Sunday, September 20, 2009

Repudiate The Racists, And Mean It, the conservative web site, circulates a daily e-mail offering links to its columnists and other resources. This morning's edition includes the picture at left (advertising something called the "National Republican Trust PAC") as well as a column by mainstream conservative Steve Chapman, who writes:
Obama may be a "post-racial" figure, but there is still a significant slice of the electorate that has never gotten past his skin color.

For anyone who regards blacks as irredeemably alien or inferior, Obama is a nightmare, not just because he is black but because he so thoroughly confounds racist stereotypes.

But that's a minor factor, not a decisive one. It is Obama's party and policies that are the real source of the opposition.
This strikes me as an important concession that there's a virtually unprecedented and potentially dangerous factor in the national political mix as the result of Obama's election that has nothing to do with his policies. Whether the racist fringe is "significant," "minor," or "not...decisive" (all different things; Chapman seems a bit conflicted) begs the question of whether conservatives and Republicans must become vigilant about repudiating rhetoric and tactics designed to attract and perhaps even inflame racists.

It's a difficult problem for any candidate. Political coalitions and blocs of voters are assembled across a broad spectrum. A Republican candidate knows that she gets votes from pro-choice fiscal conservatives and gun show attendees with Confederate flags and Birther bumper stickers on their pickups. The Democrat gets votes from world-government lefties and suburban moderates. Neither candidate wants to offend the fringe. The Townhall e-mail itself reflects the tension, presenting Chapman's column as well as a picture of Obama that is obviously intended to make him look like Nation of Islam security guard.

Let's be perfectly clear about this stuff. Appeals to the racist fringe are unacceptable. The racist fringe is unacceptable. Responsible Republicans should condemn it, and candidates should say they don't want their votes. You know who did it in 1962? Richard Nixon, when he spurned the Birchers. It helped him lose the California governor's election that year. But it couldn't be helped. It needed to be done. As a matter of fact, the propriety of the move notwithstanding, it prepared the GOP for the mainstream. It's time to get out the Nixon playbook again.


MK said...

Very interesting! Whether people reach for the Nixon playbook – and RN did the right thing in 1962 – depends on (1) how they choose to use or risk their capital and (2) to which audience they are playing. That audience has several components but even within one party, is somewhat different than it was in RN’s day, when his party had liberal, moderate, and conservative wings.

There certainly is a lot for historians to digest here. Did you look at the comments under the Chapman essay to which you linked? On the same day that former Bush speechwriter Matt Latimer wrote in a very interesting piece in The Washington Post that “Republicans need to lead with the power of their ideas, not slim percentages or forced consensus. Strong argument and debate are the only way to a long-term governing majority,” several Townhall posters blasted Chapman for not being a real conservative and not saying the “right” thing. A few said his essay belonged at HuffingtonPost, not at Townhall. There was near unanimity among the posters that opposition to the President has nothing at all to do with racism. Only a handful said otherwise.

A reader named Lilly listed comments that sounded racist that she had read over the last few weeks or months at Townhall, noting that they did nothing to help the party. (Her comment --#26 -- is at 11:31 a.m., 09/20/09). The reaction by other commenters? They insulted her. Only one pointed out that the others reached for insults instead of considering and answering her points.

On the other hand, see the thoughtful observations about race, culture, and culture shock at a blog someone recently described as drawing ex-military (Colonel types):

The Internet certainly provides fascinating glimpses into how people think, how they interact, and how they handle dissent. I once observed that some of that has to do with the extent to which their core sense of self depends on identity with a party or ideology or set of values. You can see that on the right and on the left. For some, political identity seems so woven into the fabric of their beings that to acknowledge that there are other valid ways to look at complex issues might threaten their very sense of self. For other people, it’s the sum of their cherished relationships with other humans (and for some, also with God) and their often humbling and enlightening life experiences that defines them, more so than membership in a political group.

I think there can be quite a gulf between the two types of people. The comforting conformity and fist pounding sense of we’re right, we’re here to save America that the first group may cherish may seem threatened by the willingness of some in the other group to reconsider their positions or change along the way. On the other hand, it’s nearly impossible to pound or browbeat a self-actualized person into submission through insults or what Latimer calls “forced consensus.” He or she will simply shrug and say, you go your way, I’ll go mine. Breakthroughs can be hard to achieve because one personality type’s self-identified strengths can seem to the other like weaknesses. Political operatives have the challenge of appealing to the banded people and the march-to-the-beat-of-your-own-drummer types – not an easy task! I'm pretty sure a Sister Souljah moment would play well with many members of the second group. I don't know about the first, however.

Fr. John said...

