Skipping Debates

| | Comments (15)

I thought the leading Democratic presidential candidates were being petty, politically stupid, and morally unjustified when they refused to participate in a debate co-sponsored by Fox News and the Congressional Black Caucus a few months ago. I will say the same for Republican candidates Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, Mitt Romney, Tom Tancredo, and John McCain for refusing to appear at a PBS debate hosted by Tavis Smiley that will focus on minority issues. Tancredo doesn't surprise me, I would say that I doubt he has a race-sensitive bone in his body, except that most of his language on immigration seems designed to appeal to those who very much are race-sensitive but in the wrong direction. Rudy Giuliani does have some episodes during his tenure as mayor of NYC that he may not want people like Al Sharpton haranguing him about. Maybe Mitt Romney is worried about Sharpton continuing his criticism of Romney for belonging to a religious institution that used to be racist. (Doesn't Sharpton support Planned Parenthood?) I can't think of any reason why Thompson and McCain are doing this, and I'm not impressed on the moral level by any of the reasons the others might give, even if it's psychologically understandable.

There is nothing wrong with having a debate that focuses on certain issues. There's nothing wrong with appearing before questioners who will ask you difficult questions, even loaded questions with immoral assumptions. The point of a debate is to be able to answer such people, sometimes answering what's wrong about the questioners' assumptions. Several commenters at the post I linked to above are saying that it would be stupid to show up at a debate where it's clear the point is just to lambaste Republicans for their policies, where everything is framed in terms of trapping them into saying things to make them look foolish to minority voters. But if they can't handle themselves in that kind of environment, then they deserve not to get any votes from minority voters.

There's a reason black voters tend to vote 90% Democratic, and it's not because black people are inherently Democratic or because Republicans advocate policies that are so obviously anti-black that no decent black person would vote for a Republican. There are enough intelligent, well-meaning, and sincere black conservatives to disprove such a ridiculous notion. The real reason, I believe, is because Republicans are typically bad at explaining why they think their views are actually more in the interest of blacks than Democratic policies are, and that's because many Republican candidates simply haven't thought through the issues they need to think through to make that case but have adopted extremely simplisitc justifications for the very policies that I think could be justified much more carefully when the issues are framed differently, in ways that many black voters might be more inclined to listen.

Republicans don't have the easy out of simply supporting some politically correct policy that doesn't accomplish all that much in terms of real social progress. Liberals, just by supporting affirmative action and other band-aids, can get away with not worrying about dealing with the actual wound, because liberals tend to get black votes as long as they don't advocate anything terrible. Conservatives have to work much harder to get black voters, so they need to explain why conservative views are actually more in line with what blacks and other minorities want for this country (as I think is actually the case, at least on some issues, so I think it can be done and just isn't).

When the four leading presidential candidates from the GOP skip out on a debate that would give them the chance to do that, it gives fuel to the myth that Republicans are all racist or at least don't care about issues that affect non-whites. But then it makes me wonder if candidates who would skip out on a debate like this are the ones to make that case.

15 Comments

"it gives fuel to the myth that Republicans are all racist or at least don't care about issues that affect non-whites."


I'd grant the former is a myth but I'm pretty firmly convinced the latter is not. What evidence is there that Republicans care as much as Progressives about issues that solely or primarily affect minorities? I'm sure that inasmuch as they are convinced that their policies are overall best for the nation, they believe their policies are also best for the black community. But on issues that are de facto race-specific or at least race non-neutral, issues like the drug war, the prison industrial complex, AIDS in Africa, etc, Republicans are completely silent. Worse, even though some of these issues clearly affect one race more than another, Republicans by and large seem to think it's impermissible to deal with these issues on racial terms. I find it therefore hard to avoid the obvious conclusion: that since Republicans still get many of their votes from closeted and not-so-closeted racists, and since there are still more racists in the country than blacks, it's advantageous for them to be seen ignoring the concerns of black citizens. There's a net gain of votes to be had by doing so.

I have to take issue, though, with the underlying assumption I think I sense in your post. The whole idea that black people need the conservative (or liberal) position explained to them I find pretty deeply offensive. I know you don't mean any harm, but this is part of the disconnect that makes it impossible for me to ever consider voting Republican (I'm black and a Christian). I think I know fairly well what Conservatism offers in theory and what elected Republican officials produce in practice, and I reject both. And I'm capable of doing so even while realizing that many of the policy initiatives of the Democratic party aren't much better. Conservatives need to get over the insulting notion that black people have been tricked into being Democrats. The Conservative approach to black voters is positively PERMEATED with this belief, and I don't think Conservatives have any notion of how infuriatingly condescending and paternalistic it is. Usually when I sense this assumption in a Conservative I simply stop listening.

I know full well that I'm voting for the lesser of two evils. I doubt there's a black Democrat alive who isn’t keenly aware of this. I know that white liberals by and large barely understand the legitimate concerns of the black community. But they will at least show up and acknowledge that legitimate concerns exist. That's not much, but as this latest incident demonstrates, it's more than Republicans are willing to do.

What evidence is there that Republicans care as much as Progressives about issues that solely or primarily affect minorities?

First of all, contrast things that contrast. The contrasting categories would be Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, or whatever the unhelpful and undefined progressives are contrasting with and progressives. (I'm a progressive in my view, and I'm a conservative Republican. I see nothing progressive about traditional liberalism. That's either the status quo or it's regressive socialism. Newt Gingrich is more progressive than Howard Dean, and I don't even like Gingrich all that much.)

But on substance, ignoring terminological disputes, I am 100% confident that I care more about issues that solely or primarily affect minorities than Howard Dean or John Kerry do, and I am a Republican. You could easily make a case that most Republicans in positions to do anything about it are not motivated by the most important issues that face minorities in a way that fits with how minorities see those issues. But that's short of the claim that they care less about the issues that affect minorities solely or primarily.

You could less easily but plausibly argue that Republicans tend not to put those issues as priorities, but I think the same is true of most white Democrats. They just depart in a different way. They offer placebos and band-aids, while Republicans tend to distract from the issues by pretending race isn't real or has no social impact, and they think blinding ourselves to social realities counts as justice when it doesn't.

The reality is that there are social and economic difficulties related to racial disparity, and the solutions to those problems do not come from pretending they'll go away when the free market solves all problems. But it also isn't a solution to patch over it by taking people into a college they're not prepared for in the interest of diversity or to put structures in place that encourage dependency rather than self-motivation and funding for programs that help people with real needs to be better at providing for themselves.

It's for this reason that I think the policies conservatives have been advocating are much better. The faith-based initiatives are part of this, and I see a lot of resistance to seeing affirmative action as a solution, alongside an insistence on prioritizing hiring qualified minority candidates over qualified non-minority candidates. I've never seen anyone in high levels with something as close to what I see as ideal except for the current president, and yet you reject it out of hand without argument simply because some conservatives think you misunderstand their views.

Are Republicans silent on the drug war? Or are they just dismissive of the notion that it's bad for the black community to do what the very people who are complaining about the drug war begged the Reagan Administration to do and to make black urban communities safer to live in? How can that not be better for the black community? Maybe it also has unintentional side effects, but it seems completely near-sighted to see those unintentional side-effects as not caring when the original motivation was purely for improving black neighborhoods.

The current president has spent a good deal of effort into addressing AIDS in Africa, and I find it hard to believe you when you claim that you know what Republicans really believe while denying what they're actually doing on this issue.

I tend not to accept conspiracy theories, and yours doesn't seem much better than most. The idea of a colorblind society simply appeals to a lot of Republicans. To act as if they do it to appeal to racists is a bit too far in the direction of immoral speculation for my tastes, since there's a much more charitable explanation that's highly plausible. The ideal of colorblindness really does seem pretty good if you don't follow its implications. It really would be nice if we didn't let things like skin color or ethnic background get in the way of treating each other fairly and justly. That's the basic idea. The problem is that it leads to pretending problems that are real aren't there, because there's no way to identify them if you ignore race. It's not that the ideal is bad. The ideal is very appealing, and there's no need to explain the attraction to this ideal with the kind of subversive politics you uncharitably assign to Republicans. I know quite a lot of people who accept this ideal and do so because they care about people who are not white. So I just don't accept your bald assertion. It doesn't fit with my experience, and it strikes me as a particularly nasty partisan assumption on the order of treating all Democrats as pandering patronizers simply because a few like to feel as if they're doing they're racial duty by pretending they care about blacks and voting for more money for welfare and complaining loudly about honest judges who happen to think the law in a few cases is on the side of people who aren't black or poor or whatever.

I will resist your attempt to paint my post as patronizing. I didn't claim that black people don't understand what Republicans think in terms of specific policies (although you're making me rethink that claim with some of your ill-informed generalizations). I claimed that black people don't understand why someone motivated by the real issues behind racial justice would think some generally conservative views are true. I happen to think some of the things the Bush Administration has tried are steps in the right direction, just as some of the things Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich came up with were steps in the right direction, and some of these haven't worked as well as they were intended to, but they're a start.

