Monday, October 07, 2013

Are Republicans really just racists?

So is the current Constitutional crisis -- the refusal of an irresponsible Republican House of Representatives to pass a budget and pay the country's bills -- really happening because a residue of southern and rural whites remain unable to accept that a Black man has twice been elected our President?

The Washington Post's longtime District-oriented opinion writer Colbert King had a piece that appeared over the weekend that described our circumstances like this:

Today there is a New Confederacy, an insurgent political force that has captured the Republican Party and is taking up where the Old Confederacy left off in its efforts to bring down the federal government.

…The New Confederacy, as churlish toward President Obama as the Old Confederacy was to Lincoln, has accomplished what its predecessor could not: It has shut down the federal government, and without even firing a weapon or taking 620,000 lives, as did the Old Confederacy’s instigated Civil War.

… Hold on to that Confederate money, y’all. Jim Crow just might rise again. … don’t go looking for a group by the name of New Confederacy. They earned that handle from me because of their visceral animosity toward the federal government and their aversion to compassion for those unlike themselves. They respond, however, to the label “tea party.” By thought, word and deed, they must be making Jefferson Davis proud today.

Yet curiously (at least to me) in the midst of this extended historical analogy, Mr. King says:

I stress there is no evidence that the New shares the racist views of the Old.

On that I call BULLSHIT! Unhappily, there is abundant evidence that for many citizens who make up a sizable part of the Republican base constituency, the President is simply -- irretrievably -- the Other, not a "real American."

Democracy Corps' Inside the GOP report (available in .pdf at the link) aims to share what came out in focus groups with subsets of Republicans. Here's a bit about their methodology:

We selected these three groups (Evangelicals, non-Evangelical Tea Party adherents, [together more than 50 percent] and moderates [about 25 percent]) because combined they represent almost all of today’s Republican partisans.

… While our methodology is for groups to be homogenous to encourage free discussion, we discovered here that the focus group became the opportunity to express opinions they feel on the defensive about in real life. … But for the first time for me, it felt like we were creating a safe space where Republican voters could express feelings freely—and they did.

A few words about focus groups: as the pollsters who did this report make clear, these groups are not science, any kind of statistically valid survey. Focus groups are closer to art -- applied opinion research based on smart and imaginative efforts to recruit and encourage representative collections of people to express themselves truthfully, as if they were around a table at a community supper or a water cooler -- somewhere they feel safe. Focus group facilitation is a high end skill; most of us are socialized to be a little reticent about our beliefs in groups of strangers. But well-run focus groups can take on a life of their own: someone steps out with a controversial stance and, if this hits a chord with others, the whole group will run off down a vein that they might ordinarily keep private. The Democracy Corps groups seem to have been very effective at releasing the emotional underpinning of their Republican participants thoughts; the best political focus group research does just that -- and often the results seem a little shocking to the sort of people who commission such studies, especially liberals. Are our fellow citizens really nursing such stigmatized opinions? Yes.

Some of the findings about racial attitudes:

… while few explicitly talk about Obama in racial terms, the base supporters are very conscious of being white in a country with growing minorities. Their party is losing to a Democratic Party of big government whose goal is to expand programs that mainly benefit minorities. Race remains very much alive in the politics of the Republican Party.

… We expected that in this comfortable setting or in their private written notes, some would make a racial reference or racist slur when talking about the African American President. None did. They know that is deeply non-PC and are conscious about how they are perceived. But focusing on that misses how central is race to the worldview of Republican voters. They have an acute sense that they are white in a country that is becoming increasingly “minority,” and their party is getting whooped by a Democratic Party that uses big government programs that benefit mostly minorities, create dependency and a new electoral majority.

This word cloud captures the weights of the various descriptive words that Republicans used about the President Obama.

‘Liar’ is virtually the first association in all the groups – from Tea Party to moderates. That is a visceral separation and reason to not listen to him. But in the context of a re-elected president getting his way, it is an expression of deep frustration with the country and people who believe him. … They talk about him as though he is a manufactured object, created by great political operatives.

I can only read this to mean exactly what Republicans were unwilling to say: Obama uses their language well, the language of U.S. liberty and democracy, but he applies it to people who, in their guts, they consider non-people. And he can't be that smart all on his own. Yes -- that's garden-variety racism.

Awful reading as this report makes, there are glimpses of hope. Democracy Corps' "Moderate" Republicans come through as frightened of their own party. The women, in particular, want a much more realistic accommodation to U.S. realities than either Evangelicals or the TP folk.

And, afflicted with the lurch from Republican obstructionist crisis to the next manufactured crisis, it's hard to remember, but these Republican dead-enders are themselves a dwindling minority. President Obama only received about 39 percent of white people's votes in 2012 -- but 56 percent of his votes came from whites! The pool of non-white voters has become larger in national contests. But Obama was still elected with a lot of votes from white people. We aren't all terrified reactionaries. There are a substantial number of white people who are more and more ready to live in a country in which no ethnicity is an absolute majority and we all have to get along. White people can work to get us there more rapidly and peacefully, if we chose to.


Hattie said...

Their provincialism is causing them to get farther and farther behind.They are closing down and want to take us with them into their nowhere world.

Anonymous said...

Those who prioritize multiculturalism to a fault should be dissapointed when they get an Afghan surge,drone bombing worse than Bush did, a thankfully thwarted attack on Syria, a grand bargain away of SS and Medicare, etc etc.

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