Ta Nehisi Coates, over at The Atlantic, has another thoughtful post up about racism. The key point, and one he's made before, is that to defend prejudice, even in soft ways--like attacking affirmative action or "the sanctity of marriage"--requires you to dumb yourself down. That doesn't mean you're not smart, or that you can't cobble together a smart argument; it just means you still have to cheat your brain a little to get there.
He has a rich quote from Joe the Plumber (yet another lasting gift from McCain--will we ever give him his due?), in which Joe plays the moderate on homosexuality:
Queer means strange and unusual. It's not like a slur, like you would call a white person a honky or something like that. You know, God is pretty explicit in what we're supposed to do--what man and woman are for. Now, at the same time, we're supposed to love everybody and accept people, and preach against the sins. I've had some friends that are actually homosexual. And, I mean, they know where I stand, and they know that I wouldn't have them anywhere near my children.
As TNC puts it: "So much of this is so perfect--including the idea that "honkey" is the worst slur Joe can think of." The post also put me in mind of a comment I heard today at the gym (which here in H-town has TWO separate Fox News TVs on at all times) where someone suggested that Conservatives need to find someone who can talk moderate. What I love, is that's exactly what Joe's trying to do here. As a formula for the kind of "moderating" statement Obama has mastered, you couldn't get better than:
(1) State something anodyne which tries to defuse the topic by shifting it in a more culturally-neutral direction.
(2) Spice it up with something that shows you Feel the Pain of the other side and respect their opinion.
(3) Dip back into the well of common opinion for another injection of the anodyne.
(4) Use (3) to make an argument that everyone, even those who don't agree with (3) itself, would agree with.
(5) Return to (2) if necessary to burnish your cred before
(6) Make your final position clear, and if you've done 1-5 right, they may not agree with you, but they'll appreciate your opinion.
Back in college I had a prof who called this a "Rogerian" argument, based on the writing of psychologist Carl Rogers. It's essential to drawing people of opposing views into, if not out right agreement, at least appreciation of your opinion and moderation of their views. But for it to work, you have to find those "common ground" bona fides that the other side will recognize and respect. Joe's got the form of the argument down, but citing 19th-century diction, biblical wisdom, and knee-jerk homophobia isn't gonna get him anywhere. I mean, even conservatives must cringe when he gets more air time.
The key point is, you can't just try to talk like a moderate. You have to be able to adopt more moderate views, and to recognize what kinds of arguments others will recognize as moderate. Until Republicans can do that they're toast.