The conservative approach to black voters? I thought you were saying that there isn't one, that conservatives write off black voters to get racist voters? The reality is that there isn't one conservative approach to black voters. What you've identified is a theme among black conservatives, who have come to accept conservative political views and think blacks who accept liberal views are wrong. Anyone thinks their own views are right, which means others' are wrong. If the views I favor are the best, it entails that other views aren't. That's not patronizing. It's just disagreement. I can accept that you're smart and well-meaning and still think you've come to your views based on faulty reasoning. You must think the same of me where we disagree. It does indeed follow that one of us has been misled by faulty reasoning. If you throw into the ring the idea that advocating band-aids that seem nice has helped keep the voters on one side, when the other side isn't much different (as you just admitted), then I can't see how you can complain about this.

The fact is that most Americans are hopelessly ignorant about political matters and that the dominant media forces in this country often portray conservative views in an uncharitable way. Conservatives are viewed as not caring about the little guy, favoring whites, or whatever when the issue in question may well just be a matter of following the law. (Hence the completely illegitimate complaints in the Alito hearings.) This kind of framing is extremely common, and I think it does shape how the politically ignorant think about politics and the major parties. This is confirmed whenever I hear a vacuous slogan or misrepresented view. Most voters really are won over by bad rhetoric, and most voters really don't know what their politicians think. A disturbingly high number of voters in 2004 though Bush was pro-choice and Kerry pro-life. Don't try to tell me that the average voter of any race isn't affect by any of this.

A politician's job is to present a case for voting for them. Those who are well-meaning ought to do so by explaining why they think their views are the ones the voters should want implemented. One way to do that is to seek out views that you think are the best ones for your constituents, and if someone thinks conservative policies are best for blacks then it is not patronizing to explain why. People who disagree can give counter-arguments in response. People who are uninformed can learn from the whole thing and get a better picture of the debate than the stupid slogans usually carted around.

So I stand by what I said, and I resist the conclusion you're drawing about its implications.

All right. I'll try to take this more or less in order, but I want to start out by saying that I know you meant no offense. I think I said that in my comments. I read your posts here and prosblogion and I'm kind of a fan. I didn't mean to upset you as much as I apparently have. If you interpreted anything I said as insinuating you were a bad or careless person you've misread me.


But kind of the point of my post is that Conservatives have no idea how to talk to black people. The issue is not with your intent, it's with your ability to communicate your intent to a black audience without sounding patronizing. You do a lot better with that than your friends on the blog you linked to (most of whom seem convinced that if Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson died tomorrow, black people would starve to death since there would be no one left to tell them when to eat). But there's still a pretty big disconnect between what you're trying to say and how you're coming across.

I don't think that the terminology I use is all that elusive. In the political circles I frequent liberals tend to refer to themselves as progressives, and that term is generally contrasted with conservative. For me the word liberal connotes more of a social agenda whereas the word progressive tends to connote more of an agenda of economic reform favoring the working class (no doubt what you refer to as "regressive socialism", demonstrating that tendency towards charitable interpretation that you chastise me for lacking). I use the term progressive because, like most people of color, I'm not the biggest endorser of liberal social agendas.

I leave it to you how you can know with certainty the contents of other men's hearts, and how yours ranks in relation to them. My calendar says 2007, so I don't know why we're talking about Dean and Kerry rather than Clinton and Obama anyway. Besides, how much you personally care isn't really the issue. The issue is, is it reasonable for a black voter to conclude from the behavior of Republican candidates that the Republican Party is vitally interested in their immediate concerns? My answer to that is a resounding no. If you disagree, please tell me what I'm missing.

I don't reject conservative policies out of hand without argument. I just didn't mention the reasons why I reject conservative policies in my post. I am aware that affirmative action is a band-aid for the economic divide, but like most black people, I'm aware that band-aids perform a useful function, and ripping one off prematurely without providing a sufficient alternative curative is pointless. When Conservatives are as vocal about legacy preferences, in-state preferences, and gender preferences in college admissions as they are about racial preferences, then they can talk to me about a meritocracy. Until then, excuse me while I turn this deaf ear. It seems to me that Conservatives talk a lot about dropping racial preferences and talk not at all about other preferences that are actually more prevalent (I'm sure it's not news to you that more white women benefit from affirmative action than blacks). I'm telling you this, not to insinuate you are a racist or a bad person, but to tell you how you are coming across: to black people, this sounds like you're just trying to get rid of the preferences that benefit us while keeping the preferences that benefit you.

I'm curious, since you seem to be an obviously exceptionally intelligent, committed Conservative, just what is it you like so much about the current president? Or do you just mean he most embodies your views about how to handle racial economic disparities, but not necessarily on everything else?

I'm not really in favor of faith-based initiatives. Or I guess I should say, I'm tentatively in favor of NGO-initiatives, but I see no reason why churches should play a primary role in that. I'm against shifting the burden of something like welfare primarily onto the churches since I don't think churches have the resources to entirely shoulder that burden. I'm also concerned that accepting government money could have a corrupting effect on the gospel. It also strikes me that shifting any significant portion of that duty onto churches would be impossible to do without a rather large body responsible for oversight, and thus I don't see how there would be any net loss of bureaucracy.

I realize that Bush has done much to help with AIDS in Africa, and aid to Africa in general. The concern I raise is with the Republican Party's general silence about that issue, among others. I admire Bush's efforts in Africa, but at the same time I wonder why he isn't more vocal about it? Who is he afraid of alienating or offending by making a loud public stance that this is an important issue that's worth the resources he commits to it? Wouldn't he encounter more resistance to these policies among his own than among liberals? So I don't discount Bush's personal efforts, but his actions don't mean that it's reasonable to assume that, as a general strategy for increasing aid to Africa, black voters should keep voting for Republican presidents.

I'll ask, if you think that the notion of race-bating within the Republican party is a “conspiracy“, then why is affirmative action an issue on the national agenda at all? How many people's lives will really be affected negatively by race-based affirmative action in a year? It's a teeny-tiny government program. It costs us almost nothing. It's a small concession to a massive legacy of racism. But it's curious, isn't it, how much it motivates the base, if there isn't a significant amount of racial animosity within the base.

If you want to paint it as a conspiracy theory, I offer you the opportunity to present a counter theory that will provide a superior explanation to the following body of facts: The success of Bush senior’s Willie Horton ads, (about which we have Lee Atwater’s overt confession that he intended to “get more racial mileage” out of Horton by calling him “Willie” (a name he never went by) instead of William). Dukakis’s decision not to respond to Willie Horton ads ( about which he later admitting that he refrained from doing so because his advisors warned this would offend white voters). Jesse Helm’s meteoric rise in the polls after filibustering the MLK holiday and airing an advertisement showing a pair of white hands holding a rejection letter, with accompanying voice over explaining “You needed that job, but it went to a minority to fill quotas.“ Reagan’s opening his 1980 campaign at a fairgrounds in Mississippi that is notorious for holding KKK meetings. Bill Clinton’s bringing photographers with him to a segregated golf club. George W. Bush’s speech at Bob Jones. The RNC‘s ad showing a white hooker making suggestive remarks towards Harold Ford. And these incidents could be massively multiplied given more time. So if there is an alternative explanation other than Republican race-pandering to white voters, I’m eager to hear it. (I'm not suggesting that all whites who respond to such tactics are overt racists, but there are many whites who would, despite the better angels of their nature, respond to this kind of pandering. Campaign managers know this and exploit it.)

You're welcome to resist my attempt to paint you as patronizing. Or you could try to take my comments which were honestly offered in the spirit of constructive criticism to heart and see how you could present your case in a way that will generate a better response. As your Christian brother I would hope you take the latter approach, but as your good-natured political adversary, I'd be happy for you to take the former. (Again, I'm not trying to judge your intent, which I firmly believe is grounded in a sincere concern for good.)

I'm not sure what friends you're talking about. I do read that blog, and I like some of the contributors' thoughts about the election (but I have a lot less interest in the commenters, which is the group you seem to be referring to), but I don't know any of them personally. I certainly wouldn't call any of them friends.

I'm well aware that a lot of white people don't know how to speak in ways that black people will listen. That was sort of the point of this post. But I don't think that has anything to do with political parties (or it wouldn't make sense in that post, which isn't about that). I would say that my wife has no trouble not feeling patronized when I make some of the arguments I make, so whatever some black people feel when they would see my comments as patronizing has got to be for some reason other than the mere fact that they're black.

When I used the term 'regressive socialism', I meant that socializing tendencies are going in the wrong direction, which is indeed my view. It doesn't have to do with interpreting someone charitably or uncharitably. It's nothing like claiming someone believes something they don't believe. It's more like simply not agreeing with what they believe. In the circles I run in, people who have historically called themselves liberal have chosen to use the word 'progressive' because they believe 'liberal' has taken on bad connotations, but the problem is that the word 'progressive' is also loaded in a way that automatically defines it as good, when a lot of things people who call themselves progressive are, in my view, regressive. (I've never heard of the social/economic dichotomy with these two words, by the way. I've always taken it that 'progressive' is supposed to be just a replacement for 'liberal', one that I'm not at this point willing to grant.)

My reference to John Kerry, Ted Kennedy, and Howard Dean is a fairly common observation that these are rich, white men whose lifestyle reflects very little of what they say about their views. They don't hire black people. Their circles of friends are all white. The say a lot of things, but I don't think most black people are convinced they're genuine. That's the impression I get from the circles I run in, which includes people far to the left of you. The jury is still out on the current crop of candidates, so I didn't want to comment on them. I was simply repeating an observation I've regularly heard from the left about some mainstream Democratic politicians.

