One often hears that this or that political statement traffics in “coded” racist imagery. McCain commercials showing white women or black men or even white men used coded racial imagery. Libertarians complaining about “government thugs” must be appealing to coded racist terminology. Political cultural cliches are inevitably a racist code. Fears about redistribution are really coded fears of racial redistribution. As Matthew Yglesias puts it:
Well, obviously you could read just about anything as a coded racist appeal. And I think a case could be made that you’d be right to.
But what good is code? Self-described racists like the Aryan Nation don’t bother to traffic in codes – they rely on explicit appeals to racial solidarity. If racists made up a vast majority, or even a large plurality, of the committed opposition to President Obama, couldn’t they more effectively communicate their complaints to each other without relying on obscure and hard to understand codes? A code only increases the costs of political coordination. Only those who take the time to deconstruct the racial meanings will get the message. Or, you can only find the racism if you are looking for it.
Inevitably, this means that progressives will crack the code first. As remarkable as it may seem, few conservative or libertarian Americans support candidates and movements merely for the strength of their rhetoric’s racist undertones. If they did, they would have candidates and movements with worse actual tones – much more relevant to the only vaguely political majority that they must win over. The cost of good racist codes would be the opportunity cost paid in foregone good rhetoric. Progressives, on the other hand, are generally disinterested in absorbing core conservative or libertarian beliefs. Policing rhetoric for accidental racial double-entendres is much more politically fruitful.
Cryptologist-in-Chief Jimmy Carter recently determined that “an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a Black man.” He is not alone, judging from Politico’s Arena. Progressives, as usual, can see far more racism than conservatives. James Zogby explains how they do it:
Look at the signs, read the slogans, listen to the speeches, look into the eyes of the marchers and taunters!
I was present at the 9-12 DC rally against President Obama, so perhaps I am a part of the “intensely demonstrated animosity”. I certainly didn’t feel like a violent, hate-filled, racist troglodyte. More like a cheerful, hopeful, freedom-loving idealist. And that’s how I interpreted the crowds around me. Perhaps Zogby knows better than I do. Or perhaps when our methodology consists in “looking into the eyes” of our opponents, we see just what we want to.