Iowa and Beyond: "Common Sense" Racism and the Tea Party GOP
The 2012 Republican presidential field, a hydra which self-destructively feeds on itself, had one more battle royale in Iowa. Fighting to a standstill, Romney, Gingrich, Santorum, and Paul bloodied each other. While the Tea Party GOP is still a house divided, their leading candidates share a common, uniting, go to issue: hating on the blacks makes for good politics; it pays substantial political dividends.
As Iowa demonstrated, be it Gingrich's yearning to have lazy black and brown kids pick up mops and brooms as janitors in work houses, Romney's nativist Klan inspired opines to keep "America America," Santorum's appeals to a belief that African Americans find sustenance by stealing from hardworking white people, or Ron Paul's assertion that the Civil Rights Act (with its bringing down of Jim and Jane Crow) was an unfair intrusion on white people's "liberty" and "freedom," the Tea Party GOP remains addicted to the crack rock of dog whistle politics.
Decades after the founding of the Southern Strategy in the 1960s, the old school remains the true school. Ultimately for conservatives, demagoguing the negroes can still help stir up support among the white populist faithful.
Precision matters here. Research on public opinion and political behavior has demonstrated that not all conservatives are racist. However, racists are much more likely to be conservative--and to identify as Republicans.
Social scientists, historians, psychologists and others have developed an extensive vocabulary to talk about the lived politics of the color line. These terms include such notable phrases as symbolic racism, white racial resentment, the white racial frame, in-group and out-group anxiety, ethnocentrism, prejudice, realistic group conflict, colorblind racism, systems of structured inequality, racial formation, and front stage vs. backstage racism.
In thinking through the politics of race at work in the white conservative political imagination, this seemingly disparate terminology is connected by a common thread. Race and racial ideologies are ways of seeing the world, of locating people and individuals relative to one another, and are a cognitive map for making sense of social relationships. While shocking to outsiders, the type of racism played with so casually by Gingrich, Romney, Santorum, Paul and other conservatives is a type of "common sense" for their public.