Hillary Clinton’s recent attack on Trump voters — calling them “deplorables” and accusing the GOP nominee of building “his campaign largely on prejudice and paranoia and giving a national platform to hateful views and voices” — isn’t rooted in reality. It’s just another instance of liberals labeling Republicans as racists.
Something they’ve been doing effectively for decades.
By manipulating white guilt and railroading a race-conscious agenda through every area of American society, including the media, pop culture, and the education system, liberals have stigmatized — and to a large extent, delegitimized — conservatism and the GOP. (I made this point in a recent article at The Federalist titled “Conservatism’s ‘Racism’ Isn’t What You Think It Is”.)
As result of this racist labeling, conservatives have lost their moral authority, and their voices have been stifled in the public square.
This chilling effect has been exacerbated during the Obama presidency, as people have been afraid to criticize a black president because they don’t want to be called a racist.
That fear is dissipating, however.
After eight years of America becoming less prosperous, less safe, and, yes, less American, people are lashing out — and, of course, as predicted, they’re being called racists. This backlash certainly looks nasty at times, but to characterize it as motivated by racism (covert or overt) is to play into the hands of the Left.
Buckley Vs. Vidal: The Labeling Agenda
To help you see how this labeling by the Left has been transforming political discourse and altering the perception of conservatism in the minds of Americans, I’d like to go back to 1968 to give you a snapshot of labeling and to apply it to the bigger picture.
In 1968, a debate occurred at the Republican National Convention between conservative William Buckley and liberal Gore Vidal. The environment surrounding the convention and the debate was fraught with racial strife. Conflicts between police and blacks had Democrats accusing Republicans of racism, fascism, and neo-Nazism. Slanderous, malicious rhetoric was heavy in public dialogue.
Sound familiar? While the degree of conflict changes, the essence of it doesn’t. Neither do the alarmist and exaggerated depictions of racism on the Right. This was evident to Buckley when, just before the debate began, ABC put on the screen images of “police brutality,” creating the impression that there was a “police state” in Chicago run by racist Republicans.
Buckley challenged this assumption:
There was no evidence of such a thing … It was all imagery.
Any actual violations by police should be dealt with, Buckley said, and they should be held to account. However, he added:
[D]on’t do what’s happening in Chicago tonight, which is to infer from individual and despicable acts of violence a case for implicit totalitarianism in the American system.
This was the acrimonious environment in which the debate occurred, and Vidal used it to his advantage.
Instead of delivering sound arguments, he resorted to personal attacks and threw a long list of accusations at his opponent, making it, as Buckley later complained, nearly impossible to counter with reasonable rebuttals. The debate then devolved into, as one reviewer wrote, “personal opprobrium” in which “nothing really was decided other than Buckley’s clear debating superiority.”
The debate hit its lowest and most infamous point when Vidal called Buckley a “crypto-Nazi.”
Buckley retorted with visible fury, unleashing a response that stunned everyone but Vidal himself:
Now listen, you queer. Stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in your goddamn face and you’ll stay plastered.
Vidal, who was sexually depraved in just about every way — by his own report — wrote later in “A Distasteful Encounter with William F. Buckley Jr.: Can there be any justification in calling a man a pro crypto Nazi before ten million people on television?”:
All in all, I was pleased with what had happened: I had enticed the cuckoo to sing its song, and the melody lingers on. … There was nothing that Buckley was not prepared to invoke in order to keep me from establishing him as anti-black, anti-Semitic, and pro-war.
In other words, it didn’t matter what Buckley said in that debate. Vidal, like all Leftists then and all Leftists now, had one goal, and it wasn’t debating fine points of policy. It was to portray Buckley — a prominent and influential conservative — as a hateful racist and a bigot.
On Experiencing A Leftist Troll
Buckley, of course, agonized over his ill-tempered reaction, and, in an effort to explain what happened, wrote a lengthy piece in Esquire called “On Experiencing Gore Vidal: Can there be any justification in calling a man a queer before ten million people on television?” (This was published prior to Vidal’s article.) In that article, Buckley responded to a critique in Commentary magazine of his behavior in which the author said Vidal’s slur wasn’t personal but political:
One wonders how the editor of Commentary would have reacted if he had been called a crypto Nazi in the presence of a dozen million people. Would he take the position that that was merely a political charge, in a response to which one has no reason to lose one’s cool? If, in non-academic circumstances, you call a man a Nazi, are you evoking ethnocentric nationalism — or Buchenwald?
Buckley recognized at the time the seriousness of being labeled a Nazi.
He saw how liberals were casting conservatism in that racist frame, and how it would be deadly to the conservative movement to let that label stick. His response was emotional because he knew being labeled in that way without responding or countering it had long-term consequences — and not just for himself but for conservatism, and for truth.
To have been unmoved by what Vidal said, Buckley wrote, was a dangerous oversight:
[To] not perceive it at all — not even to be tempted to resentment — to accept it as the most ordinary thing in the world — argues a terrifying sensibility.
[The] absence of anger, especially that sort of anger which we call indignation, can in my opinion, be a most alarming symptom.
Even when that indignation passes into bitter personal vindictiveness, it may still be a good symptom, though bad in itself. It is a sin; but it at least shows that those who commit it have not sunk below the level at which the temptation to that sin exists — just as the sins (often quite appalling) of the great patriot or the great reformer point to something in him above mere self.
If the Jews cursed more bitterly than the Pagans, this was, I think, at least in part because they took right and wrong more seriously.
Buckley was worried that slanderous, malignant rhetoric so easily expressed — something he called “rhetorical totalism” — made every slur, “every epithet” benign and acceptable:
It was commonplace at Chicago to call the police and the mayor Fascists and Nazis, and the country yawned. Everybody gets away with everything.
