(I hesitated to post this, but I felt like I had to write it out to make sure I could make the argument, and once it was written, I realized I did want to share it. I don’t mean in any way to suggest that all conservatives are guilty of what I describe, but I hear elements of it from people who I don’t consider to be bigots, and I worry that they’re unaware of the signals they send by giving voice to wrong ideas that typically ride shotgun with racist ideas.)
Posting about Bill O’Reilly is not something I’d ordinarily do, as I’m not into the whole outrage thing. But last night, during election coverage, he said something so wrong and so blatantly racist that it was guaranteed to make the social media rounds.
The clip is as bad as people say. What makes it worth posting about isn’t that he says something outrageous, it’s that a) he doesn’t seem to realize he’s saying something outrageous, and b)what he’s saying marries three threads of conservative anti-Obama logic that I’ve been hearing a lot, and he marries them as succinctly as possible.
Here are those threads.
1. People who support the President are takers, moochers, and leeches. We heard it in Romney’s “47%” tape. I see it from Facebook friends, who caricature liberals as free-spending, do-nothing children, people incapable of honest work or of taking responsibility for themselves. I’ve been lax about responding because I frankly don’t feel like spending my entire life arguing on Facebook with people who seem incapable of taking an actual liberal argument at face value and instead fall back on this straw man liberal position: “I want stuff.” It’s horse shit. I don’t know a single liberal who believes the purpose of government is to get them a goodie bag. The counterpart of this would be the caricature of conservatives as inherently kneejerk, selfish people whose entire political belief system is driven by their Scrooge-like hoarding of every penny they can. But that would be unfair. It’s simply not how principled conservatives think, at least not the ones I know.
2. Non-white, non-male voters are political prizes to be won, and can be won en masse by appealing to them on the single topic they care about. The pursuit of support from entire demographic categories of the American public leads a party to talk about them, think about them, and communicate at them as an undifferentiated mass. It reinforces suspicions (for good reason) that the Republican party does not think of them the same way they think of white men, as citizens who might actually be part of the conversation, part of the leadership, and part of an active coalition. Yes, any member of a given demographic group will be more likely to share some concerns relevant to their group (the conservative pursuit of Hispanic votes based on Catholic social positions, Jewish voters and Israel play on this likelihood), but that’s not a given for any individual, and the obviousness with which their votes are courted along these lines is patronizing. Republicans are selling to these customers, rather than considering these citizens as part of their constituency.
It’s no less patronizing when liberals do it, but most liberals don’t. The Democratic party isn’t getting more votes from gay voters, female voters, Hispanic voters, and black voters just because of this sort of pandering. They get more of these votes because gay, female, Hispanic, and black citizens are part of every conversation. Liberals don’t have to bend over backwards to translate their positions into focus group tested messages, because liberals are increasingly gay, female, Hispanic, and black. That makes a world of difference. It’s not a “them” position, it’s a “we” position. When you govern as a we, your unspoken motivation is, “We need to act on behalf of our fellow citizens. An attack on their rights is an attack on our rights.” When you govern to capture votes of the “them,” you’re saying “We need to get them to believe us.” And they don’t.
3. There’s an idea that with demographic change, we’re weakening the fundamental values of our nation. There is an implicitly white supremacist kernel in this position. A lot of conservatives have been angered that the Tea Party and other anti-Obama activists are frequently labeled as racists. And surely, they’re not all racists. But listen to O’Reilly here. What he’s saying is something that comes up a lot, but almost never this succinctly. In response to the question, “How did we get here?” (i.e., “How is it possible that President Obama is getting re-elected?”), Bill O’Reilly says: “It’s not a traditional America anymore.”
STEP ONE of his answer was to portray an America under attack. This is very consistent with the Tea Party, and I believe it matches to what Jill Lepore found while investigating the Tea Party.
STEP TWO, he married it to the first thread. The straw man liberal who wants things from the government: “They want things. Who’s going to give them things?”
STEP THREE, he notes that twenty years ago, President Obama could never have defeated an “establishment candidate.” In his next breath, he interchanges the political establishment with the racial establishment. “The white establishment is now the minority.”
STEP FOUR, all three threads come together. Take this next block as a whole: “They want stuff. You’re going to see a tremendous Hispanic vote for President Obama. Overwhelming black vote for President Obama. And women will probably break President Obama’s way. People feel that they are entitled to things, and which candidate between the two is going to give them things?”
This is the worldview of unexamined white privilege, a worldview that misunderstands the nature of contemporary liberalism and cannot understand that their political opposition are as complete in their humanity and intelligence as their conservative fellow citizens. If the Republican party has a future as anything other than a declining old white party, it must break out of this worldview.