I almost missed this, but thankfully I saw it at Digby’s blog—Rick Perlstein has reprinted a piece he wrote in 2007 about the role of the unconscious in right wing politics. It really sheds light on the way that conservatives manage to get out their racist, sexist, and homophobic messages without coming out and saying it, which makes it maddening to push back because there’s the plausible deniability factor. Like the McCain ad, linking Obama to images of white women that are most famous for being icons of people’s worst fears of female sexuality, which invokes an ugly racist stereotype without coming right out and saying it, so when liberals raise a fuss, conservatives can shrug and pretend they don’t see it.
One way that liberals push back against the stereotyping is to point out the obvious contradictions in right wing tropes. For instance, the “Obama=Muslim” trope obviously conflicts with the “Obama’s Christian church is out of control” trope. But maybe pointing out the contradictions is less effective than we would have hoped, as Rick says.
Doesn’t this contradict another Limbaugh slur—that Obama is “Halfrican” (the implication being that he was only pretending to be black, sneaking in the affirmative action back door)? It’s another tricky facet of writing about FNB politics: In a discourse that plays on half-conscious archetypes, opposites can cohabit comfortably—as in dreams. John Dower, for example, in his brilliant War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War, shows the simultaneous stereotypes of Japanese as pathetically weak midgets and indomitable giant monsters. Surrogates need only throw various archetypes “out there,” as they say; the dungeon that is the human subconscious can be counted on to do the rest.
Hmmm…. This makes me rethink my high hopes that the intense focus on Obama’s charisma—using sexual metaphors to do it, which props him up like a sex-ay rock star—might not undermine the Maureen Dowd-driven “all Democrats are GIRLY MEN” narrative. You’d think that in the world of stereotypes, rock star stud beats less-than-a-full-man liberal like rock beats scissors, but perhaps many voters can simultaneously hate Obama for making them feel small while sneering at him for his wimpiness. We are talking the same people who can mock feminists for being celibate man-haters and then, in the next breath, accuse us of rampant promiscuity with every man in sight. That’s beyond confusion or even hypocrisy. That’s squirrel-like stupidity, bouncing from one shiny fear to the next without pausing to consider what’s going on. But will this sort of thing do more than rally the base? At this point, I’m skeptical that Obama’s going to lose momentum. But we should nonetheless be on our guards.