[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]
Bill O'Reilly's opening "Talking Points Memo" last night was an almost crystalline exhibition of the reason the "post racial politics" now popular with American liberals -- including President Obama -- is an abject failure: because it utterly fails to take into account the intransigence and base irrationality of the American Right.
Naturally, when one of his guests -- Caroline Heldman of Occidental College -- had the audacity to point out the right's "racial fearmongering machine", he went ballistic on her in an overt attempt to deny the existence of the very tactics he was indulging.
See, according to BillO, President Obama is losing popularity with white Americans because they perceive his insistently non-racial economic-uplift program in insistently racial terms -- and he's popular with blacks because they do too.
He tried to describe this in terms that absolves whites of racializing the issues, and blames blacks and minorities for it instead:
Let's take the white situation first. According to the polls, most white Americans don't like the huge expansion of the federal government. They also oppose the big spending increases that the president has imposed. It's simple. White Americans fear government control. They don't want the feds telling them what to do, and they don't want a bankrupt nation.O'Reilly tries to claim here that white Americans' rationale for turning against Obama is purely a policy-based one -- but it also hinges on a rationale that is almost purely racial, namely, that Obama's "social justice" programs such as health care reform, are perceived as handouts to minorities. Indeed, O'Reilly's rationale for the steady black support for Obama is that minorities must perceive them as that too.
... But black America has a totally different view. For decades, African-Americans have supported a bigger federal government so it can impose social justice. A vast majority of blacks want money spent to level the playing field, to redistribute income from the white establishment to their precincts, and to provide better education and health care at government expense. So the African-American voter generally loves what President Obama is doing.
As for Hispanic-Americans, 54 percent now support Mr. Obama, but that is down nine points since April. The social justice component is there as well.
There's no question that there are now two Americas. The minority community continues to believe that society is not completely fair to them, and they want a huge government apparatus to change that. And while the white community may sympathize with the minority situation, they apparently believe that more harm than good is being done to the country with the cost of social justice programs.
My own belief is that President Obama is well-intentioned, but if the wild spending continues, this country will be gravely damaged. As far as social justice is concerned, strict oversight on fair rules, but not the imposition of expensive entitlements, is the answer.
The USA is the strongest country on Earth because of self-reliance and the industry of honest, hardworking people who don't want to be told how to live. Independence and self-reliance is what has made this country great, powerful and generous.
Nevermind, of course, that health-care reform not only is utterly color-blind in nature, it also was designed not to cost taxpayers. Nevermind that the only "spending" programs Obama has embarked upon have been either bailouts for the financial and auto sectors or a stimulus package that likewise was specifically colorblind in nature.
Nonetheless, this is the self-serving racial narrative that the Right has constructed about Obama: He is secretly a black Marxist/Muslim radical whose every social initiative is dedicated to creating "social justice" handouts for minorities at the expense of white people -- but whites' resistance to his programs is purely a matter of their opposition to big government and taxes that pay for these handouts (to people who of course do not deserve it). If anybody's being racist, it's those parasitic black people who want the handouts to keep flowing out of white people's pockets.
What's clear is that even though Obama has explicitly eschewed pursuing race-conscious policies -- promoting, instead, the "universal uplift"/rising-tide-lifts-all-boats thinking popular with "post-racial" liberals -- those policies are regardless perceived in racial terms by white conservatives.
As Tim Wise puts it in has incredible new book, Colorblind: The Rise of Post-Racial Politics and the Retreat from Racial Equity:
With regard to President Obama's agenda on health care, for example, there is evidence that many whites may perceive his efforts in racialized terms, no matter how universal the rhetoric with which he has tried to sell them, and no matter that he has specifically eschewed any discussion of, or focus on, racial disparity in health care per se. ...Moreover, in the face of this kind of disingenuousness -- a conservative white bloc that perceives every Obama move in racialized terms, while denying adamantly that it opposes Obama on racial grounds, instead insisting that minorities are the folks indulging in racism -- hiding behind the soothing rhetoric of post-racial liberalism is tantamount to abject surrender. As Wise explains:
So, according to polling data from late 2008, whites with above-average levels of racial resentment toward blacks were less than half as likely as those with below-average resentment to support health care reform ...
In keeping with that notion, another study has found that a high level of racial bias against blacks is directly correlated with opposition to President Obama's health care proposals, boosting opposition among whites by about a third relative to those with low prejudice. ...
The question then, for proponents of colorblind universalism is this: if the white public, due to years of conditioning, perceives race-neutral public policy in race-specific terms -- as some form of racial handout, and thus as something to be opposed -- what is the political benefit to be derived from sticking with the rhetoric and policy agenda of post racial liberalism?
That right-wing leaders are so willing to deploy -- and the public so willing to accept -- racist rhetoric and other invective aimed at stoking white resentment and fear, even against a president who almost never discusses race at all, suggests the likely inadequacy of post-racialism as a paradigm for fighting racial inequities. The rhetoric of racial transcendence so critical to advocates of post-racial liberalism -- which has already been shown to rest on a foundation of untruth, given the reality of persistent racism -- cannot possibly drown out the hateful and often unhinged rantings of those insistent on painting the president as an anti-white bigot. ...Certainly Caroline Heldman understands this. As she told O'Reilly:
To refuse to fight back, far from disarming these forces of bigotry or depriving them of a point of attack, has done nothing to blunt their efforts. Indeed, it may have emboldened them. It may, in the end, amount to little more than universal disarmament.
Heldman: Well, I don't think the story is about black Americans. I actually think it's about the precipitous plunge of white Americans. And I think it's important to keep in mind that, had only white Americans been voting, had they voted in the last 2008 election, then we would have President McCain.O'Reilly promptly denounces this as "the far left view" and thus "completely absurd, completely insane." His other guest, Chris Metzler of Georgetown -- who actually penned a book attacking Obama on the basis of post-racial politics -- likewise heatedly denied that race had anything, anything to do with this ... even though O'Reilly's "Memo" was built on the rationale that white Americans perceive Obama's "social justice" initiatives, such as health-care reforms, as just more handouts for minorities.
And what we've seen is an historic drop. And I think what we really see at work here is a Republican racial fearmongering machine, the most recent example of which is Shirley Sherrod. And also the Tea Party rhetoric of getting rid of "gangster government" ...
They keep tying themselves up in knots trying to come up with a rational explanation for their deeply irrational -- and ultimately, yes, racist -- hatred of this president. It's not working, as Caroline Heldman expertly demonstrated.