Cliven Bundy Just Put Away The Dog Whistle, That’s All

I don’t know, I really don’t know, what everybody is so upset about.

So Cliven Bundy said the following, via The New York Times:

I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” he said. Mr. Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, “and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids — and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch — they didn’t have nothing to do. They didn’t have nothing for their kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do.

“And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he asked. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”

So what? Why are so many people, who jumped in bed with Cliven Bundy and began a rather lurid affair (Have a nice day, Senator Dean Heller!), now scurrying around looking for their clothes and the door? What is in Bundy’s racist remarks that hasn’t been endorsed, in one form or another, by any number of Republicans, especially during the 2012 presidential election? There are many examples to choose from, but I will give you only two.

Remember back in 2012 when two GOP presidential candidates—I said, presidential candidates, people!—Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum, signed a “Marriage Vow” pledge that included the following as a preamble:

Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African American baby born after the election of the USA’s first African-American President, according to the document.

Translation from Cliven Bundy: “Are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things…?”

But we don’t have to go back to 2012, which featured Mitt Romney’s class warfare on the mooching 47%. His partner in that presidential run, Paul Ryan, recently made remarks that mirror Bundy’s comments about how blacks “never learned to pick cotton” because of all the government subsidies they enjoy. On right-wing Bill Bennet’s radio show Ryan said:

Bennett: You gave a talk about poverty, lifting people out of poverty. A great party has a plan to help people get out of poverty. What’s the plan? What are the broad outlines? What’s the roadmap, as someone might say?

Ryan: In a nutshell, work works. It’s all about getting people to work. And when you were one of the leaders of welfare reform in the late ‘90s, we got excoriated for saying you know what, as a condition of welfare, people should go to work and it should be a bridge, not a permanent system. And it worked very well, but there were dozens of other welfare programs that did not get reformed that have sort of overtaken events and have now made it harder for people to get into work. We call it a poverty trap. There are incentives not to work and to stay where you are; that’s not what we want in society. 

And later he told Bennett:

Ryan: And so, that’s this tailspin or spiral that we’re looking at in our communities. You know your buddy (conservative scholar) Charles Murray or (public policy professor) Bob Putnam over at Harvard, those guys have written books on this, which is we have got this tailspin of culture in our inner cities, in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work; and so there’s a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with. 

The only difference, to my ears, from what Ryan said and what Bundy said is that Ryan was careful to substitute “inner cities” for “Negroes.” The rest of it is essentially the same idea: if you don’t make black people work by threatening to starve them to death, then what will happen is that all the older blacks will sit on the porch and count their food stamps, while their young girls get pregnant and then get abortions and their young boys commit crimes and end up in jail.

So, let’s get off Cliven Bundy’s racist ass and congratulate him for saying plainly what many, many Republicans have been saying in code for so long.


Conservatism and Low IQ

Whatever one thinks of the study referenced below, one has to admire the choice to illustrate the point:

As for the substance of the study, here is the abstract:



Despite their important implications for interpersonal behaviors and relations, cognitive abilities have been largely ignored as explanations of prejudice. We proposed and tested mediation models in which lower cognitive ability predicts greater prejudice, an effect mediated through the endorsement of right-wing ideologies (social conservatism, right-wing authoritarianism) and low levels of contact with out-groups. In an analysis of two large-scale, nationally representative United Kingdom data sets (N = 15,874), we found that lower general intelligence (g) in childhood predicts greater racism in adulthood, and this effect was largely mediated via conservative ideology. A secondary analysis of a U.S. data set confirmed a predictive effect of poor abstract-reasoning skills on antihomosexual prejudice, a relation partially mediated by both authoritarianism and low levels of intergroup contact. All analyses controlled for education and socioeconomic status. Our results suggest that cognitive abilities play a critical, albeit underappreciated, role in prejudice. Consequently, we recommend a heightened focus on cognitive ability in research on prejudice and a better integration of cognitive ability into prejudice models.


Gordon Hodson, one of the authors of the study, was quoted in a Live Science article:

Hodson was quick to note that the despite the link found between low intelligence and social conservatism, the researchers aren’t implying that all liberals are brilliant and all conservatives stupid. The research is a study of averages over large groups, he said.

“There are multiple examples of very bright conservatives and not-so-bright liberals, and many examples of very principled conservatives and very intolerant liberals,” Hodson said.

All of this reminds me of the controversy surrounding The Bell Curve by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray. The book asserted that cognitive ability can be expressed in a meaningful single number (g) and that it is substantially, though not completely, the result of genetics.

The book also argued that IQ tests accurately measure this ability and that those tests can be designed to eliminate bias. That led to controversy because the authors asserted that racial differences in IQ were real (blacks, for instance, tend to score lower on IQ tests than whites) and like all differences in IQ involves an important genetic component (so they argued).

Now, there was a raging debate after the publication of The Bell Curve and the author’s analysis was found to be wanting by many critics. Right now all I can offer is that I distrust such studies.  We don’t yet know enough about how the brain works to pronounce with confidence the relationship between “intelligence” (the definition of which is also problematic) and performance on IQ tests or the adoption of a set of beliefs.

But I do think there is validity in the idea that low intelligence folks tend to prefer black and white explanations of an otherwise complicated reality, and that would apply to people on the left and right as far as I can tell. (But some intelligent folks prefer the black and white explanations presumably because of the emotional comfort involved, so go figure.)

But I do like the idea that Donald Trump is the poster child for the alleged link between low intelligence and racism and conservative beliefs.

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