Why Obama Was Exactly Right to Talk about America and Racism the Way He Did

authoritarian dynamic

Conor Friedersdorf, who apparently was suffering from insomnia yesterday, posted this piece for The Atlantic at 6 AM this morning: What Ails the Right Isn’t (Just) Racism: An authoritarian fear of difference best explains the intolerance sweeping the Republican Party. The title and subtitle accurately summarize his thesis, which is based on research and analysis by a political psychologist, Karen Stenner, as laid out in her book, The Authoritarian Dynamic.

The gist is that racism is really a subset of attitudes prevalent among people who are upset about contact with those who are “different.” If your neighbor is such an authoritarian, don’t urge her to accept the new refugees in the neighborhood by talking about their delightfully different food and music. Talk, instead, about how the refugee parents’ struggle to get to America shows how much they love their children, just like you love your children.

In short, talk just like Obama did when he spoke of “one America.”

IMHO, Friedersdorf’s piece will provoke needed thought and will richly repay the reading. I also think it’s incomplete. I’m perfectly prepared to accept the existence of the kind of diversity phobic “authoritarian” personality he describes. But I also have fixed firmly in my mind the Republican Party’s decades long loving outreach to the people who had lovingly embraced Jim Crow.

All that said, the immediate issue is not understanding all the finer points of political psychology. The immediate issue is winning the damn election.

We must win by advancing fact based, intellectually honest arguments. But there are some fact based, intellectually honest arguments that will appeal to one audience but badly piss off another audience. Friedersdorf concludes that exuberant celebration of the diversity of our country is one such position. And he may very well be right. Instead, he urges, keep talking like Obama talks.