No, Republicans Don’t Have a Lock on Racism, But…

Chris Hayes stepped in it this weekend when he said, “It is undeniably the case that racist Americans are almost entirely in one political coalition and not the other.” Both Alex Tabarrok and John Sides marshalled survey evidence to suggest that this isn’t really true. There are plenty of racist Democrats.

So what should Chris have said? I think you can safely say two things about the modern Republican Party:

  • They tolerate racism in their ranks far more than Democrats do. Bernie Goldberg, a liberal turned conservative, admitted this on air earlier this year when he told Bill O’Reilly, “I am immensely uncomfortable with the bigotry on the right, and I don’t care how many people don’t like it. I am sick of it.” Republicans are also more willing to make political appeals with an anti-minority racial subtext, as Fox News did during its Summer of Hate in 2010, or as Mitt Romney is doing now with his claims that Obama is gutting work requirements for welfare.
  • For the past 40 years, Republicans have opposed virtually every effort to address racism in the legislative sphere. Politically, this has been suicidal for their standing in the nonwhite community, and it’s safe to say that they wouldn’t have done this unless there was a corresponding benefit for them among whites. Quite clearly, appealing to white resentment of minorities is an important part of the Republican brand in a way it’s not for Democrats, even if plenty of racists still inhabit the Democratic Party.

There’s a lot more to be said about this, but I don’t want to write a long post on the subject. I just want to make the point that (a) demographically speaking, Chris was probably wrong, but (b) politically speaking, he was mostly right. The Democratic Party may still harbor racists, just like any large group in America, but it doesn’t tolerate or benefit from racial animus in its ranks. These days, that’s pretty much the exclusive province of the conservative movement, and it needs to end.

For more on this from a different perspective, check out Will Wilkinson here.


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