RACEWATCH/We’d have to say Kevin Drum fumbled: In our view, Kevin Drum fumbled in several ways in this recent post. His post concerned the latest survey about the tea party and race.

As you know, we like Kevin Drum’s work a lot. But we think he fumbled in the post which carries this headline: “Racial Resentment and the Tea Party.”

Drum says he doesn’t want to talk about “racism.” That said, is the tea party full of “racial resentment,” one of the three hundred substitute terms we liberals have now devised? Early on, Drum lists responses from tea party folk concerning five of the survey’s questions. One example:

“63% [of tea party followers] believe that discrimination against whites is as big a problem as discrimination against minority groups.”

From that, and from four other responses, we’re invited to judge thusly:
DRUM (9/7/11): [T]here's been a wee bit of discussion lately about whether tea partiers are a bunch of stone racists hiding behind the Constitution, or whether that's just another offensive "race card" canard dreamed up by the usual suspects on the left. 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.
The survey “doesn't make them all racists,” Drum says, displaying the kind of generosity in which we liberals now specialize. (Presumably, the 37 percent who answered that question the “right” way can be excluded from that designation.) But can the answers to those questions make anyone a racist? Can they show that anyone is harboring something called “racial resentment?”

Presumably, some people are harboring something like “racial resentment.” But how well can we judge such things from the answers to those survey questions?

Uh-oh! As you can see from a chart which Drum posts, 29 percent of blacks also “believe that discrimination against whites is as big a problem as discrimination against minority groups.” And so do 30 percent of Hispanics! We don’t know why those people answered that question that way; we wouldn’t have answered the question at all (too fuzzy—see below). But here’s our question: If thirty percent of blacks and Hispanics answered that question that way, why does that same answer signal “racial resentment” when a tea party member provides it?

Can we talk? Modern “liberals” simply love to call the other tribe racist. We’ve even come up with all kinds of whistles—nuanced phrases which we employ to mean the same darn thing. Some people are racist, of course—and some people do have something like “racial resentment.” But our tribe has very low standards concerning surveys which are taken to measure these traits.

Part of the problem is the way we lump all The Others together; inevitably, Drum does that in his post, even as he generously says that he doesn’t want to. A second part of the problem is the oafish inability of academic elites to construct meaningful surveys.

Consider the question which Drum has featured—the question concerning “discrimination against whites.” Apparently, the survey used the oafish phrase “reverse discrimination” in its actual question, although we couldn’t find the precise wording of the various questions in a quick glance at the survey’s site. At any rate, can we not see that the question, as presented, is baldly ambiguous? Here’s the question, as Drum paraphrased it, complete with two possible meanings:
“Do you believe that discrimination against whites is as big a problem as discrimination against minority groups?”

First possible meaning: Do you believe that whites get discriminated against as frequently as minorities do?
Second possible meaning: Do you believe that discrimination against whites is just as wrong as discrimination against minorities?
Did some people respond to that second meaning? Like the folk who conducted the survey, we have no idea.

For ourselves, we wouldn’t answer a survey question like that; it’s just too full of air. If someone asked you that question in normal conversation—and no one ever would—would you go ahead and answer, or would you ask them to explain what they meant in a bit more detail? There are all kinds of ways in which people can be “discriminated against;” what kinds of discrimination do we have in mind? Are we talking about college admissions? Bank loans? Are we talking about personal interactions? Are we talking about the way our brutal American history has tilted the field for and against many children right from the day of their birth?

We have no idea why 30 percent of blacks and Hispanics answered that question the way they did. But the question is so poorly worded it doesn’t really get us anywhere.

Are there racists in the tea party movement? Are there people who “harbor a pretty strong set of racial resentments?” Presumably, yes and yes. But “liberals” love to play this card, in the way Drum describes in his post. The bad faith surrounding our work on this topic stinks to the end of the earth.

It also serves the plutocrats. Tribal hatred helps them keep control. People! Divide and conquer! When we throw our R-bombs around, are we doing the Koch brothers’ work?


  1. First things first - what is the definition of racism?



    noun \ˈrā-ˌsi-zəm also -ˌshi-\
    Definition of RACISM

    1: a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race

    2: racial prejudice or discrimination


    Nowadays "racism" seems to include a lot of things that don't fit the above definition.

  2. When Chris Matthews, who is constantly accusing the Tea Party of being racist, says that putting a Hispanic on the ticket as Vice Presidential candidate would assure obtaining the majority of the Hispanic vote, why is he not being racist himself? He assumes that Hispanic people will vote for a president merely because that person has a Hispanic VP, which assumes that Hispanics are really voting for supremely stupid reasons.

