Part 4—A surprising response: At the new devolving Salon, we liberals are studying war.
More specifically, we’re being told that the other party is a gang of snarling racists—that this is the obvious explanation for the other tribe’s crazy beliefs. We're being trained in the joy of hate at this devolving site.
Race has played a giant, disastrous role in our brutal American history. That said, is the tea party a gang of racists? And how can a person tell?
Consider a recent post by Kevin Drum. Drum is one of our favorite writers. He’s a very intelligent person. And not only that—he’s sane!
The post appeared beneath this headline: “Conservatives' Biggest Fear: Being Called Racist.” From some of Drum’s more war-like readers, this produced the obvious, simple-minded comments about the way the truth hurts.
Drum was more thoughtful than that. In his post, he discussed a study of the way conservatives feel about being hit with the R-bomb.
“This is still something I struggle with,” Drum wrote. But uh-oh! In the passage below, he accepted a rather slippery academic construct—the concept of “racial resentment.” He also referred to his own previous writings about the “racial obsessions” displayed by Fox and “the self-described racial attitudes of tea partiers:”
DRUM (10/3/13): [T]his is still something I struggle with. It's obvious that race infuses a tremendous amount of American discourse. It affects our politics, our culture, and our history. Racial resentment is at the core of many common attitudes toward social welfare programs; our levels of taxation; and the current occupant of the White House. There's no way to write honestly about politics in America without acknowledging all this on a regular basis.To which “self-described racial attitudes of tea partiers” was Drum referring? When we clicked one of his links, we were taken back to this intriguing post from September 2011.
At the same time, it's also obvious that, in many ways, a liberal focus on race and racism is just flatly counterproductive. When I write about, say, the racial obsessions displayed by Fox News (or Drudge or Rush Limbaugh), it's little more than a plain recitation of obvious facts, and liberals applaud. Ditto for posts about the self-described racial attitudes of tea partiers. But conservatives see it as an attack. And why wouldn't they? I'm basically saying that these outlets are engaged in various levels of race-mongering, and by implication, that anyone who listens to them is condoning racism. That's such a uniquely toxic accusation that it makes any real conversation hopeless...
In real time, and then again last week, we found much of that post frustrating, disappointing, unhelpful.
In the way it has been diagnosed and defined, we tend to think the academic concept of “racial resentment” is an embarrassing con. Drum uncritically accepted the concept in that post, along with the way it has been diagnosed.
Is the tea party full of racial resentment? Consider the way we liberals, including the sanest among us, diagnose the racial attitudes of those in the other tribe:
In his post from 2011, Drum referred to a new Brookings/PRRI survey of attitudes and reactions toward a number of topics. He listed five questions respondents had been asked. This was the first question he listed:
“Is discrimination against whites now as big a problem as discrimination against minority groups?”
In the survey, 63 percent of tea party members answered that question by saying yes.
Four other questions were asked and answered. Drum wasn’t discussing that one question alone, although he featured that question by posting a chart which showed the answers various groups had given.
Sixty-three percent of tea party members said that discrimination about whites is now as big a problem as discrimination against minority members! This is what Drum wrote about the tea party's answers in general:
DRUM (9/7/11): This survey probably won't change any minds, and I happen to think the term "racist" conceals more than it explains anyway. Still, what this survey does show is that tea partiers clearly harbor a pretty strong set of racial resentments. That doesn't make them all racists, but it is a simple descriptive fact, and it's something that's perfectly kosher to discuss openly as it relates to public policy.At Salon, surveys like this are taken to show that the tea party is a gang of racists. To Drum, the survey showed that “tea partiers clearly harbor a pretty strong set of racial resentments.”
Drum said that “doesn't make them all racists, but it is a simple descriptive fact” that they harbor that racial resentment.
Plainly, responses to that question don’t show that all tea partiers are racist. After all, 37 percent of the tea party members gave the “correct” answer.
That said, do those responses show that any such people are racist? Do those responses mean that anyone harbors racial resentment? We would be inclined to say no. Here’s why:
For starters, we ourselves wouldn’t answer that question if we took that survey. We think the question is hopelessly vague, as is true of many questions on surveys of this type.
We don’t know why someone would answer that question by saying yes. But we wouldn’t answer the question at all, absent a more precise description of the type of discrimination the survey had in mind.
We wouldn’t answer that question at all. But then, we wouldn’t be inclined to drop R-bombs on tea party people who answered that question yes. Our reason?
When we look at Drum’s chart, we note a surprising fact:
It wasn't just tea party members who answered that question yes. Thirty percent of Hispanics answered that question the same darn way; 29 percent of blacks said the same thing.
These people all said that discrimination against whites is now as bad as discrimination against minority groups. For whatever reason, they answered that question the same way those tea party members did.
Why did black respondents answer that way? We have no idea. We don’t know what they had in mind, and the survey didn’t seem to record any explanations. But if 30 percent of blacks and Hispanics thought the answer to that question was yes, why would we say that tea party people who give the same answer must be racist, or must be harboring something called racial resentment?
In truth, many people answered that question the way the tea party people did. Overall, 51 percent of white respondents gave the answer we know to be vile. So did 36 percent of Democrats and 45 percent of independents.
Also, 29 percent of blacks! They answered that question the same darn way the bulk of the tea party did!
Why did people give that answer? We can’t tell you that; we wish the survey had asked. Just a guess—if asked, some people might have referred to various “affirmative action” practices in college admission and hiring.
Other respondents may have said something else. You really don't know until you ask. But as our liberal culture devolves, we rarely bother doing that. Instead, we form sweeping, negative characterizations of The Others, ten million at a time.
There is one question we feel we can answer. Why do people like Walsh and O’Hehir scatter so many R-bombs around? Simple—because such people are haters! Down through the annals of time, the haters have always found ways to hate.
Walsh and O’Hehir have been studying war. They’ve been urging young liberals to follow them down. We think that’s a lousy idea.
So did Dr. King.
Tomorrow: Dr. King—and Joan Baez. We swear!