A primer in discrimination against us GOPers
by Willy Stern
By the time we had ordered our second round of sake, the blind date was developing nicely, at least from my end. And all my instincts said the woman sitting opposite me at the hole-in-wall Japanese restaurant in Greenwich Village shared my sentiments. The year was 1992; a relatively unknown governor from Arkansas was running against George H. Bush. I was a walking, talking New York Magazine personal adSJM, 31, in NYC. My dateI'll call her Suziand I, it turned out, had oodles in common; she too was Jewish, age-appropriate, and a Manhattanite.
We ordered more sake, and the conversation flowed easily. Then she said something about "all those asshole Republicans."
I hear a lot of this kind of language. By all accounts, I should share this sentiment. After all, I grew up with a Scarsdale mailing address. Both sides of my family are Jewish. I hold degrees from Williams College and Harvard University. I'm not just a journalist, but a muckraking investigative reporter. I seem like a nice, caring guy. I give to charities. My in-laws were tight with Paul Wellstone. By any reasonable logic, I should be a Democrat with progressive leaningsas many of my good friends are. And, therefore, I should share Suzi's view that most Republicans are, indeed, assholes.
But, it turns out, I am a Republican.
To be sure, I can fully understand why Suzi might have surmised otherwise.
At that moment in the Japanese restaurant, I faced a dilemma that I have faced literally hundreds of times, before and since, in my 42 years on this fair planet: Divulge the truthor let the comment slide by. Usually, I play alongsimply because it's the path of least resistance and least awkwardness. On a blind date, though, I thought open disclosure was the more honorable route.
"Actually, Suzi," I explained as gently as possible, "I'm one of those asshole Republicans."
She dropped her chopsticks and stared at me as if I had just announced that I was a convicted child rapist.
Then she smiled, as she finally grasped the situation. "Oh, you're kidding, right?"
"No, I really am a Republican."
"What? Nobody told me."
I tried to blunt the blow. "I'm actually not terribly interested in politics." This is, in fact, true.
"Well, look," she said as she pulled her purse out from under her seat. "I'm sorry but I can't deal with this. Please don't think me rude, but I really think it would be best if I just left."
Happens All the Time...
Sadly, this is not an extreme case. Because of my background and my appearancedark curly hair and a fairly sizable proboscismost of the world reaches similar conclusions as to my political leanings as did Suzi. Scarcely a week has gone by since I hit 7th grade at Edgemont High School during which somebody did not make a derogatory comment about Republicans in my presence. I hear them, well, practically everywhere...at Starbucks, at job interviews, and while picking up my son at Congregation Micah, Nashville's open-minded reform synagogue. I hear them in the hallways of Vanderbilt University (where I teach part-time), around the copy machines at the Nashville Scene (the alternative newspaper which employs me) and in the carpool line at the University School of Nashville, (the progressive private school which my older child attends).
Press me and you'll learn thatto the degree one can be labeledI reside in the liberal wing of the Republican Party. I believe in free markets and free people. Social issues notwithstanding, that generally lines me up with the Republicans.
When somebody makes a prejudicial comment about Republicans in my presence, I play a private game. I replay the sentence in my mindonly I substitute a word like "black" or "lesbian" or "Mexican" in place of the word "Republican." In performing this verbal sleight-of-hand, it becomes increasingly apparent that the speaker of the sentence may harbor views not generally considered to be tolerant or open-minded.
But are they bigots? Bigot, after all, is a strong and charged word. And how about Suzi? Is she a bigot?
Going to the Experts
There is no group better qualified to answer that question than the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a not-for-profit group respected around the globe for its authoritative work to counteract discrimination and anti-Semitism. So are comments like "All Republicans are assholes," expressions of bigotry? According to Caryl M. Stern, ADL's associate national director (and no relation to the author), the answer is yes.
To be sure, in this era of diversity and sensitivity, a veritable cottage industry has sprung up to stamp out bigotry and intolerance. Many of those who have dedicated themselves to the eradication of bigotry tend to be Left-leaning, self-styled progressives. In researching this essay, I interviewed a number of these tolerance gurus. Interestingly, most had no problem labeling all Republicans "assholes." One prominent sociologist at a top university explained earnestly that he was no bigot but, of course, wouldn't want his sister to marry a Republican.
Using rather clever definitional contortions, these tolerance and oppression experts found ways to absolve those that make bigoted statements about Republicans en masse from the charge of bigotry. Their arguments are predictable. They are well summarized by Loretta J. Williams, director of the Boston-based Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights, a national network involved in anti-oppression training. A self-described "sociologist, educator and activist," Williams tilts far Left in her political views. Herewith, her reasoning:
Unlike women, African-Americans or homosexuals, Republicans have chosen to be Republicans; one cannot be bigoted towards a group that is self-selecting.
Republicans do not stand to be hurt by bigoted activity. Since the derogatory words do not trigger actual harmful behavior towards Republicans (who clearly can look after themselves), there is no bigotry. No harm, no foul.
A personal decision to take strong exception to Republicans as a group can be perceived as a rational and warranted act. Since the policies and actions of the Republican Party are worthy of derision, those who say they intensely dislike Republicansand what Republicans stand forare exercising legitimate forms of self-expression.