Legacy preferences are a real issue. I think there is a prima facie argument for being loyal to alumni, since alumni can be serious contributors. But I think there's also a prima facie argument for affirmative action that isn't overcome as easily as most conservatives think it is. I don't mind either of these things in moderation, since neither is in principle objectionable. The problem is when you lower standards so significantly that the average SAT for the group being let in with special standards is 200 points lower (on the old system; I don't know how the new one works) and GPA of a whole grade point lower than the average for everyone else. That seems to me to be too low, as if the only goal is to meet a certain percentage quota rather than seeking out qualified but underprivileged students at a larger admissions percentage than average, which I have no problem with. I think there are some pretty strong arguments that such a high degree of lowered standards actually hurt the people they're intended to help more than they help.

I'm not sure why in-state privileges are at all a problem. State institutions are supposed to be primarily to serve their own people, and I know of no standards-lowering in-state privileges for private institutions. Brown University does seek to take about one student from each high school in the state, but they don't really need to lower standards significantly to do that, even though it's a higher rate than they have for those outside RI.

I have no idea what you're referring to with gender affirmative action. That's hardly practiced anymore at the college level, and those who oppose racial affirmative action tend to oppose that too. It's just that there are so many more women applying than men, particularly more women who are more qualified to be admitted. There are one or two institutions who have announced that they give special preference to men in response to the female-weighted ration of applicants, but in my experience conservatives on this issue are as opposed to that as they are to any other kind of affirmative action. So I really have no idea what you mean.

Now it's really strange that anyone should think I'm trying to retain preferences that benefit me. I didn't go to a school my parents went to. I may have gotten in-state preference, but I doubt it. Brown took two people from my school my year, and I was the higher-ranked one (I was accepted fall semester, and she had to wait a semester to begin). I don't think they were engaging in male-preference affirmative action in the mid-90s (and I doubt they are now either).

The fact that I don't state my opposition to something doesn't mean I'm not against it, and the fact that I state that affirmative action is harmful to those it's intended to help doesn't mean I think it's in principle bad or worth getting rid of entirely. How I come across is not in my words, in fact. It's in the interpretation of them. I never said any of the things you're reading into them, and I don't believe a lot of them. This is a blog post, and in a blog post I make a quick point to illustrate one thing. It doesn't reflect my entire views on affirmative action, which I spent a good deal of effort making a prima facie case for before never getting around to discussing the arguments against it.

I like a great deal about the current president. I think he's the best president of my lifetime, in fact. I did explain my support for him in 2004. I might not say all the same things now, and there are things I'd say that I didn't say there, but that should give you some sense. There's a lot about this administration that I think goes too far, but I think most of that comes from the vice-president and it has to do with issues that the president hasn't cared as much about and hasn't thought through as much. On the issues I deal with in that post, I think he's very good, and those are some of the issues I care most about.

I'm sensitive to the issue of compromising for money. But at the same time I don't think government funding should come with a requirement not to share your faith, as long as the money itself is used to meet needs. My main support for this whole idea is that these are the programs that are having measurable success, and it's particularly the kind of success I think government has a responsibility to help people with, i.e. not just meeting material needs but in the Aristotelian sense of helping people to become better, more well-rounded people. I don't think we're at a point where we can say these programs or any others are actually doing that perfectly well, but it seems to me to be a step in the right direction from the kind of welfare that was standard before the Clinton-Gingrich reforms of the 90s.

I have no interest in putting the entire welfare burden on churches. That notion is insane. A lot of radical conservatives do say that sort of thing, but I don't think they have any plan in mind as to how to move to that immediately after declaring welfare unconstitutional and thievery. That's why I'm not going to be voting for anyone like Ron Paul, Pat Buchanan, or Alan Keyes anytime soon. But those guys aren't mainstream Republicans.

As for AIDS, I think the main reason most Republicans aren't motivated to do anything is because they see the bad example of Bono, who seems to think having a concert counts as doing something to help people. They don't want to have any part of that, and since he's leading the effort they just don't want to take part. It's unfortunate. I'm not sure this is a problem that will be solved by simply throwing money at it, since I think sexual habits are really the main obstacle to progress, and too many people are resisting any efforts to focus on those issues.

I'm not sure why you think affirmative action is a major issue for Republicans. In my experience it hardly comes up. The social conservatives tend not to care about it. The war hawks are focusing on foreign policy. The libertarians do think it's bad, but it's not at the top of their list usually when the budget is so high with so much pork, as it is right now. I just don't think this is a major concern for most Republican politicians. It may be a concern for your average Joe white contractor who keeps losing jobs to minority-owned businesses because of laws that require giving a certain percentage of jobs to minority-owned companies. It might be a concern for someone neat the borderline of being admitted to a college when black students who have lower qualifications got in. It may be on the mind of academics who can't find a job when all their female and minority classmates seem to have an easy time of it. There is an unfairness in this (although without affirmative action there might be another kind of unfairness). But it's not at the top of the agenda of any Republicans I know. (I should say that I think most white racial animosity comes from such situations as the ones I listed rather than outright negative attitudes toward black people. I think that's an advance. I don't think these situations justify any racial animosity, but I think that's a better situation than what used to be true.)

There's certainly evidence that political cutthroats like Lee Atwater will rely on what they expect will affect voters. This doesn't necessarily involve a conscious racism on their part in the sense of outright dislike, hatred, or wishing of harm (although it might). But it does involve a kind of contempt in the older sense of the term, i.e. simply not caring how it affects someone. But this doesn't mean those who are moved by the ads are themselves racist in either sense. I would expect that anyone seeing the Willie Horton ad would be moved by the fact that Dukakis let the guy out of prison and then he did what he did. You don't need to see what the guy looks like or hear his name to be moved by such a thing. Attributing to him characteristics more common to the stereotypical view of a criminal helps increase that even apart from the race issue.

Then the racial component will have an effect even among people who are not themselves racists but who are affected by residual racism, i.e. people who would automatically lock their doors when they see someone who looks like what they take to be a thug walking near their car, only to worry about it immediately afterward, thinking that it might involve a negative stereotype of black people. Lots of people are affected negatively by stereotypes and have automatic responses of fear or avoidance that they themselves think are bad reactions and want to overcome. All you need is people like that for ads like the Willie Horton one to be effective.

I don't think the Bob Jones example remotely fits with the others. Bob Jones University is not known among evangelicals for being the segregated university. It's know for being the school for really cranky dispensationalist legalists, and it's got a key demographic within the Republican base. I very much doubt that it even occurred to Bush that their views on race would even come up. He may not even have known about it, but if he did I'd be extremely surprised to find out that it was one of his reasons for being there.

The same might be true of some of the other examples, but I don't know most of them. I was never convinced that the Harold Ford ad was racially-based, for instance. It struck me as a typical frat boy party image that they were presenting. When I brought the issue to the attention of a friend of mine who lived in the South for a long time, he thought it was plausible that it might have been racially intended, but then I told him it was in Tennessee, and he immediately rescinded that. He thinks those kinds of things might work in the deep South, but he didn't think it would have the same effect in that state. None of this means it wasn't their intent, but I'm not convinced that it was.

Besides, I never said that Republicans never pander to white racism. I said that it's a misrepresentation of Republican policies to think they're all motivated by racism or that racism is the standard attitude of Republicans. My contention is that white Democrats don't care a whole lot more than white Republicans, and some perhaps a good deal less, about race issues, and I think some conservative policies (and some of those would only be moderate versions of them) strike me as being more in the interests of minorities than standard Democratic policies, and I don't think most black people are aware of the kinds of arguments I would use to support this claim, so I don't see how it's patronizing to make such a claim. I'm open to you showing me how it's patronizing, but everything you've said strikes me as either getting me very wrong or giving a moral criticism of something that I remain convinced is morally defensible.

I'm sure that not all black people would feel offended by some portions of your post, but I feel justified from the political conversations I've had with black people in my 31 years to say that quite a few would. I wasn't aware that you were in possession of arguments for Conservatism that are generally unknown in the black community, so when you suggested that Blacks vote Democratic because Republicans haven't explained things clearly enough to them, I balked. It sounded like a familiar refrain I hear from Conservative pundits and spokesman. It seems to me that a significant portion of Republicans (certainly not all, maybe not most, but a significant portion) have the view that the great masses of black people are Democrats because they have been deluded by racist black demagogues or tricked by liberal white carpetbaggers. I get that impression from blogs like the one you link to, and scores of others that are much worse that are currently discussing the Jena situation. After you've been exposed to that kind of thinking from Republicans for a while, and you come across a statement like yours, it's hard not to come (jump? leap?) to the conclusion that you were echoing those sentiments. If your wife doesn't jump to the same conclusions it could just be because she knows you better than I do. But for that very reason I wouldn't use her as a barometer for how your comments would play in the black community generally. (Have you ever blogged about your experiences in an interracial marriage as a Calvinist? And now it occurs to me that I'm assuming you're not black. Who's the racist now, right? But if you aren't black, have you ever blogged about it?)

At any rate, if you really have persuasive, unique arguments showing why Republican policies are more beneficial to blacks than Democratic ones, maybe you should just make those arguments directly. I'm here and I'm willing to listen.

