Excellent piece on the right and race in the wake of the Trayvon Martin business over at Forbes:
Conservatives, almost universally, feel like they get a bad rap on race. They catch heat when they point out improvements over the last several decades in race relations and in the material well being of minorities in America, even though those phenomena are real. They catch heat when they contend that government programs intended to help the poor have led to problems with dependency in minority communities, even though those critiques are sometimes correct. They catch heat when they criticize Affirmative Action, even when in some cases (as at the University of California) Affirmative Action was clearly disserving minority communities.
Why do conservatives catch such heat? It’s probably because there is still so much racism on the Right to go alongside valid arguments on issues relating to race and ethnicity. Conservatives so often get unfairly pounded on race because, so often, conservatives get fairly pounded on race.
And this is the Right’s own fault, because conservatives are not serious about draining the swamp.
In recent months, both Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum have gotten questions at public events that referred to President Obama being a Muslim. Neither candidate corrected the questioner. Santorum later told a reporter that’s “not his job.” PPP polls in Mississippi and Alabama have found that about half of Republican voters believe Obama is a Muslim, and others aren’t sure.
For years, Republicans have done a dance with the Birthers in the Republican base, trying to avoid associating themselves with the Birther position without alienating activists who believe the President was born abroad. Donald Trump has worked to keep Birtherism alive and in the news, and in January, Mitt Romney
went toappeared in Las Vegas to accept his endorsement on live television. Republican rejections of Birtherism tend to focus on the issue being “a distraction,” as RNC Chairman Reince Preibus puts it, rather than pointedly noting that it is a nutty, racist conspiracy theory.
There has been a clear strategic calculation here among Republican elites. Better to leverage or at least accept the racism of much of the Republican base than try to clean it up. I remember a moment in the 2008 campaign where John McCain argued with a voter who said that Obama was “an Arab.” This time around, either the candidates don’t care about standing up to racial misconceptions or have decided they can’t afford to.
And on a more substantive policy issue, you have Gingrich’s rejection of the idea that there is even a racial matter to discuss in the Martin case. You don’t have to assume that George Zimmerman is guilty of murder (Julian Sanchez has a good piece on this) to recognize that Trayvon Martin would likely to be alive today if he were white.
The question of what to do about that is complicated, but it’s clearly a public policy concern. Instead, Gingrich commits an error that is common on the Right—jumping from the fact that race relations have improved to a claim that black Americans no longer have special policy concerns worth discussing.
It’s disgraceful that Gingrich would call bringing up Trayvon Martin’s race disgraceful. It also undermines everything else that conservatives say about race, no matter how valid. How are Republicans supposed to be taken seriously when they say they understand black Americans’ policy needs when Newt Gingrich is spouting nonsense like this?
My challenge to conservatives who feel they get a bum rap on race is this. Stand up for yourself and your colleagues when you feel that a criticism is unfair. At the same time, criticize other conservatives who say racist things, cynically tolerate racism in the Republican base, or deny the mere existence of racial issues in America today. The conservative movement desperately needs self-policing on racial issues, if it ever hopes to have credibility on them.
Does this mean all conservatives are racist? Not in the least. But, check out Charles Johnson’s note on the commenters over at Breitbart.com. Let’s just say that not everyone is as enlightened on matters of race as you, dear reader.
Rick Santorum, or whomever, can’t be responsible for every dumb*ss on teh internets, but when confronted with someone yapping about Obama the Muslim – he damn well ought to correct that person. Unless we’re trying to leverage the misconceptions, and the racism, for electoral gain. But I can’t imagine anyone would ever do something as crass as that – right?