Why Liberals Think Conservatives Are Racist

Why Liberals Think Conservatives Are Racist

Liberals need racist foes to vanquish. Most of the time they have to resort to finding them where they obviously aren’t there.

The sighs of relief from the left are almost audible. Racism lives! The hate is out there!

It would be unfitting to throw a party for the occasion of hateful comments from Donald Sterling and Cliven Bundy, but some liberal journalists are probably tempted. “I’m trying to wring some grim humor out of the news, but I’m getting my racists all mixed up,” quipped Robin Abcarian of the Los Angeles Times. “Believe it or not,” wrote Mary Curtis in the Washington Post, “something good might arise from the racist swamp of recent news cycles.” It’s all right, Ms. Curtis. You may proceed with your heel clicks. We all know that multiple high-profile racists in a 2-week period make for high times for liberals.

Liberals need racist foes to vanquish. Most of the time they have to resort to finding them where they obviously aren’t there. Ross Douthat could print his mother’s best cookie recipes, and his New York Times readers would still lambast him as a bigot. (Perhaps we would learn that snickerdoodles are a well-known symbol of oppression in certain sub-cultures.) Paul Ryan can hardly order a sandwich without liberal pundits combing through in search of the racist “coding” that they know to be hidden within all Republican rhetoric.

To conservative eyes, these accusations rarely achieve escape velocity from the farcical world of liberal paranoia. Figures like Bundy or Sterling predictably set off a tiresome string of rants about hidden racism and conservative denial, but the universality with which racist sentiments are condemned tells the real story. It’s hard to see how conservatives could sprint away from racists at top speed, while simultaneously wooing voters who mostly share their sentiments. As usual, liberal “reflections” on what Bundy and Sterling tell us about conservatives were mostly just silly.

It’s too bad to get back to business as usual in the racism blame game, because quite recently, Jonathan Chait’s feature in New York Magazine offered some surprisingly helpful insights into liberals and their need for conservative “racism.” Chait’s piece, and the firestorm that followed, make a fascinating tutorial in liberal paradigms concerning racism. Looking through their eyes for a moment, it almost starts to make sense why they’re so certain that racism is a significant moving force behind American conservatism.

The Paranoia of “Coding”

Initially it can be a bit startling to remind oneself that liberals really don’t see their accusations as the political equivalent to calling us poopy-heads; they actually believe that ethnic hatred is an important motivator for conservatives. Some even get frustrated that conservatives have gotten so clever about “coding” our racist messages, hiding them in subtle subtexts that liberal journalists can’t easily expose (even while our barely-literate backwoods voters apparently hear them loud and clear). You can almost picture liberals playing Ryan’s speeches backwards, hoping to catch that “Paul McCartney is dead” moment when the mild-mannered and professorial Ryan secretly taps into the seething cauldron of bigoted rage that he knows to be driving his base.

Apparently some of them do actually realize that they’re overreaching, though it isn’t something they like to hear. Chait poked the bear by explaining some of the history behind the “coding” paranoia and agreeing that conservatives have some reason to resent it. More importantly, Chait explains with admirable clarity one important reason why the racist-conservative dogma is so important for liberals. A second emerges from the responses to Chait’s piece.

Reason 1: Everyone Hates Reruns

The Ballad of the Civil Rights Movement has long been liberals’ favorite bed-time story. Martin Luther King Day may be the only day of the year when they feel completely, unambiguously proud to be Americans. It’s hard to exaggerate how important this is to liberal political thinking. They are perpetually looking for new ways to recapture that high.

Conservatives tend to miss this because we see the Civil Rights story as settled history. We’re all pleased to have sloughed off the bigotry of our ancestors. Of course we want people to be judged “by the content of their character” and not by their skin. What’s left to debate here?

Liberals have yet to turn that page. This is their favorite series, and like every loyal fan base, they always want another sequel. Indeed, as Chait acknowledges, one of the most appealing things about a 2008 Senator Obama was the perception that he could be the star of a particularly thrilling new episode. Of course, if that’s the storyline, it’s no mystery which role was available for conservatives. “Racial coding” became a convenient fix for a glaring plot hole: Republican politicians’ refusal to follow their racist script.

Of course, for conservatives this is a pretty bad deal. We can’t stop being the racist party if that’s the only “role” our political enemies have available. At most we can ask liberals to consider who is served by their implicit demand that racism never die. A film director can afford to keep resurrecting Moriarty or Lex Luther for the amusement of his story-hungry audiences; in politics we should leave our vanquished villains in their historical chapters. Modern liberal oppression narratives are far and away the most expensive dramas ever produced, and we all get dragged to see them whether we’re interested or not.

As grim as this sounds, it may actually be the more remediable liberal fixation. Another liberal paradigm (which is well articulated by Brian Beutler of The New Republic), leaves even less wiggle-room for a conservatism that actually serves the common good.

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