The populist right isn’t really any dumber than the intellectual right
Andrew Sullivan is (rightly) up in arms about Rush Limbaugh posting this racist image on his website, and issuing a racist dogwhistle rant to go along with it on his show. Digby points out that this is hardly that shocking for Limbaugh; he usually tops this kind of racism on a daily basis. She wishes the story was less, “Oh my god, someone stepped over the line today!” and more, “Right wing talk radio is a non-stop hatefest,” which is more accurate. The fact that any liberal who brings this up is immediately pounced upon, often by other liberals, as a race-baiter who is trying to tar the Tea Party unfairly is a major problem, and it stems less from the pouncer’s grasp of reality and more from the pouncer’s wishful thinking. Digby sez:
I realize that it’s hard to believe that Americans are this obnoxious. It’s probably even harder to believe they are paid hundreds of millions of dollars to promote this bigotry on the radio to millions of other Americans, but they are — they are speaking the language of eliminationism and hate day after day after day.
It is hard to believe, so people choose not to believe it, instead indulging in fantasies about how the most popular figure on the right—who the entire Republican party has to kow tow to—is speaking to a teeny minority of conservatives with this crap. Of course, I will say that Sullivan’s shock over this might be rooted in something else. After all, he has made a point in the past of creating an intellectual-sounding justification for the idea that black people are born stupid. That sort of thing has got to complicate his relationship to this kind of Tea Party racism. Unless Sullivan has drastically revised his prior opinions on race, I suspect the issue he has with Limbaugh has as much to do with how crude he’s being as anything else. Which isn’t to say that I don’t think that Sullivan’s protective feelings towards Obama are there! He obviously thinks the world of Obama. And that’s just it—Sullivan has always thought his own racism was acceptable because it’s complicated. The sort of uncomplicated hate speech emanating from Limbaugh, and the willingness to paint the nerdy, middle-aged President with this silly stereotype, has got to set Sullivan’s teeth on edge.
What Sullivan needs to realize, though, is that the populist expressions of racism actually do borrow from the pseudo-intellectualized expressions he promoted so vigorously are also complicated. Steve Kornacki explains:
[Limbaugh] can’t seem to decide whether powerful white Democrats are conspiring to stifle the ambitions of their black counterparts or if they’ve been intimidated by political correctness into excessive deference….
What’s interesting in that is what Limbaugh can’t imagine white Democrats doing is responding to their black colleagues as whole, unique individuals with different strengths and talents. He’s sexist in exactly the same way, too, which is why the only way that Limbaugh can understand Nancy Pelosi and Jim Clyburn’s role in the House is through racial and gendered stereotypes. The possibility that the struggle between House Democrats for power is broken down over actual ideas and visions of leadership seems beyond his grasp. Pelosi/Clyburn are just Team Non-White Dudes to him, full stop.
As Kornacki continues to explain, the unwashed wingnut masses do have extremely complicated rationalizations over why they’re totally not racists even though they eat Limbaugh’s racist jokes for breakfast. The rationalization goes like this: They identify as Republicans. Republicans in 1964 voted for the Civil Rights Act in greater numbers than the Democrats. All the fallout that happened after that passed in subsequent years didn’t happen. Therefore, they’re exactly the same Republicans as those in 1964, and any perception that this isn’t true on the part of black voters that overwhelmingly break for the Democrats is a result of black voters being easy to manipulate. Painting the vast majority of black voters as kind of dumb is totally not racist. If you don’t believe them, here’s “The Bell Curve”.
And with that, I guess we’re back to Sullivan and why he maybe should think harder about these issues, instead of simply being appalled at how crude Limbaugh and his followers are.