Not only do they get away with it, but they are unmoved by the labels:
I do not believe that anyone thought me a Nazi because Vidal called me one, but I do believe that everyone who heard him call me one without a sense of shock, without experiencing anger, thinks more tolerantly about Nazism than once he did, then even now he should.
The more groups are labeled racist, the more people become accustomed to the language until true racism and Nazism are no longer understood or perceived. Real racists become indistinguishable from those who are only labeled as such.
The Boy Who Cried Racist
Have we not seen this today? For decades we have been ruled by this “rhetorical totalism,” inoculating people to what real fascism and racism look like to the point that we don’t recognize it. “Republicans are the racists” is the epithet repeated over and over again.
The term is nearly meaningless, as anyone — whether they oppose illegal immigration, affirmative action, or welfare, or whether they support cops and recognize that there is more violence in black neighborhoods than in white — is labeled a bigot or a fascist.
And yet, real fascists — Islamists, for example, and Leftists themselves — are not recognized for what they are, and they advance unchallenged into every corner of the West.
This is really the danger of “rhetorical totalism” and the stigmatized labeling that goes with it: It clothes the good in evil as true evil struts about naked on the stage; yet, we don’t see it because we have grown so senseless our eyes cannot see.
Over time, as the lie has been repeated, the slur of racism has stuck to conservatives.
Part of the reason for this is they haven’t fought back.
They have chosen, instead, to elevate their messaging through debate and argumentation. A noble effort, but the problem is they’re the only ones who have been sitting at the debate table. Leftists like Vidal haven’t been debating, they’ve been propagandizing, setting a trap to wrest moral authority away from conservatives and stigmatize them.
Vidal remained unapologetic for his slur, as all liberals are — because that’s part of the plan. Buckley, however, knew that mixed with his righteous impulses was sin and that “the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.”
And so Buckley apologized to Vidal for calling him a queer, saying the “imputation of homosexuality” was “not justified.”
Despite Buckley’s guilty feelings for losing control and taking the low road, he did recognize the importance of the moment and why name-calling (that eventually turns into labeling) is such a great threat.
Republicans have failed to understand that threat. The labeling has continued through the years, rolling like a snowball downhill, with unrelenting, unapologetic, and shameless audacity.
Racism and GOP Politics
Very few politicians on the Right have escaped at least the attempt to smear them with the racist label. In 1980, Jimmy Carter accused Reagan of stirring up racist hate by using “code words like ‘states’ rights’ in a speech in Mississippi.” In an interview with 60 Minutes, Reagan responded to the allegations, accusing Civil Rights leaders of doing what the Left does: keeping the appearance of racism alive so they can maintain their power.
And keep it alive is exactly what they’ve done, maligning any effort to conserve American values and American culture with the smear of racism. No wonder they went nuts over Pat Buchanan’s 1992 speech on the culture wars. Its message of “put America first” was the precursor of Tea Party slogans and Trump speeches — and it was also called horribly racist.
(Read it. I don’t see the racism.)
Fast forward to George W. Bush’s administration and its handling of Hurricane Katrina. Remember when Kanye West said “Bush doesn’t care about black people”? That prompted Bush to do an interview with Brian Williams in which he defended himself. But that didn’t stop the labeling. Not only was his entire campaign accused of racism, his response to 9/11 was called racist.
Then came Barack Obama, and the floodgates of race-smearing were thrown wide as Leftists became even more bold and efficacious in their promotion of race identity politics and labeling of the Right.
Mitt Romney felt the heat of it. Look at some of these headlines from 2012:
And here’s “The 10 Most Racist Moments of the GOP Primary (So Far)” in which the author writes something that could be published today:
The Republican Party is digging deep into the old bucket of white racism, using the politics of fear, hostility and anxiety to win over white voters.
The labeling even came from the Right.
Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former Colin Powell aide, said:
My party, unfortunately, is the bastion of those people — not all of them but most of them — who are still basing their decisions on race. Let me just be candid. My party is full of racists.
He was excoriated by Republicans then, but today, too many of them sound just like Wilkerson. Somehow all those people they defended in 2012 have magically transformed into racists in 2016.
No, Uncle John Isn’t a Racist; He’s Just Angry
Is it logical to think that in four years’ time the GOP has suddenly been overrun by hateful racists? Is your brother, your aunt, your neighbor, or your friend, who is sick and tired of racial politics and is fighting back with righteous indignation (and maybe even taking the low road at times, as Buckley instinctively did), now a white supremacist? Is that even reasonable?
The truth is, except for a small group of fringe racists, the GOP and most of the people voting for Trump are not racists. They’re angry, they want our laws and values of freedom to be respected, they want to stop America from being artificially transformed through mass immigration, and they want liberalism stopped and their moral authority as cultural conservatives restored.
Republicans concerned about racism in the GOP need to take a deep breath and get some perspective.
Instead of attacking those in their own ranks (even those who don’t conform to every jot and tittle of the conservative code), they need to focus on what’s most important: ripping off the racist (along with homophobic and sexist) label that has been slapped on them and put it squarely where it belongs: on the Left.
As they struggle to undo what liberals have been accomplishing for decades, Republicans must be bold, unified, and civil, refusing to take the low road by lashing out and singing the racist song liberals so desperately want them to sing.
In this fight, there will be failure. Someone is going to yell, “Now, listen you queer, I’ll sock you in your goddamn face.” But tolerant and respectful correction to those on our side, not condemnation or alienation, must be the response.
Mistakes will be made — this is an emotionally charged and bloody fight — but Republicans must stand united and stay the course. Failure to regain moral authority for the sake of liberty and justice is not an option. If conservatives don’t defeat the true evil of these times — Leftist ideology — our country will be lost.