An example of this conventional wisdom comes to us from Ezra Klein, who was sitting in for Chris Matthews on MSNBC’s Harball a couple of weeks ago. While discussing a study on presidential approval ratings by race, Klein said this:
“They found that to a degree that was completely unprecedented among recent presidents, approval of Obama was driven by the individual’s attitudes on race. This right here is a set of graphs they published in their book Obama’s Race… No straight lines exactly, there’s some evidence that more conservative opinions on race line up with support for Republican presidents and disapproval of Democratic presidents, but it’s not a huge gap until you get to Obama.” [Emphasis added]
The bias, the conventional wisdom, is evident in the highlighted passage above. I left out Klein’s summary of the graphs because they don’t translate without the images, but in his summary of the study he never indicates that ideology was a factor in the study. The study authors, according to Klein, asked about opinions on race and presidential approval, without asking the individuals if they were conservative/progressive or Republican/Democrat.
Racist Opinions Are Not Ideological
This is an important clarification. When Klein sees a change in the graphs with President Obama, he has zero evidence that the gap is a result of conservative or Republican opinions. What’s clear is that people who are racist have a low opinion of Obama, and they may be on the left or the right. That should surprise no one. And there is no evidence offered that those who are racist are only conservative. Yet Klein immediately describes racist opinions as the “more conservative opinions on race.” It is just as likely that those racists are on the left or equally split between left and right.
I have documented previously the strong record of Republicans on race and the very poor record of Democrats. For example, Democrats originally labeled themselves the “white man’s party;” when Lincoln abolished slavery, 99% of Republicans were in support with 83% of Democrats against; and it was Democrats who filibustered the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which was ultimately passed with 80% of House Republicans and 82% of Senate Republicans.
This history matters because there is no particular reason why Republicans should be more closely associated with racist opinions than should Democrats. Yet Ezra Klein slyly slips in the word “conservative” when discussing an academic study that apparently did not consider ideology when determining racist attitudes. He is subtly reinforcing the conventional wisdom by associating conservatives with racism.
Conservative View on Race = Race Doesn’t Matter
This leads me to state what the actual conservative view on race is: race shouldn’t matter and race doesn’t matter. As Martin Luther King said, what matters is the content of one’s character, not the color of his skin. Conservatives are indifferent to race and do not care about the race of President Obama. When conservatives make individual or policy decisions, we don’t think race should be a factor
Contrast this with the progressive view that says race should matter and race does matter. It is the progressive who sees race in comments about food stamps and welfare, not conservatives. It is the progressive who wants to assign advantages and disadvantages based on the color of your skin. When progressive politicians campaign, they target groups of voters by race while conservatives speak to all Americans.
Given all of this, how can anyone honestly say that racial or racist opinions are “conservative opinions”? Simply put, they can’t.