Aug 22, 2012

The Context of Chris Hayes' Racism Quote

Last Saturday, Chris Hayes had Richard Belzer, the actor and comedian on the show, and during and exchange with him, said "It is undeniably the case that racist Americans are almost entirely in one political coalition and not the other." Alex Tabarrok attacked criticized him for that, citing survey data showing equal racist representation in each party, while John Sides added some nuance showing racial resentment weighted more towards Republicans. Kevin Drum has the best case for Chris, I think, saying that while there are surely racists in every party...
[Republicans] tolerate racism in their ranks far more than Democrats do. Bernie Goldberg, a liberal turned conservative, admitted this on air earlier this year when he told Bill O'Reilly, "I am immensely uncomfortable with the bigotry on the right, and I don't care how many people don't like it. I am sick of it." Republicans are also more willing to make political appeals with an anti-minority racial subtext, as Fox News did during its Summer of Hate in 2010, or as Mitt Romney is doing now with his claims that Obama is gutting work requirements for welfare.
For the past 40 years, Republicans have opposed virtually every effort to address racism in the legislative sphere. Politically, this has been suicidal for their standing in the nonwhite community, and it's safe to say that they wouldn't have done this unless there was a corresponding benefit for them among whites. Quite clearly, appealing to white resentment of minorities is an important part of the Republican brand in a way it's not for Democrats, even if plenty of racists still inhabit the Democratic Party.
I agree. What's missing here is the context of the quote. Belzer was not a great fit on the panel, which as usual was talking wonky policy stuff, while he is more of a comedian and polemicist. Belzer changed the subject from Romney's and Ryan's tax returns to start talking about how maybe Romney was bullied into choosing Ryan by the base, and:
Belzer: ...the base, the word is disgusting, they are base—
Hayes: Well, they're human beings.
B: They are human beings, but—
H: They're our fellow citizens, we're just trying to understand them.
B: I mean, but what are the family values? Misogyny, racism, homophobia, warmongering...
H: Well, look, I don't know...
B: That's not hyperbole, Chris, but go ahead.
H: I don't want to get in an argument over the base, but I try to give people the charity that they—
B: Well most people are basically decent, but there's this core of racist elements within that party that is rearing its ugly head and unashamedly race-baiting, and it's disgusting.
H: I will say this: it is undeniably the case that racist Americans are almost entirely in one political coalition and not the other, and that the nature of American politics of the moment.
(Emphasis mine, of course. Find the video here, about 3:30 or so.) Hayes then immediately changed the subject back to Paul Ryan's tax returns.

It was an awkward exchange, and clearly driven by the fact that Belzer (a celebrity entertainer) did not have the policy chops to add anything substantial to the tax discussion, and so waded in and wandered off into the more friendly territory of a random diatribe against the Republican base. Hayes kept trying to head him off, and finally just ended the conversation with the line in question.

It is the case that appealing to white racial resentment has been part of Republican political strategy for more than a generation. It's tapered off somewhat in the last 15-20 years, but it used to be front and center. But regardless of which party the racists are in, we should acknowledge that this line came out of an exchange where Hayes was defending the Republican base's basic humanity against Belzer's broad stereotyping.

1 comment:

  1. In 1976, Ronald Reagan described the "welfare queen" who drove to the welfare office in her Cadillac and collected $150,000 a year in public aid. And even though she was never identified, we all know what race she was.