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I don't know if everyone is talking about race because Congress is deadlocked and, well, we have to talk about something more than Ukraine and the missing jet airplane, but I think Jonathan Chait's cover story for New York Magazine probably has a lot to do with it.  It obviously touched a nerve.  There's a point in his piece where he makes a reference to "the ubiquitous Atwater Rosetta-stone confession," which we are all obviously supposed to be familiar with.  If you want the full background on it, Rick Perlstein wrote it up for The Nation right after the election in November 2012.  The short version is that legendary GOP strategist Lee Atwater gave an interview in 1981 (which survives on audio tape) in which he confessed (not for the record) that, among other things, calling for tax cuts was really just an abstract way of saying that you don't want any of your money going to black folks.  The way he actually put it was a bit more colorful.

"You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”"

When Chait refers to this quote as "the ubiquitous Atwater Rosetta-stone confession," it's meant to be dismissive.  He uses "ubiquitous" to mean that the quote is over-referenced, and he uses "Rosetta-Stone" sarcastically to argue that you can't actually translate every conservative belief into a form of abstract racism.  And he follows this up by flat-out refuting the main thrust of what Atwater confessed to:

Impressive though the historical, sociological, and psychological evidence undergirding this analysis may be, it also happens to be completely insane. Whatever Lee Atwater said, or meant to say, advocating tax cuts is not in any meaningful sense racist.

It's a rather argumentative tone to take, suggesting that he'd given up on using logic to further his position.  It's plainly not "insane" to object less to taxation because it costs you money than because of who (you think) your money will go to. There are people who don't like paying taxes because a lot of it goes to buy weaponry used to fight wars they don't support.  Those people don't necessarily object to paying taxes for roads and bridges; they just don't like violence and death.  

But this kind of turns things around a bit, because Atwater isn't talking about why people don't like paying taxes; he's talking about politicians who make subtle racial appeals to white people by suggesting that all their tax-money goes to black welfare queens.  If we're talking Rosetta Stone, it goes something like this:

Language A: Very wealthy people stand to benefit greatly by even slight reductions in the tax rate, but most people will not benefit because all the lost revenue from very wealthy people will have to be made up elsewhere, unless services and investments are cut.  

Language B: Since winning at politics requires a majority, very wealthy people have to convince a lot of people that a reduction in very wealthy people's tax rate is a good thing or else they will never see that reduction.  Convincing them that their taxes are being misallocated is the key.

Language C: The way to convince people that their money is being misallocated is to tell them the money is going to racial minorities who are lazy and undeserving.  

Language D: The more stigma is attached to nakedly racial political appeals, the more abstract the language must be so, eventually, you don't even talk about welfare queens anymore.  Except, sometimes.

Does this mean that all requests for lower taxes are racist?  Of course not.  Lowering taxes is a tool that can be (and is) used to juice a slumping economy.  It's a tool that can encourage or discourage certain behaviors.  For the very wealthy people who started this anti-tax campaign, racism was a necessary tool but not necessarily a belief. I'd point out, though, that being so greedy that you're willing to enflame racial animosities for your personal financial gain is probably worse than not wanting your taxes to go to racial minorities.

I'd put the question to Chait this way: "Do you think that very wealthy people would have been so successful in restoring wealth disparity to 1920's levels if they hadn't had a party out there telling white people that their taxes were going to welfare queens?  If so, how would they have convinced a majority of the people to go along with it?"  

What's disturbing to Chait is that he sees the left as making a tautological argument in which everything conservative is racist because of racism.  And, he's right that you can go too far with that kind of analysis, particularly when you are ascribing feelings and motives to individuals rather than explaining political strategies and movements.  Chait gets to the core of his argument here:

One of the greatest triumphs of liberal politics over the past 50 years has been to completely stigmatize open racial discrimination in public life, a lesson that has been driven home over decades by everybody from Jimmy the Greek to Paula Deen. This achievement has run headlong into an increasing liberal tendency to define conservatism as a form of covert racial discrimination. If conservatism is inextricably entangled with racism, and racism must be extinguished, then the scope for legitimate opposition to Obama shrinks to an uncomfortably small space.

Can we begin our response by asking Chait (since he didn't mention it) to stipulate that questioning the legitimacy of the president's birth certificate is not within the scope of "legitimate opposition" to the president's policies?  