    Would an Anglo person vote for a president merely because he has an Anglo VP?

  3. Bob,

    A regular reader and fan.

    I think the truth about the role of race in politics likes somewhere between liberals beating it to death and finding a racist in every conservative, and your insistence on somehow side-stepping it.

    Not for nothing was the Southern Strategy so successful, not just with southern whites but also with white working-class ethnics up north. Not for nothing did Lee Atwater speak of the evolution of code words that evoke race without using slurs. Not for nothing did LBJ say his signing of the civil rights legislation would cost the Democrats the south for generations.

    To not acknowledge the role of race, often subliminal, in our politics --- and in how it is subtly used to undermine liberal policy --- is simply to not pay attention. Especially when conservative strategists such as the late Atwater and Pat Buchanan have openly copped to it.

    Personally, I assiduously avoid name-calling in debates I have with friends. And I share your distaste for tribalism, and what you aptly call "the tribal thrill."

    But I cannot tell you how many times I have had debates and discussions with my conservative friends in which it is they, not I, who bring the conversation around to race, and rather quickly. Usually in the form of, and these are quotes: "I don't want to give government benefits to homeys who don't want to work"; "I know that a white southerner like Bill Clinton is a citizen, but I have questions about someone exotic like Obama"; "Why should I pay for healthcare for some drunk dude hanging around on the corner?"; "If ghetto women want to be brood mares, let them be brood mares, but I'm not paying for it;" etc. And this is without my injecting race into the discussion at all.

    You are right: Progressives don't benefit from calling the other side racist, and from indulging in tribal thrills. But I don't see how we can avoid the elephant in the room either.

  4. When our six and seven figured "journalists" throw around the R-bombs they are most certainly doing the Koch brothers' and other plutarchs' work. Isn't that what they're pulling down the big bucks to do?

  5. The plutocrats have divided us via the financialization of our economy, globalization, trade agreements like NAFTA (which has managed to immiserate the working classes of all three countries), the smashing of unions and subsequent atomization of the work force, stagnant and declining wages, incessant and well-funded corporate propaganda, and just an overall culture of fear and defeat.

    Really, people, on the list of factors that divide and conquer, "seven-figured journalists who throw around the R-bomb" rank, like 199. You're focusing on the sideshow, not the main event.

    Now, Bob will say: Chris Matthews and Maureen Dowd got George Bush elected. They helped, for sure. But so did liberal disengagement that resulted from NAFTA, welfare "reform", Clintonian triangulation, and financial deregulation, which had more to do with the crash of 08 than anything W did. A small but decisive % of that disengaged, dispirited class of liberals found solace in Ralph Nader.

    That dissatisfaction had more to do with Gore's defeat than anything Chris or Maureen did or said, though they most certainly played their craven and despicable roles.

  6. I agree with Geoff-- I voted for Nader in 2000, not because I bought into anything negative about Gore (whom I expected to win) but because I felt the country needed a new direction that neither of the major parties would provide.

    I was definitely disaffected by many of Clinton's policies, and voted against him in 1996. I didn't know if a Gore administration would be a continuation of the policy approaches I saw as misguided at best, but I wasn't willing to contribute my vote to it if that's the way things turned out. Bush carried my state handily in any case, so my protest vote had no bearing on the outcome.

  7. I find it a tad hard to believe that any Nader voter didn't buy into the press account of Gore at least a wee bit. Come on, now. Hell, Nader's team itself was capitalizing on the press' portrait, and saying that there's no difference between Bush and Gore.

    If the public had even a half decent idea who Bush and Gore were, there's no way anyone could have thought they were anything like one another.

  8. Bingo, Matt.

    I am glad BKT can find solace in the fact that Bush carried his state, so his "protest vote" was meaningless. (And isn't it quite a thing to which to aspire -- to cast a meaningless vote?) His Nader-voting friends in Florida and New Hampshire can't quite say the same thing, can they?

    But if he still can't tell the difference between Bush and Gore, he should ask himself what kind of shape the country was in when Clinton took office and when he left, then what kind of shape it was in when Bush took office and when he left.

    The Bush presidency was an unmitigated disaster, domestically and internationally, and Nader and the people he duped with his "Tweedledum/Tweedledee" were just enough in numbers to make it happen.

  9. Oh, no, the Nader stuff...

    As someone who voted for Gore in 2000 and Nader in 2008 I can tell you that, despite Ralph's campaigning on "not a dime's bit of difference," plenty of folks understood that "dime's worth" is very subjective. They just saw that Gore was coming from inside the system and they found the corruption inherent in that unacceptable.

    As Bob has been sensitive enough to say, Nader voters have the perfect right to vote for their preferred candidiate, just like you have a perfect right to express your belief that it's a wrong decision.

