’s 9/9/9 tax cut proposal from the 2012 primary – may we safely assume that Kaine was not racist in making this proposal?

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Anarcissie 04.16.14 at 6:59 pm

Bruce Wilder 04.16.14 at 6:33 pm:
‘Thornton Hall @ 153
I think Jefferson would be landed gentry, not landed aristocracy.’

‘Natural aristocracy’ was the way Jefferson put it.

I take railroad-lawyer Lincoln’s mystical adoration of the Union to be something like Hegel’s notion of der Gang Gottes in der Welt, something quite different from Locke and his yeoman disciples, much more in tune with the inexorably oncoming industrial world and its organization of work and life in general, where freedom is not an attribute of scattered individuals but the totality ordering the totality, ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people’.

In this scheme of things, the Republicans would be the as-yet undigested hold-outs who don’t get it: racists, religious bigots, irreligious bigots, MCPs, predatory capitalists, rentiers, reactionary libertarians, and others for whom the mail has not yet arrived.

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Consumatopia 04.16.14 at 7:00 pm

@149, I don’t mind admitting that I’m wrong on that (given the rest of my posts, it’s more like admitting that I’m even more right than I thought I was) but hasn’t party id in the South lagged behind ideology, i.e. lots of people registered Democratic voting like Republicans? As someone who thinks that conservatism is bolstered by racism, I apologize if I’ve underestimated the number of white working class conservatives willing to vote for liberals as long as they have white skin. But, then, why no President Kerry or Gore?

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TM 04.16.14 at 7:07 pm

As an afterthought to the Fact Finders article: Chait’s argument that right-wing economics is oblivious to empirical reality is actually mistaken for a telling reason: if it turned out empirically that their economic prescriptions hurt Wall Street and the Kochs and corporate profits and the 1%, you would see that they are indeed capable of adapting their ideology to the facts. What Chait misses is that these policies empirically and objectively work well for those in whose interest they are promoted. To assume, as Chait does, that right-wing policies are motivated by love of freedom is beyond idiocy.

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Ronan(rf) 04.16.14 at 7:10 pm

This is an interesting article, which is relevant to some of the above (And Chait also mentions in the article)

http://scholar.harvard.edu/files/msen/files/slavery.pdf

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Lee A. Arnold 04.16.14 at 7:13 pm

Clay #149: Or did you mean elected liberals? Those are far fewer in number.

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Thornton Hall 04.16.14 at 7:17 pm

@TM I think, then, I misunderstood you. We seem to be broadly in agreement. In fact, I share your exact views on the lack of “ideological” foundations behind various Reaganist policy proposals. I think the difference is the amount of credit I give Chait for pointing out that conservative economists are not actually doing pure economics. For a more or less mainstream pundit it was a big step away from “views on the shape of the Earth differ” style “objective” journalism. But to the extent that it repeated the bogus “freedom” framing, it was flat wrong.

@Bruce Wilder Yes. Gentry. The mistake hints I’m out of my depth and need to read some Corey Robin perhaps.

@Lee A Arnold. Like I say, I’m a bit out of my depth. But the explicit Constitutional prohibition on titles of nobility was not surplusage. Senators could never be nobles. And we confuse ourselves easily by taking TJ as a representative founder. Hamilton wrote most of the Federalist Papers. Hamilton and Madison conceived of the Constitution. Hamilton made one of the first acts of government the nationalization of state debts and the establishment of a modern, national economy. And Hamilton was a commoner, and not a self-hating one, who nonetheless had grave doubts about the viability of a non-monarchical system.

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Lee A. Arnold 04.16.14 at 7:48 pm

Everybody had input. Any part of the Constitution can be amended. They all talked to each other.

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Bruce Baugh 04.16.14 at 7:58 pm

I find it a little odd when I see folks posting as though they think that if we can finally prove racism, then there’s no fundamental classism or anything, or vice versa. It seems to me easy enough to accept that racism is an irreducible element, and that kyriarchy is too, and so on.

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Barry 04.16.14 at 8:27 pm

Consumatopia 04.16.14 at 7:00 pm

” As someone who thinks that conservatism is bolstered by racism, I apologize if I’ve underestimated the number of white working class conservatives willing to vote for liberals as long as they have white skin. But, then, why no President Kerry or Gore?”

Because they didn’t get enough votes.

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William Timberman 04.16.14 at 8:39 pm

To me, one of the most startling things in Piketty’s book was his statement of the percentage of total capital in the 13 original states of the U.S. that was represented by slaves. Before reading that, I’d have been tempted to say that Bruce Wilder’s assertion that racism was invented to legitimize the slave-owning kleptocracy was more a case of Bruce employing his customary Zen master’s bamboo stick than the actual unvarnished truth. Not even John C. Calhoun, evil architect of the most subtle of the South’s justifications for the unjustifiable was quite so rationally manipulative, not at least in the scattered speeches of his that I’ve read.

After reading Piketty, I’m no longer so sure that Bruce isn’t just plain old right. It’s difficult, for example, to imagine a CSA able to raise enough of an army to seriously consider waging a successful war against the Union without some means of creating ressentiment among the whites who weren’t the principal beneficiaries of incomes from capital in slaves. Could all such ressentiment have been rationally engineered by a consortium of the principal beneficiaries of slavery — i.e, the plantation owners themselves? Possibly not, correlation not being causation and all, but neither is it a ridiculous thesis on its face.

Perhaps, like the support of the Krupps and the Bayers for proto-fascist groups in Germany in the 20′s, what began as a propaganda gimmick by plutocrats ended up being a chronic disease that we can’t imagine ever stamping out completely. I shudder to think….

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TM 04.16.14 at 8:50 pm

“Bruce Wilder’s assertion that racism was invented to legitimize the slave-owning kleptocracy”

It seems to me in the category of a chicken-and egg question with little bearing on the question of what to do about it. But for the curious there is a large body of historical research that might shed some light on it. From what I remember, it’s complicated.

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JanieM 04.16.14 at 8:59 pm

Before reading that, I’d have been tempted to say that Bruce Wilder’s assertion that racism was invented to legitimize the slave-owning kleptocracy was more a case of Bruce employing his customary Zen master’s bamboo stick than the actual unvarnished truth.

Early in Jefferson’s Pillow, Roger Wilkins describes the deliberate fomenting of race hatred as a way of fending off the looming possibility of a class war. (This is an oversimplification and my own vocabulary, but I’ve been thinking about that book as this thread has progressed. Unfortunately I’m traveling, so I can’t fetch the book and quote some paragraphs, but I’m pretty sure the events Wilkins describes in that section took place before slavery had even gotten going over here.)

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William Timberman 04.16.14 at 9:02 pm

TM @ 170

On the contrary, I think it has a great deal of bearing on the question of what we do about it — and perhaps more importantly, about other forms of rabble-rousing which are very like it. The dynamic involved, whatever you make of its total significance, seems to persist in other forms — seems, in fact to be a very robust phenomenon. Consider the Koch brothers, consider Paul Krugman’s quasi-eternal lament that no one will listen to his Very Sensible Proposals© for Ending This Depression Now.

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Lee A. Arnold 04.16.14 at 9:13 pm

A hatred was used to legitimatize a greed.– What I want to know is, what does this prove? That the form of the hatred is an irreducible element of the party employing it in a grammar? –I would go consult Aquinas, but, near his death he finally woke up, and said that all he had written was as chaff in the wind.

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Lee A. Arnold 04.16.14 at 9:17 pm

And that was like millions of words. Aquinas I mean.

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jonnybutter 04.16.14 at 11:04 pm

I’d have been tempted to say that Bruce Wilder’s assertion that racism was invented to legitimize the slave-owning kleptocracy was more a case of Bruce employing his customary Zen master’s bamboo stick than the actual unvarnished truth.

Of course it’s true. Where was white race hatred for black people before the transatlantic slave trade? The story may be slightly complicated, but not substantially so. Of course white supremacy was invented along with colonialism. Exactly how it was invented – how cynical and conscious it was, for example – is another question.

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William Timberman 04.16.14 at 11:53 pm

jonnybutter @ 175

Exactly how it was invented — how cynical and conscious it was, for example – is another question.

Agreed, and well put. Just in passing, though, I would point out that you might also say that white race hatred for black people didn’t exist before white people first came in contact with large numbers of black people, which puts a slightly different spin on how one perceives its origins. Would we have had white racism if several million African bankers had debarked on our shores with capital to invest? Perhaps, but if they came to buy New York, it might have arisen in the mercantile and manufacturing North first, rather than in the agrarian South.

Bruce is making a point — more Marxist than Pikettian, I would say — that racism was required to defend an economy driven by slave capital, which might otherwise have been thought odious and unchristian, and therefore in due course racism was invented. I more or less agree, and I certainly applaud his wit, but I also think that racial animosities and passions arise from multiple sources, and as they didn’t have to be invented, they only only had to be identified and exploited by the interested malefactors we all rightly love to denounce.

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William Timberman 04.16.14 at 11:56 pm

…as such they didn’t have to be invented… (And only one only, if you please….)

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Bruce Wilder 04.17.14 at 12:55 am

I would acknowledge that the substrate of human nature offers up at least three sets of propensities, which made racism “a natural” political construction.

First, humans, as pack animals, have a capacity for hierarchical dominance and submission, which can be carried to extremes pretty easily. Second, humans, as herd animals, have a capacity for identification with a group, which carries with it both conformity to group norms and hostility to perceived out-groups. Third, humans, as story-telling animals, tend to rationalize their own impulsive behavior, and to mis-attribute institutions to nature and outcomes to individual virtue or vice.

If a group of males wearing blue uniforms, led by a general and his officer corps, invades the territory of a group wearing green uniforms, and the blue general wants to violently seize the goods and lands of the greens, it won’t take long for ‘racist’ or ‘colorist’ rationalizations to be spun out, norms to be established, a hierarchy asserted, etc. (And, if the blues bring along their wives and girlfriends! oh, boy!)

None of that obviates in any way that the rationalizations are social, cultural constructions, which occur in historical time, with a definite beginning and progress. We know that it is an historical process because these three propensities are not the sum total of human nature. Other emotions and ideas will arise, and come into conflict and play with the unrolling of social organization around domination of one group by another. Someone might object that slavery is unchristian or unlawful, for example. Someone might desire sexual intercourse, and children and family relations could be entailed in short order. Communication and social intercourse would require the resolution of linguistic norms, norms of etiquette, political and legal rules, etc.

Complicated? I suppose, in a way, it’s as complex as any cultural construction of society. Cynical? People can be greedy and violent and ruthless, and some will seek to dominate, and they may still want desperately to see themselves as “good guys”. Is that cynicism?

So, yes, in a sense, domination, in-group v out-group and self-justifying rationalization all have ready templates in human nature, which can be called up quickly, when circumstances seem to make them useful.

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Bruce Wilder 04.17.14 at 1:07 am

The slave-owning kleptocracy sowed resentments, both of the deliberately crafted sort and of the inadvertent kind.

Abraham Lincoln’s father, Thomas, was a prosperous and well-established Kentucky farmer, with two farms of approximately 600 acres each, until he lost them after the War of 1812, to the machinations of plantation owners, using lawyers to challenge “defective” titles in court. Thomas left Kentucky in a poverty from which he never fully recovered, to farm in Indiana and Illinois. It wasn’t an uncommon story. The free border states were crowded with white refugees from slavery. His son became a lawyer, which in itself, was an interesting rebellion against his father’s life of hard, manual labor as well against Thomas’ life-changing encounter with the law. And, his son destroyed slavery as an institution, although with great deliberation.

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Bruce Wilder 04.17.14 at 1:17 am

Going way back to the primary campaign rivalry of Hilary and Barack, it was apparent that some of the strongest opposition to Obama from whites on racial motives centered in Greater Appalachia extending through the hill country and to the Ozarks. This is an area of the country, where people are most inclined to assert their “ethnic identity” as “American”.

If someone wanted to get into complicated, that might be an entry point.

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jonnybutter 04.17.14 at 1:19 am

I also think that racial animosities and passions arise from multiple sources, and as they didn’t have to be invented, they only only had to be identified and exploited by the interested malefactors we all rightly love to denounce.

But these group animosities/passions/stereotyping aren’t particular to race (or ‘race’). The relatively chimpish part of the human brain we’re talking about can rationalize just about any fear or hostility (or any other emotion for that matter)(pardon me if I’m not being fair to chimps). I’m not convinced that ‘race’ is special in this regard.