Predictably, such explanations unravel when subjected to even a light coating of scrutiny:
If one cannot be bigoted towards self-selecting groups, then it would seem to be OK to despise all Southerners (who have chosen not to relocate west or north) and all Harvard economics professors (who have chosen to get Ph.D's.) I didn't choose to be a Republican any more than I chose to be a Jew. My family has been Republican (and Jewish) for several generations. Being a Republican is part and parcel of how I was raised and of who I am.
If derogatory speech does not rise to the level of bigotry if not accompanied by actionor the threat of actionthen it would seem to be OK to announce regularly that one hates all "niggers," "spics," "kikes" or "queers" as long as one doesn't do anything about it, or inspire others to do so.
If it's OK to hate "asshole Republicans" because thoughtful analysis reveals that their views and behavior to be worthy of scorn, then it would seem to be OK to hate all homosexuals, Muslims and tolerance experts, as long as one can make a reasoned and intelligent argument for doing so.
Of course, the rationales that would absolve those who talk about "asshole Republicans" from the charge of bigotry are no more than verbal claptrap. Such rationales are poor attempts to justify hypocritical behavior that ought not to be justified. And that is precisely what this issue boils down to at its purest: Hypocrisy.
The sad fact of the matter is that many progressive Democrats are intolerant and mean toward those with whom they disagree politically. Their behavior doesn't hurt so much as amuse. I've been sitting at their dinner parties for two decades now, sipping Chardonnay, munching on salmon steaks, and listening to self-professed progressive thinkers talk like bigots. It makes me chuckle to think that, on average, even here in the mid-South, I probably hear 10 bigoted comments about Republicans for each time I am exposed to the "n" word. To be sure, some perspective is needed. Clearly, the many minorities in Nashville and elsewhere whose lives are daily and cruelly affected by bigotry have it worse than your average golf-playing Republican.
The profile of people who use the term "Republican" in a bigoted fashion tends to be fairly straightforward: Educated, intellectually gifted and generally thoughtful in their speech. They are the very people I sat next to in newsrooms in New York, Chicago, Tokyo and Johannesburg. They are my friends and neighbors. They are academics, lawyers, bankers and stay-at-home momsdecent, kind and sensitive people, for the most part.
But they are, and remain bigots. They are just as bigoted as the redneck I filled up my car next to last week in Pegram, Tenn., who was carrying on about the "fuckin' niggers." But there is an important distinction between the bigotry of the lower-middle classes in rural areas like Pegram and that of limousine liberals in urban centers: The liberals you'll find at university soirees engage in a form of bigotry that has become socially acceptable.
I have led a double life, of sorts. I often wonder: What will they think of me if, or when, they learn that I'm a Republican? Even as I type out these words, I wonder how my teaching career at Vanderbilt will be affected by my "coming out" in this article. I understand the fears of subtle bias that have driven homosexuals and others to keep their secret lives hidden.
The bigotry of America's Left-leaning intelligentsia is based upon cold logic that unfolds in the following predictable, if venal, fashion: I'm very smart. I'm well educated. So are most of my friends. I give generously to liberal causes. I'm a kind and caring human being. I defer to nobody in my exemplary set of values. I care about equality. I believe in a just society. These values are integrated into the core of who I am. I work diligently to teach these values unto my progeny. And these are just the values that, generally speaking, have been represented by the policies and actions of the Democratic Party.
The corollary logic continues: I don't have much respect for the values of the Republican Party. Oversimplified, Republicans stand for the rich, for the status quo, for selfishness, and for war-mongering. These logical trains of thought are tinged with intellectual arrogance and gross stereotyping. Of course, some liberals who speak ill of Republicans have an ulterior motive. They use the tactic to undermine the credibility of all Republicans, who must be evil, stupidor both.
Reagan, and his crowd, were a bunch of cowboys. NRA supporters are dumbfucks from Wyoming. The Christian Right is the imbecilic underbelly of the South, led by money-grubbing preachers. George W. may have gone to Yale and the business school, but he's basically a shallow frat boy andyikes!a Christian. Locals who line up with such thinking tend to be knee-jerk right-wingers with low IQs.
In short, the justification for bigoted comments directed at those with whom the educated Left disagrees politically is based on two foundations: 1) We're a lot smarter than they are; and 2) We're better people than they are. That logic leads to three inescapable conclusions: We're right. They're wrong. QED: All Republicans are assholes.
"I've dedicated a significant portion of my adult life to disagreeing with the Republican Party," notes Chip Berlet, the thoughtful senior analyst at Somerville, Mass.-based Political Research Associates, a progressive think tank that studies oppressive movements. "But I am totally uncomfortable with that phrase in this context."
Would that Berlet's views were typical. The socially acceptable bigotry expressed by Suzi, my blind date of yesteryear, sadly is far more prevalent.
A former staff writer at Forbes and Business Week, Willy Stern is the Nashville Scene's investigative reporter. He also teaches in the Law School and English department at Vanderbilt University.
May 29, 2003 * Vol. 13, No. 22
© 2003 Metro Pulse