Political Animal

RACE AND RACISM….I’ve mentioned on

RACE AND RACISM….I’ve mentioned on a couple of occasions that I have very little use for John Derbyshire ? even if he does write about mathematics sometimes ? but in a soul-wrenching, bend-over-backwards effort to be fair, I want to excerpt the full quote of his that’s been making the rounds of the blogosphere lately:

All American politicians are liars and hypocrites about race, from Democrats like Hillary Clinton posing as champions of the downtrodden black masses while buying a house in the whitest town they can find, to Republicans pretending not to know that (a) many millions of nonblack Americans seriously dislike black people, (b) well-nigh every one of those people votes Republican, and (c) without those votes no Republican would ever win any election above the county level.

So yes, his statement is an unusually honest conservative affirmation of the fact that racists mostly support Republicans these days, but there is a context to it.

By the way, in this piece he also elaborates on an earlier statement of his that “I do have some opinions that aren’t very respectable ? on race, for example…” Here is his explanation:

The principal non-respectable ingredients of my views about this topic are my convictions that race is (a) real, and (b) important. It is a measure of the height to which the waters of hypocrisy have risen that these beliefs are, by themselves, sufficient to put me beyond the pale of polite discourse. That applies even here in the world of conservative punditry, where the ruling dogmas are: There is no such thing as race! and Well, even if there is such a thing, it’s not the least bit important! If you contradict these dogmas, even ? I think we are now close to the point at which that “even” can be replaced by “especially” ? in a roomful of conservatives, everyone gets really, really uncomfortable.

If anything, this surprises me more than the first statement. The idea that race is “socially constructed” and has no intrinsic meaning is something I associate with academic lefties, not with very many people from the real world. I’m rather surprised to hear that this contention is more widespread than I thought, even among conservatives.

I agree with Derbyshire here: race is real and it is important. It’s physically real for blacks because it’s the result of the all too physically real slave trade that brought them here over the course of two centuries and then caused the bloodiest war in American history. If that isn’t real, I don’t know what is.

Many conservatives (and even some liberals) like to claim that we should not have programs aimed at helping African-Americans. Rather, we should have programs aimed at helping anyone who’s poor and disadvantaged. Although there’s some justification for this, it turns out that being a poor black is not the same thing as being a poor white. One of these days I’ll work up the courage to write a piece about exactly what the difference is. But not today.

UPDATE: Kieran Healy points out that “socially constructed” doesn’t mean something isn’t real. Quite the contrary, and we all deal with socially constructed realities every day. Point taken, but in fact I don’t believe that race is socially constructed, at least not entirely. Like so many things, it’s a combination of social reality with a tangible, physical reality. More later.


THE DEATH PENALTY….USA Today reports on a loose group of law professors and likeminded academics who are pro death penalty. As near as I can tell, their argument is that it’s not true that 100 innocent people have been put on death row and later released. In fact, they say, most of them were released on technicalities, and only about 30 or so were truly innocent.

Let me be the first to say that this is not exactly a strong argument. That’s still a big enough number that any fairminded person should be worried about it, especially since it’s a lower limit. If that many people have been wrongly convicted, it’s a dead certainty that there are additional innocents currently awaiting execution.

The death penalty has always been a curiosity to me. I don’t really have a philosophical objection to it, but let’s face it: the risk of killing innocent people is a really big practical objection. If you imprison someone and later find he’s innocent, at least you can free him and make restitution. You can’t do that after you’ve executed someone.

But the real curiosity is this: why are there so many people who are passionate about keeping the death penalty? What’s the emotional appeal? A life sentence without possibility of parole keeps murderers off the street just as effectively, but death penalty advocates are dead set against accepting this as a substitute. Even the risk of killing the occasional innocent person doesn’t keep them from demanding an eye for an eye.

Why is this?


THE MARKETING OF THE OPPOSITION….As a corollary to the post below, I watched James Carville trying desperately (and failing) to land a blow on Crossfire yesterday when his guest made the point that the dividend tax cut went mostly to seniors. I imagine the right response would be something like this:

You mean seniors like Martha Stewart and Ken Lay?

I don’t know for sure that this would work, but it’s probably better than the alternatives.