"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Why Liberals Turn Right

The old adage ‘Scratch a liberal and you find a conservative’ has always been true, for most people vote their pocketbooks, their family, and their personal security before any larger issues of equity, justice, or fairness.  Even an old Leftie like Jesse Jackson, Sr. once commented that if he saw a black teenager in a hoodie walking quickly behind him on a dark street in a good neighborhood, he would quicken his pace, look for a place to duck and cover, and wish that he had a gun. As much as liberal power families applaud those private schools which take a forceful stance on diversity, few of them would like to have the ghetto parents of affirmative action children move in next to them. Views on gun control would quickly change if threats to personal security increased.  The movie Straw Dogs is the iconic story of liberal transformation.  A respectful, progressive, tolerant, peaceful academic is turned into a violent defender of his wife and home when they are threatened.

Ryan Enos writing in the Washington Post (3.10.13) comments on this phenomenon based on his recent research on the reactions of white liberals to the arrival of non-white residents in their communities.  He went to Boston, one of the most liberal cities in the United States, and conducted an experiment to determine changes in attitudes towards Latinos. Enos sent pairs of Spanish-speaking Hispanics onto the Boston subways and do nothing but chat with each other, and interviewed white riders before and after the introduction of the Latinos:

The results were clear. After coming into contact, for just minutes each day, with two more Latinos than they would otherwise see or interact with, the riders, who were mostly white and liberal, were sharply more opposed to allowing more immigrants into the country and favored returning the children of illegal immigrants to their parents’ home country. It was a stark shift from their pre-experiment interviews, during which they expressed more neutral attitudes.

In other words, Boston liberals took classic ‘progressive’ stances on immigration in theory, but when they were faced with the fact that a Latino invasion might be in the offing, they did a volte face and became very conservative.

Results from earlier research showed that people who lived with minority groups, whether integrated or segregated, has more conservative views than those who did not. That is, they saw black people up close and decided that they were a cultural and social threat:

In the 1930s, political scientist V.O. Key found evidence that, in Southern counties with large numbers of African Americans, white voters were politically mobilized: They voted more than whites in neighboring counties and supported candidates espousing discriminatory views in greater numbers. A similar trend recurred a generation later, when liberal Sen. Paul Douglas of Illinois lost his 1966 reelection bid, in large part because of votes cast by whites living in parts of Chicago that had seen an influx of African Americans.

This is not surprising.  For millennia social groups have always been suspicious of people who looked, spoke, and acted differently from them. It was quite logical for them to suspect anyone who represented a potential threat or danger. This natural suspicion of outsiders is just as prevalent today.  Animosity towards newcomers is perhaps most virulent when it comes to race.  A black person is easy to recognize, and most white people, regardless of their professed liberality, automatically complete the picture with anti-social characteristics.

Political scientists, economists, sociologists and psychologists have long noted that, under most circumstances, when people from different ethnic, racial and religious groups come into new contact, conflict ensues. Just look at the battles over busing students from different neighborhoods into public schools in the 1960s and ’70s.

A confirmation of this liberal prejudice was made when researchers looked at white political reactions when black people were removed from their residential environment. Researchers tracked white voting patterns before and after the infamous Cabrini-Green public housing projects were demolished:

Did that separation result in more liberal political views? Voting patterns among white residents living near these projects before and after their demolition showed that it did. After their African American neighbors left, fewer white residents turned out to vote, and voters became less likely to choose Republican candidates, whom they had previously supported at higher levels than had residents in other parts of the city. It seems that the contact with African Americans had politically mobilized whites in Chicago, similar to how Southern whites were mobilized in the 1930s.

Enos suggests that if the Democratic Party continues to become more diverse, it may suffer a white backlash.  White voters, just like those in the research cited above, may turn more conservative and more hostile to the intrusion of outliers.  It is all well and good for liberals to bang on about civil rights, but if blacks become Party icons, the old prejudices may kick in.  Similarly, while most liberals are for gay rights, they still turn their heads to avoid looking at gay sex. It will take another generation, if not more, for most liberals to accept the intimate realities of gay marriage (i.e. sleeping in the same bed and ‘doing it’).

Image is everything and until there is a much more complete economic and social integration of blacks and Latinos into the majority white community, they will continue to be regarded negatively.   Until then, living with The Other may cause alarm, upset, and dyspepsia

Liberals and conservatives both tend to live within hermetic, self-confirming thought groups.  The Right Wing crazies I meet down here in the Deep South all talk to each other and confirm their conspiracy theories daily.  The Left Wing head-in-the-clouds Washington crowd also talk only to themselves and consolidate their beliefs about the values of a diverse society and total, immediate integration of racial and ethnic groups into the majority population.

These liberals, unlike Southern conservatives, are insulated and isolated from the most bothersome characteristics of minority populations.  Washingtonians who live in 95 percent white Ward 3 can only muse about the social dysfunction, crime, poverty, and dismal education across the Anacostia River; and can take a quick and safe dip in the colorful Latino community in gang-invested Mount Pleasant whenever they have the urge to buy some fresh empanadas.  In the Deep South blacks and whites live in close proximity, often only blocks apart.  Well-off whites only have to turn a few corners and be in shabby black neighborhoods.  Whites in the Southwest live more and more closely with Latinos.

There is no mystery in encountering social conservatism outside liberal enclaves. It is easy to be non-critical, tolerant, accepting, and ‘progressive’ when you don’t have to rub shoulders with the unwashed.

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