If I were advising Republican strategists on how to reach the black community, I would tell them to drop all mention of the limousine liberal. That stuff might play with the base but I don't think it will play with black people. We're painfully aware, in a way that comes only with decades of experiencing the most brutal, heartless betrayals, that white liberals, particularly rich ones, can only be trusted so far. We don't need you guys telling us this, and it's insulting when you do because it seems like you're suggesting that we don't know, which seems like you're suggesting that we've been duped. Black people are no more naive or enthusiastic about who they vote for than anybody else. Everyone in the electorate is used to holding their nose in the voting booth, pulling the lever as fast as they can, and rushing home to take a shower.

As for the term progressive, in my experience, through the hard work of Conservative radio, think-tanks, ad agencies, etc, the term immediately brings up, to the properly trained mind, images of gay marriage and abortion. I find if you exclude issues like that, and talk to working class people about health care, education, the environment, etc, the left's agenda is actually more palatable. I don't blame you for not adopting the terminology, though, since that would waste all the money and time that went into engineering a Pavlovian response in the electorate to the word "liberal".

When I say that preferences privilege you I didn't mean you "Jeremy Pierce" I meant you "white Republicans". I'm sure White Republicans are far more likely to be legacy at Brown, for example.

I agree with pretty much everything you say about affirmative action and faith-based initiatives (I didn't realize Ron Paul advocated that, though. Kooky.)

I have some disagreements. Bono? Not really a legitimate excuse. Not to say black people do as much as they should about AIDS in Africa (or in America)... but blaming it on Bono?

And I don't know who your friend is who thinks there isn't much racism in Tennessee. I'd invite him to Memphis with me next time I visit my brother and we'll see how long it takes us to find some. I've lived in the South all my life, and I don't see much difference between Tennessee and other states. And the differences I saw didn't always favor Tennessee. Besides, the ad was paid for by the RNC, not the local campaign. You'll find the experiences of black folks in America selects against us regarding things like this as happy accidents. We've found that if it looks like a burning cross and smells like a burning cross, it's generally a burning cross. Not that the add was that blatant, but it plays much too neatly into still widespread discomfort about interracial marriage in general (which I don't need to tell you about... I don't think) and about the black male/white female dichotomy specifically, to be coincidental. Ford was apparently notorious about keeping white female company, and I find it hard to believe that outing him for this in wouldn't hurt him in the polls anywhere in America, nevermind Tennessee.

If you want to see examples of this kind of race-pandering multiplied, check out a book called Nixon's Piano: Presidents and Racial Politics from Washington to Clinton, and prepare to be amazed. And by "amazed" I mean "disgusted".

Lastly, I really have to ask what it is you see that is even competent in the sitting President? Is it the rampant spending, or the rampant cronyism? The illegal wire-tapping? The timely response to Katrina? That he decommissioned the Presidents Council on Race his first day in office? His complete mismanagement of our military? The blatantly unconstitutional signing statements to the effect that he alone may disobey the laws of the land? His treating human rights as if they only applied to Americans?

I mean, I could see how a person could feel a great affinity to Bush because his opinions closely mirror their own. But I don't see how anyone old enough to utter the phrase "Best President of my lifetime" could apply that phrase to him. I suppose it’s possible you’re an extremely precocious 7 year old :). You're welcome to just tell me this is the subject for another blog, since it probably is.

I don't have a lot of time to respond to everything you say, but I wanted to say a few things.

My wife doesn't jump to the conclusions you're referring to because she thinks such statements are true. She's much more inclined to the idea that black people are deluded by liberal propaganda than I am. As I said, this is the sort of thing you find among black conservatives, and she most definitely is one. Black people who become convinced of conservatism are much more likely to think that what had been preventing them from seeing what they now believe to be the best political views was deceptive. My point of mentioning my wife was that if this response you're discussing doesn't affect all black people then it's not stemming from their being black. It's stemming from their having a particular political mindset, perhaps one common to many black people, that not all black people share. There's nothing about that mindset that we should think of as essential to being black, and my wife finds it particularly offensive when people talk as if there is.

When an issue comes up, I make my arguments. I don't think the best arguments for conservative positions are all that common in the public debate (and the same is true of liberal, or what you call progressive, positions). But I don't have the time to go into all that now, nor do I have time to respond to all the charges you raise against Bush. Some of the criticisms people make of the administration are real worries. Some (e.g. Katrina) are in some large measure red herrings.

My reason for thinking he's the best president in my lifetime on the issues I care most about is that only he and Ronald Reagan have cared about abortion, and his views on race are much better than Reagan's. His Supreme Court appointments are the best set of any president in my lifetime. He faced a particularly difficult national security crisis that's still ongoing, and I think he's handled it remarkably well, even if a number of things Cheney has convinced him to push for are further than I would want. The thing he takes the most criticism for (invading Iraq) is something Bill Clinton is on record for saying he wanted to do, and I think the moral justification for that was sound (and not just for the self-defense reasons that opponents pretend were the only ones given). He's better than Reagan on the environment, even though I'd like him to go further. He's better than Reagan on "statecraft as soulcraft", even though he spends a lot (but so did Reagan). Since those are the issues I care most about, I prefer him. I certainly prefer him to either Democratic president of my lifetime or either of the two RINO presidents of my lifetime, and I don't think his father was all that great either.

When I referred to the limousine liberal, I wasn't trying to convince black people that white liberals don't care about them. The point of this post had to do with calling some Republicans to be concerned about issues they aren't focused on, and then you complained that Republicans aren't ever concerned about those issues in the right way, but you kept framing it as if my post had been directed toward convincing black people of something, when there's nothing in the post that was attempting such a thing.

Nothing I said about Bono was supposed to be excusing anything. I was simply offering an explanation, one that is somewhat psychologically plausible. But I didn't say it was a moral justification. I just wanted to explain why the response, in many people, has nothing to do with racism or thinking of people with AIDS as unimportant.

I'm sorry, I just don't buy that blacks find the kind of condescension we were discussing offensive simply because they're Democrats. I think it's entirely possible, and morally necessary, to be a black Republican who respects that most black Democratic VOTERS are intelligent, well-meaning people who understand the issues but take a different position. It is inevitable that ANYONE, white or black, who thinks that the majority of black voters are fooled by white liberal propaganda thinks very little of black people. Were I ever to become a black conservative, I assure you that I would still believe that the idea that black people are tricked into voting against their best interests is motivated by a belief that blacks are irrational and overly-prone to emotion.

You were the one who said you wanted to reach out to black voters, but apparently what you want more than that is to be absolutely innocent of even an entirely forgivable, unintentional offense. As your Christian brother I find this regrettable, but as your good-natured political opponent, I say, by all means, please learn nothing from this exchange, and keep using your conservative wife as a barometer of what's offensive to black people "because they're black".

I see this as an example of a regrettable tendency among conservatives to resist taking the perspectives of black people as valid, even when they're talking about their own feelings*. And THAT as much as anything is why Conservatives don't do well with blacks. They don't even allow blacks the luxury of deciding when they should be offended. (*I'm here speaking in a broad political sense, not in a personal sense. I'm sure you take the feelings of your wife as valid; I'm not as sure from your comments that you would take the perspective of most black people on issues like the one we're discussing as valid. And by valid I just mean legitimate, understandable, authentic, etc.)

Parenthetically, I would think as a philosopher, and as someone who studies philosophy of race, you would be more sensitive to the fact that NOTHING is offensive to black people "because they are black". Some things are offensive to black people because of the shared experiences of black people in this country. And one of those shared experiences is seeing ourselves portrayed in the media as lemmings and dupes easily controlled by black charlatans and white liberals. And obviously THAT, and not the amount of melanin in my skin, is why I find your comments (unintentionally) offensive, and why a great many black people would. Regardless of your political persuasion, if you think blacks are generally rational agents (at least as much as anyone else) then you ought to find the media's portrayal of blacks offensive.

Let's take a recent example. The Jena 6 controversy. To hear the guys at the blog you link talk about it, one would think that Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton played the Pied Piper and went around seducing black folks into marching down to Louisiana. The reality is, the Jena case started as a grass roots movement of concerned black people across black radio stations, and Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson only responded VERY LATE because their "constituents" more or less demanded it. (An online petition to have the federal courts review the cases had gathered a few hundred thousand signatures before Jackson or Sharpton made any public statements on the issue.) The same has been the case for essentially every so-called black political movement in US history. In just about every instance, the community as a whole was motivated to do something, and out of that motivation and desire, pushed leaders forward. Martin Luther king was ELECTED to lead the Montgomery bus boycott after REFUSING to volunteer. He didn't even want to get involved. The March on Washington wasn't originally organized by MLK or even the SCLC. Radical, fed-up black protestors started a grass-roots movement, and were determined to go to DC and lay-down on airplane runways and on the steps to congress until the government paid attention to black causes. Martin Luther King reorganized the protests into something more peaceful, but he had to be brought in by the US government to do so. (And incidentally, they only asked him to organize it after they asked him to call it off. They were scandalized upon learning that he couldn't call it off because he hadn't called it on. The white liberals in office at the time had bought their own propaganda that blacks are lead around by the nose by their leaders, and were shocked and horrified to learn that black people were as capable of leaderless political action as anyone else.)

These examples could be multiplied by the score. The so-called black leaders are almost always forced into their positions by their black constituency, who are almost always MORE radical and committed in their beliefs than their public spokesmen. I think it was Gandhi who said “Tell me where my people are going, that I may lead them.”

