If you really want to understand "polarization" in today's political climate, you have to understand that Ds and Rs, and conservatives and liberals, live in very different worlds when it comes to facts and relevant information. We've seen an unusually graphic illustration of this reality during the last week, when much of the conservative chattering classes have been obsessed not with the financial regulation bill, not with Republican primary battles, but with the premise that there's a massive effort underway led by the Obama administration to harrass and demonize white people.
The main exhibit in this bizarre narrative is one Malik Zulu Shabazz, the leader of something called the New Black Panther Party. On election day in 2008, Shabazz and a few associates played the fool at a virtually all-black Philadelphia polling place, and yelled about "crackers" voting the wrong way. Despite the lack of evidence that Shabazz had actually intimidated any actual voters, the DOJ initiated a criminal prosecution, which it then downgraded to a civil suit (all of this was under the Bush administration). Shortly after Obama's inauguration, DOJ dropped the civil suit, and a former DOJ attorney is now claiming that he and others were under instructions not to go after African-Americans for voter intimidation violations.
Now at this juncture it's important to understand that many conservatives not only deny there are significant efforts to intimidate or otherwise discourage minority voters, but that the real threat to the integrity of U.S. elections comes from the other side of the political and racial lines. These are folks who seem to believe, for example, that the relatively marginal community organizing group (now disbanded after being denied any access to federal funds for non-political activities) ACORN may have stolen the 2008 presidential election for Barack Obama. So a pathetic self-promoting guy like Shabazz is pure political gold.
And sure enough, Shabazz has appeared frequently on Fox News to spout his nonsense, as reported by Dave Weigel:
How often does Fox bring on the Panthers, or talk about them? A Lexis-Nexis search finds 68 mentions of "Malik Zulu Shabazz," a leader of the NBPP. The majority are appearances on Fox News, where Shabazz is repeatedly brought on to act as a foolish, anti-Semitic punching bag. Among the segment titles: "Professor's Comments on Whites Stir Controversy" and "Black Panthers Take a Stand on Duke Rape Case."
This last week, Shabazz's fifteen minutes of Fox Fame was extended as Fox reporters and conservative bloggers brandished the "scandal" of the NBBP's escape from civil liability for acting the fool as a response to the NAACP's resolution calling on the Tea Party movement to repudiate its "racist elements." RedState's highly influential Erick Erickson even called on Republicans to make Shabazz the "Willie Horton" of the 2010 campaign.
Unbelievable, eh? But it all makes sense among folks who seem to believe that the only real racism in America is being exhibited by anyone who thinks white racism is a problem, and that in fact, white people are being victimized by minorities, in Philadelphia, in the Department of Justice, and in the White House itself. As Jonathan Chait notes in reference to Fox's Shabazzaganza:
There has been a great deal of right-wing insanity unleashed over the last year and a half, but this is the first time that the fear has an explicitly racial cast. You now have the largest organ of movement conservatism promoting Limbaugh's idee fixe that the Obama administration represents black America's historical revenge against whites.
At a minimum, it's scary that conservative Americans are being tutored in anti-anti-racism, the idea that what's called "playing the race card" is always illegitimate, regardless of the facts. But what's worse is the idea that semi-open race-baiting involving imaginary menaces like the New Black Panther Party is now being promoted as anti-racism. It's anti-anti-racism with a particularly nasty twist.