The Situationist

Posts Tagged ‘Barack Obama’

Reporting Social Facts vs. Pining for Jim Crow: No Comparison Between Reid and Lott

Posted by Eric D. Knowles on January 13, 2010

Imagine a scenario. An African American lawyer, we can even call him “Barry,” has applied for a job at a prestigious firm—one that has never before hired a Black person. You eavesdrop on a couple of partners talking about the candidate. Question: Which, if either, of the these overheard comments is the more racist?

“I don’t know… Barry’s facing an uphill climb at an all-White firm like this. However, he just might have a shot given the fact that he’s fairly light-complected and doesn’t speak using African American Vernacular English.”

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“This firm’s going to hell if it hires a Black guy. I wish Strom Thurmond were the head of the hiring committee.”

The analogy may be a bit crude. But those paying attention to recent political news will recognize the partners as stand-ins for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and former Senator (and Majority Leader) Trent Lott, respectively. Senator Reid has found himself in hot water for comments he made in 2008 assessing Barack Obama’s chances of winning the presidency. Republicans, in particular, have decried Reid’s “racist” comments, demanding that he apologize to the American people and relinquish his leadership position in the Senate. They insist that this is exactly what happened to their own Trent Lott in 2002. Let’s take a look at what Reid and Lott said:

Reid told the authors of a new book about the 2008 campaign that “the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate, especially one such as Obama—a ‘light-skinned’ African American ‘with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.'”

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Lott toasted the late Strom Thurmond by saying, “When [Thurmond] ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over the years, either.”

Interestingly, I haven’t read or heard a single commentator dispute the accuracy of what Reid said. I’ve heard many say—and I agree—that his comments were indelicate and his use of the term “Negro” anachronistic. Politically stupid, yes. But also true. Anti-Black racism is alive and well in our country, and there is good evidence that it affected voting patterns in the 2008 election and continues to shape attitudes toward President Obama’s policies. It is entirely plausible that the ways in which Obama doesn’t fit most Americans’ stereotype of “Black person” (itself a media-perpetuated caricature) mitigated the high electoral hurdles he faced. More to the point, the social-psychological literature on “colorism”—the tendency of lighter-skinned Blacks to be viewed and treated more positively than those with darker skin—corroborates Reid’s prediction that Obama would have a relatively good shot at the presidency. There is no incompatibility between the content of Reid’s observation and having perfectly progressive racial views.

What about Lott’s comments? In waxing nostalgic over Strom Thurmond’s 1948 presidential run, Lott is endorsing the politics of a segregationist firebrand who, as Senator, filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1957 for a record 24 hours and 18 minutes. One can’t read Lott’s comments without suspecting that the “problems” he believes President Thurmond would have prevented include things like racial integration and equality under the law. Now that strikes me as racist, and for Republicans to liken Reid’s comment to Lott’s—and to imply that they should suffer similar fates—is silly.

This episode says a great deal about how Americans talk (or fail to talk) about race. Most illustrative were comments made by Liz Cheney on ABC’s This Week. Ms. Cheney found herself sparring with, of all people, conservative commentator George Will over the Reid affair. Cheney contended that Reid’s comments were “outrageous” and “racist.” When Will countered that Reid’s comments contained “not a scintilla of racism,” Cheney responded—and this is telling—”George, give me a break. I mean, talking about the color of the president’s skin…” For Cheney, the mere mention of race is tantamount to racism. It’s worth pausing to appreciate how pernicious this extreme form of color-blindness is. If we can’t talk about race, we can’t talk about racial inequality—and if we can’t talk about racial inequality, we’re guaranteed not to do anything about it. Perhaps this is exactly what some people want.

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This post first appeared on Seeing in Color.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Wages Are Only Skin Deep – Abstract,”  Colorblinded Wages – Abstract,” Shades of Fairness and the Marketing of Prejudice,”The Situation of the Obama Presidency and Race Perceptions,” The Cognitive Costs of Interracial Interactions,” “Perceptions of Racial Divide,” “Racial Attitudes in the Presidential Race,” Black History is Now,” “The Racial Situation of Voting,” Why Are They So Biased?,” and I’m Objective, You’re Biased,”

Posted in Naive Cynicism, Politics, Situationist Contributors, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , | 5 Comments »

He’s a Banana-Eating Monkey, but I’m Not a Racist

Posted by J on August 3, 2009


Whatever may have been the payoffs of the recent discussion between Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Cambridge police Sergeant James Crowley, Vice President Biden, and President Obama, the teachable moments unfortunately continue.  Last week, Crowley’s colleague, Officer Paul Barrett wrote an e-mail responding to a Boston Globe columnist this way:

“If I was the officer he verbally assaulted like a banana eating jungle monkey, I would have sprayed him in the face with OC [pepper spray] deserving of his belligerent non-compliance.”

