Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Bigotry on the Left and Right

 In response to a Florida urologist hanging a sign on his door that states,
“If you voted for Obama,” says the taped-up sign, “seek urologic care elsewhere. Changes to your healthcare begin right now. Not in four years.”
 some have wondered whether this is yet another expression of racist opposition to universal health care.  The suggestion is that, this being a Southern state, there could be some code operating out of objection to poor minorities' request for services.

I think that, while certainly a legitimate possibility, it's a bit of a stretch based on the information we have.  A larger question is whether this accusation might reflect liberal "bigotry" towards the south, and a rural, traditionalist conservative opposition .

I think it diminishes language when we use terms incorrectly, as sort of pummeling devices. Calling this man racist, with no actual evidence of it, certainly is a disservice to actual racists.

There is a lot of snobbery on the left towards rural, or conservative culture. However, this concern is hyper-inflated by the right, and exploited politically. The whole wine and cheese liberal thing. Calling it bigotry is a bit of a stretch. Speaking of diminishment, this is a complicated story that goes back – well, probably since the dawn of civilization, as soon as you had different classes of labor. It’s about philosophy and cosmopolitanism, education and economic structure.

I think a strong case can be made that the confederate flag is an ugly symbol, that gun owners who want zero regulation are irresponsible, that anti-abortion legislation takes away women’s rights, and that a large number of Tea Partiers are racist (all of the birthers might be placed in this category, with emphasis on those speaking on stage). So, some who hold these views may also feel a sort of class bigotry. But how many of them are compelled by their bigotry to hold these beliefs?

The dangerous thing about racism or other prejudice (and I want to say “real bigotry”) is that it drives political beliefs. So if you think homeless people are scum you oppose services to help them. If you think women are inferior to men you oppose giving them equal rights. Or you’re a homophobe, or a racist, etc. These are also historically groups historically discriminated against, and so (and I realize this is a liberal perspective) there is a legacy social order that needs to be pushed against.

I’m trying to think of ways in which liberal bigotry towards rural traditionalism drives political oppression. As a liberal, I think liberal policy goals are actually trying to help any real victims. But often what is perceived as “oppression” (again, talk about language diminishment) is in fact the inconvenience of not being able to be the dominant cultural form. This would be laws against Christianism where you can’t hang crosses in courtrooms, or heterosexism when gay marriage is allowed and antigay discrimination is outlawed. The gun issue seems odd because what most gun control advocates want to regulate is pretty reasonable – with a targeted social outcome. But a certain type of gun enthusiast has invented this big conspiratorial fantasy about needing guns for protection against the government (please), and seems revanchist. I think there is a somewhat principled case against affirmative action, but it is hardly targeted towards any one class of man.

So in all of those examples, bigotry didn’t seem to be driving any of it. It might be an unfortunate response to some of the political objections, but that’s after the fact. Each of those issues originates as a specific policy goal that has nothing to do with bigotry. I can’t think of any class-bigoted liberal that takes a position on anything because of bigotry.

Yet with what I would call real bigotry (at least in the sense that there are actual policy implications), it is the original driver of policy. One’s views of women, minorities and gays are actively shaping their political beliefs. As I argued before, this is often unconscious, but it is no less troubling from a human rights standpoint. This is why I think its important to have the discussion and take possible cases seriously.

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