I remember many years ago being required to copyedit a study of white racists for a social-psychology journal. We’re talking out-and-out, unreconstructed racists, the kind of people who think watermelon on the White House lawn cartoons are funny. Somewhere among the p values and chi squares I picked up the finding that white racists sincerely believe that all other whites are as racist as they are, and if they don’t act that way they’re just being “politically correct” to conform.
The authors of this study also defined “bias” as a strategy for conserving cognitive resources, which I believe may have been the single most brilliant thing I ever read in a social psychology study. Not that I’ve read a lot of social psychology studies, mind you.
This past week, between the Senate Republicans’ performance in the Sotomayor hearings and the Pat Buchanan-Rachel Baddow exchange on MSNBC, there has been about as much unreconstructed racism on public display as I’ve seen since I moved out of the Ozarks. And when Pat Buchanan made the sexist conflation of Sonia Sotomayor with Harriet Miers one did wonder what century Uncle Pat had time-warped from.
And the thing that’s so glaringly obvious from watching all this is that the whole crew of bigots is utterly unconscious about it. They don’t perceive their biases as biases.
Frank Rich also makes the point that the troglodytes don’t realize the rest of White America doesn’t think the way they do.
The hearings were pure “Alice in Wonderland.” Reality was turned upside down. Southern senators who relate every question to race, ethnicity and gender just assumed that their unreconstructed obsessions are America’s and that the country would find them riveting. Instead the country yawned. The Sotomayor questioners also assumed a Hispanic woman, simply for being a Hispanic woman, could be portrayed as The Other and patronized like a greenhorn unfamiliar with How We Do Things Around Here. The senators seemed to have no idea they were describing themselves when they tried to caricature Sotomayor as an overemotional, biased ideologue.
At this point, the die hards of the Hard Right are reminding me of Joe McCarthy in the Army-McCarthy Hearings. McCarthy’s witch hunts against Communism had made him a hero to many Americans who only read about him in newspapers. But by 1954, the year the hearings were held, most Americans had a television set, and the Senate hearings looking into the Army’s accusations of McCarthy, and vice versa, riveted the nation. And when the nation saw the unvarnished, unedited McCarthy in action, they were shocked.
McCarthy appears to have had no idea how he was coming across on television. They hadn’t invented media consultants yet, I guess. After Joseph N. Welch’s famous “Have you left no sense of decency?” comment, and the audience in the gallery broke into applause, a stunned McCarthy turned to Roy Cohn and stammered, “What happened?”
The past few days we’ve seen a lot of unfiltered and unedited wingnutism. Between the Senate Republicans, the Stanford-Ensign-whoever else got caught recently debacles, and the right-wing freak shows known as “tea parties,” I think most of the country is ready to scream, “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”