Friday, February 28, 2014

Bill Maher and Bill Moyers Give Fox News Zombies Heart Attacks Over Ronnie Raygun


That Bill Maher video above is one of the best explanations-- especially for young people who didn't live through it-- of the RRR-- the Real Ronald Reagan. We sure don't hear it from Obama… and never will. Tonight, Bill Moyers will tackle the same subject from a more… genteel, less vituperative perspective. Moyers sat down with Ian Haney López to talk about his new book Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class and you can watch the entire interview at the bottom of the page. Please do. But in this short clip directly below, Haney López recalls a story Ronald Reagan told on the campaign trail during his first run for president in 1976. It's very much on the same page of Maher's entire thrust. Throughout his presidency, Haney López says that Reagan subtly (and sometimes not  so subtly) played on stereotypes to manipulate middle-class white voters into supporting economic policies that benefited corporations and the wealthy.

BILL MOYERS: So why did you use this for the title of your book Dog Whistle Politics?

IAN HANEY LÓPEZ: Well, think about a term like “welfare queen” or “food stamp president”. On one level, like a dog whistle, it's silent. Silent about race. It seems race-neutral. But on another, it also has a shrill blast, like a dog whistle, that can be heard by certain folks. And what the blast is is a warning about race and a warning, in particular about threatening minorities.

And the idea that I'm trying to get across here is, racism has evolved. Or, in particular, public racism has evolved. The way in which racism, the way in which racial divisions are stoked in public discourse has changed. And now it operates on two levels. On one level, it allows plausible deniability. This isn't really about race, it's just about welfare. Just about food stamps. And on another, there's a subtext, an underground message which can be piercingly loud, and that is: minorities are threatening us.

And so when people dog whistle about criminals, welfare cheats, terrorists, Islam, Sharia law, ostensibly they’re talking about culture, behavior, religion, but underneath are these old stereotypes of degraded minorities, but also, and this is important, implicitly of whites who are trustworthy, hard-working, decent.

BILL MOYERS: When I talk to people, I'm doing a group discussion somewhere, if I ask white people in the audience, if race is still relevant in your lives, they say absolutely not. You know, we're colorblind, is often what you hear.

IAN HANEY LÓPEZ: Right. Absolutely.

BILL MOYERS: And they believe that, don't you think?

IAN HANEY LÓPEZ: They do believe it. And it's important they believe it. And it's important for us to recognize that they believe it and that it's genuine. Look, here's a hard, difficult truth. Most racists are good people. They're not sick. They're not ruled by anger or raw emotion or hatred. They are complicated people reared in complicated societies.

They're fully capable of generosity, of empathy, of real kindness. But because of the idea systems in which they're reared, they're also capable of dehumanizing others and occasionally of brutal violence. And that's an important truth. Most people are not racist out of some sort of a sickness of the soul. They're racist because of the society in which they operate.


IAN HANEY LÓPEZ: We need to understand that race has been one of the ways in which we’ve explained why certain groups get certain privileges and advantages and why other groups don’t get privileges or are exploited or are excluded from the country.

This operates not just in terms of class relations and group relations, this operates in terms of a common sense understanding of who’s trustworthy, who is decent, who is law-abiding, and in contrast, who’s loathsome, who’s diseased, who’s dangerous. That common sense of race used to be openly expressed through the 1950s, let’s say. Now it’s not openly expressed. And that’s one of the great triumphs of the civil rights moment. We ought not to gainsay that. But on the other hand, it didn’t all go away. It’s still there under the surface. Now it doesn’t, we don’t hear it in the language expressly of race, but we hear it in the language of culture and behavior.

BILL MOYERS: There are some assumptions in society, a general proposition, unexamined, that blacks prefer welfare to work, that undocumented immigrants breed crime, and that Islam spawns violence. Those are dog whistles, are they not?

IAN HANEY LÓPEZ: I think they’re absolutely dog whistles. They’re dog whistles in the sense that they’re stereotypes.

