When the mask slips
One of the markers of conservatism in our modern democracy is a routine willingness to say one thing privately and another publicly. The reason for this is that our national consensus has turned towards justice, which causes defenders of the old order into a bad situation where they either say what they mean and sound like monsters, or they try to reframe their authoritarian views in liberal terms to confuse the issue. Historically, this has mostly been a stalling tactic, if in results if not in intention. Slave owners bought a little more time owning slaves by claiming slavery was good for slaves, because they weren’t smart enough for freedom. (This argument never actually went away entirely, as was demonstrated by Michele Bachmann signing a pledge that was based on the assumption that African-Americans needed to be enslaved to make them act right, by social conservative standards.) In the early days of segregation, what was privately expressed as an explicit desire to keep black people as second class citizens was cleaned up and publicly presented as “separate but equal”. When that stopped working, private support for segregation as segregation was cleaned up and presented to the public as “states’ rights” or “private property rights”. After desegregation, private anger at black people for demanding equality was cleaned up and presented as “law and order” in public. You know this history.
I believe that racism is what developed the strategy, but now it’s endemic. Abortion is privately about sluts who can’t keep their legs shut, publicly about “life”. Economic policies that that are designed to grow the gap between the haves and have-nots are publicly supported because they supposed grow the economy and do the opposite. (This facade was falling apart on a lot of Twitter accounts yesterday when I put up a link explaining how the wealthiest 400 families in America could pay off everyone else’s credit card debt or student loan debt, and instead of trotting out “trickle down” like good propagandists, the wingnut tweeps started screaming “jealous!” at me. I honestly think some of them believe their check is coming in the mail any day now.) Anti-gay bigotry is blatant in private spaces, but about “traditional marriage” in public spaces. And, as I’ve noted before, being a white person who routinely is injected into conservative-heavy all-white spaces, I can assure you that the private willingness to just be blatantly racist hasn’t gone away at all. However, because of my career, it is becoming more hidden to me.
The problem with this strategy is it actually takes a lot of effort to maintain elaborate facades. And really, only people who are out in public are expected to maintain the facade. The blatant nastiness is freely expressed in private spaces, which is why, as I’ve pointed out before, elaborate email chains are one of those things that help create conservative solidarity largely out of the view of liberals. The Republican infrastructure has been remarkably good at sorting people and aiming the more honest messages into spaces where their messages won’t reach liberal ears. (It’s not a coincidence that Limbaugh is on AM radio, which just so happens to be—as Air America learned—a medium that liberals largely don’t give a shit about, especially when it comes to the mid-morning hours when most of us are at work and not listening to the radio. And even then, Limbaugh attempts to be more measured than the teeming masses he speaks to.) Getting on TV, publishing in widely available spaces or moving into national politics used to mean getting potty trained in saying things in code and not talking like you would to your friends. Now, most of us do this to one extent or another, but with liberals I rarely hear a direct conflict between their private values and their public ones, but with conservatives, there’s often a direct conflict, or at least mismatch, between private values and public ones.
I think there’s been cracking lately, is my point. There’s a number of reasons for this, but one of them is the rapid expansion of the internet means that conservatives who aren’t potty trained have more access to a national platform, simply because it’s that much harder for the party leaders to filter them out. That, and as we all know, this Tea Party stuff is emboldening to the non-potty-trained. They’ve been trained to hate “political correctness” that keeps them from saying what they really think, and by god, they’re not going to take it any more.
Read the rest of this post at Pandagon.