    Regarding racism, I'd re-emphasize that all this "racist-hunting" so frequently takes the place of actually examining the Tea Party's ideas, which are generally whack. So not only do we look like a-holes by calling people racist, we miss the opportunity to make substantive arguments against bad ideas.

  10. I've never criticized Nader for running, and I've never criticized anyone for voting for him. I'm a great admirer of Nader. He came to my one-man comedy show in 1994 (Material World), which I considered an honor.

    My site has been about the press corps, which is why I've focused on their role in Campaign 2000 (as opposed to any other possible factors). That said, whatever one may judge the merits of Gore v. Nader to be, I take it as obvious that Gore would have gone to the White Houe if the MSM hadn't conducted their balatantly undisguised war.

  11. To Geoff:

    Obviously, race is everywhere. I've tried to explain one part of my frustration with liberal race-baiting: The liberal world shows very little interest in actual race-related issues.

    Example: For years, I've tried to get liberals to talk about low-income schools. Plainly, it just can't be done. (This was a large part of the liberal agenda in an earlier era.)

    I assume that race is involved in partisan politics in various ways. But when we gin up low-IQ surveys, then invent silly interpretations of what their results are supposed to mean, it seems to me that we're being disrespectful of the brutal role race has played in American life.

    To my ear, a lot of bad faith is involved. Beyond that, I just don't think it's productive.

  12. "Obviously, race is everywhere."

    Yes, but there are people who view race as a political tool, and there are people who view it as a legitimate basis on which to divvy out rights and opportunities in this country.

    Personally, I wish that liberals would get back to being serious about promoting social justice in general, rather than resting on their laurels as the lesser evil. I don't appreciate their bad faith.

    However, I take a much dimmer view of the bad faith from conservatives who continue to work to ostracize and scapegoat racial minorities as a means mollifying their constituents. The dimmest view of all is reserved for those constituents that resonate on these frequencies.

    Even the supposed ambiguity of the two meanings reminds me of Anatole France in the quote:

    "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread."

    In principle, discrimination against any person is equally unjust. Then, there is that history of ours, which continues to ensure that specific groups are both more likely to experience discrimination and more vulnerable when they are discriminated against.

  13. IMO, neoliberals are happy to talk about race b/c it helps them avoid talking about class. If you can depict the opposition as racist, then you can dismiss any genuine concerns they might have. The Shirley Sherrod episode springs to mind, where both sides avoided like the plague the actual conclusion to her speech, that it wasn't about black and white but about the haves vs. have nots. That poor whites and poor blacks might want to understand they're fighting the same predatory forces.

    I always think of this scene from Sayles' brilliant Matewan:


    And while Ron Paul isn't going to address the class war, the liberal cries of racism against him/his supporters are a concerted attempt to drown out his damned good ideas on an number of issues.

  14. Bob,

    Amazing! Comments and respectful ones at that.

    @japan - thanks for reminding me about Matewan. The union organizer giving the speech reminds us that divide and conquer can only work to distract us from the underlying power of transcending tribalisms of all kinds.

    Working together, listening setting aside our mental scripts, especially those thumping thrills that we like running down our legs... Yes, we liberals , just like our tribal enemies, like to hear how superior we are to them 'rascists', and we pay Rachel and Chris to give us those thrills. But this is just political porn.

    Of course, this notion of union, a theme sounded by MLK during his ministry, leads, like universal acid, To accept the humanity of the masters of the commanding heights as well; for me the eye of that particular needle is the most difficult to thread. That is why i look for the systemic evil which has them trapped in golden handcuffs.

    As the union organizer says outright we don't want to give the ruling class the means to use violence against us - aka the political system trapped in the suffocating embrace of their campaign contributions. That money flows like electricity down our legs. Just say no?


  15. Bob, here's my problem with Nader voters. Ten years of horrible history later, they can't admit they were duped.

    Thank you very much for exposing the role of the press in fooling large masses of people, but at the same time, the real problem might be that we, the most highly educated people in the history of the planet, are so easily duped.

    Good grief, Nader ran on the Green Party ticket in that party's desperate attempt to reach the five percent threshhold for federal funds, and they didn't care where those votes came from in the closest presidential election in history.

    And the irony of this, of course, is by doing so, they not only accepted cash contributions from longtime Republican operatives to campaign in swing states, they effectively blocked the election of the greenest candidate for president in this nation's history, with the possible exception of Theodore Roosevelt.

  16. There are large parts of the Democratic establishment(politicians, funders, media and activists) that want the political discussion to revolve around anything but the shitty results of the neoliberal economic policies they support.