The assumptions nested in our electoral punditry are astounding. What’s more astounding is that we do not question them, especially when they barely conceal true, noxious racialist thinking. Why, for instance, is Don Imus a pariah, when Dick Morris and Chris Matthews can proceed without pause with lines of questioning based on the assumption that blacks only vote for blacks, women only vote for women and rednecks will vote for anybody who’ll wave the Stars & Bars? At least Imus, while admittedly tone-deaf, was trying to be amusing when he called the Rutgers women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hos.”
Since New Hampshire’s Democrats got wept away by Hillary’s histrionics, the big polling firms, whose self-esteem obviously has recovered since futzing-up two presidential elections in a row, have been navel-gazing: How could we have gotten it so wrong? they wonder. Many have begun to blame the “Wilder Effect,” which states that voters will lie if asked whom they support in a multi-racial election, because they fear not supporting the non-white candidate will cause them to appear bigoted. Some claim the Wilder effect was named for Virginia governor Douglas Wilder, whom polls cast as an easy winner in the 1994 race for U.S. Senate. Wilder went on to lose, despite the polls. NB: This is a completely true historical fact: The Wilder Effect was actually named for Gene Wilder, who was clearly the least favored of the pair in 1970’s Richard Pryor / Gene Wilder buddy movies, like Silver Streak and Stir Crazy.
The Wilder Effect is to margin-of-error what The Bell Curve is to IQ–a plausible explanation, but one that calls into question immediately the point of view and motive of the explainer. Is an explanation racist, as offered by a dottering old scientist, out of touch with modern racial sensibilities, and by virtue of his status, unused to necessarily qualifying his arguments so as not to piss off everyone within a quarter mile, a la James Watson? Is a provocateur’s jab sexist, like Larry Summers’ attempted discussion seeding that questioned female scientific aptitude? Why, probably yes. Yet Watson and Summers harmed none save extremely valuable and cherished disciplinary illusions, like the one that equates tact and education, and class illusions, like the petit bourgeois taboos against speaking frankly in terms of difference. For his part, Imus deserved to be kicked off the air, not because he was a racist, which may be so, but because his act was weak and unfunny.
But folks, noxious carcinogenic speculation–and our laziness in identifying and shouting it down–is one of the Republic’s primary problems. God knows why people say one thing and do another. But most of the time, notions that people act in certain predictable ways based on the color of their skins or the architecture of their genitalia are wrong and those who find such reasoning attractive should have their arguments fully vetted. It’s also wrong for us to allow America’s overpaid, under-thinking big-mouths to consistently prune and water the meme that people act in certain predictable ways based on the color of their skins or the architecture of their genitalia. It’s quite dangerous to do so, in fact. That James Watson declines in obscurity while Manhattan’s ignorant cable news presenters go about their destructive business is a crime against clear thought, common sense, and the notion that social norms ought to have any consistency at all.