by Bruce Thornton
Two incidents last week suggest once more that our confused, hypocritical, and politicized notions of race and relations will play a huge role in the presidential election. In the first, Virginia state senator L. Louise Lucas, part of Obama’s “Truth Team” campaigning for the president in Virginia, told a radio interviewer, “Mitt Romney, he’s speaking to … a segment of the population who does not like to see people other than a white man in the White House or in any other elective position. Let’s be real clear about it — Mitt Romney is speaking to a group of people out there who don’t like folks like President Barack Obama in any elective or leadership position. We know what’s going on here. And some people may be afraid to say it, but I’m not. … He’s speaking to that fringe out there who do not want to see anybody but a white person in a leadership position.” Given that over 45% of voters support Governor Romney, Lucas’ “fringe” is quite sizable. And just in case anyone missed the smear of these voters behind these words, Lucas went on, “I absolutely believe it’s all about race, and for the first time in my life I’ve been able to convince my children, finally, that racism is alive and well.”
The mainstream media, of course, ignored this crude racism. Not so with the next incident, which took place while Mitt Romney was in England. TheGuardian quoted an anonymous Romney “adviser” as saying, “We [England and the US] are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and he [Romney] feels that the special relationship is special.” In contrast to the lack of a response to Lucas’ comments, the Obama administration, via its dyslexic attack dog Joe Biden, called the comment “beneath a presidential campaign” — unlike, I suppose, calling your opponents racists, as Lucas did. Charles Blow, columnist and blogger for the New York Times, designated the comment a “poisonous idea” on the paper’s Campaign Stops blog. Blow went on, “Not all Republicans are intolerant, but the intolerant seem to have found a home under their tent. And instead of chasing the intolerant out, the party turns a blind eye — or worse, gives a full embrace — and counts up their votes.”
The lack of condemnation of Lucas’ remarks on the part of an administration that promised a new post-partisan, post-racial political world, and the lack of interest on the part of a media usually meticulous about documenting and decrying racism, show just how intellectually and morally corrupt is our national public discourse about race. On the other hand, the mainstream media’s hysteria over an unnamed advisor’s historically accurate, even banal, remark — one Romney immediately disavowed — is equally revealing. Whether through historical ignorance or convenient historical amnesia, the interpretation of the phrase “Anglo-Saxon heritage” as somehow referring to race or DNA, as Blow does or as blogger Joan Walsh did on Salon, illustrates how thoroughly ideological race-consciousness has become the reflexive explanation for everything.
The idea that “heritage,” however, means “race” lives on only on the fringes of American political discourse. Most people understand our Anglo-Saxon heritage to refer to cultural and political ideas shared by England and America, the same ones that lie behind much of the political order enshrined in the Constitution, and that influenced founders like Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was an “Anglo-Saxonist” who venerated the semi-mythical Saxon leaders Hengist and Horsa, and whose political thought was influenced by Obadiah Hulme’s Historical Essay on the English Constitution, which credited the Anglo-Saxon government with linking popular rule to limited government, and making both the guarantor of political freedom.
These ideas today have nothing to do with race or ethnicity, and everything to do with the “shared values” of the English-speaking countries or Anglosphere, as Roger Kimball puts it in an essay from his new book, The Fortunes of Permanence. “It is a unity,” Kimball quotes the Indian scholar Madhav Das Nalapat, based on “the blood of the mind” instead of the “blood of the body.” And the core ideal uniting the Anglosphere, Kimball writes, is “the depth and strength of the Anglosphere’s traditional commitment to individual freedom and local initiative against the meddlesome intrusion of any central authority.” It is this passionate dedication to freedom that has characterized the history and heritage of the English-speaking peoples, who for all their mistakes and crimes nonetheless have led the world in spending blood and treasure to protect, defend, and nourish freedom.
Despite attempts in the past to racialize those Anglo-Saxon values, to ground them in the “blood of the body” rather than in the “blood of the mind,” a true understanding of these shared values could not be further from the crude, materialist determinism of today’s race hacks, who imprison individuals in their race, and see everything they say and do and think through this discredited template. Remember when Harvard’s Derrick Bell said that Clarence Thomas “doesn’t think like a black man”? Likewise Lucas dehumanizes Obama’s white critics, seeing them not as free individuals with different ideas about where America should be heading and what policies will best get us there, but as slaves to their irrational bigotry and inherited moral corruption, and thus easily stirred to hatred by racist “dog whistles” blown by Republican politicians.
But notice too how this racial essentialism, this reduction of individuals to simplistic racial categories, demeans blacks as well as whites. By blaming everything that happens to blacks on white racism, the race-mongers strip black people of their agency, reducing them to passive victims condemned by their race to inferiority. And of course, we must wonder about progressives who endorse and institutionalize a racialist discourse that infantilizes the people they claim they want to be fully equal. Do they not understand that a victim is at some level always inferior to his oppressor?
But don’t forget the political advantage that comes from having a class of political clients whom you have absolved from any responsibility for their actions and lives. Such an idea has justified the creation of a vast social-welfare bureaucracy that has expanded the federal government, provided patronage for public employee unions, and allowed intrusive government interference in our social life and economy through affirmative action programs, hate speech laws, and sexual harassment policies that have less and less to do with office lotharios and more to do with protecting designated categories of persons from getting their feelings hurt. Yet this patronage likewise demeans its presumed beneficiaries, stripping them of the dignity that comes from personal autonomy and responsibility, fostering the “soft racism” of low expectations, and thus keeping them in a state of inferiority and dependence on those who oversee the transfers to them of taxpayer money. As the African proverb puts it, “The hand that gives is always above the hand that receives.”
That progressives who fancy themselves smarter and more sensitive thinkers, more respectful of nuance and complexity, than conservatives would endorse such crude racist thought is one more example of the bankruptcy of the progressive mind, and its corruption by politics and power. Given how much the progressives have to lose if Romney wins, expect even more of this intellectual corruption as the Democrats try to misdirect the voter from Obama’s dismal record.
©2012 Bruce S. Thornton