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John Holbo 04.17.14 at 1:25 am

“IMHO, MLK wouldn’t even mention Paula Deen’s whackiness. It’s a triviality.”

Barry has a very long comment upthread. I honestly don’t think he understood my comment – perhaps that was my fault. So I don’t think it would be useful for me to respond at length. I would literally just have to rewrite the whole comment and hope the point came through this time, which I don’t have time for today. But a few small points may help. My whole point hinged on the thought that things like the Paula Deen case are trivial. If you don’t get that I, too, think such cases are trivial, everything else will look very odd, I’m sure. My point in imagining what MLK would think about Paula Deen was, then, just this: he might find it odd how fixated we get on trivial cases. (It is, of course, likely that if he really came back from the dead he would have better things to do than muse about why we are hung up on trivial cases.)

This is related to the following point:

““Race is political psychodrama.”

Meaning, please?”

I’m not sure what the trouble is, but probably it is ‘psychodrama’. The first sentence from the Wikipedia entry: “Psychodrama is an action method, often used as a psychotherapy, in which clients use spontaneous dramatization, role playing and dramatic self-presentation to investigate and gain insight into their lives.”

Cases like Paula Deen’s become occasions for role play and dramatic self-presentation by which we feel we are investigating and gaining insight into the state of race relations in the US. It’s indulged as a kind of collective therapy. This could be healthy. But I suspect that, in cases like Deen’s, it is not as healthy as it could be. Because the case is trivial.

That’s really all I have time for today. But thanks for all the comments.

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Nine 04.17.14 at 1:30 am

Barry@108 – “There is, as I have mentioned in the past, no fancy Latin term for the fallacy of “giving known liars the benefit of the doubt”, but it is in my view a much greater source of avoidable error in the world.”

That’s awesome ! Where can one find the original ?
And why doesn’t someone create the latin term given its potential for instant memefication ? There must surely be a latin scholar (IIRC Belle Waring is one?) amongst CT’s author & readership.

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JanieM 04.17.14 at 1:34 am

But these group animosities/passions/stereotyping aren’t particular to race (or ‘race’).

No. I have a dim memory (but for this one I don’t remember where I read it, and it was a very long time ago) that the religious hatred in Northern Ireland was incited and exploited by very much the same mechanism as the one Wilkins describes in the early southern colonies, and maybe even in roughly the same era. (Does anyone know this history?)

Regardless of the origins and mechanisms, the history of Northern Ireland (and dare I mention the Middle East / Israel) certainly seems to support what jonnybutter wrote.

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Clay Shirky 04.17.14 at 1:50 am

I want to footnote Bruce @180 with this Michael Lind piece from last year, which is the single best thing I’ve read on race in recent years.

Lind’s expansive telling of the tale Bruce tells in compressed version begins this way:

It is clear from the map that most self-described unhyphenated “Americans” are, in fact, whites of British descent — many if not most of them descendants of the Scots-Irish diaspora that emigrated from Ulster to the British colonies in the 1700s. The point is that many white Southerners do not think of themselves as having any “ethnicity” at all. Others — German-Americans, Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans, Jewish-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Chinese-Americans — are hyphenated Americans. White Southerners tend to see themselves as “pure” Americans, “real” Americans, “normal” Americans.

As the blog kids say, read the whole thing. It is beautifully written and argued.

http://www.salon.com/2013/02/05/the_white_souths_last_defeat/

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Cranky Observer 04.17.14 at 2:09 am

= = = In public life, there used to be examples of non-racist, small-government conservatives, like Jack Kemp, = = =

Jack Kemp came up with the concept of the “opportunity society” which involved among other things lowering and/or reducing federal income taxes on workers earning less than ~45,000 in today’s dollars. EITC and various other credits and changes to the tax rate structures were intended to reduce poverty and increase positive incentives to take above-ground-economy jobs by allowing those working the hardest to keep more of their cash.

Kemp sold Reagan and the rest of what was then the rational rump of the Republican Party on this concept, much of it was passed into law, and…. it worked! More cash for the working poor, incentives to take above-board jobs, good stuff!

Long-term result: ~47% of the working population pays zero or very low federal income taxes. Not zero tax, because they pay plenty of other taxes, but zero federal income tax. As designed by Kemp, passed into law by Republicans in Congress, and signed by Saint Ronald Reagan.

Does that number 47% sound familiar? “Takers”? “Hammocks”? “Culture of dependency”? So, tell me again about all those Kemp Republicans out there with rational, non-racial arguments in favor of their tax policy here in 2014.

Cranky

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JanieM 04.17.14 at 2:18 am

Great article, Clay, thanks for the link, and I especially love the second map.

old-stock Anglo-Americans

My background is mixed. One side is easy to label — Italian American — but I’m always a little hesitant about what to call the other side. I usually end up saying “old American” with a bit of a wink. It’s shorter than “old-stock Anglo-American,” but that’s what I mean by it.

My old Americans weren’t southern; they were the northerners Lind writes about who eventually intermarried with newer waves of immigrants. I think of that as one of America’s central stories, it’s just too bad that the story tends to come with such heavy costs for some people, and to take so long to play out, especially in the south.

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rustypleb 04.17.14 at 3:21 am

Clay \@185. Exactly. The catfish grapplers. The very group the Rice Kings discovered could be engaged by racism. I’ve been trying in a cursory way as limited time allows to form a better understanding of the deeper pre-american history of the Scots-Irish or maybe more correctly the border clans and landless lowland Scots. Dispossessed. Forceably moved first to northern Ireland and then to America as buffer to and exterminator of native Americans. Possibly exhibiting many of the symptoms of family and social dysfunction so often ascribed to slavery. Just a notion. Not a scholar. No references. ‘

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roy belmont 04.17.14 at 3:49 am

that racism was required to defend an economy driven by slave capital

Yeah, plus there’s that whole colonial/colonizing imperial thing, ‘member?
Which had some history behind it before the plantations were all the way up and running.
In fact you might could say white people did have some experience with large groups of black people before the inception of New World racially-codified slavery.
Also red and yellow people, lots of seriously brown people.
The useful convenience of racism. Gimme that.
Plus there’s the whole Old Testament part, where positive racism gets the imprimatur of an inarguable Authority. Not so much this race and that race are inferior, but they all are, compared to us.
That gets reworked by Christianity into a non-racial religion-ism, but it serves the same purpose.
Heathens, hunh! What are they good for? A-a-a-absolutely nothing but a life of toil and servitude. Good God y’all.

It seems like it’s okay to speak as if from within a particular group when non-resident therein, say white southerners and how they see themselves ethnically, as long as that group is deemed flawed and victimizing. But not okay to speak as if from within a victimized group.
Somehow that reminds me of Jimmy the Greek, I don’t know why.
Maybe how it’s okay to point critically at the huge racial disparity in US incarceration rates, but not the large if not huge racial disparities in professional sports.

The interpretation of US slavery the kids are getting these days seems to be that it was a manifestation of racism, a product of it. That is awful suspicious.
Because it means all you have to solve is racism and slavery and the impulse toward it will disappear as well.
The secondary bad thing about slavery seems to be it’s taught as an example of economic unfairness. People had to work, hard, and they didn’t get paid for it.
So all you have to do is pay them and, viola, no slavery. Hey.
Even if the overhead on actual slaves – food shelter clothing some minimal doctoring – amounts to more than the take-home wages at the bottom-most of the present-day pile of labor and toil. Who have to get those things on their own.
Whereas some of us are inclined to think of slavery’s wrongness as it’s a kind of cannibalism. The consumption of someone’s well-being, their life, their living, to augment one’s own.
Problem with that of course is it hasn’t been outlawed yet.

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Belle Waring 04.17.14 at 4:12 am

Lee A. Arnold:

The Repubs are heading into an historical eclipse because their intellectual framework (once again, Reaganomics) is crashing into reality, after 30 years of denial and misinterpretation of the data. I have been making the argument here for years, of course. The fact that they ALSO adopted the Southern Strategy is, from this angle, merely a despicable sideshow. But I did not suppose that, on the other side, there was much danger that liberals would forget to fight the non-racist underpinnings of conservatism, which is this faulty economic belief system. That, I think, is the implied warning of Chait’s piece, which reads mostly like a “he said/she said” examination of political rhetoric.

I did not suppose there was much danger. However, I may have to revise this opinion about the left. The idea that many people here seem to have that racism is the GOP’s operating principle, and that their nutty economics is just the mask for it, is not only wrong in my opinion, it augurs a major mistake coming in political tactics and strategy on the left.

“Tax cuts” and “small government” are still the beliefs of over half of the economics profession. It is stupid, and it isn’t racism [assumes facts not in evidence].

I just had a non-racist [citation needed] UCLA professor tell me that Obama increased the deficits and is breaking the country.

AUUUGHH. Look, people: what if they didn’t yoke these things together by mere chance? What if, in addition to being an act for the rubes, there was some logical connection between the elite-benefiting economic policies in question and the instantiation of racism? What it, additionally, the link between social conservatives (i.e. religious ones), those suspicious of the government in some atavistic way (and what if the seed of this poisonous fruit were…racism, never mine), and white Americans racially prejudiced against black Americans WERE SOMETHING TRUE AND LASTING AND OF NIGH-PERFECT VENN DIAGRAM OVERLAP? What then?!? What if, although it is logically possible to be a non-racist Republican opposed to social welfare programs, in actual fact almost no one at all is? And the fact that the ten of them who are blog as libertarian lawyers confuses us? How are you not seeing this obvious answer? Mr. Arnold, do you live in the South? Riddle me that. Tell me you live in rural Mississippi and you think the Southern Strategy’s being yoked to Reaganomics was in some sense a chance event, and not the unfolding of destiny. If you live in Southern California, I will envy you your fine weather and food, but I ain’t going to take you seriously on this subject. [N.B. this by no means obviates the need to point out the falsity of false economic theories.]

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John Holbo 04.17.14 at 4:53 am

“what if they didn’t yoke these things together by mere chance? What if, in addition to being an act for the rubes, there was some logical connection between the elite-benefiting economic policies in question and the instantiation of racism?”

Just to make my own position clear (in case I am thought to have been saying that the yoking was ‘by mere chance’). In saying that the connection between low taxes and racism is not logical, I didn’t mean to imply that it was random or inexplicable or flukey or any of that. Obviously not.

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Bruce Baugh 04.17.14 at 5:01 am

For what it’s worth, the linkage between racism and conservatism in California pre-dates California being part of the US. The Spanish and then Mexican aristocracy did their racism very thoroughly, starting with mission-based roundup centers for Native Americans that were a very few steps shy of being concentration camps. Wealthy American dudes of commerce started entering the caudillos’ world in the late 18th century, first as high-ranking employees and then as local lords in their own right. They were a well-established part of the scene by the time 1848 came along.

California Republicans were in on the Goldwater vileness early on. We had Governor Reagan, and Howard Jarvis and his Proposition 13. Racism was intrinsic to the movement from the very beginning. It’s not that there was some massive pure-blood non-racist old-school conservative population that the new movement pushed out; rather, the new movement simply had a disinhibiting effect on people who’d previously been thinking of their racist impulses as something to be ashamed of.

(Really, I think this is a major part of the movement’s appeal. You get to talk tough and sneer at everyone without having any of the obligations of actual adulthood. All the real hard work of making an individual life, family, community, or society work is stuff that others have to do for you.)

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Lee A. Arnold 04.17.14 at 5:21 am

What if, what if, what if? What if I have conducted so many discussions over the years with so many people who were trying to seriously convince me of hard-money anti-big-government market libertarianism, that I actually know more about the epidemiology of that mental disease than just about any person alive? What if some intellectuals on the left are so bored at learning the nuts and bolts of standard economic theory, or so dismissive of a lesser bulb who adopts a crazy intellectual circularity, that they would rather attribute the adoption of it to a hatred, than to acknowledge the fact that “pointing out the falsity of false economic theories” is weak and ineffectual; it doesn’t work in the case of an intellectual circularity any more than it would in the case of a religious belief or a psychosis or streetcorner Marxism? What if somebody could actually believe something you don’t believe without being a racist even though the only party that shelters their belief also shelters racists, so they go into denial of it? There are all sorts of “what ifs”. I happen to know the UCLA professor is not a racist, but I cannot give you the proof of how I know that, because it would identify that person through a published document, and I am not going to drag any names into this. What I took from my discovery is further confirmation that professors in general are as broadly intellectually incompetent as anyone else, outside their specialties. Which I suppose isn’t news. But, what if I can’t do any better than that? Riddle me that.

