I spent part of my Fourth of July with Matt Drudge fans, after Drudge linked to a silly Newsbusters piece taking umbrage at my interview with PBS's Tavis Smiley on Monday. (Here's the whole thing.) Umbrage-addicted Noel Sheppard found fault with most of what I said, but he and his readers were most outraged when I told Smiley that Republicans have "an older white base that doesn't quite understand how healthcare works." Also big on Drudge Wednesday: Chris Rock tweeting "Happy white peoples independence day, the slaves weren't free but I'm sure they enjoyed fireworks." I'm glad Chris Rock and I could make Drudge's holiday a happy one, since he's been devoting his site to scoping out signs of anti-white racism everywhere since Barack Obama's election.
In the context of my interview with Smiley, it's clear I'm talking about healthcare reform, or Obamacare. I could have been clearer about that. Either way, the statement is factually true. On the "older white base" part: Only 64 percent of Americans today are non-Hispanic whites, but 89 percent of voters who identified themselves as Republicans in 2009 Gallup polls were non-Hispanic whites. In 2012, more than 90 percent of GOP primary voters were white, and voters over 50 comprised a majority of the electorate in every single exit poll conducted, according to National Journal. In the 2010 congressional midterms, 63 percent of whites over 50 voted Republican.
That's "an older white base."
On "they don't quite understand healthcare [reform]" – well, that almost goes without saying, because to be honest, almost nobody entirely understands it. It is complicated, I'll concede that. But that's a dodge I don't need to use. The Tea Party's failure to understand the healthcare system, and not merely Obamacare, is immortalized in its members' many demands to "keep government out of my Medicare" -- reported not only by President Obama but by conservative Republican Bob Inglis. I'll go into more detail about their misunderstandings later. Trust me, the email I got from Drudge readers proved they don't understand it.
Of course there's nothing inaccurate in Chris Rock's tweet either, while I'm at it. African-American slaves didn't become independent on the original Independence Day – it took another 90 years. Why is saying that controversial?
All that ginned-up Independence Day outrage made me think of Joe Williams, who lost his job with Politico after remarking that Mitt Romney is most "comfortable" around white people. (Williams also retweeted an off-color joke about Ann Romney's suggestion her husband should be "unzipped.") Politico made its decision after a crusade against Williams by the Breitbart empire as well as Tucker Carlson's Daily Caller, those paragons of journalistic integrity. Now, predictably, unflattering details about his personal life have been leaked as well.
Luckily, I work at Salon, not Politico, and I won't be fired for my remarks to Smiley. Mostly that's because they're true. Also, Salon has so much experience with the right-wing rage machine, going back to the lonely stand we took against President Clinton's impeachment, we don't pay it much mind. But because I just finished a book with the provocative title "What's the Matter With White People? Why We Long For a Golden Age That Never Was" – which Smiley and I also talked about, and which deeply aggrieved Sheppard -- I want to try to figure out if this tells us anything useful about the flawed way we talk about race.
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We are living in a moment when right-wing extremists are casting any critical observation about white people as racism -- and the mainstream media, already tongue-tied about race, has no idea how to respond.
Ironically, I get criticized from the left sometimes for downplaying the role that race plays in the backlash against President Obama. More frequently, though, I'm trashed from the right for overplaying it. Journalists like to comfort themselves by saying that when both sides are mad at you, you must be doing something right. But I know from experience: Sometimes it means you're wrong. I don't think I'm wrong here – although occasionally I am wrong about this tough racial stuff. I'm just wondering if it's possible to get it right, in an atmosphere where one side is determined to prove the divisive and ludicrous idea that Obama-era liberalism is animated by anti-white racism.
But it is just a fact that Republicans today are disproportionately white and older than the rest of the country. It's almost certainly a fact that Mitt Romney is more comfortable around white people (unless he leads a secret multi-culti life that we don't know about). Look at his crowds. Look at his friends. Look at his advisors. Look at that video where he sings "Who Let the Dogs Out?" with black people on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Jacksonville, Fla.
Now, does this mean most Republicans are "racist"? I'm not saying that. Is Mitt Romney "racist"? I have no evidence Romney is racist, and I'm not saying that (and by the way, that's not what Joe Williams said, either). Simply observing that the Republican base is disproportionately white, or that Romney mostly surrounds himself with white people (and acts felony stupid when in a crowd of black people) shouldn't be controversial. It's truth. The questions come in when you try to analyze what it means.
