Hating Bo

Hating Bo

by digby

This is a fascinating piece at
Slate about the "racialization" of attitudes, something I've never really thought of before, although it makes some sense once you think about it:

The wishful scenario many Republicans envisioned after Barack Obama’s change of heart this month on gay marriage—the president’s African-American base, far less supportive of expanding marriage than other parts of his coalition, becomes demobilized or even defects as a result of Obama’s stance—already seems unlikely to be realized. Last Thursday, Public Policy Polling revealed a 36-point swing in black support for gay marriage among Maryland voters, who will have the chance to legalize the practice in a November referendum, since PPP’s last poll on the subject in March. Then, 56 percent had been opposed to the new marriage law and 39 percent supported it. In May, PPP found the numbers nearly reversed: 55 percent supported, and 36 opposed. By all indications, black voters weren’t abandoning Obama over an issue on which they disagreed, but adjusting their opinions to match his...

Not only was Obama’s support pulling blacks toward his position, it was also pushing a segment of whites whom Tesler categorized as “racial conservatives” away from his position. In other words, Obama had such sway over race-conscious voters that they adjusted their positions on gay marriage because of him.
It's been very unpopular among some political observers to even mention that race has played a part in the Obama phenomenon, whether for good or evil. But it's been pretty clear to me that it has. And this shows how you can tell:
Tesler started looking for “issues that people don’t have strong feelings about, and issues that weren’t already folded into the current partisan alignment,” as he put it. Obama started feeding plenty of them—the stimulus, health care reform, cap-and-trade, all relatively new issues without firmly established loyalties. Tesler began working with the polling outfit YouGov to match how voters’ changing views on them matched up to their answers to the racial-resentment questions. He found a “spillover of racialization” into health care reform: Voters who heard descriptions of the contrasting components of the 1993 Clinton and 2009 Obama proposals were more likely to grow disapproving of Obama’s when they heard the presidents’ names—as long as they demonstrated racial resentment elsewhere in the survey.

Even presidential pets were viewed through the same lens. Tesler showed 1,000 YouGov respondents a picture of a Portuguese water dog and asked how favorably they felt toward it. Half saw the dog introduced as Bo Obama, and half as Ted Kennedy’s dog, Splash. (Both political dogs are the same breed, but the picture was of Obama’s.) Those with negative feelings toward blacks thought less of Obama’s dog.

The latest issue to fall into this pattern is gay marriage, although PPP’s Maryland findings seem to confirm that racialization can work in multiple directions. Tesler has repeatedly found that the polarization he has documented is partly a function of the voters he describes as “racial liberals”—those who score low on the resentment battery, a category that includes blacks and progressive whites—being more likely to support a policy when they learn that Obama does, too.
I think we see the downside of that, as well, don't we? This is from the Washinton Post ABC poll:
The sharpest edges of President Obama’s counterterrorism policy, including the use of drone aircraft to kill suspected terrorists abroad and keeping open the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have broad public support, including from the left wing of the Democratic Party.

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that Obama, who campaigned on a pledge to close the brig at Guantanamo Bay and to change national security policies he criticized as inconsistent with U.S. law and values, has little to fear politically for failing to live up to all of those promises.

The survey shows that 70 percent of respondents approve of Obama’s decision to keep open the prison at Guantanamo Bay. . . . The poll shows that 53 percent of self-identified liberal Democrats — and 67 percent of moderate or conservative Democrats — support keeping Guantanamo Bay open, even though it emerged as a symbol of the post-Sept. 11 national security policies of George W. Bush, which many liberals bitterly opposed.
Obviously, I don't know how much the above attitudes track with Tessler's "racialization spillover" index so maybe it legitimately represents a major change of heart among liberals who now support the same repressive policies they hated during George W. Bush's term. Clearly some of this is party tribalism as well. And there is a genuine trust and belief in Obama's leadership which probably accounts for some of it. But whatever it is, there can be little doubt that this president, for whatever reason, has managed to persuade many liberals to support security policies they were adamantly opposed to just a few years ago.

Interestingly, I don't think the racial resentment people have made the same switch on that one issue. They may hate Obama so much that they even hate his dog (which is unfathomable to me --- I just don't know how any human being can hate that dog.) But no matter how much they loathe him, they are so wedded to the idea of American bad-assedness that they'll even get past their racial resentment and support the Obama policies. When it comes to killing foreigners, they can be remarkably color-blind.

I don't know how much stock to put in all this. But I suspect there is something to it. I once knew a lady who wouldn't eat licorice jelly beans because they were black. She called them "pickaninnies." And she liked the taste of licorice. Some people can be very irrational when it comes to this stuff.