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GiT 04.17.14 at 5:40 am

James Irvine I, whose progeny eventually give us Irvine, CA was also Scots-Irish, though he skipped the South and went Ireland->New York->California. But many southern Scots Irish made the trek to SoCal. So sunny LA doesn’t exactly escape the “charm” of real Americans, as any visit to rich Orange County shows

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john c. halasz 04.17.14 at 6:31 am

I haven’t read through this thread. Didn’t bother with the Chait article. Don’t particularly care for righteous liberal love-fests. But…

Might Chait’s article, however garbled, not be merely centrist pundit posing, but rather trying to say that race discourse in U.S. politics is double-binding and that is why it is doubly “insane”? (And also, pace Chait, why it distracts from any focus on the “real” sources of injustice and oppression, by placing a premium of “righteousness”? Thereby leaving discursive placeholders in “power”, rather than addressing underlying structural issues about how power-relations are re-produced?)

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John Holbo 04.17.14 at 6:49 am

“I haven’t read through this thread. Didn’t bother with the Chait article. Don’t particularly care for righteous liberal love-fests. But…”

This is the Platonic form of all john c. halasz comments. You had me at ‘…’

But pushing on. Since you haven’t read the Chait, or the thread, what makes you think he is trying to say that race discourse is ‘double-binding’, and in what sense? What is the double-bind? The contradictory demand by an authority figure, but which one, and what is it demanding?

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john c. halasz 04.17.14 at 6:58 am

@196:

Because I read some other commentary tangentially elsewhere, though I had other more pressing things to attend to. And because, ya know, I’ve lived through and experienced these sorts of issues for a long time, (being a native Chicagoan and all), even if your version of “logic” doesn’t admit of the possibility of double-binds.

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john c. halasz 04.17.14 at 7:03 am

BTW I did read some bits of the thread and also some of the linked article, but I commented because I was a bit shocked that William Timberman hadn’t realized the capitalization of slaves issue, and I was hoping that Bruce Wilder would more fully “enlighten” him and deal with all that.

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John Holbo 04.17.14 at 7:07 am

“even if your version of “logic” doesn’t admit of the possibility of double-binds.”

How not?

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John Holbo 04.17.14 at 7:09 am

That is, give me a good argument that something about my logic commits me to denying the possibility of double-binds, on conceptual grounds. I am suspicious that, to the contrary, I am perfectly free to admit their existence.

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Deadbyedon 04.17.14 at 7:22 am

Even if, as Belle Waring ably says, there exists The Perfect Non-Racist Social and Economic American Conservative Who Holds True to Said Social and Economic Conservative Beliefs for Totally Non-Racist Reasons, Pinky-Swear and No Backsies: (1) who gives a shit, apart from people arguing in bad, ahistoric faith, and (2) since when has being stupid and blinkered been deemed a forgivable offense when holding to abhorrent and objectively racist beliefs? What, we’re only racist if we intend to be now?

In saying that the connection between low taxes and racism is not logical, I didn’t mean to imply that it was random or inexplicable or flukey or any of that.

And you’re still wrong, unless you’re speaking about some theoretical nation-state without a written and documented history and past. In the US, institutional poverty is, quite literally, colored. Washing one’s hands of the end result is not logical.

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John Holbo 04.17.14 at 7:30 am

“And you’re still wrong, unless you’re speaking about some theoretical nation-state without a written and documented history and past.”

Just to be clear: if you want to argue with me, you have to take the opposite side of the argument from me. I am saying that the reason that low taxes and racism are linked is because of the written and documented history (as you put it), not because there is some timeless Platonic logic linking low taxes and racism. Thus, if you want to take the other side, you have to argue that there IS a Platonic logic linking low taxes and racism. Since you obviously think the opposite of that, I suggest that we agree to agree about this one at least.

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Hey Skipper 04.17.14 at 7:43 am

[Hey Skipper:] “Believing that Great Society programs have created a culture of dependency isn’t racist; indeed, it can’t be.”

[John Holbo:] This is false.

Even you should be able to see this simply by taking the form of your own accusation against liberalism, abstracting it from liberalism, and considering hypothetically how a similar critique could be made of conservatism.

I would have thought my statement was so simple that even a philosophy professor could take it on board. (Wow, isn’t snark fun? Let’s both play!)

The problem with the progressive indictment is the overweening hubris underlying it all. The Great Society is wonderful because it is progressive, and all progressive ideas are wonderful because progressives hold them. Therefore, all disagreement with progressives must be based upon either ignorance — and where re-education doesn’t work — then evil.

That is the accusation.

Yet If someone honestly believes that Great Society programs caused a great deal of damage to African Americans, and that, on the whole, African-Americans would have been far better off without the tender hand of government, that can’t possibly be due to racist motivation, unless wishing African-Americans would be far better off today counts as racism. That’s not the definition in my dictionary. There are plenty of reasons to conclude welfare programs caused a great deal of damage — some programs in the past, like welfare before it was reformed, were sometimes poorly designed, created disincentives to work.

BTW, before you reflexively reach for that bucket o’ hate, Pres. Obama is responsible for everything after the em dash. I agree with him. Apparently I’m a racist for doing so.

As to your objection that “Small government conservative = racist hater” is not a conceptual truth: this is true. Nevertheless, the sociology is disturbing. From Chait’s article:

Did you look at the study at all, or are you satisfied with a quote from the abstract?

Go to page 9, and look at the three graphs depicting proportion slave in 1860 vice proportion Democrat, approving affirmative action, and racial resentment. You should notice that the portion approving of AA isn’t high anywhere. The center of the distribution in areas without slaves is only 20%, and the variation in racial resentment between low and high slave proportion counties is small — the slope of that line isn’t zero, but it isn’t much more than that. (From page 11: One standard deviation in slave proportion yielded a 0.11 point increase in racial resentment; 2.7 percent decrease in support for affirmative action, and a 3.1 percent decrease in among those who identify as Democrats.)

The left most graph on page nine shows a steep decline in registered Democrats in areas with high slave proportions in 1860. Fine, let’s take it as read that is due to racially derived resentment of Democrat policies.

Now explain this this.

You can’t.

You uncritically accepted the conclusions of a study because they confirmed your pre-existing bigotry. No matter that in two dimensions the change potentially due to racist feelings is small, and in the other it has no explanatory power whatsoever.

I have no doubt that the legacy of slavery still has knock-on effects in racial attitudes, but using this study as a tar brush to smear as racist disagreement with progressive policies makes the error of placing far more weight on the conclusions of this study than they can possibly bear.

But by all means, go ahead and do so. I’m sure you will be just as willing to make a cause and effect relationship based on the overwhelming statistical data correlating AFDC to the breakdown of the African American family .

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John Holbo 04.17.14 at 7:53 am

Actually, here’s something that may help: suppose you draw up a panel of experts and tell them to propose a model tax code for such-and-such. It is not an analytic truth that the expert who bids the lowest, as it were, is a stone cold racist. It is not even a sociological truth, in the US. Experts can disagree about tax rates, and ‘the guy who thinks a lower tax would be better is a stone cold racist’ is not always a reasonable inference. That was what I meant when I said that there is something ironically unfair about the linkage between racism and low-tax advocacy. Low tax ideology is very strongly sociologically linked to racism. As a result, it is very hard to be a tax wonk who has concluded, on technical grounds, that such-and-such a tax ought to be lowered to avoid some reasonable suspicion about motives. Right-wing tax folks bemoan that they are unable to make low-tax arguments in the technical abstract. They have no one but themselves – or their ancestors – to blame. If lower-taxes hadn’t been converted from a possible technical option to a semi-religious dogma, the better to dog-whistle racism, we wouldn’t be in this fix. Even so, it’s true: even in America, the economist who proposes a lower tax on such-and-such is not – logically, necessarily – a racist, rather than someone who thinks there’s a good, technical reason to lower such-and-such a tax. For any tax, it is perfectly conceivable, in the abstract, that for various reasons it might be better to lower that tax. This truth collides with ‘lower taxes’ as tribal shibboleth.

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John Holbo 04.17.14 at 7:59 am

“Yet If someone honestly believes that Great Society programs caused a great deal of damage to African Americans”

Now you are moving the goalposts, Skippy. Put ‘em back!

We started here:

“Believing that Great Society programs have created a culture of dependency isn’t racist; indeed, it can’t be.”

I pointed out that this was false. Which it is. (You can admit it, or refuse to admit it. But facts is facts, all the same.)

You are now shifting to ‘honestly believing that Great Society programs …’

That is a kettle of fish of a different color. It’s obvious that honest beliefs are honest. What isn’t so obvious is that all beliefs are honest.

The question is whether significant numbers of people honestly – without intended deception or self-deception – believe that, on balance, the Great Society did more harm than good (let’s say).

Do you agree at least that this is the question?

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John Holbo 04.17.14 at 8:10 am

Brief programming note: having wasted too much time writing comments, I am now really backed up on work that needs doing. So if you don’t hear from me for 12 hours, it doesn’t mean I’m dead, or refuted.

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Hey Skipper 04.17.14 at 8:21 am

“… explain this.” (an electoral map of the 2012 Presidential election by county)

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John Holbo 04.17.14 at 8:43 am

Really and for true, I’m going this time. But please, Skipper, I’m trying to be reasonable. I’m snarky and suspicious, of course. But fair is fair. You aren’t all sunshine and light yourself.

Now, you proposed – rather strongly – that it was just plain flat-out impossible for someone to believe that the Great Society has been bad for African-Americans and believe this out of racist motives. I proposed a psychological model according to which this is perfectly possible, as a kind of confabulation. Do you at least acknowledge that this is so? My model makes a certain sort of sense? It’s the mirror of your own view of me, after all. You think my beliefs are formed, very irrationally, on the basis of a kind of hate. (You’ve said so, many times.) Is it so implausible that the thing you think actually is true of me could also be true of a substantial number of conservatives? Surely it isn’t logically impossible that the way you think the progressive mind works could be the way the conservative mind works? Can’t you at least grant that the superiority of the conservative mind, in this regard, can’t be a strict point of logic?

And now I really am going away for a while. Sorry, but needs must. But I hope when I return, I will have turned Skipper on this one point, at least. I really do.

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William Timberman 04.17.14 at 8:48 am

jch @ 198

Perhaps I wasn’t clear. Of course I realized that slaves were capital — pretty much the only productive capital in the South, as a matter of fact. What surprised me was how great a part of the total working capital of the nascent U.S. consisted of slaves. But of course I was lazily thinking of the North as an industrial powerhouse, something which may have been on the verge of being true in 1860, but definitely wasn’t true in 1789 — largely, I suspect, thanks to the effect of the mother country’s predatory mercantilism in the early days of the American colonies.

Needless to say, I’m not an economist, or a historian, but I am perhaps belatedly aware that reading The Education of Henry Adams hardly qualifies anyone to discuss in any detail the rise of American manufacturing and the consolidation of industrial capitalism in the U.S. between, say, 1840 and 1900. So…the shock for me of the Piketty aside came in the realization that a) the South at the time was not just an especially cruel feudal backwater, but a genuine economic powerhouse, and b) yeah, having to give up slavery was a big deal, economically speaking, and c) no one should ever take seriously the idea that white Southerners wouldn’t have used literally any bit of leverage to keep what they had, including not only repeated reminders to British capitalists where their cotton was coming from, but also increasingly hysterical denials that black people were in fact human beings.

It’s not that I hadn’t connected the dots, but rather that I’d missed an order of magnitude somewhere in the economic part of my moral education concerning the South. Easy to do when you’re not particularly focused on it.

