Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The benefit of the doubt on race

Can you believe it?  Donald Trump is being criticized on issues of race again!  By now, you have read about and seen the image that Trump tweeted of HRC next to a pile of money with a six-point star and a claim of corruption.  Eventually, Trump claimed that the star was a sheriff's star.  I'll skip the discussion of him in particular, and address the more general question of the benefit of the doubt.  Who deserves it on race?  There are a lot of answers that various people will give.

1)  Everyone.  This is a particularly prominent answer in the Republican Party, based on the premise that racism simply doesn't exist in any significant way anymore.  If we accept the premises that a) racism is the worst evil ever, and b) that racism has been essentially banished from society, then it follows that everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt.

2)  Democrats.  Does anybody remember this?

Uhhh....   Yeah....  Let's be blunt.  Why did Biden get a pass on this?  It's that "D" after his name.  Would a Republican get a pass on this?  No.  Since 1964, non-Southern Democrats (more on that next) have gotten a lot of leeway on race.  Part of that is built up from support for policies that are popular among African-Americans, and part of that is group association, but there is a party-level effect that lets non-Southern Democrats get away with more than Republicans.

3)  Republicans.  Most people probably don't know who Kevin Williamson is, but if you Google him, you'll see a lot of stuff in which he writes about the history of the Republican Party as the party of Lincoln.  He has to get creative when he talks about why Strom Thurmond switched parties in 1964, or what Lee Atwater said about the relationship between race, "bussing," and "welfare," or any of that, but in the Kevin Williamson line of reasoning, it is Republicans who should be given the benefit of the doubt on race because they are now and forever the party of Lincoln, while the Democrats are now and forever the party of the Southern segregationists.

4)  One's policy record.  By this line of reasoning, one should be given the presumption of innocence on race if one displays policy positions that are either race-neutral, or helpful to the fight against racism.  Did you know that several of the federal programs on affirmative action were instituted under Richard Nixon?  Now, go listen to some of those Nixon tapes.  Dude was fuckin' racist.  Also, really anti-semitic.  Even LBJ wasn't exactly MLK in his mindset, and he led the legislative fights on the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.  One of the critiques from Republicans about Democratic efforts on civil rights is that many white Democrats are just paternalistic, which is another form of racism.  Worth thinking about, particularly if you are a white liberal reading this blog...

5)  One's past statements.  This is what we might call the "Bayesian" model.  If you read this blog, you had to know I'd get all statistical on you.  Bayesian statistics are basically when you start with a "prior" belief, and update it as you incorporate new information.  So, I start with a prior probability that Politician X is racist.  Call it Pr(racist).  As each new statement, action or policy position is evaluated, that goes up or down.

Are there other methods?  Sure.  I'm just throwing out the main elements of political discussion, to the degree that such a thing exists when "discussion" consists of "I know you are, but what am I?"

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