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February 20, 2013

The Racialization of Morality and Politics

Since 2008, the media have repeatedly flogged the notion that conservative opposition to Obama's policies has nothing to do with the fact that progressive policies like the so-called living wage, the war on income inequality, and the expansion of government are ones conservatives have opposed for decades. What's really causing conservatives to oppose the same policies they have always opposed is "racial attitudes".

But a new study suggests that these disturbing racial attitudes are powerful enough to cause progressives to ignore their decades-long opposition to the aggressive and pre-emptive use of lethal military force and the targeted killings of American citizens with no judicial or legislative oversight:

In a YouGov poll of 1,000 voters last August, Tesler found significantly more support for targeted killing of suspected terrorists among white “racial liberals” (i.e., those liberal on issues of race) and African-Americans when they were told that Obama supported such a policy than when they were not told it was the president’s policy. Only 27 percent of white racial liberals in a control group supported the targeted killing policy, but that jumped to 48 percent among such voters who were told Obama had conducted such targeted killings (which Tesler refers to as the “Obama cue”). He found a similar difference among African-Americans, but cautions that the sample size, of 60 in a control group and another 60 who were given the “Obama cue,” is small. “We can be pretty confident that blacks are more supportive when given the Obama cue, but not at all confident about how precisely large that difference is,” he told me via email.

But is it really race at work here? Or is it something else?

The study provides more evidence for the thesis of another political scientist, Lilliana Mason, which we described last fall. Mason argues that the electorate is becoming increasingly tribal. Our party affiliation is increasingly intertwined with our personal identity, making us more prone than ever to support the policies of “our side,” regardless of their actual content.

Logically speaking, whether one has moral qualms about targeted killings should have nothing to do with who, specifically, is giving the go-ahead on such actions. But this report provides more evidence that when it comes to a wide range of policy issues, our views seem driven more by loyalty than by logic.

The comparison between conservative support of health care reform (hardly a moral bright line in the way targeted assassinations ought to be) and Obama's re-invention of the unitary executive doctrine, which reliably sent progressives into fits of mouth-frothing fury during the Bu$Hitler years seems strained at best.

But I can't find much wrong with the tribalization thesis. In fact, a little digging revealed an article in which our old friend Ta-Nehisi Coates' misrepresentation of the racialization study's results is corrected by the study's author (Tesler):

Coates calls the findings “bracing”—empirical evidence for contemporary, subtle forms of racial animus operating like “quaking ground beneath Obama’s feet”. He cites a host of similar research into the white public’s views on race, as well as instances of undeniable race-baiting rhetoric from Republican leadership in recent years. He concludes:
“What we are now witnessing is not some new and complicated expression of white racism—rather, it’s the dying embers of the same old racism that once rendered the best pickings of America the exclusive province of unblackness.”

But do Tesler’s findings entirely support this thesis? As he states in the paper: “There is simply no way of knowing whether the growing polarization of public opinion by racial attitudes…was caused by the president’s race or another factor like his party affiliation”. Tesler does show that race increased in importance as Obama became the face of health care reform, but only “relative to nonracial considerations”. That is, race was not the most important consideration for respondents, just likely a more important factor than if absent a black president. Also, the level of ‘importance’ of race for respondents didn’t necessarily correspond with diminished support for Obama’s policies, except among a small fraction of respondents who reported the highest levels of resentment.

Overall, Coates’ brief presentation of Tesler’s research implies that race plays a more central, negative role in white Americans’ lack of support for Obama’s policies than what the research supports. More striking in Tesler’s data, white Americans seemed to override their own morally indefensible resentment in gauging the merit of Obama’s policies.

It all sounds so familiar.

Posted by Cassandra at February 20, 2013 05:41 AM

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The very idea of resorting to the findings of 'hate studies' to provide evidence suggesting the narrative is more fable is evidence of hate, racism, etc. To argue against the point is to self-incriminate.

This nation once shared a kindredness, a shared understanding, and differed inside a narrow political spectrum. The nation is no longer a nation but a political entity that differs within a vast cultural gulf. Coates hasn't a prejudice, he has an ideology and uses it to thrash anything not in lockstep with it. His ideology is the making of the Frankfurt School Marxists who realized early on that controlling the means of production would not work (Marxist aren't always wrong) and understood that the revolution would be better served by, in some cases subverting institutions (religious), or controlling institutions of culture (schools, pop entertainment, publishing, etc.).

