Racism is not an inherent trait of conservative philosophy. If anything, the conservatives I know would argue that any kind of discrimination — no matter what its basis, and whether by law or by deed — goes against the principles of free markets, because it has the tendency to remove both consumers and producers from the market, reducing the benefit that everyone in that market may gain from having those people as full participants. This is why “all conservatives are racist,” like “all liberals hate America” and other blanket statements, shouldn’t really be made by anyone.
However, there is a difference between a philosophy and how it’s put into action, and while it’s certainly true that not all conservatives are racist, it is true that there are facets of modern-day American conservatism that are problematic when it comes to race relations. I won’t exhaust the laundry list of difficulties going back decades, but it is true that, in addition to the overt racism of some conservative Republicans (remember Don Yelton, anyone?), racist thought does pervade some prominent strains of modern Republican/conservative debate, from the enduring “welfare queen” imagery of the Reagan years to the persistence of the “birther” fanatics.
How this plays out in the private sphere of cable news and newspaper columns is its own hornet’s nest, but for Republicans working in public office, this poses a very difficult problem, because Democrats’ focus on social justice means that racists do tend to vote Republican. (Certainly not all of them, to be sure.) Anyone who’s spent more than half an hour looking at YouTube comments knows that racism is still very much alive in America, and if you’re more interested in remaining in power than you are in doing good for the people you’re supposed to serve — something too many American politicians of all stripes are guilty of doing these days — then you certainly don’t want to alienate any block of voters that’s predisposed to vote for you.
Even in the reddest of red states, overt racism is going to turn off too many moderates to be a winning strategy, but there are those Republicans who try to have it both ways. Far too many Republicans have used the birther movement as a way of placating the racist elements in their voting base, because it plays directly into the whole “President Obama isn’t a real American” rhetoric that underlies not just ad hominem against Obama, but all African-Americans and everyone else whose skin “isn’t white enough.” In the most recent presidential campaign, Mitt Romney, while stating repeatedly that he believed Obama was born in the United States, made a point of repeatedly using the word “foreign” to describe other facets of Obama. I find it hard to believe that this was not a deliberate strategy by the Romney camp to throw some sugarcubes the birthers’ way, to give them a sly wink while still denying their claims outright, and turning “foreign” into a buzzword. It’s the same thing conservatives are doing with the word “Benghazi” now, and it’s something relatively easy to do with anyone if you’re just loud and obnoxious about it, like, say, Gilbert Gottfried:
To his credit, even as the right-wing media machine and congressional Republicans seized on the 09.11 attacks to inculcate Islamophobia in the American public, Bush 43 went out of his way to state that the kind of fundamentalist Islam that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda were trying to spread was not representative of actual Islam. Unfortunately, Bush has proven to be the exception over the past twelve and a half years, as far too many conservatives have tried to turn Muslims into the 21st century “Ruskie,” a convenient bogeyman to make Americans fearful of any philosophy or person they can call “un-American,” then prey on that fear to get into office and make everyone miserable by passing restrictive, inhuman and un-Christian laws, all under the guise of “Christianity.” Any news story having to do with Islam that gets shot through the newswires is practically guaranteed to lead to several skewed “news reports” and hours of hate speech dressed up as punditry on Fox News, to say nothing of right-wing radio and the conservative punditocracy. Particularly now that the fringe right-wing thought that used to be confined to talk radio has now become Republican orthodoxy in the Tea Party era, we see that this focus isn’t going to abate any time soon.
I had the Super Bowl on my television yesterday — those Duracell commercials with Derrick Coleman kind of sucked me in — but I had my eyes on my computer screen most of the time the game was on, trying to take care of some other tasks. When I heard that Coke commercial, a grin came to my face, as I knew right away that the far-right was going to throw apoplectic fits over it. Sure enough, #boycottcoke was already spreading as a hashtag on Twitter before the game was over, and right-wing pundits had their rage-filled columns ready for today’s morning shows. I could have set my watch by it, if I still owned a watch.
On its own, the story is amusing, but in the context of last week’s right-wing firestorm over an ill-phrased MSNBC tweet, the double standard of how left-wing and right-wing speech is treated in this country is somewhat infuriating. Melissa Harris-Perry gives a tearful apology for an inappropriate joke about Mitt Romney’s family, but Ann Coulter doubles down when she’s criticized for call Obama the r-word. Republicans infer that tens of millions of Americans who can’t find jobs in this fractured job market are “lazy” and want to live the high life off the government dole, but the moment any one of their feelings are hurt by a liberal’s inference, they’re threatening boycotts and demanding huge apologies. Imagine if Democrats had the spine to be just as outraged over each of the 17,000 people predicted to die because state Republicans are refusing to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. You wouldn’t be able to hear anything any conservative said until the Medicaid expansions were passed in all fifty states.
While it is factually wrong to state or infer that all conservatives are racists, I do believe it is true that the current conservative movement in America, if it is not racist, is at least far too permissive of covert racism when it works to benefit them. This doesn’t mean that every person in that movement is a racist, but it does mean that those who are not racists need to do more to challenge the subtle racism that underlies so much modern American conservative dogma, because there are no ends which justify the means of spreading hatred and intolerance.
As for that Coke commercial, as hard as it is for me to be cheerful when Republicans keep inflicting disaster after disaster upon this country — more and more people losing unemployment benefits, the upcoming cuts to SNAP/food stamps, and the Keystone XL Pipeline being just a few of the more recent examples — I’ve come to realize that nothing infuriates Republicans more than being happy, because so much of what they do both socially and economically seems designed to make everyone who disagrees with them as miserable as possible. With that in mind, I’m going to have a Coke and a smile tonight, to piss them off all the more. After that, though, it’s back to work trying to stop the damage before it spreads any further.