“No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior. All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them” –Elie Wiesel
If the Republican Party isn’t racist and doesn’t rely on the racism of its constituents for electoral success or philosophical direction, then how do we explain the chasm of opinion and perspective between Left and Right?
The GOP has historically been the party of classical liberalism based in individual liberty—the bedrock of modern American conservatism. As such, themes like self-reliance, economic freedom, and equality before the law have been integral to Republican philosophy since the days of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. In the past, these principles manifested in opposition to slavery and bigotry. More recently, they serve to check the engineering hands of an expansive welfare state and to ensure that government programs don’t become a hand down to ruin. The Republican Party is, as Lincoln put it, “for both the man and the dollar”, and its focus is on securing a robust economy.
By contrast, you may have noticed that the 2012 Democratic National Convention placed something of a premium on social issues. References to abortion, contraception, gay marriage, and immigration permeated the show as the Democratic Party wanted to remind and impress upon you that the Republicans are on the wrong side of history, demographics, and the uncanny valley of human–robot relations. By extension, you are to understand that proposals from the evil, benighted Right to resolve our national fiscal troubles cannot possibly be good for anybody who isn’t rich, white, male, and heterosexual.
As such, a recurring theme on the Left is that any attempts to reform or criticize welfare are to be dismissed as “dog whistles” for racist conservatives (but somehow are only heard by liberals). Yet, whatever one thinks about the rhetorical criticisms of welfare, the bipartisan Clinton-Republican reform of 1996 transformed a disastrous policy into an approach that saw minority poverty reach superlatively low levels in the 00s. In fact, blacks and Hispanics were less impoverished in 2010 and 2011, despite the Great Recession, than in pre-reform 1995. (By comparison, overall poverty in the Obama years reached the highest levels in twenty years.) This development is particularly incredible given that America has seen the highest black unemployment in decades—roughly double white unemployment—under Barack Obama’s governance.
Yet we are told the reformers are racist.
Even education reform gets racially coded. In the wake of the Tea Party Revolution of 2010, the Washington Post ran a widely circulated article by Stephanie McCrummen entitled, “Republican school board in N.C. backed by tea party abolishes integration policy”. Most of the first two pages extol diversity, inclusivity, and affordability in “one of the nation’s most celebrated integration efforts.” Meanwhile, the “new majority-Republican school board backed by national tea party conservatives” gets juxtaposed with “a 21st-century case for segregation” and an obligatory mention of Brown v. Board. (Did I mention this is in Dixie? You know, where minorities are miserable and oppressed.)
Accepting that diversity is valuable and progress is not painless, the benefits of the program were dubious at best—schools were increasingly overcrowded, most black and Latino students were not proficient in reading or math, and only 54% of poor kids were graduating. As a biracial mother of two Wake County students put it, “right now, it’s as if the best we can do is dilute these kids out so they don’t cause problems. It sickens me.”
Even the Republicans-abolish-integration article inadvertently makes a case for what Paul Fitts, a Republican candidate for Wake County Commissioner, would describe as achievement-oriented schools grounded in communal involvement. Namely, qualified poor and/or minority students were underenrolled in advanced math classes under the previous “integration” policy. The kicker: school officials say they’ve known about this problem for years, but many parents were left in the dark. In other words, sending kids to faraway schools stifles parental involvement and allows ongoing systemic problems to fester under the negligent eyes of self-interested bureaucrats.
But lest you think McCrummen was building to a more balanced analysis, her article ends shortly after ruminating on “irony in the possible balkanization of the county’s schools at a time when society is becoming more interconnected than ever.” Thus she joins the good company of liberal media that reflexively deride conservative concern for actual problems as racism.
Of course, the discussion of dog whistles and identity politics extends far beyond welfare and education reform:
“The virtually white, wildly enthusiastic throng that lined Reagan’s motorcade route waved Confederate and American flags. Reagan didn’t disappoint them. He punched all the familiar code attack themes, big government, liberals, welfare, and law and order. He punctuated his blast with the ringing declaration, “I believe in states’ rights.” […]
Romney and Ryan can’t openly espouse states’ rights as Reagan did. But they update the code themes by lambasting Democrats, wasteful big government, runaway deficit spending on entitlement programs, and their full blown assaults on so-called Obamacare, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security programs, and labor unions.” [My emphasis]
I cannot fathom how we are supposed to have a productive conversation when just about every legitimate issue on the table is declared criminally unsubtle “code” for the resurrection of Jim Crow. But it’s a truism now that racism is an exclusively conservative phenomenon. Hence, Joe Biden telling a black audience in the South that Republicans will “put y’all back in chains” is definitely not race-baiting. However, Mitt Romney responding to this charge—and the president’s allies claiming Romney is a felon who caused a woman to die of cancer—by saying, “Take your campaign of division and anger and hate back to Chicago,” is tantamount to “niggerization”. But an ad portraying a black man punching out white women has no racist or sexist undertones whatsoever, as the ad’s target is a Republican.
President Obama ascended to office on a wave of uproarious optimism, heralding a syncretic revolution of reconciliation and growth. There was much soaring rhetoric about a post-racial America where our leaders would be statesmen and our politics would be unitive, ennobling, and transparent. We were told there was plenty of Hope—An infinite amount!—and it was all for us. Yet here we are, bitterly mucking through the dregs of old antagonisms, as the president’s allies conquer an empire of division with an army of lies.
Welcome to the Promise of the Age of Obama. Feel free to move forward and vote for change.