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Ronan(rf) 04.17.14 at 12:38 pm

I think people are being too generous to Bruce Wilder’s initial point about the ‘kleptocracy’ and racism. It wasn’t that ‘elites’ have manipulated racism (or in other contexts sectarianism, xenophobia etc) to further their own interests, it was that

“At bottom, slavery wasn’t racist, either. It was a foundation structure for kleptocracy. Racism was invented to legitimize it. “

I think, as I said above, this is pretty much factually incorrect as a starting point, (although I’m open to correction), but it’s also irrelevant. Even if racism is ‘created’ solely as a means to reinforce the ‘kleptocracy’ it still becomes a social reality at some stage and has to be acknowledged as a phenomenon that has ordered society in its own right.
*Of course* elite’s manipulate divisions in society to further their own interests. Who would argue otherwise? But who are the elites and what are what are their interests ? The small town Jim Crow politician race baiting for votes is clearly an elite manipulating race to further their interests. Ian Paisley holding a rally at Belfast City Hall is an elite mainpulating sectarian identity to further his own interests.
But what about the manipulation that occurs below a recognisably elite level; the local agendas -at the individual or the family or the community – which have been shown to fuel conflict and division (over land, or houses, or public spaces, or jobs etc) ?

In these contexts how is pure hatred divided from self interest divided from peer pressure divided from ethnic affiliation ? How much is elite manipulation and how much is elites responding to their constituents/community etc? Where is the centralised order divined from this mess ?
This kind of kleptocratic centred theory for all political action is built on a set of assumptions every bit as simple and flimsy as the most caricatured neo classical model.

If we want to boil it down to the specific case of slavery, I’d assume (though dont know enough aout it specifically) that it was primarily driven by elites in their economic self interest and they used racism to justify it. This seems so banal a statement that no one could possibly argue against it. But this obviously isn’t close to being the whole story about race in North America, let alone an explanation for all theories of racial superiority, in all places, in all contexts, at all times forever.

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jonnybutter 04.17.14 at 1:04 pm

Even if racism is ‘created’ solely as a means to reinforce the ‘kleptocracy’ it still becomes a social reality at some stage and has to be acknowledged as a phenomenon that has ordered society in its own right.

I could have missed it, but who denying this? What makes deep sense to me about the Wilder Thesis is that it puts the very idea of racism (or racial animosity or whatever you call it) in its proper context, thereby allowing one to see it for what it is: a foolish superstition, promulgated and reinforced by power. That a superstitious belief is a real thing is also an extremely banal observation.

how is pure hatred divided from self interest divided from peer pressure divided from ethnic affiliation ? How much is elite manipulation and how much is elites responding to their constituents/community etc? Where is the centralised order divined from this mess ?

I think it should be clear that you aren’t describing a symmetric power relationship there, between elites and the others. The elites define the very context in which everyone lives. This is not at all to say that they create reality out of whole cloth. They do, though, profoundly shape the direction things take (if racial/clan hatred threatens to fade, watch them spring into action). And of course their constructs take on a life of their own! That is the point! Then racism (e.g.) becomes ‘natural’, massive poverty is ‘natural’, etc.

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Barry 04.17.14 at 1:13 pm

Nine 04.17.14 at 1:30 am

Barry@108 – “There is, as I have mentioned in the past, no fancy Latin term for the fallacy of “giving known liars the benefit of the doubt”, but it is in my view a much greater source of avoidable error in the world.”

Nine: ” That’s awesome ! Where can one find the original ?
And why doesn’t someone create the latin term given its potential for instant memefication ? There must surely be a latin scholar (IIRC Belle Waring is one?) amongst CT’s author & readership.”

It’s on the blog of Daniel Davies, who is technically a post-authorized personnel person on this very blog. He wrote in on his own blog, d-squareddigest.

He then went insane, and posted something which was rather ill-advised, and had a blog-breakdown under a storm of comments. He locked his blog, and only ventures out on moonless nights when it’s not raining (he lives in London, where ‘not raining’ is analogous to the US expression ‘once in a blue moon’).

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dn 04.17.14 at 1:26 pm

The obvious rejoinder to Hey Skipper is not a bunch of hemming and hawing about beliefs and honesty, but an appeal to history, where one can find an ample supply of counterexamples. It is well-documented that the “culture of dependency” arguments made today are essentially indistinguishable from arguments made by racists and opponents of civil rights since at least the Reconstruction era.

See, for example, Foner, Reconstruction, pp. 247-248, in which Andrew Johnson’s argument against the Freedmen’s Bureau hits all the bases: fiscal conservatism, the suggestion that the Bureau was unconstitutional, “the specter of an immense federal bureaucracy trampling upon citizens’ rights” (Foner’s phrasing), an appeal to self-reliance rather than dependence, fears of blacks living “a life of indolence” (Johnson’s phrasing). Plus, of course, a healthy dose of overt racism.

It doesn’t even matter if you think you oppose the Great Society because it hurts black people. The fact is that this is perfectly compatible with racism, in the form of “for their own good” paternalism. The 19th century was full of white people arguing that blacks were like children who needed to be taught virtue more than they needed material assistance. This attitude was racist then and it is still racist now.

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Consumatopia 04.17.14 at 1:47 pm

I am saying that the reason that low taxes and racism are linked is because of the written and documented history (as you put it), not because there is some timeless Platonic logic linking low taxes and racism.

I’m not sure what you mean by “timeless Platonic logic”. Among all possible worlds in which people are living in a market economy following a long period of explicit, state-backed racial oppression, in which the perpetrators of said oppression have passed down the fruits (wealth, privilege) onto their descendants, then as a matter of logic people who want to maintain that state of affairs will support laissez faire, while those opposing it will support redistribution of some sort. (They might argue over which sort, but they don’t doubt the moral legitimacy of redistribution as a government project.)

That’s not to say that in a racism-less world there would be no tax cuts. But in the context of racism, a non-racist would-be tax cut advocate should see those racial disparities and change their mind (or at least advocate a very different set of tax cuts). You don’t need any Atwaters, Karl Roves, Nixon strategies or Rosetta Stones here–those who have benefited from racism and want to keep those benefits will naturally gravitate to tax cuts.

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Ronan(rf) 04.17.14 at 1:48 pm

@211 – But again, I don’t know what you mean when you’re speaking about elites. Even amongst the types of elites that the Wilder thesis is built around, a small wealthy rapacious elite at the top, there really isn’t homogeneity (in interests, in perspectives, in policies they want to influence) to “define the very context in which everyone lives.” Specific elites can influence certain policy areas to some degree at certain times; plausbily this could add up to defining the context which everyone lives in, but it’s also a big leap from the Wilder thesis.

“They do, though, profoundly shape the direction things take (if racial/clan hatred threatens to fade, watch them spring into action”

But again who are the elites ? For any number of modern economic elites racial/clan division is largely irrelevant to their interests. (And probably runs counter to them) For someone running for office in Detroit it might be more relevant. For someone running a factory in the South, even more so. I just don’t know where this generalised theory of elites gets us.
In Northern Ireland, for example, why did Terence O’Neill (a genuine member of the elite) attempt to prevent conflict, whereas Ian Paisley (from a more modest, less obviously elite background) do the opposite ? Why do financial sector elites (generally across cases and time) oppose wars that policy elites push ?
I can understand on some level this idea that ‘elites set the stage for all of this,’ but it needs to be seriously complicated, imo.

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Anarcissie 04.17.14 at 2:52 pm

Consumatopia 04.17.14 at 1:47 pm @ 214:
‘… But in the context of racism, a non-racist would-be tax cut advocate should see those racial disparities and change their mind (or at least advocate a very different set of tax cuts)….’

Believers in capitalism and liberalism of the more classical sort have often argued in my hearing or reading that the uninhibited practice of capitalism, accompanied by the removal of legal and political obstacles based on race, plus of course lower taxes to juice the capitalism, would do more than Welfare programs or charity to mitigate or eliminate the effects of slavery and Jim Crow. This belief may be contrafactual, but one picks one’s facts. In any case I think the writers and speakers were mostly sincere in their beliefs and that favoring ‘tax cuts’ is not necessarily evidence of racism, or even mild prejudice. Indeed, they might be evidence of sympathy for the oppressed. Remember that many minds are not as penetrating and logical as your own.

As to whether Welfare encourages a culture of dependency, of course it does; it’s in tune with the industrial state, where we almost all dependent on our corporate masters and the government. It is a kind of job, where the ‘employees’ are paid to be poor and non-functional. (If your side hustle becomes known, or a bank account is discovered, you may lose your ‘job’ because you have not performed it correctly.) As with the untrammeled exercise of capitalism, distaste for Welfare is not necessarily racial; it may well be the result of a poor selection of facts and a kind of nostalgia for a world that never existed, which is common enough.

Maybe this is what Chait was on about: the absolute assurance that disagreement with the goodness of social democracy is equivalent to racism. It does seem sort of tribalistic.

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Main Street Muse 04.17.14 at 3:04 pm

Are tax cuts racist? Tax cuts are tax cuts, right? Not racist. Just a cut in taxes paid by American citizens.

However, as framed by the GOP since Reagan, tax cut propaganda is racist. Taxes are YOUR money, which is being taken by the evil government to be wasted on wastrels, moochers and takers. In the media used extensively in GOP campaigns, heroic Americans are white, while the moochers, takers and wastrels are generally black.

Who was in the audience when Romney went on his 47% rant? A lot of rich white folks. Who lived in the pretty little town ruined by Obamaville? Only white people, whose babies may now be kidnapped by the catastrophic environment created by Obama.

The moocher ideology that stretches back a bit further than Reagan, to Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged,” a book that is handed out by government officials like Paul Ryan to members of his government staff (i.e. people whose salaries depend on tax revenues.) But the racism inherent in the framing is Lee Atwater’s baby, now grown to man’s estate thanks to the careful nurturing of the GOP.

That Chait has an opportunity to make such a weak case about the non-racism of tax cuts, etc. is due to the racist propaganda the GOP has utilized for decades. They’ve brilliantly associated a tax policy with racism. WTG GOP!

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Consumatopia 04.17.14 at 3:16 pm

Believers in capitalism and liberalism of the more classical sort have often argued in my hearing or reading that the uninhibited practice of capitalism, accompanied by the removal of legal and political obstacles based on race, plus of course lower taxes to juice the capitalism, would do more than Welfare programs or charity to mitigate or eliminate the effects of slavery and Jim Crow.

For starters, these are factual claims. If they were plausible in decades past, they aren’t remotely plausible now. People with certain kinds of motivations end up picking certain kinds of facts.

But more than that, note that nobody makes that kind of argument for any other kind of economic injustice. If I’m a burglar who has stolen your property, but later I’m caught, nobody is going to buy that the right solution is to let me keep what I stole but lower taxes for everyone so that you can replace what I stole, because returning what I stole from you would only instill a “culture of dependency” in you.

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CarlD 04.17.14 at 4:04 pm

“Hark ye yet again – the little lower layer. All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event – in the living act, the undoubted deed – there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall? To me, the white whale is that wall, shoved near to me. Sometimes I think there’s naught beyond. But ’tis enough. He tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it. That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him.”

Insofar as this is a cautionary tale for this whole discussion, it’s so in the sense that it’s possible both to be right and to be catastrophically wrong. I take that to be John’s point, only without the drama of harpoonings and Nantucket sleighrides. Of course I don’t expect to convince the various Ahabs of this, especially with nothing but an obscure quote of dubious analogy.

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TM 04.17.14 at 4:05 pm

“At bottom, slavery wasn’t racist, either. It was a foundation structure for kleptocracy. Racism was invented to legitimize it.“

Well the Romans and Greeks had white slaves (the Romans also had black slaves, I don’t think the skin color mattered much but not sure about that). So you might say that slavery as such isn’t inherently racist (in the sens we use the word today). But of course every structure of dominance invented by humans comes along with some justifying ideology and they are all structurally similar to racism although differing in detail. For example the French aristocracy regarded itself as *racially* superior to commoners because they allegedly were descendants of the Frankish conquerors of Gaul. The word root race was explicitly used in that context (I believe it’s of indoaryan origin meaning something like lordly) and by one account (which I don’t have a ref for) this is actually where racial terminology originates.

Modern racism, in its pseudo-scientific form, came into being mostly in the 19th century. Carl Linnaeus, who didn’t own slaves afaik, came up with a taxonomic description of human races in about the 1760s which laid the foundation, or one foundation, for modern racism (just in time when colonialism needed it – but remember that colonialism is way older than that). I once read an interesting essay about that (which I don’t have a ref for) showing that Linnaeus wasn’t initially sure what colors to ascribe to his races. His initial proposal was more nuanced than the color scheme he finally settled on, which is empirically grotesque (there patently are no people with white, red, yellow or black skin color) but worked fine for the racist imagination.

All of this is very interesting but if people here really care about the history of racism, they should refer to the specialized literature, which is huge, and not just vent off some speculation.

