Monday, October 25, 2010

Leftist academics putting on their pith helmets to study the tea partiers

Demonstrating their utter cluelessness, a bunch of liberal academics have gotten together for a conference at Berkeley to study the tea party movement. It is sponsored by something called the "UC Berkeley's Center for the Comparative Study of Right-Wing Movements." Who knew? When you want to know about the right wing, isn't Berkeley the place you immediately head towards for penetrating analysis? I wondered who funded this center - is that where Californian taxpayer money is going? Then I found this entry about the source of much of their resources available for research.
In June of 2010, People for the American Way donated their vast and unique collection of materials on the American Right to our Center. This archive will be permanently housed at UC Berkeley's prestigious Bancroft Library, one of the largest and most heavily used libraries of manuscripts, rare books, and unique materials in hte United States.

Comprised of approximately 1,220 organizations, 300 individual files, and 80 rare right-wing magazines and newspapers, the Collection charts the flourishing movements of American conservatism from the 1970s to the early twenty-first century. Direct mailings, pamphlets, mass emails, newspaper clippings, research memos, public endorsements, membership and dues records, voter guides, subscription information, organizational histories, internal development records, and more, outline the strategies, goals, and methods of conservative movement mobilization.
How convenient that a left-wing organization has supplied the Center with so much lovely material.

Anyway, this eminent organization sponsored their symposium on the tea party movement and, luckily, we have David Weigel's notes on the conversation at the conference.
They want to know what the hell is going on. They are in Berkeley, where they are used to venerating left-wing activism and putting up sandbags against the once-a-decade conservative wave—Reagan (twice), Proposition 13 (about property taxes), Proposition 209 (about affirmative action), George W. Bush. The Tea Party, though? A bunch of people who reverse-engineer Saul Alinsky and yell "Keep the government out of Medicare" and have conservatives shouting down politicians and filling street corners?
They're really flummoxed. How is it that conservatives are out in the street? Isn't that what only liberals are supposed to do? But soon they settle on an agreed-upon analysis. It must all be about racism. One researcher presents his conclusive evidence.
The University of Washington's Christopher Parker shares his research-in-progress based on interviews in seven states that break down subjects into "true skeptics" of the Tea Party at one end and "true believers" at the other.

"If you look across the board here, true skeptics of the Tea Party, 49 percent agreed with the proposition that blacks ought to work their way up without any special favors," says Parker. "But if you look at the true believers, that goes to 92 percent. This is another indicator of racism, right: Over the past few years, blacks have gotten less than they deserve. Forty-five percent of true skeptics disagree with this; almost 80 percent of true believers disagree with this."
That's it? The difference between the "true skeptics" and the "True believers" is their willingness to give special privileges or benefits to blacks? That is what they've got to prove racism?

Perhaps it's the "true skeptics" who are out of touch. Majorities of Americans oppose elements of affirmative action which is the legal equivalent of what Parker's research question is referring to. A 2009 Quinnipiac poll found these results:
Looking at specifics of affirmative action, American voters:

* Oppose 70 - 25 percent giving some racial groups preference for government jobs to increase diversity. Black voters support it 49 - 45 percent while Hispanic voters are opposed 58 - 38 percent;
* Oppose 74 - 21 percent giving some racial groups preference for private sector jobs to increase diversity. Voters in every racial and religious group oppose this;
* Oppose 64 - 29 percent affirmative action for Hispanics in hiring, promotion and college entry. Black voters support it 59 - 30 percent while Hispanics split 47 - 48 percent;
* Oppose 61 - 33 percent affirmative action for blacks in hiring, promotion and college entry. Black voters support this 69 - 26 percent, as do Hispanics 51 - 46 percent;
I guess the only conclusion the Berkeley conference could reach is just that over 60% of the American people are just as racist as those tea partiers.

Perhaps Charles Murray is right. There is a "New Elite" out there and it contains both Republicans and Democrats. And that New Elite is in its own "meritocratic" bubble. They live in similar suburbs, go to similar schools, marry each other and then raise children to repeat their pattern. And the result is two different groups of people. And from Murray's description, I'm one of the New Elite.
We know, for one thing, that the New Elite clusters in a comparatively small number of cities and in selected neighborhoods in those cities. This concentration isn't limited to the elite neighborhoods of Washington, New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Silicon Valley and San Francisco. It extends to university cities with ancillary high-tech jobs, such as Austin and the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill triangle [where I live].

With geographical clustering goes cultural clustering. Get into a conversation about television with members of the New Elite, and they can probably talk about a few trendy shows -- "Mad Men" now, "The Sopranos" a few years ago. But they haven't any idea who replaced Bob Barker on "The Price Is Right." They know who Oprah is, but they've never watched one of her shows from beginning to end.

Talk to them about sports, and you may get an animated discussion of yoga, pilates, skiing or mountain biking, but they are unlikely to know who Jimmie Johnson is (the really famous Jimmie Johnson, not the former Dallas Cowboys coach), and the acronym MMA means nothing to them.

They can talk about books endlessly, but they've never read a "Left Behind" novel (65 million copies sold) or a Harlequin romance (part of a genre with a core readership of 29 million Americans).

They take interesting vacations and can tell you all about a great backpacking spot in the Sierra Nevada or an exquisite B&B overlooking Boothbay Harbor, but they wouldn't be caught dead in an RV or on a cruise ship (unless it was a small one going to the Galapagos). They have never heard of Branson, Mo.

There so many quintessentially American things that few members of the New Elite have experienced. They probably haven't ever attended a meeting of a Kiwanis Club or Rotary Club, or lived for at least a year in a small town (college doesn't count) or in an urban neighborhood in which most of their neighbors did not have college degrees (gentrifying neighborhoods don't count). They are unlikely to have spent at least a year with a family income less than twice the poverty line (graduate school doesn't count) or to have a close friend who is an evangelical Christian. They are unlikely to have even visited a factory floor, let alone worked on one.

Taken individually, members of the New Elite are isolated from mainstream America as a result of lifestyle choices that are nobody's business but their own. But add them all up, and they mean that the New Elite lives in a world that doesn't intersect with mainstream America in many important ways. When the tea party says the New Elite doesn't get America, there is some truth in the accusation.
Of course, you don't have to read the same books or watch the same TV shows to understand a different point of view. The only question is whether you're interested in finding out more about that point of view. Somehow, I suspect that a Berkeley conference of academics isn't the place to go to learn what makes the tea partiers tick.