Taking Race Seriously

| Wed Mar. 28, 2012 1:41 PM EDT

Conservative Josh Barro tells his fellow conservatives why they get attacked on racial issues so often:

Why do conservatives catch such heat? It’s probably because there is still so much racism on the Right to go alongside valid arguments on issues relating to race and ethnicity. Conservatives so often get unfairly pounded on race because, so often, conservatives get fairly pounded on race.

And this is the Right’s own fault, because conservatives are not serious about draining the swamp. In recent months, both Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum have gotten questions at public events that referred to President Obama being a Muslim. Neither candidate corrected the questioner. Santorum later told a reporter that’s “not his job.” PPP polls in Mississippi and Alabama have found that about half of Republican voters believe Obama is a Muslim, and others aren’t sure.

....There has been a clear strategic calculation here among Republican elites. Better to leverage or at least accept the racism of much of the Republican base than try to clean it up....My challenge to conservatives who feel they get a bum rap on race is this. Stand up for yourself and your colleagues when you feel that a criticism is unfair. At the same time, criticize other conservatives who say racist things, cynically tolerate racism in the Republican base, or deny the mere existence of racial issues in America today. The conservative movement desperately needs self-policing on racial issues, if it ever hopes to have credibility on them.

I think it's fair to suggest that liberals use race as a cudgel more often and more crudely than we should. The problem conservatives have is that this is pretty much the sum total of their take on racial issues: that liberals bring it up too often. When they write about race there's usually a pro forma "to be sure" somewhere, but I can't remember the last time I saw a conservative take seriously — either generally or in a specific case — the idea that racism against ethnic minorities is still a genuine and important issue in America. If you inhaled nothing but conservative media, you'd think that African-Americans are endlessly pampered; that racial animosity is simply an invention of the "victim industry" these days; and that the white working class is the real object of oppression.

Barro is right: if conservatives want nothing more than to appeal to the racial resentment voting bloc, they're doing the right thing. But if they want to be taken seriously on racial issues, they need to take them seriously themselves. If they did, their criticisms would have a lot more force.

(Via Andrew Sullivan.)