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Bruce Wilder 04.17.14 at 4:30 pm

Ronan(rf) @ 210

Wow!

Nobody can ever know anything about anything, can they? It’s all so complicated, that we couldn’t possibly understand it, and how powerful can elites be anyway? Oh, also, it’s so banal.

Do you ever read the rubbish you write?

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LFC 04.17.14 at 4:35 pm

@TM 220
Well the Romans and Greeks had white slaves

English (and other?) settlers in the American colonies also had white slaves (and quasi-slaves (indentured servants)) — this stressed by Jacqueline Jones, whom I heard give a talk on her book The Myth of Race a while back. She argues inter alia that slavery in the U.S. preceded its racist justification, iirc. She got some pushback from knowledgeable people on her presentation and arguments, but she did seem to have some evidence. (I haven’t read the book so I’m not taking a position on it.)

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LFC 04.17.14 at 4:43 pm

Correction:
The title of the Jones book is A Dreadful Deceit: The Myth of Race from the Colonial Era to Obama’s America
http://www.amazon.com/Dreadful-Deceit-Colonial-Obama%C2%92s-America/dp/0465036708/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1397752870&sr=1-1&keywords=Myth+of+Race+%2B+Jones

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TM 04.17.14 at 4:44 pm

European serfs also had the same skin color as their masters – in Russia until the time of the US civil war – which didn’t prevent the masters from imagining themselves to be of “superior stock”. The fact that skin color in US history is so visibly associated with slavery probably makes racism more enduring than garden variety supremacy ideology. Although antisemitism is equally enduring without resort to visible difference.

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Ronan(rf) 04.17.14 at 5:00 pm

Na Bruce, of course people can know things about stuff, I’m just saying that when that’s built into a general theory of everything it ain’t plausible to my ears.
Now my ears might be tuned to rubbish, but so it goes.

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Barry 04.17.14 at 5:34 pm

LFC 04.17.14 at 4:35 pm

” English (and other?) settlers in the American colonies also had white slaves (and quasi-slaves (indentured servants)) — this stressed by Jacqueline Jones, whom I heard give a talk on her book The Myth of Race a while back. She argues inter alia that slavery in the U.S. preceded its racist justification, iirc. She got some pushback from knowledgeable people on her presentation and arguments, but she did seem to have some evidence. (I haven’t read the book so I’m not taking a position on it.)”

The way that I heard it, the white slave owners realized that black indentured servants were conspicuous, and therefore easier to track down. This, or course, led quickly to never freeing them, and using race as a maker of slave/free. From my casual understanding of US history, this was repeated; slave states every so often would declare all blacks to be slaves, keeping the line ‘sharp’, so to speak.

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Anarcissie 04.17.14 at 5:36 pm

Consumatopia 04.17.14 at 3:16 pm @ 218:
‘… For starters, these are factual claims. If they were plausible in decades past, they aren’t remotely plausible now. People with certain kinds of motivations end up picking certain kinds of facts. …’

They’re not plausible to you, because you picked a different set of facts. But that falls rather short of proving that those who picked a different set of facts are racists.

Indeed, given the very loose usage of racism in this discussion and elsewhere, and the very wide and deep influence of tribalistic impulses among all humans, one might well discover a good deal of ‘racism’ among those who pick a social-democratic set of facts, or a socialist set of facts, or even an anarchist set of facts. This would not prove, however, that all social democrats were racists (or ‘racists’), at least not in the world of my set of facts.

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Consumatopia 04.17.14 at 6:04 pm

They’re not plausible to you, because you picked a different set of facts.

Okay, I guess you pick as a fact that there is actually no wealth or income between races, it’s all just a giant conspiracy among statisticians. But you can’t honestly blame anyone else for thinking that you picked that belief to justify your racism.

And, again, nobody ever argues that other crimes should be addressed by “capitalism”, i.e. pretending that nothing had ever happened. So, no, the absurd facts that you say they’ve picked don’t even justify the conclusions they reach.

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jonnybutter 04.17.14 at 6:35 pm

Ronan at 210:

But what about the manipulation that occurs below a recognisably elite level; the local agendas -at the individual or the family or the community – which have been shown to fuel conflict and division (over land, or houses, or public spaces, or jobs etc) ?

I don’t see how you can do a full-blown legal, institutional, mythical, unescapable white supremacy regime (or something like it) from a local level up. Maybe if you’re living on the savanna in a small tribe.

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Anarcissie 04.17.14 at 6:38 pm

We aren’t talking about my set of facts or yours, but those of third parties whom we may not know very well. In any case, racism, in the sense of a set of opinions (or facts, or ‘facts’) is not a crime. If the differences in income and property between races, sexes, or other categorizations of people is a crime, then clearly the solution is not finagling to protect, stabilize, and enhance capitalism by means of Welfare and other social democratic policies — capitalism requires differences in wealth, and they are likely to be found along cultural fault lines — but socialism or communism.

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jonnybutter 04.17.14 at 6:41 pm

..and certainly sexism goes to the heart of this authoritarianism too. The ‘family level’ of which you speak has traditionally been hierarchical: ‘The Father is the Law’.

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DaveL 04.17.14 at 6:44 pm

@201: “In the US, institutional poverty is, quite literally, colored.”

No. They may usually be ignored, but there are plenty of white people in “institutional” poverty. (Whatever you mean by that; something non-tautological, I hope.)

There are in fact twice as many white people in poverty as black people. There are significantly more hispanics in poverty than blacks as well, although I suppose some fraction of them count as “colored” in your taxonomy. (Charles Mann’s recent “1493″ has a good section on the fine gradations of color perceived by the Spanish in Mexico.)

Maybe one way of looking at Chait’s portrayal of the two major parties being fixated on race (and particularly on black-white race relations) is that it’s an easy way to ignore that poverty is not just about racism. One can then avoid getting into any dangerous territory about “class warfare.” Whew!

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DaveL 04.17.14 at 6:49 pm

@223: “The way that I heard it, the white slave owners realized that black indentured servants were conspicuous, and therefore easier to track down.”

According to Charles Mann in “1493,” what they realized is that African slaves were cheaper than European or Native American ones, and better still they had some resistance to malaria, which was a huge problem in the Caribbean and the American South. Eventually the price of Africans rose with demand but by then the equation of slave=black was firmly in place.

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Ronan(rf) 04.17.14 at 6:56 pm

Yes jonnybutter, of course. I don’t think you can get “a full-blown legal, institutional, mythical, unescapable white supremacy regime (or something like it) from a local level up,” this was an add on to a longer comment and number of comments before. (As can be seen)
But some of the the ‘civil war’ lit (or ethnic conflict lit in general) does stress microprocesses as drivers of conflict ( Stathis N. Kalyvas’ work in general or Séverine Autesserre on the Congo for example) and how localised conflicts are generally driven by local issues (over land, over resources, over local disputes etc) No I don’t think it’s plausible that this works as a general explanation for how white supremacy functions/has functioned in the US, but it might explain bits of it. (I dont know)

But I also don’t think a convincing institutional analysis would identity ‘elites’ (and only elites without seriously fleshing it out) or general, vague concepts of a desire to dominate, *only* for the existence of white supremacy in the US.
What would that story say? I don’t have a clue, but it would be complicated.

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TM 04.17.14 at 7:06 pm

The native populations quickly collapsed mainly due to imported diseases. There was also the influence of Las Casas, who advocated a “more humane policy of colonization” (wikipedia) and initially suggested replacing the natives with African slaves.

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Consumatopia 04.17.14 at 7:44 pm

We aren’t talking about my set of facts or yours, but those of third parties whom we may not know very well.

Doesn’t matter. Some evidence is sufficiently widely shared that beliefs contrary to it cannot be honest beliefs. (They might be believed by honest people who were deceived by racists, but that still means they hold the beliefs as a result of racism.)

racism, in the sense of a set of opinions (or facts, or ‘facts’) is not a crime

I never said racism as a set of opinions was a crime, but it’s still racism. Obviously, slavery and segregation were crimes, as in they were wrongs that merit redress.

If the differences in income and property between races, sexes, or other categorizations of people is a crime,

That’s not what I said. It may or may not be true, but it has no relevance to anything I wrote. The particular racial disparities I refer to are, any non-racist would admit, due in part to past injustice.

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john c. halasz 04.17.14 at 7:48 pm

WT @209:

B.W. knows much more about American economic and general history than I do, and he could much better school us all in the details. But IIRC just before the Civil War, the notional market value of slaves was upward of 80% of the total estimated U.S. capital stock, (and, of course, the industrial take-off of the North occurred especially just after the Civil War, with the railway boom and bust). In the 18th century, both slaves and capital would have been far less. But as part of the Constitutional compromise, the import of slaves was banned after 1807, yet the domestic slave population continued to grow quite robustly, (no doubt partly due to the import ban, since owners would have been “incentivized” to attend to the maintenance and improvement of the domestic stock). And the prices of slaves at the same time rose steadily, which if not quite bubbly, probably reflected not just the increase in cultivation and output with westward expansion, but a self-fulfilling financial dynamic, given the usefulness of slaves as collateral. Thomas Jefferson himself had looked forward initially to the dying out or abolition of slavery, but after failing to use his slaves very profitably in a nail factory, while nonetheless discovering that the market-value of his slaves kept on rising, changed his views and expectations on the matter in his tortured soul. And of course, cotton and other slave produce would have played a huge part in the U.S. balance-of-payments, and disputes over tariffs between the North and the South were a staple of Ante-bellum politics.

I didn’t know the story about Lincoln’s father that B.W. retailed, but it illustrates an obvious point. Plantations monopolized all the best cultivable land, and thus small white farmers were marginalized and relatively impoverished. Which played no small role in the formation of Southern racial attitudes. (In anachronistic industrial relations terms, slaves would have been scabs).

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jonnybutter 04.17.14 at 8:07 pm

Ronan@ #234

But I also don’t think a convincing institutional analysis would identity ‘elites’ (and only elites without seriously fleshing it out) or general, vague concepts of a desire to dominate, *only* for the existence of white supremacy in the US.

Is your speculation better than mine, then?

The problem I see in your statement is the ‘convincing institutional analysis’ part. Complex human motivation, with its super dense web of interactions with everything else, is extremely difficult to analyze, no? So much is underdetermined. It’s hard to isolate particular factors. Not that it’s not worth trying! But on the other hand, I can feel fairly confident that elites – low level or high level – have an outsized influence in the course of events. It doesn’t take analysis to realize that the person who has the power to ruin (or end) your life has a lot of influence on how things turn out.

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William Timberman 04.17.14 at 9:27 pm

jch@237

Yes, thanks. That’s exactly it. 80%, which for me, put Lincoln’s Cooper Union speech into a new context. Regardless of the inferior productivity of slave labor, and the new manufacturing economy already beginning to develop in the North, Southern slave owners couldn’t accept the compromise which forbade extension of their economic enterprises into the new territories, as to do so would have meant an end to their hegemony. If for them this was an existential crisis, the 80% figure made it by definition an existential crisis for the rest of the country, and war the inevitable outcome. In retrospect, it also made the rise of the KKK and the sharecropping system after the war only slightly less inevitable.

When I was a kid, living in the South and hearing The South Shall Rise Again, I took it as pure nostalgia, even though I understood that the people who said it didn’t see it that way. It’s hard to accept, but equally hard to deny, I think, that the capital percentage figure you and Piketty both cite, when translated into a lingering and resentful racism, has pursued us and poisoned our political discourse right to the end of my own life. That’s why, on reflection, I’ve come to concede that even though there may be a whiff of hyperbole still clinging to Bruce’s provocative formulation, it’s nevertheless more right than wrong.

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Ronan(rf) 04.17.14 at 9:31 pm

I’m not saying my speculation is better than yours, jonnybutter. Or even that I have anything approaching the level of speculation. I don’t disagree with your last comment, or probably your position in general.

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jonnybutter 04.18.14 at 12:30 am

ronan(rf) @ #240

I don’t disagree with your last comment, or probably your position in general.

And I probably don’t disagree with your position in general either. As I’ve just said, human motivation is very complex. I guess the point I was trying to feel my way to is this: if superstitions (like race) are, by definition, very stupid/wrong, then they will tend to be less tenacious than folk wisdom (for lack of a better phrase) which is less stupid/wrong. You need *politics* to dream up, develop, and bolster an elaborate superstition like race.