The exemplar of this was Herbert Marcuse who devised the strategy and tactic of 'Archimedean points', i.e., leveraging minorities and outcasts - women, adolescents, black and brown racial minorities, immigrants, the handicapped, the sexual deviants, the criminal class, and pathological psychotics most likely to shoot up school children. It was their ascendance as political players/pawns/activists, Marcuse prophesied, that would topple capitalist society. Any of this sound familiar?

Gosh darn, I just read what I wrote and I sound like a damned pedant.

I could have just commented "Mr. Coates is not stupid or wrong, he is Marxist and treacherous."

Posted by: George Pal at February 20, 2013 01:43 PM

Yes, but your comment was more informative :p

FWIW, I'm inclined to dismiss comments like the last one out of hand - they're what Thos Sowell calls "arguments without arguments" (IOW, unsupported assertions). Now if you give me the argument up front, you're not wasting my time.

Rather, you've given me the context I need to consider whether I agree with your assertion.

I don't know much about Marxism, by the way. Obviously I know what it is, but I haven't taken the time to read up on the movement. I do know that any movement seeking to overthrow (or simply change, which is basically what progressivism seeks) existing institutions almost always tries to appeal to the people on the fringe -- outsiders. They are the most likely to want change, too.

People who are content with the system are hard to convert b/c first you have to overcome inertia, loyalty, etc. But people on the outside are already not content, so there are fewer objections to overcome.

I don't know where Coates comes from, intellectually. He does seem to have a real burr in his saddle about being black. He attributes everything painful in life to blackness, as though no one but blacks are ever done wrong by, left out of social situations (on purpose or not), feel uncomfortable or like they don't fit in, or feel alienated. As the child of military parents who moved almost every year, I can testify that that's not true.

That's a scary place to be, so I mostly don't comment on his continual attempts to don the mantle of Oppression. His shoulders are so broad that they can bear even oppression he's never personally experienced, and resent injustices done to people long dead.

Heck, women can do that in spades if they want to, but it's a boring and tiresome refrain.

It never ceases to amaze me that every little identity group out there is exquisitely attuned to the many and splendored ways in which they are uniquely discriminated against... and totally blind to the ways other groups are discriminated against.

One meaning of discrimination is, "to choose". It used not always to be a bad word, as in "He is a person of discriminating tastes".

I read today in the comments section of an article about NYC's attempts to combat black on black violent crime, a comment from a gentleman who was just *sure* that the author (another black man, though this gentleman surely did not know that before throwing the race card) was an insensitive white racist for daring to suggest that poor, inner city blacks deserve the same protections from police that rich white folks do, even when the criminals who are preying on them are black :p

He was keen to disassociate black crime from black skin - a point I actually agree with. Thomas Sowell has written on that topic - it's culture, not race that is the problem. But the police don't have time to sort all this crap out, nor should they have to. If they're in a crime infested neighborhood that's all black, it requires almost willful blindness to cry racism when a "disproportionate" number of blacks (huh??? how do you even get to disproportionate in an all black neighborhood?) are stopped or arrested. Should the police have quotas?

"Hey - that guy has a record, and he's stalking that young woman. Let's go over there"

"Oh no. Can't do that. He's black, and the last guy we arrested was black too."

"Jeezmo flip, I'm black, you're black, everyone in this neighborhood is black. Where are we going to find a white guy or an Asian to hassle? And meanwhile, that guy just followed that young woman down a blink alley..."

"Rules are rules".


I'm reminded of the time I offered to drive a female co-worker home when we got off work after midnight so she wouldn't have to take the bus. She was quite hesitant to accept, but I insisted.

When we got to her neighborhood, she asked me to roll up the windows (it was a hot summer night in the South). I dropped her off and she tried to get me to have her kid brother get into the car with me until I got back to the main drag. Though it was after midnight, the roads were full of neighbors sitting on porches, walking around, talking.

I politely declined, as that would have meant a long walk home for him. Whereupon she warned me to drive quickly out of the neighborhood without slowing or talking to anyone.

I thought all this was really weird. It wasn't until I was most of the way home that it finally occurred to me that she was scared for my safety b/c I was a white teenager in an all black neighborhood.

Of course, had I been likewise nervous and scared, that would have suggested something disturbing about my racial attitudes or some such nonsense.

I am thinking that if you get beaten up, robbed, or raped, it probably does not matter much to you what color the perpetrator's skin is.