Moving on to GW Bush, I can see how he could be an ideological compadre, but how would you rate his general level of competence? I'd also love to hear how Katrina is just a red-herring. I realize asking that now casts my prior rant in a light of well-poisoning, but that's honestly not my intent. I'd sincerely like to know how Bush is not to blame for appointing a completely unqualified former Arabian-horse administrator (who by the way was forced to resign from THAT position over scandals) to the head of FEMA in a post 9-11 world? This is in fact my biggest concern with the sitting President: his rampant cronyism. Outside of his cabinet, he seems to have filled the political landscape with his incompetent donors and ideological compadres, not only here, but FAR more scandalously, in Iraq. So if you had said that Bush was the president who most saw eye-to-eye with you politically I would have no problem accepting that. I could see someone saying the same thing of Jimmy Carter. But I wouldn't expect them to say on those grounds that he was the best president of their lifetime.

I think it's entirely possible, and morally necessary, to be a black Republican who respects that most black Democratic VOTERS are intelligent, well-meaning people who understand the issues but take a different position.

I didn't deny that, provided that it acknowledges that this kind of understanding of the issues isn't the same kind of understanding of the issues that a specialist in ethics, political philosophy, or legal philosophy would have. It's that kind of understanding that I think most voters don't have, even those who have some understanding of the reasons the ordinary person on the other side of an issue might have.

Were I ever to become a black conservative, I assure you that I would still believe that the idea that black people are tricked into voting against their best interests is motivated by a belief that blacks are irrational and overly-prone to emotion.

Well, that's demonstrably false, actually, since I think it's true of blacks and whites equally, and I think it's true of people in both parties equally (as it's true of independents equally with all of them). That means it's not tied to any view of blacks and irrationality or emotionalism.

You were the one who said you wanted to reach out to black voters, but apparently what you want more than that is to be absolutely innocent of even an entirely forgivable, unintentional offense.

No, what I want is to be convinced that I committed such an offense. You haven't convinced me of that. The arguments you gave struck me as targeting something other than what I was doing in this post.

keep using your conservative wife as a barometer of what's offensive to black people "because they're black"

Well, it's impossible to keep using something when I'm not already using it, so I'm not sure how to follow your advice. I never took my wife's response as typical of what's offensive to black people. What I did is say that whatever offense they take can't be essential to being black, because lots of black people, including my wife, are not just offended by this kind of language but in fact regularly use it. My point is that this language stems from black conservatives, and it stems from their being black and being conservative. That means any assumption that this is from white patronizing attitudes is just inaccurate.

You're right that I don't allow people the luxury of deciding when they should be offended. Too many people get offended at things that shouldn't offend them. We're all sinful. That doesn't mean I'm a good judge of when people should be offended either, but I'm not at all convinced that there mere fact that someone is offended is a good sign that they should be.

Parenthetically, I would think as a philosopher, and as someone who studies philosophy of race, you would be more sensitive to the fact that NOTHING is offensive to black people "because they are black".

I thought that was my point, actually. How could I be more sensitive to the fact I was trying to emphasize?

Regardless of your political persuasion, if you think blacks are generally rational agents (at least as much as anyone else) then you ought to find the media's portrayal of blacks offensive.

That was, again, my point.

I haven't remotely had the time to follow Jena 6, so I don't know much about the details. I further haven't read any of the stuff at the blog you're talking about on it, since it's an election blog, and they don't talk about issues like that except to quote candidates' responses. Perhaps you're referring to commenters again, but I hardly ever read the comments at that blog.

I need to go now, but maybe I can read and respond to your last paragraph if I remember later.

"I didn't deny that, provided that it acknowledges that this kind of understanding of the issues isn't the same kind of understanding of the issues that a specialist in ethics, political philosophy, or legal philosophy would have. It's that kind of understanding that I think most voters don't have..."

I don't see how the lack of political EXPERTISE is at all relevant to anything we've been discussing to date. You're the expert on fallacies, but this strikes my layman's eyes as an example of shifting the goalposts. When you suggested (intentionally or not) that blacks needed to be educated on the Conservative agenda, I assumed you didn't mean that they need to be educated into an EXPERTISE on the Conservative political agenda (otherwise why would you isolate black people?) Rather I made the reasonable assumption that the comment reflected the opinion that black people aren't even knowledgeable of the reasons their non-expert conservative intellectual peers have for being conservative. After all it's not necessary that anyone be a political expert in order to vote responsibly.

"Well, that's demonstrably false, actually, since I think it's true of blacks and whites equally, and I think it's true of people in both parties equally (as it's true of independents equally with all of them). That means it's not tied to any view of blacks and irrationality or emotionalism."

Again, you're the doctorate in philosophy, but I don't understand how my statement about how I would behave in a hypothetical circumstance could be shown to be "demonstrably false" by how you "think" other people act. It may be the case that most people unconsciously think that people of the opposing party have been in some sense duped. That doesn't mean that they should think so, and it doesn't mean that some don't find this easier to believe of people of color. This is especially true because the attitude I refer to is prevalent among white liberals as well. Where black perspectives and white liberal intuitions clash (e.g., the Simpson verdict), white liberals are as quick to pin the responsibility for the black perspective on "black leaders" as are white conservatives. So what is really operative in this opinion, their politics or their racial perspective? Completely apart from politics, I could demonstrate to you that there is a popular impression in the culture of blacks as irrational beings easily led-about by their emotions. Excuse me if, when I see this attitude displayed in the political spectrum, I don't believe it is a purely political phenomenon entirely divorced from this general prejudice. Through no fault of my own, I was not born yesterday.

"Well, it's impossible to keep using something when I'm not already using it, so I'm not sure how to follow your advice. I never took my wife's response as typical of what's offensive to black people. What I did is say that whatever offense they take can't be essential to being black"

And what I'm telling you is, it is insulting to my intelligence for you to assume that I thought that ANYTHING was "essential" to "being black". I am aware, thank you, that a black person born and raised in a sterile laboratory would not find your comments offensive simply by virtue of fitting our culture's definition of blackness. Arguing about whether ANYTHING is essential to being black is nothing more than a red herring. What I thought I made clear in my last post was that your remarks could be construed as offensive to people with a certain shared life experience which is nearly ubiquitous among black people.

"My point is that this language stems from black conservatives, and it stems from their being black and being conservative. That means any assumption that this is from white patronizing attitudes is just inaccurate."

Were I a philosopher, I would reserve phrases like "demonstrably false" for statements like this one. The attitude I refer to goes back all the way to slavery, and was in fact one of the strongest, most widely-cited JUSTIFICATIONS for slavery. The attitude is the opinion that blacks are an essentially irrational, emotional people who will go in the direction in which they are led. Thus, the argument ran, what is best for them is that they be kept under white influence so they can be civilized. It went on to be one of the arguments segregationists used against the Civil Rights Movement. These segregationists insisted that "their blacks" were happy until the "outside agitators" "riled them up" with emotional speeches and extravagant promises. This language is ABSOLUTELY NOT original to black conservatives, and is in fact HEAVILY BORROWED from America’s anti-black historical legacy. Please stop hiding behind black conservatives to excuse a paternalistic attitude that is as old as the bones of the first black slaves brought to the New World. I'm sure at least some black conservatives have self-respect and at least some of them wouldn't appreciate being used to justify a prejudice that significantly pre-dates them.

"You're right that I don't allow people the luxury of deciding when they should be offended. Too many people get offended at things that shouldn't offend them. We're all sinful. That doesn't mean I'm a good judge of when people should be offended either, but I'm not at all convinced that there mere fact that someone is offended is a good sign that they should be."

Do you feel that the feat of giving unintentional offense is possible? Do you think that it's possible that a well-meaning person with a certain life-experience could say something with the best of intentions that would be offensive to someone with a different life-experience? If you think these things are possible, then which of the 2 courses of action should the person who unintentionally gave offense take:

1) Refuse to acknowledge that the his comment could legitimately be construed as offensive to a person of a different life experience until the offended person can prove this to their satisfaction, thus putting yourself into the absolutely condescending position of thinking that people with different life experiences constantly bear the burden of proving the legitimacy of their feelings to you.

2) Respect the fact that people don't generally lie about their own feelings, try to understand (not from the defensive posture you've adopted, but from a posture of empathy) why your remarks were interpreted as offensive, and try to incorporate that understanding into your future conversations.

Again, as your Christian brother, I'd hope for 2. As your good-natured political opponent, if I was sure you'd choose 1), I'd be happy to personally sponsor you speaking to as many groups of black people as possible, to forgo much of any possibility of them ever voting Republican.

"I haven't remotely had the time to follow Jena 6, so I don't know much about the details. I further haven't read any of the stuff at the blog you're talking about on it, since it's an election blog, and they don't talk about issues like that except to quote candidates' responses."