I am also particularly interested in this question because I worry that liberals (or ‘progressives’) often get cause and effect wrong when they think about politics and culture, whereas reactionaries usually don’t. The latter tend to understand that politics is generally before everything; to paraphrase an old Catholic adage: ‘Give me political control of a people for a critical number of years, and they will be (culturally) mine (at least in a sense) forever’. Maybe I obsess about this because the Reagan Counter-revolution happened as I was becoming a man (late 20s), and I was shocked at just how much worse – culturally – almost *everything* got.

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jonnybutter 04.18.14 at 12:39 am

..that is to say that reactionaries will cite ‘decadent’ culture to justify this or that clampdown, since it inflames the rubes – but the wise ones know that politics is first. I would even say that the cultural rot that results from authoritarian politics is a vital part of the feedback loop which keeps those authoritarians in power – a feature not a bug, from their point of view. Very much like intentionally wrecking the government and then saying, ‘See? government sucks!’. They degrade culture itself.

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rustypleb 04.18.14 at 2:24 am

re: 233: “According to Charles Mann in “1493,” what they realized is that African slaves were cheaper than European or Native American ones, and better still they had some resistance to malaria, which was a huge problem in the Caribbean and the American South. Eventually the price of Africans rose with demand but by then the equation of slave=black was firmly in place.”

I don’t recall the “cheaper” part (from Mann’s book). Indeed I believe the purchase and importation of Black Africans was MORE expensive. The problem was a death rate of @ 90% among field hands of European descent due to malaria. Black Africans had a genetically inherited resistance and one live African even at some expense was probably a better deal than 9 dead Europeans. I’ll leave the gentle reader to ponder the irony; including off the top of my head in a hyperbolic spasm the continued political influence of the fossil fuel industry; how appeals to racism are a key element of binding the political coalition making that possible, and the potential for frying the planet.

244

Hey Skipper 04.18.14 at 4:05 am

[John Holbo:] Now, you proposed – rather strongly – that it was just plain flat-out impossible for someone to believe that the Great Society has been bad for African-Americans and believe this out of racist motives.

Yes, I did.

Because to hold that belief requires desiring African-Americans to be far better off than they are, in all respects. In what dictionary does that fit the definition of racism?

Conservative: Some Great Society programs seriously undermined black families, and led to generational unemployment. We spent a lot of money destroying black communities.

Progressive: Racist!

[John Holbo:] It’s the mirror of your own view of me, after all. You think my beliefs are formed, very irrationally, on the basis of a kind of hate. (You’ve said so, many times.)

I think you fall pray to the same groupist thinking of which you accuse others. By “groupist” I mean attributing to individuals the purported characteristics of a group to which they belong. The purported characteristic of conservatives is that they are racist, therefore everything they propose is racially motivated, which, in turn relieves you of confronting any conservative position — instead, just wave the racist flag.

For example, insisting that desiring lower taxes and smaller government is ipso facto racist is reaching a conclusion in the absence of an argument. If some government spending is wasteful, or even damaging, then it is entirely possible to have lower taxes and more effective government. Yet the blanket assertion is that tax-cutting will inescapably cause harm to African Americans.

Last week Dan Cahan gave Paul Krugman quite a rubbishing. Pertinent to this discussion is this:

A person displays ideologically motivated cognition when, instead of weighing evidence based on criteria related to its connection to the truth, he or she credits or dismisses it based on its conformity to his or her ideological predispositions.

When you insisted, based upon a study you hadn’t read, that the case for “Small government conservative = racist hater” did you actually assess the evidence, or merely agree because it conformed to your ideological predispositions?

245

Bruce Wilder 04.18.14 at 4:33 am

jonnybutter @ 238: So much is underdetermined.

So much is overdetermined!

jonnybutter @ 242: . . . the cultural rot that results from authoritarian politics

Yes, the rot.

246

John Holbo 04.18.14 at 4:36 am

“Yes, I did.

Because to hold that belief requires desiring African-Americans to be far better off than they are, in all respects.”

How does holding the belief that the Great Society harmed African Americans require desiring them to be far better off? Why couldn’t you hold that belief and desire them to be worse off, or subconsciously desire them to be worse off?

247

Anarcissie 04.18.14 at 4:40 am

Consumatopia 04.17.14 at 7:44 pm @ 236:
‘A: “If the differences in income and property between races, sexes, or other categorizations of people is a crime….”

That’s not what I said. It may or may not be true, but it has no relevance to anything I wrote. The particular racial disparities I refer to are, any non-racist would admit, due in part to past injustice.’

You said ‘other crimes’. But what was the first crime, then? I assumed you were making out racism, or the performance thereof, to be a crime. But racism has never been a crime in the U.S., and while some racial acts like employment and housing discrimination are now crimes, they were not crimes from 1492 or 1609 or whenever you want to start until fairly recently. Of course, they could be crimes against humanity or the gods, but then we need to see the tablets of the law you’re referring to.

I was actually trying to deal with the contention that every honest person must know that tax cuts equal racism. It seems to me that assuming that those who have different opinions — different sets of facts — than one’s own are necessarily evil is just another form of tribalism. For example, I think that Welfare is a scheme to preserve capitalism. I believe that the continued practice of domination and exploitation inherent in capitalism will cause evils like racism, sexism, bigotry, and so on to continue. Should I therefore consider all Welfare-believing social democratic regulated-capitalism fans to be racists? How many people would that approach convert to my purer, more enlightened views?

248

John Holbo 04.18.14 at 4:53 am

As to the rest of your criticisms – namely, that I am “attributing to individuals the purported characteristics of a group to which they belong” – yes, as a sociological and historical matter, I am. We need to distinguish conservatism as a philosophy from conservatism as a partisan phenomenon. Insofar as we are trying to figure out what conservatives think – as opposed to what they ought to think, if they were the best sorts of conservatives that they could possibly be, in a Platonic sense – we need to understand conservatism as a sociological and historical force, not as a Platonic ideality. We want to have an accurate sense of what the average/mean/modal conservative is, you might say.

I was quite careful about this – if I do say so myself – upthread, in my original long comment: “US conservative politics is racial dog-whistle politics. That’s just true, to a first approximation. Or maybe a bit weaker: there is no other comparably simple claim about US conservative politics that is truer. And no account of US conservatism that does not confront this truth, head-on, can be insightful.”

It seems that you are arguing that no such claim could be true, presumably because you are thinking no account of what is best in conservatism will include ‘racial dog whistle politics’. But there is a difference between thinking about what is good in conservatism, potentially, as a philosophy, and thinking about what is actual in conservatism, actually, as a partisan and practical political phenomenon. Obviously I am talking about the latter. You can talk about the former, but truths about ideal conservatism do not refute truths about actual conservatism.

You complain that I haven’t studied one thing that Chait cited. It’s true, I haven’t. But I have read a great deal, studied many other studies – historical and sociological and so forth. (Read that Lind article linked, upthread. That’s a good article.) So the question is not: is this study valid. The question is: are you going to refuse to consider sociologically unflattering portraits of conservatism as potentially true, on the grounds that a picture of conservatism just ought to be flattering, because there’s some good in conservatism. If you are doing that, you are committing a fallacy. If you are not doing that, then what are you saying?

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Thornton Hall 04.18.14 at 4:56 am

Does advocating for a policy that hurts black people disproportionately, and hurts them disproportionately because they were brought here as slaves… Families destroyed… Humanity denied… Etc make one a racist?

No, iff
a. One does not know that the disproportionate harm will result;
b. One is not ignorant of the disproportionate harm for a morally culpable reason.

Therefore, things that do not suffice to absolve one of racism include:
1. Bizarre worldviews where Democrats are the real racists.
2. Notions about “freedom” or “justice” or “contracts” that make the disproportionate harms irrelevant.

250

Lee A. Arnold 04.18.14 at 5:07 am

Hey Skipper #244: ” If some government spending is wasteful, or even damaging, then it is entirely possible to have lower taxes and more effective government.”

You leave out too much connective tissue. It is entirely possible, but not necessary, — and not very likely in our current circumstances. It could be that the spending is ill-managed but its object must still be addressed, and that this will require higher taxes. The denial of this part of it could indeed be racially motivated, in some (not all) people.

On another issue, I happen to like Dan Kahan’s research very much, but I think that he is a little off-the-mark on Krugman. Krugman’s blogpost, linked to by Kahan, did NOT deny that both left and right engage in ideologically motivated reasoning. It asks a different question: DESPITE THIS, how did liberals end up on the side of the facts in climate change, the phony “unskewing” of the polls in the 2012 campaign, the facts on Obamacare sign-ups, and some other big things? As Krugman points out, there is an asymmetry in something BESIDES the tendency of both sides to their own social cognitive bias. And he isn’t certain what it is.

251

Lee A. Arnold 04.18.14 at 5:12 am

By the way, anyone who has read the early Krugman books (e.g., Peddling Prosperity) will know that Krugman criticized liberals as much as conservatives, and the move to the left came, not out of motivated social cognition, but a clear-sighted evaluation of the lies of the Bush Administration on the Iraq War.

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GiT 04.18.14 at 5:13 am

“Yes I did [propose - rather strongly - that it was just plain flat-out impossible for someone to believe that the Great Society has been bad for African-Americans and believe this out of racist motives.]

Because to hold that belief requires desiring African-Americans to be far better off than they are, in all respects. In what dictionary does that fit the definition of racism?”

How about, ‘black people are especially or uniquely lazy and indolent, prone to dawdling and shirking when not facing the (metaphorical only, I assure you) lash. Any welfare regime will necessarily enable their congenital propensity to slack off and laze about and exacerbate their poverty, both relatively and absolutely.’

There you go. An entirely possible racism-motivated belief that the Great Society has greatly harmed black folks.

253

Thornton Hall 04.18.14 at 5:15 am

Or does the debate surround:

C. One is aware of the disproportionate harm but falsely believes it not to be related to slavery/racism/white supremacy, unless this ignorance is not for a morally culpable reason.
??

By the way, conjunctions are “and”.

254

Lee A. Arnold 04.18.14 at 5:33 am

John #246, GiT #252 — I know a few right-wingers who hold that position, so it may be common.

255

GiT 04.18.14 at 5:35 am

“I think you fall pray to the same groupist thinking of which you accuse others. By “groupist” I mean attributing to individuals the purported characteristics of a group to which they belong. The purported characteristic of conservatives is that they are racist, therefore everything they propose is racially motivated, which, in turn relieves you of confronting any conservative position — instead, just wave the racist flag.”

So you haven’t actually understood Holbo’s point here, then, which goes something like this:

When the group to which you belongs aggrandizes and enlarges itself by coupling racist appeals with more strictly technocratic summum bonum policy appeals, when you defend your technocratic policy appeals you’re not going to be able to avoid confronting the racism you’ve cultivated in your party, and that’s on you.

Yes, this means liberals don’t confront the “real,” “philosophical,” arguments of their opponents. But they don’t have any responsibility to do this, and (or, perhaps, *because*) they don’t gain anything politically by doing it. But that’s not their fault. The conservatives created the problem for themselves.

If a pure as the fresh winter snow strictly philosophical conservative feels frustrated that he has to deal with all this racism stuff, he needs to look to the group he is involved in, which not just recently, but presently, sows and harvests racism as a means of garnering votes.

You can’t talk out of both sides of your mouth and then expect your opponent to only engage with the enlightened angel corner.

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jonnybutter 04.18.14 at 11:05 am

Bruce@ #245

jonnybutter @ 238: So much is underdetermined.

So much is overdetermined!

Yes. Thank you.

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AJtron the Invincible 04.18.14 at 12:13 pm

I have not had the chance to respond to any of the comments to my comments (I have been too busy), but I feel that I should make some points related to this article that taken as a whole would shed some light on this matter.

In that this article attempts to unfairly stain the reputation of a certain section of Americans – in this case, Southern Whites – what I would like to call your attention to this is the fact so many people seem to want to not carefully look at the facts in questions, but rather to jump on to the ‘racially biased’ bandwagon. This is a serious matter that requires the faculties for which my friend Sherlock Holmes is justly famous for, and, due to the Grace of God, for which I, as AJtron the Invincible, am too.