Barrett summed up his old-school rant as follows:

“Gates is a goddamned fool and you the article writer simply a poor follower and maybe worse, a poor writer. Your article title should read CONDUCT UNBECOMING A JUNGLE MONKEY-BACK TO ONE´S ROOTS.”

After copying his e-mail to some of his friends and colleagues, Barrett was promptly suspended.

In his subsequent Larry King Live interview (see 6-minute video above), Barrett would insist that he is not a racist.

“I did not intend any racial bigotry, harm or prejudice in my words.”

When asked by King about why he chose that language, Barrett (who never apologized to Professor Gates) explained:

“Larry, I don’t even know.  I couldn’t tell you.  I have no idea. I can tell you there was no intentional racial bigotry [or] prejudice.  By my words I did not intend that.”

Monkey Obama Cartoon

Barrett’s e-mail and subsequent remarks reminded me of the controversial cartoon (a portion of which is on the left) published in February in the New York Post and the reactions to it. The cartoon (the entirety of which is here) includes this punchline: “Now they will have to find someone else to write the stimulus bill.”  Here’s the post I drafted in response.

* * *

A common assumption among most Americans is that race is not an issue these days; after all, most of us rarely if ever feel ourselves being “racist.” If we are not thinking about race when we go about our daily lives and if we are not harboring any racial animus when we interact or socialize inter-racially, then, we assume, race is not influencing us.  We may not be blind to color, but we might as well be.  Most Americans, I’m guessing, would therefore not have a problem with this cartoon.

Rev. Al Sharpton, on the other hand, does:

“The cartoon is troubling at best given the historic racist attacks of African-Americans as being synonymous with monkeys. One has to question whether the cartoonist is making a less than casual reference to this when in the cartoon they have police saying after shooting a chimpanzee that ‘Now they will have to find someone else to write the stimulus bill.’

* * *

“Being that the stimulus bill has been the first legislative victory of President Barack Obama (the first African American president) and has become synonymous with him it is not a reach to wonder are they inferring that a monkey wrote the last bill?”

The New York Post’s editor-in-chief, Col Allan, dismissed Sharpton’s  remarks with this retort:  “The cartoon is a clear parody of a current news event, to wit the shooting of a violent chimpanzee in Connecticut. It broadly mocks Washington’s efforts to revive the economy. . . .”

But why couldn’t Mr. Allan and Rev. Sharpton both be right?  Why, in other words, would Mr. Allan conclude that a parody of a violent chimpanzee cannot also reflect and encourage troubling racial associations?

Perhaps it is because neither he nor his cartoonist were consciously thinking about race when creating or publishing the cartoon.  If they did not think about race, then they know race didn’t influence them.  From that perspective, Sharpton’s suggestion that race may have played some role seems preposterous.

But that sort of reasoning is itself preposterous when one takes seriously what social psychology and related mind sciences have discovered about the role of unconscious or implicit associations.   Our brains, it seems, have a mind of their own, and that mind is often operating automatically and powerfully in ways that reflect common cultural stereotypes — including those that we might consciously reject.  What we think we know about what is moving us is only a tiny, and often a misleading, part of what is actually going on in those parts of our brains that elude introspection but that can nonetheless manifest in our perceptions, emotions, and actions.

If one examines the cartoon mindful of racial stereotypes, the image scores a hat-trick and then some.  The association of blacks to guns, to crime, violence, and to hostile interactions with law enforcement officers is so strong and should be so well understood that I won’t take time to review the evidence.

What some people may not be aware of is the disturbingly robust implicit associations of African Americans to monkeys, chimps, and apes.

As social psychologist Jennifer Eberhardt recently observed, “one of the oldest race battles that blacks have fought in this country has been the battle to be recognized as fully human. To be regarded not in the in-between status somewhere between ape and human but to be fully human.”  And with a black American now the President of the United States, the tendency to link black Americans to apes might be dismissed as an irrelevant relic of the past.

But is it?  In the video excerpts below (from the Project on Law and Mind Sciences 2007 Conference), Jennifer Eberhardt’s describes some of her research examining whether such a de-humanizing association continues to operate beneath the radar of our consciousness (10 minutes total).

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While it is no doubt affirming to believe that we live in a post-racial society as revealed by Barack Obama’s election, it is probably more accurate to say that race is alive and well in the recesses of our brains and that the election of Barack Obama is — particularly when he is connected to policies we disfavor — likely to activate some of those unseen associations.

If  one didn’t think about race while imagining and sketching a cartoon, that doesn’t imply that race didn’t play a role in shaping those processes.  Nor does it justify indifference, much less indignance, toward those who urge us to consider whether race did somehow play a role.

Quite the contrary, given our history and the hierarchies and inequalities that continue to define our country, all of us should be especially attentive and sensitive to the possibilities that what we “know” to be true about what  is moving us is often mistaken and that those mistakes have consequences.