I only use that blog as an example, but it could be MASSIVELY multiplied by countless forums, newspaper articles, opinion polls, conservative radio shows, etc, were WHITE Conservatives demonstrate this same attitude. I listen to Christian radio all the time (Focus on the Family, Elizabeth Elliot, Discover the Word, Charles Stanley, etc). I even listen to conservative talk shows quite a bit (I'm old enough now to prefer that to the music that generally gets played on radio stations). I can't tell you how many times I've heard a white conservative say something like "if only black people would stop listening to Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, they'd be much better off.*" I have a hard time believing that most white conservatives got this language from black conservatives. I'm not aware of any platform black conservatives have which would allow their language to so permeate the white conservative political landscape. They certainly didn't have such a platform in the 1700s, when the same basic idea was being used to promote slavery, or in the early 1900s, when the same idea was being used to promote segregation, or in the 1960's, when the same idea was being used to attack the Civil Rights Movement.

(*For the record, I've never heard anything like this from any of the shows I mentioned except Focus on the Family.)

I don't know much about the FEMA issue. That's a fairly low-level appointment that I suspect wasn't directly presidential, even though he had to ok it. It's not like a cabinet position or Supreme Court appointment.

As far as I've been able to tell, the biggest problem on the federal level with responding to Katrina was the inability of the federal government to be able to deploy the National Guard, which is the responsibility of the state governor, who refused to do it for reasons I haven't been able to discern. There were lower-level incompetencies but no worse than in the hurricanes in Florida, and the claim that race had anything to do with who got help and who didn't doesn't seem to me to have a lot of support.

Now Bush does have a bit of a narrow mind when it comes to those loyal to him. It's the most important virtue, in his mind. He doesn't appoint people because they're his friends, though, which is what cronyism is. He appoints people because he thinks they'll be loyal, which he thinks is a virtue because he expects loyal people to follow the policies the administration sets better than others would. He saw a lot of what he calls disloyalty in his father's administration, and he really hates it. So he'll judge by what he knows of Harriet Miers and her loyalty to the issues he knows her views on that she'd be good on the Supreme Court, forgetting that what a lot of his base wants isn't just someone with the right political views (i.e. results-oriented) but someone with a certain kind of overarching judicial philosophy who is highly-trained in thinking through constitutional law. He overlooks problems with his attorney general because he's far more sure he'll do the best things policy-wise than he could be of someone he doesn't know well.

I agree that that's a problem, and it's one conservatives have rightly been calling him on. But you could find one or two serious blind spots with every president, even the best ones. So I'm not sure this kind of thing (and the FEMA appointment may be another instance of it) is truly at odds with thinking that on the issues I most care about he's the best president of my lifetime.

On expertise: Here is my view. The best Republican candidates we can get for president should be well-schooled enough in the best arguments for conservative positions that they will be publicly and frequently giving reasons that the ordinary person may not have encountered before. Newt Gingrich is the sort of person who could do that, but he'd be a terrible candidate. Ideally someone like him would be coaching these candidates, and they'd be willing to make their case to voters whose gut assumptions are contrary to conservative positions. I think the majority of black voters are in such a position, and I don't think headway will be made by uttering the kinds of slogans usually given at presidential debates. Assumptions need to be challenged.

What I wanted to see these candidates do is be willing to debate on these particular issues by challenging the assumptions that black voters in large numbers are working with. Your complaint seemed to be that such challenging would be offensive to blacks because it's patronizing. I don't see that. My view is that if they can successfully challenge those assumptions then the people they're speaking to will be convinced, and if they can't do so then the people they're speaking to will simply not be. There's only so much you can do to challenge assumptions. So I remain unconvinced that such a venture should count as patronizing or offensive, even if people might choose to read it that way. Is that more clear?

I don't understand how my statement about how I would behave in a hypothetical circumstance could be shown to be "demonstrably false" by how you "think" other people act

Let me repeat the statement that you said (the one you'd continue to believe if you became a black conservative) that I think is demonstrably false:

"the idea that black people are tricked into voting against their best interests is motivated by a belief that blacks are irrational and overly-prone to emotion"

The statement that you said you'd go on believing even if you became a black conservative says that the belief in question comes from a racist view, which I pointed out is shown false by the fact that many hold it without having such a view. In response, you say that you would be surprised if there aren't some people who believe it for racist reasons. That's probably true, of course, but I can't figure out how it responds to what I said. You made a universal-sounding claim, and I pointed out that the view itself isn't like that, because there are plenty of exceptions. Backing up to say that it's true of some is consistent with everything I said, though, since I didn't ever say that no one holds this view for racist reasons. I just said that the racist motivation isn't the only one there could be and in fact isn't a main one among some of the most vocal people saying this sort of thing.

You also say that the fact that (a) people convinced of a position are prone to think people who disagree must have missed something doesn't mean (b) they should be excused for thinking that. That's right, of course. But I wasn't attempting to provide an excuse for people who think this. I was simply providing an explanation for how someone might think it that doesn't involve either racism or attributing negative cognitive characteristics to the other side. If you recognize that ethical and political questions are difficult and thus admit that people who are smart can either miss some important facts, fail to recognize the implications of something, or simply begin from a different set of assumptions, I don't see how it's problematic to think that careful discussion of reasoning may actually move someone toward your position away from their current one, all without thinking the people who disagree are irrational or unintelligent. Yet they're ignorant in some important way (if they're indeed wrong, as at least one side must be).

I agree that there are problems in how many of all political perspectives see the so-called black leaders like Sharpton and Jackson. But I haven't had a lot of experience with people who think black people just believe everything Sharpton and Jackson say without having thought something like that before. I would have thought the more typical view is that Sharpton and Jackson express views that many blacks hold but shouldn't hold and that they also say things that many blacks don't really support but just turn a blind eye to because they think it might have good effects. I'm not sure I've ever met someone who thinks these guys just dictate to black people what they should believe, and black people just accept it without thinking.

On the essentiality point, you said things that seemed to me to be far too universalizing and essentialist-sounding, and I thought that was too far. I didn't think I'd expressed a view on whether you meant these statements literally or were just exaggerating (either of which I would have objected to). I simply responded to the statements.

You point out that there's a view that some used to justify slavery by seeing blacks as irrational and unable to make decisions on their own. That does have something in common with those who have the same view of blacks today who think black people just do whatever Democrats say in terms of voting without being capable of thinking for themselves. But it seems to me to be completely inappropriate to connect that with the argument that I see from people like Star Parker or La Shawn Barber that black people have been too willing to give the Democratic party the benefit of the doubt but too unwilling to give the Republican party the benefit of the doubt when both parties have problematic pasts and presents. They don't attribute this to anything like what the classic view you refer to does. They attribute it to social forces within the black community, social forces they disapprove of but social forces that, together with certain assumptions, sound like a pretty convincing argument to rational people.

Star Parker is claiming that black people on some issues aren't thinking for themselves enough (but are engaging in groupthink, as many non-blacks do) or that black people aren't thinking from the right assumptions, but she isn't claiming that black people can't do so. I think her rhetoric is way over-the-top, but I don't think her view is all that similar to the one you're connecting it with. When I read John McWhorter's account of why blacks vote for Democrats but never would give Bush a chance, I don't see anything remotely like the view you're referring to in the time of slavery. He even avoids the slavery rhetoric. He thinks there's a majority black view that lines up a lot less with the Democratic party than would justify almost exclusively Democratic voting patterns.

You've acknowledged something like that yourself in this conversation. But then if anyone says it, you call it patronizing. That just strikes me as unfair to what the point is saying. It becomes impossible to criticize anyone for anything if anytime you say they've voted wrong they assume you think they're irrational or incapable of thinking through the issues more carefully.

On being offended, all I'm asking for is an explanation for what was so offensive, and all I've gotten is a change of subject. That's what's baffling me. Your reasons for being offended by what I said involve things that don't seem to me to be at all related to what I said (which is that Republicans ought to engage in discussion with blacks and ought to do so well) or to the context in which I said it (telling Republican leaders this). What you've been complaining about seems to me to be something very different from what I said, and I've re-read what I said several times to see how it's supposed to imply what you're saying about it. I don't see how anything like it is in my actual words. It's not resistance to the possibility that someone from a one cultural background can interpret something written by someone from a different cultural background. It's an inability to see in this case exactly how that might have happened with the actual words I used.

I wasn't sure I wanted to include this, but I think I should. The quote you say you heard on Focus on the Family is:

"if only black people would stop listening to Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, they'd be much better off"

It may well be that it was intended to mean what you took it to mean. But a more charitable interpretation may be possible. My immediate sense on reading it was exactly what you took it to mean, but when I saw that you'd heard it on Focus on the Family it occurred to me that perhaps the following line of thought was meant:

1. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have captured the hearts of many black people because of civil rights and economic issues
2. Many black people are socially conservative (i.e. hold to Focus on the Family positions on social issues)
3. Many black people follow Jackson and Sharpton's advice in voting for politicians who support the civil rights and economic views of most black people
4. This means that voting with Jackson and Sharpton's views on those issues means voting against candidates who are social conservative.
5. But it would be better if blacks were to support socially conservative policies, so they shouldn't just vote with Sharpton and Jackson.

Doesn't that sound at least a little better than your interpretation that someone saying this sort of thing must think black people have no views of their own but just do what their leaders decide for them? It sounds much better to me, and it seems like a plausible reading of that statement in that particular context (but perhaps much less so on the Rush Limbaugh show where the issue was a specifically racial issue).

"I don't know much about the FEMA issue. That's a fairly low-level appointment that I suspect wasn't directly presidential, even though he had to ok it. It's not like a cabinet position or Supreme Court appointment."