All of Europe is ringing with the name of Holmes given that he had the chance to solve the mystery surrounding the Scandal in Belgravia and, as Mr. Holmes’ friend, I have been asked to look into this matter for which my background in statistics and sociology makes me uniquely adept. I have been able to clear up in the past one or two matters (actually, several, several matters) related to the reputation of ordinary, everyday Americans – the emphasis being on the words ‘ordinary’, and ‘everyday’ – in the past. (Nothing I have seen of the behavior of ordinary Americans suggests anything like the behavior and prejudices that they are routinely accused of in the media.) I am referring here, of course, to the Case of Identity, as it were, of Hindus in North America (“hINAs”, according to the prominent race provocateur Michael Witzel), the Adventure of the Three Students, as it were, of American Sociology, and the Adventure of the Noble Professor.

It is absolutely true that people, as a general rule, “see but do not observe.” We see but do not observe. In all of the adventures above, we saw how there is a slant on the part of various American academics who have grown to be extremely powerful. They use their power to attempt to bully their students into submission and, following the inevitable success of their approach over the hapless powerless students, they then attempt to try the same bullying tactics on the outside world. With predictable results.

We see these professors in places as widely distributed as organizaion behavior, Hindu Studies and finance. Other people have seen this, but few have observed. Let us observe now and observe carefully the following points about the paper by Avidit Acharya, Matthew Blackwell, and Maya Sen cited in the article.

(1) The paper is unable to show an actual pattern of racism and bias that, it is said, that Southerners possess.

(2) All there is to go on here is that there were families several generations ago were slaves. Observe that nothing substantial about the behavior of these supposed “racists” has been actually cited. All there is to go on the basis of here is the fact that the forefathers of -some- -other- -people- happened to be slaves. Perhaps, it is that slavery has made some of the families weaker in terms of education than others. But there is no reason to believe that the white families are prejudiced here.

(3) The only way to find out whether there is actually racism in these parts of America is to actually live there, and to conduct a study based on actually observing the people in question. It is important here to be use methods of observation and deduction, and to be analytical. As my friend Sherlock Holmes might say, “you know my methods, Watson. Use them.” I am not afraid of saying that Paul Krugman is wrong because he has not lived in the South for any length of time in the recent past, and, therefore, it is easy enough to see the mistakes to which his methods have fallen prey. Mr. Holmes’ methods are, I argue, far superior to those of Krugman’s since they involve actually being on the scene of the supposed crime.

Using said methods, one finds absolutely no basis for the belief that Southerners are opposed to Obama due to his race. Obama is a failure. If he had been a success, it would have been one thing. But the fact that he is such an abject failure may easily be the solution to the question of why so many people from the south – people with political opinion diametrically opposed to those of Obama’s and his minions – are unlikely to vote for Obama. They know that he has failed. And they think that he has failed because he failed to follow the policies that they thought would result in success.

Bottomline- there is absolutely no need to besmirch the reputation of ordinary, everyday Americans for this. When one is unable to even live one’s life normally, it becomes a question of “capabilities”, in Amartya Sen’s language – what people are actually “capable” of becomes severely limited because of beliefs that other people may possess about them.

It is a shame, a bloody shame, an absolute travesty that people in academia refuse to take the side of Southern Whites here, who, for whatever reason, have been stuck with bad reputation for no fault of theirs.

I think that is a quick demonstration of the faculties for which Mr. Holmes called upon me to make a few observations. It is perhaps for these faculties such as I, my friend Mr. Holmes and some other friends of mine posses that future Prime Minsters will be listening to us, not to “yous” and “y’all”. This concludes the Adventure of The Second Stain, as it were, on the Reputation of Southern Whites.

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Barry 04.18.14 at 12:43 pm

Lee A. Arnold 04.18.14 at 5:12 am

” By the way, anyone who has read the early Krugman books (e.g., Peddling Prosperity) will know that Krugman criticized liberals as much as conservatives, and the move to the left came, not out of motivated social cognition, but a clear-sighted evaluation of the lies of the Bush Administration on the Iraq War.”

I think that he criticized liberals more. His 90′s writing explains why the NYT hired him. They undoubtedly thought that they were getting an ‘even the liberal Paul Krugman’, who’d spend most of his time castigating liberals for misdemeanors while turning a blind eye to right-wing felonies.

Honest men are so troublesome!

259

DaveL 04.18.14 at 1:11 pm

243: “I don’t recall the “cheaper” part (from Mann’s book). Indeed I believe the purchase and importation of Black Africans was MORE expensive. The problem was a death rate of @ 90% among field hands of European descent due to malaria.”

I don’t have the book at hand, but my memory is that white “slaves” were mostly indentured servants and they were expensive and of course eventually they were lost as a “capital investment,” but I could be mis-remembering. In the end it was the higher disease resistance of black slaves that made the biggest difference, regardless.

@257: I may not be Sherlock Holmes, or Paul Krugman for that matter, but I grew up in the South and revisit it now and then. There was a lot of racism there when I was a child, and there is still plenty to go around. It is not as loud as it used to be but it is still there. The current article in ProPublica, “Segregation Now,” which is about Tuscaloosa re-segregating its schools, should be enough to convince anyone.

260

Anarcissie 04.18.14 at 2:06 pm

‘A person displays ideologically motivated cognition when, instead of weighing evidence based on criteria related to its connection to the truth, he or she credits or dismisses it based on its conformity to his or her ideological predispositions.’

Everyone necessarily does that. There are infinitely many facts composing the truth, but one’s time, energy, perceptual abilities, and processing power are limited. Therefore, one must select some facts and ignore others. But when one starts selecting, one has no facts, or very few facts, to work with. So one must also construct a mental framework, an ideology, to filter the facts, partly instinctual or intuitive — given by one’s biology — and partly given by parents, relatives, peers, early childhood experiences. Obviously, people will take in those facts which accord with their ideological framework more readily than those which contradict it, which will further strengthen the framework. Indeed, many people experience the presentation of facts contradictory to their ideological framework as attacks on their persons and respond accordingly. This makes sense, because except for those of sufficient intellectual power and appropriate disposition, time and energy spent questioning one’s beliefs is lost from time and energy applied to dealing with the world. The costs of a conversion experience are usually high, and the profit derived uncertain.

There are a few people who can treat questioning their belief systems as a game, hobby, or edifying practice, without serious worldly consequences. I suspect most of them have a parallel, unquestioned ideology in which their questioning confirms their underlying rightness. Indeed, they can turn this practice into a profession and spend a lot of time actually attacking other people’s ideologies, which if carefully conducted may result in professional fees or at least repute among one’s peers, pretty boys (or girls, according to taste), free lunch, and so on. And so we have Socrates saying ‘The unexamined life is not worth living’ — an excellent advertising slogan for his business. Of course his practices ended badly for him; the game is not necessarily a safe one. But I digress.

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TM 04.18.14 at 2:13 pm

“Because to hold that belief requires desiring African-Americans to be far better off than they are, in all respects. In what dictionary does that fit the definition of racism?”

It is not just possible but very common for a racist (or sexist, …) to believe that racist dominance structures are for the best of the “inferior” people and that attempts at emancipation are misguided do-goodism that will end up hurting those very same people, whether African-Americans or natives under European colonial rule, because those people are simply incapable of ruling themselves. Pretty much every slave owner or colonial officer of the 19th century would profess to some version of this “White man’s burden” theory, and most may have held this belief sincerely. A similar belief structure is at work when right-wingers say that helping the poor through welfare programs is counter-productive.

To think that somebody who expresses concern for the well-being of blacks (and it doesn’t really matter whether that concern is hypocritical or sincere) cannot be racist is extremely naive.

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TM 04.18.14 at 3:00 pm

244: Since you mentioned Kahan, I think Kahan is hopelessly confused. Of course everybody prefers to have their views confirmed rather than challenged by the evidence. It is ludicrous to conclude from that that everybody’s opinions, e.g. regarding climate change, passively reflect their political ideology and that they only happen to be right as a matter of chance. There is no a priori reason why liberals should find climate change “ideologically congenial”. I posted a longer comment at Kahan’s site.

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Consumatopia 04.18.14 at 4:06 pm

You said ‘other crimes’.

Here is what I actually wrote:

And, again, nobody ever argues that other crimes should be addressed by “capitalism”, i.e. pretending that nothing had ever happened. So, no, the absurd facts that you say they’ve picked don’t even justify the conclusions they reach.

No part of that can be honestly said to imply that I think “a set of opinions” is a crime. “Other crimes” obviously refers to what they consider to be immoral. Everyone I’m interested in discussing anything with agrees that slavery and segregation were unjust acts–that’s all I mean by crime. Whether such acts were legal or not doesn’t matter because everyone (including most conservatives) agrees that the crime is what was legal.

The difference of opinion is that (many, not all) conservatives argue that our response to this injustice should be to simply A) stop doing it and B) go on like nothing happened and wait for the miracle of capitalism will even things out. I was pointing out that conservatives don’t apply that principle generally–if you do something unjust to them, they’re going to call the cops or sue you. Or if they’re anarcho-capitalists they’ll call the local warlord–whatever their specific utopia, none of them are known for adhering to “turn the other cheek”. They never worry that any other kind of restitution following a crime will result in a “culture of dependency”. They don’t avoid leaving their children wealthy estates because they’re afraid of creating a “culture of dependency”. It’s a very selective concern, even relative to their picking of the facts.

I also point out that a belief that the miracle of capitalism will even things out is also very hard to hold. Here’s the thing–we all have to start with some priors, some ideology. And then we go out into the world and see how well it fits our prior beliefs. If you prior belief is that the world is flat, it’s pretty hard to keep believing that without intentionally trying to fool yourself.

You have to work harder (or somebody has to work harder for you) to pick facts to suit some beliefs than other beliefs.

I never said that racists were evil people. Good people can and do fall prey to bigotry all the time. Or they could be, as I wrote, “honest people who were deceived by racists, but that still means they hold the beliefs as a result of racism.” Not their own racism, but because they trusted someone who was a racist. Which isn’t necessarily something that Saint Peter will judge too harshly at the Pearly Gates, but nonetheless when you’re trying to find an explanation for why a particular false idea is so widespread, racism might well the explanation even if not everyone who holds onto the meme is a racist. I’m judging the ideas more than I am the individuals holding the idea.

That doesn’t mean that I hold the individuals innocent. I certainly understand that not everyone has the time to spend looking at their own beliefs. But here’s something I think an anarchist would agree with–to engage in voting is to engage in an act of coercion against your neighbor. And once you engage in act of coercion, you bear responsibility for it. Voting is not mandatory in this country–if you believe you don’t have time to figure out which side to be on, you don’t have to take a side.

I believe that the continued practice of domination and exploitation inherent in capitalism will cause evils like racism, sexism, bigotry, and so on to continue. Should I therefore consider all Welfare-believing social democratic regulated-capitalism fans to be racists?

Big difference here–you’re indicting a very wide variety of possible variants of capitalism. You’re saying that there is no possible set of adjustments–no welfare, no affirmative action, no redistribution–that we could make to alleviate the problem so that it would be better than whatever alternative that you haven’t even described. (“Get rid of capitalism” isn’t enough, how shall it be decided what is done with rivalrous goods? Central planning? Occupy General Assemblies? Neither of those are entirely innocent of bigotry.)

I am indicting one particular, extremely narrow variant of capitalism–so narrow that our current system doesn’t even count as capitalism: they want the “uninhibited practice of capitalism, accompanied by the removal of legal and political obstacles based on race, plus of course lower taxes to juice the capitalism”. They’re making a specific claim about that specific system, that it “would do more than Welfare programs or charity to mitigate or eliminate the effects of slavery and Jim Crow. “

Given our experience with mixed capitalism, I consider that specific claim regarding that specific system utterly implausible. Somebody has to work very hard to pick the a of facts that would back up a belief like that. That’s especially the case since few people argue that capitalism would do more than the police or lawyers to mitigate or eliminate the effects of any other crime or injustice. (Note, I’m not proving that claim, as I consider it quite obvious. I’m certainly not going to spend the time to prove it for you, because I don’t have any evidence that you’re discussing this in good faith.)

As one honestly pursues knowledge, some beliefs are harder to hold on to than others. As soon as someone doubts this, I know that I don’t have anything worthwhile to discuss with them anymore–they’re essentially saying that all beliefs are arbitrary, and if that’s the case, why don’t I just keep my own arbitrary beliefs and stop bothering with discussion?

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AJtron the Invincible 04.18.14 at 4:56 pm

“Exclamatory”, said Sherlock Holmes.
“Elementary”, said AJtron.
-+-
AJtron shall be pleased to use the handle AJtron “Smarter than Paul Krugman” the Invincible henceforth. When he chooses.