A stereotype is a sort of cultural presumption of minority inferiority: blacks are lazy, Latinos are dirty or filthy, Muslims don’t respect human life. Those are stereotypes. Dog whistles are when politicians use coded language that try and trigger those beliefs. But they’re not the stereotypes themselves. And, it’s important, because dog whistling is not about bigotry. It’s about the manipulation of bigotry. It’s about the manipulation of stereotypes.

BILL MOYERS: So you make it clear in the book, that this is sort of an old sport, politicians communicating with small groups of impassioned voters and a kind of code that only kindred spirits understand. Nothing especially troubling about that. But it's when it comes to the issue of race that you see a real injury.

IAN HANEY LÓPEZ: What makes race different? Two things. First, the message that politicians are trying to communicate, when they dog whistle in racial terms, is a message that runs directly counter to widely held values and norms of racial egalitarianism. The triumph of the civil rights movement is to teach us, to teach Americans that we're all human, we're all in this together. And so for a politician to come forward and say, I want your support because minorities are threatening and I believe that you ought to vote in solidarity with whites.

No one can say that expressly. That would be the end of a political career. So they use a dog whistle term and they say, I want you to vote in a way that cuts off food stamps and limits welfare and gets tough on crime and slams the border on illegal aliens. It's a racial appeal, but it has to happen in code. That's one difference.

The message that's being communicated is a message that violates core, common moral norms. Second difference, yes, there are lots of different cultural provocations that are expressed in dog whistle terms. Race is one of those. But I want to also suggest it's not just one of those, it's the primary cultural provocation that has been used by conservatives over the last 50 years. Race is special because it does so much damage not only to people of color, but in the way it restructured our society as a whole.

BILL MOYERS: Give me a clear example of that.

IAN HANEY LÓPEZ: So we know Ronald Reagan used to talk about welfare queens. But he also had this other stump speech that he would give. He would speak to his audiences and he would say, I understand how frustrating it is for you when you're standing in line at a grocery store waiting to buy hamburger and there's some young fellow ahead of you buying T-bone steak with food stamps.

Now the first time he told that tale, it wasn't some young fellow. He said, some “young buck." And a young buck was a racially-coded term that stood for a strong African American man. And so that term, that moved from being a dog whistle to an outright racial provocation. Reagan backed off and he started talking about, some young fellow buying a T-bone steak with food stamps.

Think about the characters in this story. The first character is the person buying a T-bone steak with food stamps. And that's conjuring the image of the lazy minority who's strong, who could work, but who doesn't want to work, and prefers to be on welfare. But the other image is the you in that story, who Reagan's talking to. And the you is ostensibly the voter, the hard-working taxpayer, the law-abiding American. That voter, that hard-working American implicitly has a racial identity. And that's white. So there you can see this racial narrative. You, Reagan is saying to white audiences, you're being taken advantage of.

There's a third character here. Government. It's government ostensibly that is taking advantage of whites, that is taking their money through taxes, and then giving it to these undeserving minorities. So what did Reagan suggest? He suggested tax cuts. We shouldn't, you shouldn't have to pay taxes to a government that's just taking your money and giving it to minorities.

And indeed, what did he do? He enacted tax cuts. In the first year of his tax cuts, $164 billion went to American corporations. Over the 1980’s, the Reagan tax cuts transferred a trillion dollars to America's top 1 percent. Yes, voters got the tax cuts they thought were aimed at cutting off undeserving minorities. But in fact, it was a politics that was showering money on the very richest Americans.

We have to understand the way in which something has fundamentally changed in American politics. We used to understand that the biggest threat in a political life was the power of concentrated money. The power of big money and of corporations to hijack the marketplace and to hijack government.

But now, Republicans for 50 years have been telling voters, the biggest threat in your life is that minorities are going to hijack government. That government has been taken over and now serves them. So when white voters vote against the government, they think they're voting against minorities. But in fact, they're voting to give over control of government back to the very rich, back to the big corporations.

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At 9:53 AM, Blogger John Hedtke said...

I like this. Thank you.

I'd like to share a thought on Reagan that dovetails with this, on how he was able to sell so much of this drivel to people.


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