Right. I mean he's just the guy in charge of, and I quote the Presidential order, coordinating the response to a disaster which has occurred in the United States and which overwhelms the resources of local and state authorities. Why would we need somebody competent in that job, particularly post 9-11? Any slob will do. Just ask all elderly people who died while waiting for water and medicine at the Superdome. But of course, that's not Michael Brown's fault, since as he told MSNBC after the network had been broadcasting from the superdome for THREE DAYS, he wasn't AWARE that there were any people there. And anyway, as many conservatives claimed, there was no way any relief trucks could have gotten there, a fact which probably escaped MSNBC, NBC, ABC, CBS, and CNN, all of which had correspondents and cameramen on the scene within HOURS.

But yeah, it's just FEMA. No need for anybody competent in that job. I mean it's not like people died or anything. (Unless you think the poor and the black are people.)

Can I also take a moment to applaud Bush's political courage in not showing up at the Superdome for fear that he might (GASP!) get booed, and also for his heroically allowing his pigs to feed at the trough by awarding hundreds of millions of dollars in government rebuilding contracts in Louisiana to our good friends at Haliburton and Blackwater.

"He doesn't appoint people because they're his friends, though, which is what cronyism is. He appoints people because he thinks they'll be loyal"

Ignoring that bright, clear line that clearly divides the set of "friends" from the set of "people he thinks will be loyal" (surely there's no overlap there), let me say this about that.

Their job is to be loyal to the country and the Constitution, not to him. Serving at the pleasure of the president means doing your best to uphold and defend the Constitution until the President dismisses you, not (I'm looking at you, Roberto Gonzales) doing your best to uphold and defend the President until the Constitution dismisses you.

"But you could find one or two serious blind spots with every president, even the best ones. So I'm not sure this kind of thing (and the FEMA appointment may be another instance of it) is truly at odds with thinking that on the issues I most care about he's the best president of my lifetime."

Yeah, just not sure appointing clearly unqualified people (most of whom were donors) to extremely important jobs, where lives are literally on the line, counts as a "blind spot". A weakness for women is a blind spot. Giving a political donor and longtime friend the job of coordinating the nation's emergency national response team, when this donor and friend has NO (as in ZERO, ZIP, NADA, ZILCH) experience in this field beforehand? That's more just BEING blind than having a blind spot.

"The best Republican candidates we can get for president should be well-schooled enough in the best arguments for conservative positions that they will be publicly and frequently giving reasons that the ordinary person may not have encountered before."

Again, I can't see that this has anything to do with what we were actually talking about, which was your implied assumption that blacks are unaware of, or duped about, conservative positions. Again, if this is not the case, I don't know why we're just talking about black people. Surely white conservatives, swing voters, and liberals could all also benefit from a political expert giving new and persuasive arguments for conservatism. And the fact that you leave them out of the discussion with regards to who needs to have things "better explained to them" and included only black folks in this group of needing to have things "better explained to them" would seem to indicate to me that you perceive some unique lack of awareness about the issues in blacks. So again, it seems quite obvious to me that the issue of expertise is a red-herring, since EVERYONE could use the resources of a policy-expert, and thus there's no legitimate reason to isolate black folks in that regard.

"Your complaint seemed to be that such challenging would be offensive to blacks because it's patronizing. I don't see that. My view is that if they can successfully challenge those assumptions then the people they're speaking to will be convinced, and if they can't do so then the people they're speaking to will simply not be. There's only so much you can do to challenge assumptions. So I remain unconvinced that such a venture should count as patronizing or offensive, even if people might choose to read it that way."

Maybe this will clear up my offense.

You must think that white liberals, as much as black ones, are mistaken in their views. But you don't say that you think white liberals need to have the situation "better explained" to them. There seems to be an impression amongst Republicans (an impression I think is laughably naive) that if only black people would "really get it" that half of them would start voting Republican. But there's no expectation that the white liberals would be similarly in play if only things were "better explained" to them.

I've never heard any of these conservatives on these talk shows say that if only white liberals would stop listening to Alec Baldwin and Sean Penn that they'd be so much better off. There isn't the same belief there that white liberals believe as they do because someone else told them to.

So I interpret your comments in light of that broader framework, because it seems to me to fit. Perhaps your comments did emerge ex nihilio from absolutely pure motives. Or maybe you live in a culture which has certain paternalistic beliefs about blacks and despite being a good person with good intentions you may have absorbed some of those beliefs.


"The statement that you said you'd go on believing even if you became a black conservative says that the belief in question comes from a racist view, which I pointed out is shown false by the fact that many hold it without having such a view."

You actually pointed out it was false by the views you "think" other people hold.

Besides, depending on what you mean by racist view, a person can lack a racist view but still have a racist belief. In fact, I think most racist beliefs are held by people who don't have an overall racist view. I'm not saying the people who hold this belief are overall racists; I don't think you're a racist. But I think the belief is racist.

"You made a universal-sounding claim, and I pointed out that the view itself isn't like that, because there are plenty of exceptions. Backing up to say that it's true of some is consistent with everything I said, though, since I didn't ever say that no one holds this view for racist reasons. I just said that the racist motivation isn't the only one there could be and in fact isn't a main one among some of the most vocal people saying this sort of thing."

I don't know what you're referring to here, or where you thought you saw me reduce a claim. I'm making the same claim I always made: that the notion that blacks are tricked into being Democrats by black demagogues and white carpetbaggers is racist. And I don't mean that in the sense that anyone who holds this view is an overall, full-blown racist, but in the sense that anyone who holds this belief holds at least one racist belief.

"You also say that the fact that (a) people convinced of a position are prone to think people who disagree must have missed something doesn't mean (b) they should be excused for thinking that."

Terminology is very important here, so we need to be explicit. People convinced of a position obviously think that people who disagree are mistaken. I don't think they need to assume that the opposition is ignorant about any relevant fact. (I think this is just a problematic position overall, since it implies that all human disagreement is due to a knowledge gap. It seems to me perfectly possible for two humans with exactly the same knowledge to disagree.)

To illustrate, you and I would probably agree that Daniel Dennet is mistaken. But you also probably agree that this couldn't be rectified just by Dennet having theism "properly explained" to him. Dennet is probably fairly conversant on most of the major arguments for and against God, and he would probably be offended if a theist chalked up his atheism up to the fact that no one had sat him down and explained the whole thing to him slowly enough.

If Dennet is a bad example (I haven't read all of his books) then consider it from his perspective. Surely he thinks Plantinga is mistaken. But wouldn't it be patronizing of him to assume Plantinga's theism is simply due to no atheist taking the time to explain the issue for him?

Now I'm not claiming that black voters generally know as much about the arguments for Conservatism as Plantinga knows about the arguments for atheism. But I am claiming that black voters, at least, know as much about the arguments as anyone else in the electorate. Thus, when they are singled out for needing more explanation, and when it is assumed that this explanation will be sufficient to put a decent percentage of them back in play, it's hard for me not to see the racist underlying assumptions.

Let me try this: suppose a Catholic Democrat made the statement that Protestants wouldn't vote 90% Republican if the Bible was properly explained to them. Would you find that statement offensive?

"You point out that there's a view that some used to justify slavery by seeing blacks as irrational and unable to make decisions on their own. That does have something in common with those who have the same view of blacks today who think black people just do whatever Democrats say in terms of voting without being capable of thinking for themselves. But it seems to me to be completely inappropriate to connect that with the argument that I see from people like Star Parker or La Shawn Barber"

YOU'RE the one making that connection. You're the one attributing the patronizing attitudes I was describing to black conservatives.

"It becomes impossible to criticize anyone for anything if anytime you say they've voted wrong they assume you think they're irrational or incapable of thinking through the issues more carefully."

That's a straw man. I've never said there was anything racist about just thinking black people are voting against their interests. What I find racist is the attitude that black people are tricked into voting against their interests by black charlatans or white liberals. It's the notion that black folks can't think for themselves, and thus are in need of someone to explain these issues to them, that I find offensive.

"Doesn't that sound at least a little better than your interpretation that someone saying this sort of thing must think black people have no views of their own but just do what their leaders decide for them? It sounds much better to me, and it seems like a plausible reading of that statement in that particular context"

Yeah that would be nice, but I think I was listening to the show around the time of Katrina, and the context was a specifically racial issue. Even if it weren't in that particular instance, that would only make that instance the exception that proves the rule. You must not ever listen to conservative radio if this is really news to you. If they're talking about Jena 6 on Limbaugh tomorrow, tune in. I promise you, you'll hear several white conservative callers express this sentiment. I think I can honestly call on God as my witness when I say, I've never heard a racially-divisive issue discussed on conservative talk radio where that perspective wasn't the PRIMARY perspective voiced. It is not rare to hear Sharpton and Jackson blamed for RACISM ITSELF on talk radio, the idea being that there would be racial harmony if only Sharpton and Jackson stopped all their troublemaking. This is a widespread conservative belief and it lines up perfectly with the "White Man's Burden" justification of slavery and segregation.

At any rate, I truly believe that I'd be doing you a disservice if I encouraged you in the belief that I'm only allowed to be offended if I persuade you that my offense is justified. And if I discussed this any further with you that's all I'd be doing. I found some of the things you said to be offensive and I believe I'm not alone in this. I find your stance that others must prove the merits of their offense to you even more offensive. If none of that means anything to you, so be it. I don't need you to legitimize my perspective, and I don't need your permission to be offended. You can have the last word if you want it.