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Anarcissie 04.18.14 at 8:47 pm

Consumatopia 04.18.14 at 4:06 pm @ 263 — I suppose I could write a communist manifesto, but it would seem poor manners to me to put it in the comments to somebody else’s article on a different subject. In the matter of small-government ‘conservatives’ (I think we probably should say ‘libertarians’) who believe that uninhibited capitalism can and will destroy racist ideas and racist oppression, I can only assure you that I have encountered many such. They are joined by Uncle Karl, at least the Uncle Karl of the real Manifesto, especially in the very poetic passage that begins, ‘The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations’ and ends with ‘All that is solid melts into air….’ Capitalism does indeed destroy many pre-capitalist cultural features, and some of these could be previously existing tribal arrangements. I think the libertarians and Uncle Karl have turned out to be wrong in this case — tribalism recurs — but I have different facts. If only politics turned out to be as simple as the Earth’s shape!

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Consumatopia 04.18.14 at 10:24 pm

I’m not saying that you actually should have outlined your political program, I realize that you were only accusing those dissenting from it of bigotry in a reductio ad absurdum. I was just explaining why I don’t think that reductio actually succeeds.

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Layman 04.19.14 at 2:23 pm

AJ @ 257

“Using said methods, one finds absolutely no basis for the belief that Southerners are opposed to Obama due to his race. Obama is a failure.”

Yes, 54% of Southerners opposed Obama in 2008 because he failed in 2009. Clever of them, I’d say.

Watson, the needle!

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Anarcissie 04.19.14 at 2:32 pm

In general, people who disagree with my theories can do so only through some frightful moral defect.

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Ogden Wernstrom 04.19.14 at 2:57 pm

This was some thread drift, but I welcome the opportunity to learn about the history, influence and decline of Thomas Fumento.

[Hey Skipper:] …I’m sure you will be just as willing to make a cause and effect relationship based on the overwhelming statistical data correlating AFDC to the breakdown of the African American family.

The 1992 Fumento article for Investor’s Business Daily to which you linked contains many assertions that may be factoids, but it is far from “data”. Most of his numeric claims are unsourced…though I don’t expect that level of evidence from this sort of magazine article, and those which are sourced come from reactionary right-wing sources. The IBD readership probably got to hear what they wanted to hear.

Fumento’s article – written 4 years before the end of AFDC – is missing some analysis.

Where are the control group, um, statistics? Did AFDC “create a culture of dependency” among whites during its first 30-ish years? (Or, was there some mechanism that created a greater effect upon the black citizenry, as posited by William Shockley?)

Why to reactionary right-wingers always point to The Great Society – not The New Deal – as the point at which decline began? Is it because the Johnson-era programs affirmatively expanded eligibility to blacks, while the Roosevelt-era versions of those programs were implemented mainly for whites?

I agree that there have been perverse incentives created by AFDC, particularly when each state set its own rules, which were commonly designed to reduce the eligibility and/or level of support of blacks. (Of course, if AFDC hurt black families then you would argue that those rules to reduce their eligibility would be anti-racist, right?)

If you are concerned about perverse incentives, you should look at what means-tested benefits do to marginal income. (Then, we can go back to one of your posts here and see how you define “confiscatory taxation” – is there a marginal rate you have in mind? Come to think of it, what type of tax does not confiscate anything?)

Back to Fumento: It appears that he has not written since 2012, when he appeared to perform an about-face and denounce his right-wing associates – though I do find some accusations that he has become a sock puppet.

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Hey Skipper 04.20.14 at 1:05 am

[Belle Waring:] If you are going to come into the thread and desecrate the torture, suffering, and millions of deaths experienced by the sufferers in the Soviet Gulags …

The metaphor is perfectly apt. Reflect upon why all those millions were in the Gulags: it was due to who they were, what they thought, or said.

Napolean Chagnon is a good example of how progressives react to challenging their orthodoxy.

[John Holbo:] How does holding the belief that the Great Society harmed African Americans require desiring them to be far better off? Why couldn’t you hold that belief and desire them to be worse off, or subconsciously desire them to be worse off?

Well, of course someone could think that the Great Society harmed African Americans and hope for even more of the same. Unfortunately, I can’t find any. Can you?

I doubt it. Which leaves imposing upon others your beliefs about their beliefs.

You complain that I haven’t studied one thing that Chait cited. It’s true, I haven’t. But I have read a great deal, studied many other studies – historical and sociological and so forth. (Read that Lind article linked, upthread. That’s a good article.) So the question is not: is this study valid.

Chait completely uncritically accepted that study. All the readers of his article here, including you, did the same. What should get your attention is the degree to which that study failed to confirm your expectation. When a study clearly conducted to confirm a pre-existing conclusion almost completely fails to do so, perhaps it is the conclusion itself that needs revisiting.

In what way is Lind’s article good?

His thesis is that hysteria, aggression and gerrymandering are white southerner’s last hope to maintaining political control.

Here is the evidence he presented for his thesis: gerrymandering. Well, of course! That has never happened anywhere ever before for any reason, therefore racists! (The maps he links to are no help. The pattern of the first can be closely approximated by average house size, percentage of black owned business, divorce rate, and, average humidity. The second relies upon a virtually meaningless US census distinction.)

As for his assertions, he presents no evidence whatsoever, unless an article written by a Northerner 93 years ago counts.

But other than that, you are right, it is just as good as anything else Salon throws up.

[GiT:] When the group to which you belongs aggrandizes and enlarges itself by coupling racist appeals with more strictly technocratic summum bonum policy appeals, when you defend your technocratic policy appeals you’re not going to be able to avoid confronting the racism you’ve cultivated in your party, and that’s on you.

Hmmm. Do you mean like when Paul Ryan said “I know black contractors who have gone out of business because their black workers were not prompt, or had negative attitudes. I know black workers who take pride about going to work any hour they feel like it, taking the day off when they feel like it … Many leaders who are black and many white liberals will object to my discussing these things in public. But the decadence in the black community … is already in the headlines; the only question is what we should do about that.”

Or when he said “… this tailspin of culture in our inner cities, in particular of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work; and so there’s a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.

I suppose I can see how people might see those as racist appeals.

I don’t, because it is clear that Paul Ryan wants inner cities to be free of what he sees as real cultural problems, and like I said above, it is a strange form of racism that desires to improve the lot of those to whom one is supposedly racist. However, I’m sure John Holbo will demonstrate how, underlying those seemingly concerned words, lies racial animosity.

And to give credit where it is due, that is certainly difficult to disprove, because common sense.

But there is also another reason I think your accusation is completely empty. Jesse Jackson was responsible for the first quote. (The article is about a small government conservative with an intriguing approach to poverty that would be, in his opinion, both far more effective and efficient. Obviously racist, because it contradicts progressives. I’m sure the fact that the guy is black is no impediment.)

Last week Pres. Obama made some statements about the gender pay gap that were clearly sexist appeals.

But that is apparently OK, no matter how fatuous, ignorant or innumerate the notion of women’s $0.77 on the male dollar.

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Hey Skipper 04.20.14 at 1:25 am

[Ogden Wernstrom:] Why do reactionary right-wingers always point to The Great Society – not The New Deal – as the point at which decline began? Is it because the Johnson-era programs affirmatively expanded eligibility to blacks, while the Roosevelt-era versions of those programs were implemented mainly for whites?

Why do progressives insist on using pejoratives like “reactionary right-winger” to anyone who dares challenge progressive orthodoxy?

Those who think that, on balance, small government and free markets produce the best outcomes frequently point to the Great Society as the cause of a great many ills because they think they have good reasons to do so. So did Patrick Moynihan, who was not exactly a reactionary racist ideologue. And a great many others as well.

Of course, the Great Society isn’t the only potential factor. Forced busing might, just might, have greatly aided the virtual destruction of inner city schools. And there are no doubt a host of other reasons, not the least of which would be the nearly universal impression among whites as recently as forty years ago that blacks weren’t quite full fledged human beings.

I’m old enough to remember that. It is disingenuous to pin that attitude solely on conservatives.

That said, I think “progressives” have been largely responsible for the great advances US society has made in my lifetime in eliminating attitudinal barriers to blacks, women, and gays.

Those triumphs, and there is no doubting them, are individualistic.

Ironically.

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John Holbo 04.20.14 at 8:14 am

“progressives” have been largely responsible for the great advances US society has made in my lifetime in eliminating attitudinal barriers to blacks, women, and gays.

Those triumphs, and there is no doubting them, are individualistic.

Ironically.”

Skipper, I can agree with you about this last bit, but I can’t help but notice that you are holding the irony upside down and backwards.

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Consumatopia 04.20.14 at 2:08 pm

In general, people who disagree with my theories can do so only through some frightful moral defect.

Of course, no one said in general. But it seems pretty damn hard to deny that there are some issues in which the factual assertions on one side are mostly disingenuous. If you want to keep claiming that both sides are just as bad on every single issue , or that people have no moral responsibility to seek the truth about a political issue whenever they use their view of it to justify coercion, feel free to do so.

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Anarcissie 04.20.14 at 3:01 pm

Consumatopia 04.20.14 at 2:08 pm @ 273 — But we’re all seeking the truth here. I am sure Hey Skipper is seeking the truth, although he does need to explain why Welfare does not rot the character of Germans the way he thinks it does Black Americans’. The truly ironical thing is that we are all arguing over a hypothetical allocation of rewards and duties in a failing, doomed system, one which cannot even find jobs for privileged, middle-class White people, much less Black ex-prisoners. Although just as Hey Skipper observed (along with Uncle Karl), proggie-influenced capitalism has seen to it that ‘all fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away’ for the undoubted benefit of some individuals, in its resolute march to the abyss. We must give the Devil his due.

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Layman 04.20.14 at 3:36 pm

Hey Skipper,

‘Hmmm. Do you mean like when Paul Ryan said “I know black contractors who have gone out of business because their black workers were not prompt, or had negative attitudes. I know black workers who take pride about going to work any hour they feel like it, taking the day off when they feel like it … Many leaders who are black and many white liberals will object to my discussing these things in public. But the decadence in the black community … is already in the headlines; the only question is what we should do about that.”’

When I see a quote like that, it does make me ask questions, but the questions aren’t what you think. Are the lazy people known to Ryan only black, or does he know any lazy white people? If the latter, why doesn’t he complain about the culture that created these lazy, shiftless whites who spend their days shucking and jiving? And how many black contractors does Ryan know? What is a ‘black contractor’ anyway? Does Ryan speak of ‘white contractors’ anywhere? As contractors go, is General Dynamics white or black? Who are these black friends of Ryan, who gleefully boast to him of their unreliability?

Or do you think it possible, even likely, that he made these ‘examples’ up?

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Consumatopia 04.20.14 at 4:23 pm

I am sure Hey Skipper is seeking the truth

!!!

….well, looking back, I see you wisely avoided that Duck Duck Goose thread, so I guess your mistake is understandable.

Anyway, I don’t see how you’ve refuted anything I’ve written at 218 or 263, so I’ve got nothing else to say.

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john c. halasz 04.20.14 at 4:43 pm

@275:

I did a fact check. The quote is originally from Jesse Jackson, and was dredged up by a black conservative commentator, not Paul Ryan. (I suspected it was too good to be true).

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Hey Skipper 04.21.14 at 9:02 am

Layman:

I thought putting it in black and white would be sufficient.

I see you wisely avoided that Duck Duck Goose thread …

An even better example of the progressive 2minutehate.

Being Progressive, apparently, means never having to say you are wrong, or admit to getting suckered by whatever flatters your undeserved self-esteem. And it also means screaming “racist” from the rooftops, on no pretext whatsoever, and accuse others of race baiting.

To everyone else, it looks an awful lot like an unending series of self-inflicted wounds.

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Walt 04.21.14 at 10:41 am

Christ, why are you such a whiny baby, Hey Skipper? Did somebody disagree with you on the Internet? Did that hurt your feelings? Does it shock you that people with different from yours tend to think they are right in having those opinions?

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Hey Skipper 04.21.14 at 8:30 pm

Walt:

It doesn’t bother me at all that others have opinions from mine.

What does bother me is the uniquely progressive reflex to defame anyone who has the temerity to disagree with progressive orthodoxy, and deep desire to squelch heretical opinions.

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