I have argued many times that we should be careful when analyzing what it means. My book makes that argument in great detail. I don't think that all white Republicans are racist, although some absolutely are. We shouldn't throw around the term "racist," about anyone. But it's got to be possible to ask what it means that 89 percent of Republicans are white, or that Romney seems most comfortable around white people, though he wants to lead a country that's at least one-third non-white, without the outrage machine shrieking someone off the stage.
My approach is to assume that some white Republicans genuinely prefer the insurance industry utterly dominating healthcare, either because they have a stake in that industry or they believe it's the best way to protect the level of care they receive. I also think some white Republicans are misinformed about the effects of Democratic and Republican healthcare policies. Hence, my remark that "they don't understand" Obamacare.
But that probably sounds condescending. It's not far from candidate Obama's comments about "bitter" Pennsylvania voters "clinging to their guns and religion." If you looked at Obama's entire statement, it's sympathetic to besieged Rust Belt whites. Yet that sound bite seemed anything but. And when you've got an outrage machine devoted to picking out the most unflattering sound bite from a long interview, you're in trouble. I'm going to try to think about how to talk about these things in a less condescending way. All suggestions welcome.
But meanwhile, the outrage machine will try to make sure that anyone who parses things awkwardly will pay a price.
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I'm flat-out stunned at the way the right has managed to push this notion that whites are suffering a new surge of racism, mainly at the hands of African-Americans and their liberal allies of other races. Like me. In his shrieky best seller, "Suicide of a Superpower," Pat Buchanan warned that even Obama-supporting whites would soon "discover what it is like to ride in the back of the bus." Rush Limbaugh has called me "the real racist" (and more affectionately, "the Magic Honky"). The late Andrew Breitbart, who made me a special target (although, affectionately, he often remarked that he liked my hair), lived to find "reverse racists," but particularly black "racists." He thought he found one in Shirley Sherrod, but of course he was wrong; she was the opposite of a racist. His spawn think they found one in Joe Williams. They're wrong, too.
Over on the white nationalist site Stormfront, they didn't like my interview with Tavis Smiley, either. (Sorry, I won't link there.) The more sympathetic Stormfront posters want me to know that I'll be a victim of anti-white genocide thanks to my Obama support; the idiots want to know if I'm Jewish, even though I told Smiley I'm Irish Catholic. But then the KKK hated Catholics as well as Jews and blacks, so maybe it doesn't matter.
I'll outrage some people by comparing Drudge to Stormfront, but I think they're on a continuum, given Drudge's obsession with black on white crime and his dragnet to find political examples of anti-white racism. The crusade to associate liberalism, and any commentary about the GOP's mono-racial base of support, with "racism" has to be challenged. Politico's symbiotic relationship to Drudge has been well-documented. We ought to start asking whether Politico, and other mainstream media figures that flatter Drudge, are comfortable being allied with his clubhouse for conspiracy theories about anti-white racism. Because at least some of the time, the Drudge Report looks like Stormfront gussied up with cheesy celebrity gossip and news oddities.
Oh, and the proof that older, white Drudge fans don't understand Obamacare? Their email to me. Here's just a sample:
OBAMACARE is the largest tax hike in the history of the U.S.
If white older men don't understand Obamatax, you illustrate white ignorant uneducated women don't understand Marxism! You moron crap head!
Anyone with 1/2 a brain can see government health care will lead to rationing. Look at the UK, Cuba, China forced abortions
It's time for blacks to start paying reparations and you can join in since you are making money trying to make things worse bitch
By the way, you left out "armed" from your stereotype of those old and ignorant Republican hayseed, hick, geezers.
I got one thoughtful note, which focused on the question of whether it's possible to expand coverage to the uninsured without also expanding the already limited pool of primary care doctors and physicians' assistants. That's a real worry. We should all talk about that. I heard the exact same concern from a liberal San Francisco doctor who's also a big Democratic Party donor, who sees a troubling shortage of primary care doctors even without an expansion of insurance. I wrote my thoughtful Drudge correspondent back; maybe we'll have a productive exchange.
Is it possible to have a dialogue on these issues without name-calling and finger-pointing about who's the real racist? Not with the right-wing umbrage addicts determined to convince white America that anti-white racism is in the 2012 Democratic convention platform. But I think there are people out there who want to have that conversation.
I guess I'm going to find out soon. My book comes out Aug. 13 – you can pre-order it here. I'm going to send a copy to Noel Sheppard. Maybe he'll see my argument with a little more clarity.