"Let me try this: suppose a Catholic Democrat made the statement that Protestants wouldn't vote 90% Republican if the Bible was properly explained to them. Would you find that statement offensive?"

I guess that's not quite right. Let me try again.

What if a Ariminian said that there would be far fewer Calvinists if if Calvinists just had Arminainism properly explained to them. Would you find that statement offensive?

I didn't say that Bush is the perfect president or that he hasn't done anything wrong or even unconscionable. Every president of my lifetime has done things that I would consider immoral in carrying out their duties as president. I'm not going to continue that discussion any further, because we're talking past each other at this point.

Now I think you're making headway in point out a problem in why anyone might want to target black voters rather than simply speaking to everyone. But I think that's ignoring the context, which is that Smiley conducted a debate among Republican candidates specifically keyed to issues that black voters consider specifically affecting them as a group, and the top four Republican candidates didn't show up. Three of those candidates have been going to debates that are more mainstream, and I'd be critical of soundbites at such debates, calling them to get to more detailed and better-supported statements as much as they can within the time constraints. The other one just declared his candidacy and hasn't been at those debates, and he seems less willing to do debates in general even now that he's in, which I'd be especially critical of. But the reason we're focusing on blacks here is because that's the context.

Also, there's a reason to focus on blacks in general, apart from the context. Black voters have been 90% inclined to vote for Democrats in most previous elections. Bush did make some headway in capturing a slightly larger percentage of the black vote than most Republicans do. But it's a large enough Demographic that Republicans hope to be able to convince some more black voters (and I don't think anyone is realistically expecting that it will be anywhere near half in anything like the near future) to vote for Republicans. I'm not sure why such a motivation is patronizing, and I think it perfectly well explains why there's sometimes a focus on particularly black voter issues rather than on the general populace.

Now I think you're wrong on one empirical matter. I don't hear people talking about Alec Baldwin and Sean Penn the way people talk about Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson (although Penn and Baldwin aren't styling themselves as "white leaders" or political leaders of any sort, just activists, and I do get the impression from Sharpton and Jackson that they think they're following King's footsteps as civil rights leaders). Nonetheless, I do hear frequent complaints about how the mainstream media is deceiving the public and how if people weren't believing everything fed to them by CNN, the New York Times, and so on that they wouldn't be so liberal or wouldn't be so opposed to Bush. This kind of complaint is extremely common, and I actually think there's some truth to it (although nothing to the degree that's being suggested). There's a lot of ignorance about politics, and I think some in the media use it in service of the issues they want coming out looking good, even if they don't know they're doing it. But the kind of rhetoric I hear about it goes way beyond what actually happens and is much like what you're saying you hear all the time about Sharpton and Jackson (which I wouldn't know about, because I don't normally listen to talk radio except NPR).

Besides, depending on what you mean by racist view, a person can lack a racist view but still have a racist belief. In fact, I think most racist beliefs are held by people who don't have an overall racist view. I'm not saying the people who hold this belief are overall racists; I don't think you're a racist. But I think the belief is racist.

That's a perfectly good distinction to make. I'd actually insist that it's an important distinction not recognized by many people who write about racism, with unfortunate results.

But exactly which belief in question is supposed to be racist? I see you saying several things. Some of them are not beliefs that I hold. Others don't seem to be racist. Is there a belief that I clearly expressed in what I wrote that I really do hold that is racist? I haven't seen it yet if there is.

The Dennett and Plantinga example is helpful, but I think Dennett is the wrong choice. I don't think he spends a whole lot of time looking at contemporary philosophy of religion. But there are atheists who do, and William Rowe is a good example of a thoughtful, careful philosopher of religion who is an atheist. So replace Dennett with Rowe, and we've got an issue where people can read everything the other side says and engage in long conversations and not be convinced.

I think in some ways political disagreements and disagreements about the existence of God are similar. But I wouldn't want to say that Rowe is lacking in understanding of what theists have to say philosophically. But that's consistent with lacking in understanding of theism from the first-person perspective, and I think this doesn't have to do with not having read the best of theistic philosophical arguments. It has to do with not having experienced God in a relationship and not having been part of a genuine Christian community. Those things are knowledge-producing, if they are real faith interactions with the real God, in my view.

But that's where I think the difference lies. Some things just can't be gotten at with argument, and that's true in both political and religious cases. I don't think I could say anything to William Rowe that would move him to genuine faith in God without some movement within him that ultimately comes from God. I might convince him that an argument he gives is question-begging or that he's misrepresented a theistic position, however, and there is room for such discussions. I might convince him that something he already believes has implications for a theistic debate that he hadn't seen before, and he'd either have to give up that belief, accept theism, or find some way to retain the belief while resisting the theistic argument. But there's always room for such moves.

That's the way political arguments are similar. Someone who is committed to a pro-choice view is ultimately going to resist arguments for a pro-life conclusion, but there are lots of ways to do it. I do think most pro-choicers are immorally ignorant about the arguments, and the same is true of most pro-lifers. They accept slogans without being willing to think through the implications, without listening to the other side at all or thinking they need a response, without even knowing what Roe v. Wade says and what its justifications are. You don't need to know all the latest articles in philosophy journals about abortion or any issue relevant to it to correct such ignorance. You just need to be willing to listen to the other side and to be willing to think through your own views.

I'm convinced that in any class of people where I discuss abortion at a more detailed level I'm likely to find a few people who change their mind about some issues in the debate. I don't usually do surveys, but students often tell me that in thinking through the issues they've changed their minds. Most people either don't engage with the material fully or find the arguments they like to affirm their already-existing views, while dismissing other articles with their new-found ammo from the arguments they like. Some honestly consider the other side and reject it. But some moderate their views, and a very few radically change their views.

So when I say that I think there's hope (from my perspective that conservative views are in general more often correct) for some black voters out of the 90% who vote Democratic to be convinced away from that 90% and to consider voting for Republicans sometimes, I honestly think this is because people sometimes are convinced by arguments they haven't encountered before, and that conclusion comes from having witnessed people do exactly that after having gone through both sides of an issue when they haven't done so before, and my experience teaching continuing education courses shows me that even people in the ir 40s and 50s are in that position.

You say you know both sides very well, and that may be right. The fact that you listen to conservative talk radio makes me worry, since you seem to use that as if it's representative of conservatism, when I would see it as hardly that. But assuming you have paid attention to more careful and thoughtful conservative argumentation, you would be an exception. Most people don't pay much attention to arguments from those who disagree with them. I think that's just a fact about the general culture we surround ourselves with, and it's something that I think is as true of black voters as it is of white voters. That leaves plenty of room for thinking that a careful, thoughtful presentation of conservative reasoning might convince some people that exclusively voting for Democrats isn't the best voting policy. I fail to see how such a belief is racist, even if we distinguish racist belief from someone's being a racist (as I think we ought to do).

YOU'RE the one making that connection. You're the one attributing the patronizing attitudes I was describing to black conservatives.

How so? I'm attributing to them a belief, sometimes an exaggerated one. But I don't think it's the racist belief that you're attributing to white people who say this about blacks in the way that people said such things during the time of slavery to justify continuing the institution. I've tried to explain exactly how those beliefs differ, in fact. But you're still insisting that it's the same belief.

What I find racist is the attitude that black people are tricked into voting against their interests by black charlatans or white liberals.

Well, if that's the belief in question, then I'd like you to locate it in my post. I don't see anything about anyone's being tricked.

It's the notion that black folks can't think for themselves, and thus are in need of someone to explain these issues to them, that I find offensive.

Now that's a separate belief, but I'm also having trouble finding anything in my post tying anyone's ignorance to their being black.

You must not ever listen to conservative radio if this is really news to you.

If the radio is on, it's NPR. I don't find conservative radio all that worth listening to. The people who call in aren't very informed and don't really understand the best arguments on either side, as is true of most of the general public. In other words, they'd benefit nicely from watching a political debate that involved both sides making a careful, thoughtful case for their positions in a way that understands the other side's reasoning. I suppose now that I've said that, you must think I'm being patronizing to conservatives.

I remain convinced that anyone making a moral accusation against someone else has the burden of proof to show that the moral accusation is justified. The accusation in this case is that I said something that, in itself, is offensive. I haven't seen that to be true, and I think I'd be lying if I pretended to apologize for something that I haven't been shown to be wrong. The idea that a lot of people are ignorant seems to me to be just true. The idea that some of them might be convinced by arguments also seems to be true. It also seems to me to be fine to speak only of a smaller percentage of the population when dealing with something that, in context, deals only with that smaller population, without implying that this isn't true of others outside that context.

Okay I won't waste anymore of your time with this discussion. I would like to hear more about those in-depth arguments for Conservatism, though. You don't have to produce them, you can just give me a link or otherwise point me in the right direction.

Leave a comment

Contact

    The Parablemen are: , , and .

Archives

Archives

Books I'm Reading

Fiction I've Finished Recently

Non-Fiction I've Finished Recently

Books I've Been Referring To

I've Been Listening To

Games I've Been Playing

Other Stuff

    jolly_good_blogger

    thinking blogger
    thinking blogger

    Dr. Seuss Pro

    Search or read the Bible


    Example: John 1 or love one another (ESV)





  • Link Policy
Powered by Movable Type 5.04