Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Racist Elephant In The Room

About a week ago, Jon Chait wrote a provocative piece about racism and opposition to President Obama.  As I understood it, what Chait was saying is that while all racists oppose Obama, not all opposition to Obama is racist.  And when Democrats accuse all opposition towards Obama of being racist, it effectively shuts down political dialogue.  Chait has been one of the leading proclaimers of how broken the GOP is in terms of its unilateral and inflexible opposition to compromise, so he's not making a Utopian statement about "grand bargains".  He's simply saying that you can't always lay opposition to Obama at the feet of racism.

Some of the criticisms of the piece were fair, some were not.  I don't think, for instance, that we should forbid white writers from writing about race.  Chait's opinions are perhaps less lived in than Nahesi-Coates, but we don't forbid French political scientists from writing about America, so...

Anyway, I would be interested to hear what Chait would have to say about the latest utterances from Sagebrush Anarchist and Welfare Cheat Cliven Bundy.  Compared to the idiotic drivel spewed by the Duck Dynasty patriarch, Bundy's words are just foul and inexcusable.

They are also entirely predictable.

The fact that this dipshit who rides around with an American flag talking about how he doesn't believe in the legitimacy of the US government is somehow unaware of the ridiculous hypocrisy of his statements should surprise no one.

Bundy is a welfare cheat.  He has lived off stealing government owned resources.  That he cannot see the correlations between that and his racist spew is a perfect encapsulation of the lack of awareness of those who live within the Fox Bubble.  Here's an excerpt:

“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” the rancher began as he described a "government house" in Las Vegas where he recalled that all the people who sat outside seemed to "have nothing to do."
“And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he said, as quoted by the Times. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”

While Chait's writing about how conservatives may or may not see race was condemned for being tone deaf to the lived racism that African Americans survive, I think we can agree that a redneck talking about what he's learned "about the Negro" crosses every line possible.  Using slavery as a positive comparison?  Really?

And yet there is something more revealing in Bundy's statement than the racism.

Notice how he compares slavery favorably to living on government assistance.  Forget for the moment that Bundy has been living off government assistance for decades.  What sort of person thinks that slavery was comparable to getting food stamps and rent subsidies?

It's a person who has been exposed to the central lie of Ronald Reagan: "Government isn't the solution to your problem, government IS the problem."

That's a fantastic soundbite.  It's also incredibly careless with the truth.

Sometimes, government is absolutely the solution to your problem.  Any abuse of the Commons, any predatory practice that has the strong subjugating the weak, any need for pooled resources is an opportunity for the government to act.  As Lincoln said, "The proper role of government is to do for the people what the people cannot properly do for themselves."

Sometimes, this leads to a narrow preference for rules over common sense.  Frequently it does.  But the idea that the government of the United States - when it assists its citizens - is somehow analogous to slavery represents the extent to which Reagan's rhetoric (far more than his actions as President) have poisoned the mind of the American Right.

Bundy is an extreme example, to be sure.  But he is simply the logical output when you combine Fundamentalist Reaganism with Fox News Epistemic Closure and the legacy of American Racism.

We can be hopeful that this is a generational result of the Reagan years and therefore not permanent.  But Cliven Bundy's dad was probably in the John Birch Society.  This particular strain of the Paranoid Style has old and deep roots in America.

Luckily, Bundy's true colors have left his supporters scrambling, as once again the GOP has to distance itself from the racist, sexist, misanthropic elements that make up its base.

But just wait.  There is sure to be another Cliven Bundy right around the corner.

UPDATE:  And sure enough, various conservative media figures and politicians are trying to separate the racism from the political philosophy, without acknowledging that the two are inextricably linked.  Let me repeat: Cliven Bundy's racism is relevant because of what it says about his philosophy about government.  If you agree with the latter, you implicit endorse the former.

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