Yet, I get his point.  You can't explain every conservative belief by reference to racism.  At some point, you have to debate things on their merits.  The problem is that Chait is concerned about the wrong thing.  He is concerned that liberals are too quick to lob accusations of racism around, but the bigger problem is that the Republican Establishment has lost control of the beast they created to get these historically low tax rates.

When Wall Street bankers and the Chamber of Commerce and the evangelical community and agricultural industry, collectively, can't outweigh the racists in the Republican Party and pass comprehensive immigration reform, you've reached the point where there isn't anything left to prove.    

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Comment Preferences

  •  "You can't explain every conservative belief (12+ / 0-)

    by reference to racism"
    Well, no, Greeed plays a role too.

    If I ran this circus, things would be DIFFERENT!

    by CwV on Sun Apr 13, 2014 at 03:09:06 PM PDT

  •  We're tying this to their Ayn Rand Christianity. (7+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    terrybuck, Alumbrados, 1BQ, sow hat, eOz, offgrid, semiot

    Faith, hope and charity --- be damned.

    There's every Monday protests in Atlanta aimed at the Deal Administration deciding to block Medicaid Expansion.

    At this point it's not just Blacks they hate. Selfishness is a Randian virtue. Everybody in the "47%" is on the lists for their Koch-supplied gas chambers.

    "Stealing kids' lunch money makes them strong and independent." -- Ryan Paul von Koch

    by waterstreet2013 on Sun Apr 13, 2014 at 03:38:39 PM PDT

  •  When Clinton raised taxes in 1993 (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    semiot

    ...the fallout result was that so many jobs were created, 25% of all African Americans were lifted out of poverty.

    You can never convince me that tax cuts help the poor. They don't. They are DIRECTLY CONNECTED to the poor's status. Look what happened when George W. Bush 'put that money back in everyone's pockets'...nearly all those African Americans have dropped back into poverty.

    Fuck all, man. We are doomed by propaganda and the New Feudalism. The golden days of this nation are receding into the sunset, folks. There truly is no solution, no answer, no convincing the majority of stupid Americans.

    "I feel a lot safer already."--Emil Sitka

    by DaddyO on Sun Apr 13, 2014 at 04:54:39 PM PDT

    •  Yes. Ignorance and blockheaded stupidity (0+ / 0-)

      should be added to the list of "conservative" motives - along with racism, greed and plain misanthropy - to explain what's the matter with Kansas & etc.

      Courage is contagious. - Daniel Ellsberg

      by semiot on Mon Apr 14, 2014 at 07:36:06 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  rw radio took dead atwater nationally (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    PeteZerria, Hoghead99, semiot
    "Do you think that very wealthy people would have been so successful in restoring wealth disparity to 1920's levels if they hadn't had a party out there telling white people that their taxes were going to welfare queens?  If so, how would they have convinced a majority of the people to go along with it?"
    it worked great for them, still is.

    just about everything the GOP has been successful in doing the last 25 years has depended on that rw radio monopoly and it's ability to create myths like the welfare queens with cadilacs and food stamp liquor.

    rw radio took atwater's techniques nationally and cons like chait have to live with the fact that the party of lincoln is now the party of limbaugh. and there are tens of millions of talk radio faithful and their families and friends, the republican base, who think obama wanted to raise the debt ceiling to satisfy welfare cheats, give more foreign aid to brown people, bail out failed solar companies, etc.

    This is a list of 76 universities for Rush Limbaugh that endorse global warming denial, racism, sexism, and GOP lies by broadcasting sports on over 170 Limbaugh radio stations.

    by certainot on Sun Apr 13, 2014 at 06:42:23 PM PDT

  •  The great, at least human and honest, journalist (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Hoghead99, semiot

    Jimmy Breslin was being interviewed on a local Sunday morning public affairs program. I think early 1990s. He was asked about the religious right, and Mr Breslin came back with something (paraphrased) "In New York City, when Catholics went on about defending their faith, what they meant was 'keep the blacks down.'"

    There's a lot to that aspect as well.

    As to lower taxes by itself: the Aristrocrats (and that's what we have, except they wear the 'classless' mask of 'Corporations') have been whining about taxes since at least the 16th C. And they certainly didn't mean for the average person, who had no say in governance anyway, to have lower taxes. Though they'd use them to form angry mobs as needed.


    When the Oceans rise, what's the plan for moving the nuke plants? Anyone?

    by Jim P on Sun Apr 13, 2014 at 07:01:49 PM PDT

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