Magnificently said. In the current atmosphere, a Sister Souljah move against the far right would splinter the party. Even in RN's time the consensus was that a Republican couldn't win without the right, hence Buchanan's White House portfolio and all the memos you know so well! Someone may need to do it anyway. Someone, or some thing. I assume the boil will be lanced no later than '12 when Gov. Palin runs and receives 42% of the vote and the GOP begins to think about how it might win a Presidential election again.

Your comments about political temperament are fascinating as well. Presumably most people go into the business, as you suggest, to defend or promote codes, platforms, and ideologies. Many, I'm sure, are loyalists (#6) on the Enneagram scale:

"Sixes are the most anxious type, and the most out of touch with their own sense of inner knowing and confidence. Unlike Fives, Sixes have trouble trusting their own minds, so they are constantly looking outside themselves for something to make them feel sure of themselves. They might turn to philosophies, beliefs, relationships, jobs, savings, authorities, or any combination of the above. But no matter how many security structures they create, Sixes still feel doubtful and anxious. They may even begin to doubt the very people and beliefs that they have turned to for reassurance. Sixes may also respond to their anxiety by impulsively confronting it— defying their fear in the effort to be free of it."

If I'm a loyalist (an aspect of my own personality that may have loomed larger when I was younger) and I read something on a blog with which I disagree, an angry or ad hominem attack would probably come naturally, as they have to your once-more-zealous correspondent. Is such behavior a function of the times or the basic political temperament? How does one ever win without tearing down or even demonizing the other (i.e., opponent)?

Maybe we're just in a hyper-political age during which more people than usual put on the breastplate of noisy self-righteousness. Maybe when times are better and more people are again blissfully apathetic, our politics will again be more civil.

MK said...

Fascinating! I Googled Enneagram and marked a few items to read later when I have time. Looking at personality types really interests me – fits in with the historian thing – but I know it mostly through Myers-Briggs Type Indicators.

You ask an important question, how does one win without tearing down the opponent? Getting the answer right is challenging, given the fact that one poll this summer showed that Independents now make up a whopping 41% of the electorate. Winning them over may take a different appeal than winning over either party’s base. (In an interview at the beginning of September, Former First Lady Laura Bush expressed disappointment in political polarization and offered her take on why it occurs.) As a writer at CNN observed, “Independents are nonideological problem-solvers. They are sick of Washington's harsh and cynical hyper-partisanship, but they do not have a split-the-difference approach to politics. Independent voters are decidedly closer to Republicans when it comes to economic issues and closer to Democrats when it comes to social issues.”

Michael Medved observed last week that moderates dislike seeing extreme rhetoric used about the President. Yet it is that type of red meat that often is used to fire up the base (as Pat Buchanan knew very well while serving as a speechwriter in the Nixon White House). It really is a challenge, all the more so now that there are so many political Independents among the electorate.

As to the Internet, it offers interesting glimpses into how the personality types interact. There are areas where people simply take a stance and refuse to budge. Stephen Colbert may be on to something when he says on his comedy show, “facts may change but my opinions never do.” Case in point in an area about which I know a lot.

The Washington Times ran an article last week with the breathless headline, “W.H. Collects Web Users’ Data Without Notice.” The article turned out to describe the National Archives’ and White House’s efforts to preserve under the Presidential Records Act the administration’s social media interactions such as the Facebook page of the White House. Posters under the article fulminated about invasions of privacy and totalitarian government. References to the KGB and the USSR were many.

Yet posting comments on the White House Facebook page is like having a letter to the editor published in a newspaper. It is public and collectible by anyone who likes, PRA or no PRA. (Even if they didn’t fall under the PRA, you or anyone else could print out the White House’s Facebook pages periodically and send the compilation to NARA as a donated papers collection to be placed in the Presidential Library!) One poster tried to lessen the anxiety level by saying this simply was the electronic equivalent of creating a clippings file or vertical file, something found in many archival repositories over the decades. The poster explained that the headline was misleading – what was described was the modern day equivalent of “W.H. Employs Clipping Service to Cut Out and Preserve Selected Articles From Nation’s Newspapers Without Notice.” And that even letters to Presidents are released in large part by Presidential Libraries. Not so scary, right?

But another poster countered that the person explaining the archival precedents had to be a paid Obama plant and the posters continued to wring their hands over the loss of freedom and our democratic ways. Oddly enough, that anxiety filled place where brave Americans stand up against oppressors with evil intent just seemed to be a more comfortable place to be than one where one stops and thinks, oh, ok, it’s just like saving letters to the editor was in the old days!

MK said...

I'm not familiar with Townhall. My late sister used to look in on it years ago during the Clinton administration but I've never spent any time on the site. The comment at 11:31 on 9/20 by Lilly was deleted sometime after Sunday. Her citation of comments she had culled from Townhall which she felt were racist no longer exists, the evidence she compiled has been obliterated.

Fr. John said...

Thank you for noting that about Lilly's comment. That's actually chilling.