September 23, 2009

I always find myself uttering low mordant chuckles whenever Karl Rove comes on the teevee (always Fox) to complain about how mean and nasty those Democrats are.

And as you would expect, he is appalled that not just Jimmy Carter but Bill Clinton as well happen to believe that there is a powerful racial element coursing through the more venomous opposition to President Obama's efforts to obtain health-care reform. Or so he told Sean Hannity last night:

Rove: Look his [Clinton's] comment was like Jimmy Carter -- irrational and unbelievably partisan. This is the kind of stuff that he said routinely during the 1990s about his political opponents, denigrating them personally, questioning their motivations.

Yes, that was coming from the mouth of Karl Rove. And not even a whisper of irony.

Rove: Why can't he just accept the fact that people disagree with President Obama's health care plan as they disagreed with his health care plan, because they represent a spirit of liberalism and a government control and government domination of a very personal decision that ought to be left between a doctor and his patient as to the decision for our health.

Problem is, there is in fact data out there that strongly suggests there's a powerful connection between opposition to health-care reform and voters with racist attitudes about Obama. In other words, that Carter and Clinton are right, and Karl Rove and the entire Fox network are wrong.

Steven Livingston at the Washington Post has more:

As evidence of the link between health care and racial attitudes, we analyzed survey data gathered in late 2008. The survey asked people whether they favored a government run health insurance plan, a system like we have now, or something in between. It also asked four questions about how people feel about blacks.

Taken together the four items form a measure of what scholars call racial resentment. We find an extraordinarily strong correlation between racial resentment of blacks and opposition to health care reform.

Among whites with above average racial resentment, only 19 percent favored fundamental health care reforms and 57 percent favored the present system. Among those who have below average racial resentment, more than twice as many (45 percent) favored government run health care and less than half as many (25 percent) favored the status quo.

No such relationship between racial attitudes and opinions on health care existed in the mid-1990s during the Clinton effort.

It would be silly to assert that all, or even most, opposition to President Obama, including his plans for health care reform, is motivated by the color of his skin. But our research suggests that a key to understanding people's feelings about partisan politics runs far deeper than the mere pros and cons of actual policy proposals. It is also about a collision of worldviews.

This is correlative, of course; the data doesn't indicate a cause-effect relationship. Rather, as Levingston explains, both arise out of a right-wing authoritarian worldview.

Moreover, this is what people are talking about when they say that "the Republican Party is the home of racists." They're not arguing that every Republican is a racist; but the vast majority of actual racists who most of us know in our personal lives are in fact Republicans. There are always exceptions, of course, but so few of them that they actually prove the rule.

The Republican Right likes to engage in a kind of logical fallacy when it's confronted with this: It argues that these kinds of observations conflate all members of a subgroup (in this case, racists) with the larger group in which it subsists (that is, Republicans). A simple Venn diagram might clear it up for them, but considering their strained relationship with logic, it probably would do no good.

Thus, drawing attention to right-wing extremists for law-enforcement purposes, as the Department of Homeland Security did, is transformed into an attempt to categorize ordinary conservatives as terrorist threats. Or pointing out that some teabaggers engage in threatening brownshirt-type behavior means you're smearing all teabaggers as Nazis. Or pointing out that there is a nasty racial tone to the really vitriolic protests against health care means you're trying to paint the opposition to health care as racist.

All of which means, of course, that you can never draw attention to racism or extremism in our mainstream discourse -- at least when it comes from the right -- because doing so means you're painting all those innocent conservatives who can't find the wherewithal to drive out the racist elements from their movement as racists too.

Cry me a freaking river. You lie down with dogs, you get fleas. Like Karl Rove.

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