When the mask slips

By Amanda Marcotte
Tuesday, July 12, 2011 11:53 EDT
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One of the markers of conservatism in our modern democracy is a routine willingness to say one thing privately and another publicly.  The reason for this is that our national consensus has turned towards justice, which causes defenders of the old order into a bad situation where they either say what they mean and sound like monsters, or they try to reframe their authoritarian views in liberal terms to confuse the issue.   Historically, this has mostly been a stalling tactic, if in results if not in intention.  Slave owners bought a little more time owning slaves by claiming slavery was good for slaves, because they weren't smart enough for freedom.  (This argument never actually went away entirely, as was demonstrated by Michele Bachmann signing a pledge that was based on the assumption that African-Americans needed to be enslaved to make them act right, by social conservative standards.)  In the early days of segregation, what was privately expressed as an explicit desire to keep black people as second class citizens was cleaned up and publicly presented as "separate but equal".  When that stopped working, private support for segregation as segregation was cleaned up and presented to the public as "states' rights" or "private property rights".  After desegregation, private anger at black people for demanding equality was cleaned up and presented as "law and order" in public.  You know this history.  

I believe that racism is what developed the strategy, but now it's endemic.  Abortion is privately about sluts who can't keep their legs shut, publicly about "life".  Economic policies that that are designed to grow the gap between the haves and have-nots are publicly supported because they supposed grow the economy and do the opposite.  (This facade was falling apart on a lot of Twitter accounts yesterday when I put up a link explaining how the wealthiest 400 families in America could pay off everyone else's credit card debt or student loan debt, and instead of trotting out "trickle down" like good propagandists, the wingnut tweeps started screaming "jealous!" at me. I honestly think some of them believe their check is coming in the mail any day now.)  Anti-gay bigotry is blatant in private spaces, but about "traditional marriage" in public spaces.  And, as I've noted before, being a white person who routinely is injected into conservative-heavy all-white spaces, I can assure you that the private willingness to just be blatantly racist hasn't gone away at all. However, because of my career, it is becoming more hidden to me.

The problem with this strategy is it actually takes a lot of effort to maintain elaborate facades.  And really, only people who are out in public are expected to maintain the facade.  The blatant nastiness is freely expressed in private spaces, which is why, as I've pointed out before, elaborate email chains are one of those things that help create conservative solidarity largely out of the view of liberals.  The Republican infrastructure has been remarkably good at sorting people and aiming the more honest messages into spaces where their messages won't reach liberal ears.  (It's not a coincidence that Limbaugh is on AM radio, which just so happens to be—as Air America learned—a medium that liberals largely don't give a shit about, especially when it comes to the mid-morning hours when most of us are at work and not listening to the radio.  And even then, Limbaugh attempts to be more measured than the teeming masses he speaks to.)  Getting on TV, publishing in widely available spaces or moving into national politics used to mean getting potty trained in saying things in code and not talking like you would to your friends.  Now, most of us do this to one extent or another, but with liberals I rarely hear a direct conflict between their private values and their public ones, but with conservatives, there's often a direct conflict, or at least mismatch, between private values and public ones.

I think there's been cracking lately, is my point.  There's a number of reasons for this, but one of them is the rapid expansion of the internet means that conservatives who aren't potty trained have more access to a national platform, simply because it's that much harder for the party leaders to filter them out.  That, and as we all know, this Tea Party stuff is emboldening to the non-potty-trained.  They've been trained to hate "political correctness" that keeps them from saying what they really think, and by god, they're not going to take it any more.  

A couple of examples come to mind.  First off, you have the situation in New Hampshire, where state Republicans basically forced Planned Parenthood to stop dispensing contraception.  Two different stories about it have quotes from Raymond Wieczorek, one of the council members who blocked the funding.  

"If they want to have a good time, why not let them pay for it?" he said.


"I am opposed to providing condoms to someone. If you want to have a party, have a party but don't ask me to pay for it."

There are two possible explanations for this.  One is that he spoke off the cuff to a group of reporters, and they quoted him differently.  I reject this possibility, for a number of reasons, but the most prominent one is that the comments aren't slightly different, but dramatically different in imagery and wording.  Reporters are unlikely to get it that wrong. My theory is that Wieczorek didn't just slip up and go off message (the official anti-choice message is to claim this has nothing to do with punishing women, but is about "life"), but that he thinks this stuff about not having to pay for women's good time is fucking Pulitzer Prize MacArthur Grant genius shit.  And that the second quote demonstrates he's working on the message, trying to make it more vivid.  He's not ashamed.  He's willing to put that behind closed doors stuff right out in public.  

Example #2 is from Roy Edroso, who collected a number of examples of how prominent right wing bloggers have cracked under the pressure of trying to appear non-racist and are just going all out.  They're all in a snit about a supposed black-on-white crime wave that's erupted in the wake of Obama's election, a panic that uses similar logic to the pro-slavery sentiments in the pledge Bachmann signed, i.e. that black people really can't have power or equality because they don't act right.  In reality, as Roy chronicles, crime is continuing to go down and, as has been true through most of history, most violent crime is still wife-beating and drug war nonsense and bar-fighting and stabbing your relatives at a holiday party when family disagreements boil over.  Some choice quotes:

"I knew before I saw the video 'who' those rioting punks were going to be" in the Christopher Street incident, said Urban Grounds. "And so did you. And… yep…they're a bunch of black kids, acting like animals and criminals while terrorizing the public… That's because in Black Run America, there are no rules of civility or decency."….

"America consigns itself to a slide toward savagery in the name of Hope & Change," said Moonbattery — the "Hope & Change" presumably included in case readers hadn't yet realized who's the real Head Negro in Charge of this imaginary black crime wave……

Coming to Day's pre-emptive defense was Robert Stacy McCain: "Writing something like that should elicit accusations of 'raaaaacism' — from white liberals who wouldn't dare set foot in Milwaukee after dark," said McCain, who clearly thinks the post-sundown population of Brew City consists exclusively of black people and gutsy white right-wingers intent on bucking unfortunate stereotypes. (By the way, Milwaukee's crime rate is also dropping. Soon maybe even liberals will hang out there!)

Milwaukee? Some times I really don't get some of the rhetorical flourishes used by wingnuts. 

The point of all this is that the mechanisms that kept this stuff out of the public view have broken down.  At this point, I suppose I should issue a call to action, but I'm unsure what that would look like.  I suppose the one thing you could do is keep a file of this stuff and label it the "Told Ya So" file when arguing either with conservatives who are still toeing the line or liberals who believe right wingers are as well-meaning as they pretend to be.  

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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