Brian Beutler wrote a very interesting take on, Why Republicans Didn’t Want to Say the Charleston Killer Is a Racist. He distinguished between the Republican presidential candidates not wanting to take a stand against the Confederate flag and not wanting to to call the massacre at the Emanuel AME church a racist hate crime. There probably are a whole lot more Republican flag lovers than Republicans who would be offending by saying a white separatist kid who kills nine African Americans is a racist. So why all the confusion from the candidates?
Beutler thinks it is fundamentally ideological, “Republicans are reluctant to attribute anything serious in American society to racism, because so many Republican dogmas are premised on the notion that racism has been all but wiped out in America.” He related it to global warming and the new Republican excuse for not having an opinion on it, “I’m not a scientist.” With the racism question, it is, “I can’t say what he was thinking.” But it all comes down to the idea that if you admit that there is a problem, you have to do something about it. And both those problems imply distinctly liberal solutions. The truth is that conservatives have no solutions to them.
I agree with all of this, but I think it goes deeper. Another aspect of it is Henry Kissinger’s idea of a revolutionary power, and the fact that the Republicans have become one. The whole party has given up on practical politics. It is now focused entirely on ideology. And that ideology is basically that the government shouldn’t be involved in anything but going to war (and stopping women from having abortions). So even to admit that anything is wrong in society is to open oneself to the charge of lacking purity in pursuit of the the “limited government” ideal.
But this is true only of the base. The Republicans understand that their broader appeal is based upon an unstated racism. Why is welfare bad? You can talk all you want about moochers and hammocks. But the appeal of slashing welfare is based primarily on the image of black people in public housing waiting for their welfare check. Cliven Bundy spoke what usually goes unsaid in the Republican Party, “I would see these old government houses, and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids — and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch — they didn’t have nothing to do.” They do nothing; just sit around waiting for those sweet, sweet welfare checks. Of course, those sweet, sweet welfare checks are a thing of the past — thanks to Bill Clinton’s welfare “reform.” But no one seems to know that.
The power the Republicans’ appeal is based on the idea that there is an underclass — and we all know what that underclass looks like — that is stealing all our hard earned money. So it isn’t surprising that Republicans would be disinclined to talk about race at all. The more explicit race is in the public conversation, the less powerful it is. Most people in the center — and certainly on the left — do not want to think of themselves as racists. The moment we start talking explicitly about race, these people become hyper-aware of racist appeals. And the Republican appeal loses much of its power.
So it is certainly good that Nikki Haley and Ben Carson are talking about racism and the Confederate flag. But generally speaking, it is bad for the Republican Party. Because resentment of minority groups is the primary product that the party has to sell.