This post by Chris is very interesting, but also off-the-mark. As I understand it, Chris is saying that Newt’s rhetoric — notably his claim that a debate between him and Obama would be “knowledge versus a teleprompter” and his labeling Obama the “food stamp president” — both does not stem from Newt’s racism, and also is not intended as a racial dog-whistle. (Depending on how capacious Chris’s understanding of Newt’s “ideological confreres” is, he may also be saying that Newt’s rhetoric doesn’t even operate as a dog-whistle for South Carolina conservatives.) Instead of arising from racism, Chris thinks that Newt’s rhetoric is a function of his commitment to beltway conservatism’s belief in the power of conservative ideas to demolish liberalism, and also to inspire a virtuous, industrious citizenry. As Chris puts it:
[Newt’s] argument about knowledge vs. TelePrompter is not some deeply coded appeal to his audiences’ suspicions of black people. It is instead a more explicit appeal to a commonly felt belief that the President would be left speechless in the face of the arguments of true conservatives. The silliness about food stamps and paychecks . . . runs along a similar logic. My sense is that Newt and his ideological confreres do not presume that African-Americans and the indigent are dependent on the government out of congenital shiftlessness, but because they have never been exposed to arguments in favor of working for a living (or else why would they still be unemployed and/or Democrats).
Chris’s argument that Newt isn’t a race-baiter rests on a suppressed methodological premise*: that if rhetoric could arise from one coherent view of the world — in Newt’s case, his commitment to the poverty and perniciousness of liberalism — then it probably arises only from that view. This premise is “supernaturally generous.” The overall worldviews of conservative ideologues (also liberal ideologues) are not theoretically elegant; they are a mess. Ideological commitments are supported by a hodgepodge of arguments, each so wholly disconnected from the other that it would be too convenient for them all to work. (See here for a critique along these lines of libertarianism’s willingness to draw from both consequentialism and nonconsequentialism for support.) What’s more, the arguments themselves sometimes become ideological commitments (if they weren’t already infected with ideology to begin with), and it turns out to be impossible to get a read on what is supposed to be support for the worldview, what is part of the worldview (and which part of the worldview it is). Instead, one gets a single, undifferentiated mass of (in conservatism’s case, almost entirely malodorous) sentiment.
There is thus every reason to think that Newt’s rhetoric appeals to a multiplicity of conservative attitudes — including both the comparatively innocent ones Chris identifies, but also those that are more foul. A quick glance at Free Republic — instructive, because it is conservatism’s (albeit non-beltway conservatism) Id — bears this out. I looked at posts mentioning “welfare queen” and “food stamp president.” I included “welfare queen” on the assumption that it is similar to “food stamp president;” arguably a dog-whistle, arguably a point about the perniciousness of liberal ideas. I did not look into the “knowledge versus teleprompter” because it was harder to search, and also, clearly, Chris has a better case that that is less likely to engage racist sentiments.
The “welfare queen” post — about a woman who has had fifteen children and takes government subsidies — is actually better for Chris than the “food stamp president” post (about which more later). Some of the comments could be read to embrace the view that welfare queens are only welfare queens because “they have never been exposed to arguments in favor of working for a living.”
So, in response to TSgt’s suggestion that the solution to the problem of welfare queens is to sterilize them,** commenter driftdiver writes “Forced sterilization is not the answer. Ending the welfare culture is. Sure some people need help for short times. Career lazy people can learn to work or starve.” It could be then that, for driftdiver, poverty is a function of the indolent’s having never been exposed to conservative principles. Commenter RexBeach, whose style is humorously redolent of Jesse Jackson’s, writes in a similar vein (though note the tinge of racism): “Black folk have been voting for Democrats for 50 years…and the black people are still poor. When are they gonna wake up and smell the opportunities, instead of the gratuities?”
But other comments — notably Lancey Howard’s picture of a seething mass of black people, conjoined with his reference to “Obama’s stash,” and Responsibility2nd’s response: “Heh. I was looking for that picture last Friday. Black Friday. When the reports started coming in from the hood about Black Friday “festivities”” — suggest that “welfare queen” does, indeed, have racist connotations, and so rhetoric invoking it operates on racial sentiment. [As an aside: I think “Responsibility2nd” is a truly inspired handle, and whoever’s behind it could well be a deep troll seeking to undermine gun rights.]
Food stamp president
Conservatives have this same mishmash of attitude toward the “food stamp president.” It evokes simple anger, such as wny’s “this whiny POS gets more pathetic and disgusting every day,” and chris_bdba’s “He is a liar. One can just look at the statistics from his own HHS and see the percentage on Food stamps has risen under his leadership.” Curiously, it also evokes homophobia, with Just mythoughts writing: “[l]ittle history here… the ‘pink mafia’ Foleyzied the ‘values’ voters and the liberals took control of Congress in 2006… so in a manner of speaking the ‘PROUD’ republicans gave us liberal demonrats…. society of survival of the fittest…. on ‘food stamps’. So will Mitt the pro-pervert officiate the Barney Frank-Ready rituals?”
But, certainly, there is also racism. Some of it is implicit. Reddy writes “Why doesn’t he just tattoo “Bush’s fault” to his ugly forehead?” to which max americana (whose tagline, awesomely, is “Buttcrack Obama is an idiot”) quips that “[i]t’s already tatoo’d on his big ears..”. And some of it is blatant. Astronaut writes that “Barry Soetoro is the perfect product of affirmative action. He didn’t deserve to get into Columbia and Harvard, but he was a Negro so he took a spot that a qualified candidate should have had. He got jobs and elective offices because of his race. He never worked for or earned anything; its all been handed to him because of white liberal guilt. Consequently, Barry can never take responsibility for what he’s done wrong. While liberals have taught him all his life that nothing is ever his fault. He’s not going to change now.” Then beaversmom, whose comment is a glorious contradiction (single-handedly proving my point), responds: “Exactly right. He’s a light skinned black that doesn’t have a black accent (unless he’s putting it on for the brothers). The racist white liberals ate him up. He made them feel good about themselves because he’s a “brother” they could support and pretend they are not as racist as they are.”
These comments come from two threads, but the examples can be multiplied. (Another good set.) To me they suggest that phrases like “welfare queen” and “food stamp president” do, certainly, operate as Chris believes — as appeals to a commonly felt belief that conservative ideas are the antidote to poverty and the other ills in liberalism’s product-line — but also engage a mishmash of other sentiments and attitudes, including racist ones. To be sure, this leaves open the possibility that what drives Newt to use these phrases is solely an innocent (almost endearing) belief in the truth and power of his cause. But, like the methodological presupposition at the root of Chris’s error, this too seems a supernaturally generous interpretation of what motivates a 20-year Republican Congressman from Georgia during a South Carolina presidential primary. So, while Chris is no doubt right that whatever young beltway conservative policy wonks he’s observed are too urbane to even think of despising the blacks [and, in a decade, will be too urbane to despise the gays], it is serious inside-the-beltway myopia to predicate that urbanity of either a seasoned Southern pol, or the conservative base.***
* Hey suppressed premises, didn’t see you there.
** No doubt TNC would say this comment is tinged with racism (given the ignominious history of sterilizing black women). I tend to agree. Chris, perhaps, thinks it is simply a joke, untethered from racial undercurrents. The disagreement, I think, turns on a difference in our priors about the extent to which ideology pervades consciousness.
*** As a Washington outsider, I presumptively have my finger more firmly planted on the American pulse than Chris does (: