WashPost Asks ‘Does Small-Government Conservative Ideology Have Racist Roots?’

As the political firestorm surrounding Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy’s racist remarks have been replaced by the racist remarks of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, The Washington Post felt it appropriate to ask if conservative principles are inherently racist.

In an online piece in The Washington Post’s “Politics” section written on April 29, reporter Wesley Lowery ponders “Does small-government conservative ideology have racist roots? Academics offer a history lesson."

Lowery then goes in to promote the following idea:

Even as Republicans scrambled to get away from Bundy's now-toxic views, several liberal academics suggested that Bundy's comments should come as no surprise. They argued that the anti-government rhetoric espoused by the likes of Bundy go hand-in-hand with the GOP's views of minorities.

The article then includes lengthy responses from three academics who have “written on Republican ideology and race" including Haney Lopez, Timothy Thurber of Virginia Commonwealth University, and Donald Critchlow of Arizona State University.

Here’s a portion of how Lopez described conservative policies:

Testifying to the success of dog whistle politics, Republican candidates have won the white vote in every single presidential election after 1964. The vision Novak reported of a “White Man’s Party” now looms: whites make up almost nine out of ten Republican voters, as well as 98 percent of its elected state officials. Meanwhile, a recent study found that roughly four of five Republicans express resentment against African Americans, a staggering 79 percent (this contrasts with a still discouragingly high 30 percent among Democrats).

Listen again to Bundy, excoriating federal overreach while musing on whether slavery or government assistance was worse for blacks. Even out on his middle-of-nowhere ranch, with few people of color in sight, Bundy deeply internalized modern conservatism’s core message: liberal government takes from hardworking whites to coddle irresponsible minorities. Yet if he’s a conservative avatar, he’s also a cowboy crackpot, brashly riding past the stricture to always speak in code. Thus conservative leaders, who until his outburst hailed Bundy as a hero, now publicly flee him—but will they stop whistling the same shrill tunes?

Timothy Thurber argued:

I would stress that though the federal government, from the very beginning, has often directly and tacitly supported (slavery, segregation, denial of voting rights, etc.) various forms of white supremacy, and has at other times fostered it in its own programs (see some New Deal initiatives of the 1930s, for example), many African Americans have looked to federal authority as a bulwark against forms of discrimination and oppression at the hands of business leaders and state and local governments. The federal government has sometimes acted forcefully to protect African Americans' rights (the Voting Rights Act, for example). Those laws, to be effective, need vigorous enforcement (and the federal personnel to do that).

There is also a strong economic element; African Americans are heavily tied to the forms of federal spending that the GOP has tended to want to cut. Since the early 1970s, public sector employment has been a path to a higher standard of living for many African Americans. Republicans, particularly in the past decade or so, have favored cutting those areas of the budget (even as they favor increased spending elsewhere) that employ many African Americans. Likewise, the recent controversies over Medicaid expansion at the state level have racial aspects. It's not simply about race, but there are ways that race becomes part of these debates.

A politician may not intend to be hostile toward blacks, but for many African Americans intent doesn't really matter. It's the effect of GOP policies that counts.

And finally Donald Critchlow:

Bundy should not be used as a Republican poster child.  His offensive comments on inner city black culture in north Las Vegas play into the hands of Democrats who want to make every issue about race. Bundy and the support he has drawn from the right should be a warning to Republicans and Democrats alike that there is wide-spread voter discontent with both parties and a growing anger toward the federal government as too powerful and coercive.

While none of the three academics overtly claimed that small-government conservative ideology is inherently racist, two of the three did seem to passively support Lowery’s premise. Only Donald Critchlow was reserved enough to refrain from comparing Cliven Bundy’s racist remarks to that of conservative principles.

Lowery chose to highlight academics such as Lopez who disgustingly claimed that “Bundy deeply internalized modern conservatism’s core message: liberal government takes from hardworking whites to coddle irresponsible minorities.” The only strong repudiation of Lowey’s assertions came from Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee who said the the belief that small government ideals are rooted in racism is “just b***s***."

Rather than include an academic to thoroughly debunk Lowery's argument, the article instead quoted Timothy Thurber to proclaim that “A politician may not intend to be hostile toward blacks, but for many African Americans intent doesn't really matter. It's the effect of GOP policies that counts.” Thurber seemed to argue that because GOP politicians do not support liberal economic and social policies, Democratic African Americans see them as racist, yet provided no opposing viewpoints to critique this ridiculous theory. 

Simply by asking the provocative and offensive question, Lowery is legitimizing a viewpoint that exists mainly through the eyes of race-baiters like Al Sharpton by giving it a platform at The Washington Post.

Jeffrey Meyer
Jeffrey Meyer
Jeffrey Meyer is a News Analyst at the Media Research Center.