What a tangled mess we've made of things.

Posted by: Cassandra at February 20, 2013 02:27 PM

It's so clear. Anyone can see there is no possible good-faith basis for any of our beliefs. Therefore, if we disagree with the President, there can be only one motive. Not partisanship, which is not plausible, because no one thinks we're partisan or that partisanship is rampant. No, it's obviously racism. After all, we never disagreed with any other Democrat, so it stands to reason.

We were a lot meaner to Clinton, but that was some kind of crypto-reverse-racism.

Posted by: Texan99 at February 20, 2013 04:23 PM

My take is that tribalism has increased as gov't power has increased. If you want a population that doesn't care so much about which team of crooks is in power, you need a gov't structure where it doesn't matter so much about which team of crooks is in power.

If the .gov stuck to providing a military, police, courts, roads, sewers, etc. it doesn't matter so much which team you are on. But when politicians have the power to decide which business stay open (their own donors) and which will be closed (their opponents donors) it matters very much.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at February 21, 2013 09:31 AM


The two modern GOP presidents most vilified by the Left - GWB and Nixon - were also the most liberal modern GOP presidents. Yet they are given no credit by self-labeled 'liberals' for being liberal.

The reason is that most self-labeled liberals of today aren't genuine principled liberals. Rather, they're Marxist-corrupted liberals. Marxist-corrupted liberals are adversarial, zero-sum advocates first. Their first principle is maximal benefit for their 'oppressed' or 'victimized' clients (or tribe). Thus, their rhetoric is tailored and/or replaced as needed in order to win the contest for power. Unlike most on the Right and genuine principled liberals, the end goal of Marxist-corrupted liberals is not to realize a set of ideals. Their end goal is maximal benefit for their clients by any means necessary. The Marxists have no internal check to their advocacy and will advocate to the detriment of society because they don't agree to any greater good that means compromise by their clients. Think Orwell's Animal Farm or present-day excessive affirmative action.

On the other hand, genuine true-believing principled liberals - even the wrongheaded ones - do have an internal check because they are concerned for the greater good. Unfortunately, Marxists who label themselves as liberals have co-opted and corrupted liberal initiatives.

Obama's counter-terror policy is a litmus test dividing genuine principled liberals from Marxist-corrupted liberals. The 'liberals' who histrionically protested Bush but now shrug at Obama's counter-terror policies, which are less restrained than Bush's policies, have revealed themselves to be Marxist-corrupted liberals, not genuine principled liberals. Unfortunately, genuine principled liberals are a powerless minority compared to the Marxist-corrupted liberals.

More on this topic:

Glenn Greenwald:

Ralph Nader (read the comments):

Yale Law School: http://www.culturalcognition.net/blog/2012/10/29/the-science-communication-problem-one-good-explanation-four.html

Posted by: Eric at February 22, 2013 02:17 AM

So..a study was funded that was given a 'cue' based on Obama, versus his actual policies and implementation.

Given the hard work of the NEA to indoctrinate our children about what is a right granted by government (entitlement and taxes to promote the general welfare) versus a right protected by government (such as the Bill of Rights), I would say they have succeeded admirably. I am also not surprised.

Posted by: PuffOnMeds at February 22, 2013 05:09 PM

Basically, what this is about is the outsourcing of individual judgment and conscious to the Tribe and the Leader.

I'm reminded of a German Nazi who was asked some question about the economic policies he favored. His response was something like:

"We don't want HIGH bread prices...We don't want LOW bread prices. What we want are NATIONAL SOCIALIST bread prices."

IE, what matters is not the logic behind the decision but rather the support by the tribal authorities.

Posted by: david foster at February 24, 2013 08:06 AM

...the outsourcing of individual judgment...

I like that phrasing. I can't help but wonder how much of our willingness to cede the power of moral arbitration to our leaders has to do with information overload and the inherent moral ambiguity of (or conflict between) purely political concepts (is government our brother's keeper) and personal moral/religious duties (are *we* supposed to be our brother's keeper).

It seems to me that individual moral duties are also being outsourced to government, as in, "I don't have to decide how much of what I have earned I should give from to help the less fortunate -- the government takes care of that sort of thing for me".

It's got to be easier to feel as though you belong to the "right" team than to reconcile all those pesky questions on your own.

Posted by: Cassandra at February 27, 2013 02:59 PM