It seems as though people are grabbing onto a factoid and making a big deal out of it. Or at least Cass Sunstein and David Brooks are. It is based on a 2010 poll that found that 33% of Democrats and 49% of Republicans would be displeased if their child married someone of the opposite party. This is up from 1960 when pretty much no one thought that. I think it is worth noting that 1960 was kind of a transitional period when the Republicans were turning into freaks and Democrats were finally starting to shed their historic racism. Of course, this was also a time when the political parties simply didn’t mean that much in an ideological sense. The liberal Republicans were more liberal than the conservative Democrats.
For all the problems I may sometimes have with Jonathan Chait, there are few writers who so easily obliterate this kind of nonsense, Confessions of a “Partyist”: Yes, I Judge Your Politics. But let me lay it out very simply. The problem with racism is, to rip off Martin Luther King, judging people on the color of their skin instead of the content of the character. It isn’t wrong to dislike someone because they hold vile opinions. Political parties are now highly ideological, so “Republican” or “Democrat” is shorthand for certain beliefs. Why is it wrong to say you wouldn’t want someone of the other party marrying your son or daughter?
I talk as much as I can to conservatives. And on economic issues, we usually have a lot of common ground — at least until an issue starts to be propagandized on the right. But the fact remains that on social issues, these people tend to hold positions that I find troubling. They tend to have very unsophisticated notions of sociology that, in their extremes, lead to blatant racism. And, as John Dean documented in Conservatives without Conscience, most conservatives have strong authoritarian tendencies. Does all this apply to all Republicans? Certain not. But as Chait observed:
And I can understand it from the other side, although I think it is weird that Republicans feel more strongly about this than Democrats. Liberals tend to be naive, always wanting to find good in people, even when it isn’t there. Liberals aren’t patriotic in the way that conservatives tend to define the word. We are very often embarrassed by ostentatious expressions of nationalism whereas conservatives see this as what patriotism is. Liberals are trying to destroy America by tearing down the most successful and elevating the weak. Again, I don’t see it this way. Conservatives actually show a shocking lack of understanding about sociology and psychology, but I get that they look at me and see an America-hating wimp.
What the numbers most likely mean is that the really ideological people (roughly 20% on the left and 20% on the right) have a problem with their children marrying people of the opposite ideology. And to be honest, I don’t see any problem with that. It makes as much sense as religious parents having problems with heretical in-laws. It’s all about ideas. I think the vast majority of Americans would not want to have to spend every Thanksgiving with a neo-Nazi in-law. It wouldn’t be the label that was the problem — it would be what the label says about what they think. No one wants to have that argument about Aryan skull shape and the inferiority of Jews. Just the same, we Democrats are not interested in hearing how right what Rush Limbaugh said about catcalls was.