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For a sample of related Situationst posts, see “Jennifer Eberhardt’s “Policing Racial Bias” – Video,” “Hoyas, Hos, & Gangstas,” “Leaving the Past,” “A Situationist Considers the Implications of Simpson Sentencing,” “What does an Obama victory mean?,” “The Situation of the Obama Presidency and Race Perceptions,” The Cognitive Costs of Interracial Interactions,” “Guilt and Racial Prejudice,” “Perceptions of Racial Divide,” and “Banaji & Greenwald on Edge – Part IV.” For other Situationist posts discussing the Jennifer Eberhardt’s research, click here.

Posted in Conflict, Implicit Associations, Law, Politics, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

The Situational Effects of a Black President

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 8, 2009

Little Obama FanLast week for Diverse Online, Angela Dodson, wrote an excellent review of conflicting studies regarding the so-called “Obama Effect” — the increase in standardized test scores of Blacks owing to the election of Barack Obama.  Here are some excerpts.

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Could merely knowing that a Black man has been elected president of the United States raise the scores of Blacks on standardized tests and shrink the unrelenting and formidable achievement gap? Possibly, suggests a recent study documenting the “Obama Effect” that will appear in the July issue of a scientific journal along side a study that contradicts it.

Preliminary results of a study suggesting that Barack Obama’s political success translated into a narrower gap between Blacks and Whites on a standardized tests in 2008 attracted both optimism and skepticism when it was reported around the time of his inauguration.

It offered hope that an affirming role model and positive feelings could patch the gap between Whites and Blacks long documented in almost every measure of academic performance. Media reports have suggested that parents and educators see ample anecdotal evidence that Obama’s example has inspired Black students to take schoolwork more seriously.

When one team of researchers tested Blacks and Whites at four intervals at the peak of the 2008 election year, median scores for the two groups shifted, significantly narrowing the spread after Obama’s election, according to the results announced earlier by the researchers, Dr. Ray A. Friedman of Vanderbilt University, Dr. David Marx of San Diego State University and Dr. Sei Jin Ko of Northwestern University.

However, a study by Dr. Joshua Aronson, an associate professor of applied psychology of New York University, one of the pioneers of research on race and academic achievement, and colleagues found, “Test scores were unaffected by prompts to think about Obama and no relationship was found between test performance and positive thoughts about Obama.” The findings were based on a test administered after Obama emerged as the Democratic nominee last summer but were only recently noted in the news media.

Ironically, Friedman had not expected to find a difference but did. Aronson said he expected to find one and did not.

“I found not even a shred of evidence,” Aronson told Diverse. “I did not expect a full closing of the gap, because I think the gap is about many things, but I did expect to find something … It just was not there.”

The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology will publish both studies, along with two other papers on the effects of Obama’s election. The articles are already available online.

Even if the “Obama Effect” proves to have only a small effect, Friedman told Diverse, “the underlying impact of Black/White differences in scores is so fundamentally important that any small shift is going to be beneficial for the country.”

* * *

Aronson, often along with Claude Steele, the noted Stanford University social psychologist, has conducted numerous studies on how the fear of confirming negative stereotypes about one’s group depresses the performance of Black, Hispanic, and female college students. They identified this phenomenon known as “stereotype threat” in a 1995 study. Friedman cited their work in his article.

Earlier studies have shown that asking a participant’s race, ethnicity and gender and implying that the tests were an important measure of intellectual abilities can lower scores but that introducing a positive role model into the testing situation can raise them. Some researchers have found, for instance, that having a math test administered by a strong female role model significantly boosts girls’ scores on a math tests, overcoming stereotypes about women’s abilities.

Although Aronson did not find an Obama effect last year, he said he plans to conduct another test this summer. “I believe if we play up the struggles of Obama, rather than his greatness, we will see an effect.”

The NYU researcher believes that one reason scores might not have been affected is that Obama is seen as so naturally gifted, as opposed to having had to work hard to become so talented, that he is not the kind of role model that has proven effective in earlier research.

“Perhaps his abilities are so stellar that the typical student cannot confidently conclude that ‘if Obama can succeed, so can I,’” the Aronson report said.

* * *

“We have captured the critical time, which was the transition before and after Obama, which of course can never be done again,” he said. “But I think there are going to be a lot of studies as to what impact Obama could have and what families can do. Maybe it’s that before your kid goes out to take the SAT you could give him a book on Obama.”

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To read the entire article, click here.

To read some related Situationist posts, see Stereotype Lift – The Obama Effect,” Stereotype Threat and Exit Exams,” The Situation of the Achievement Gap,” Sexism: The Worst Part Is Not Knowing,” “Stereotype Threat and Performance,” Race Attributions and Georgetown University Baseketball” “The Situation of ‘Winners’ and ‘Losers,’ “The Gendered Situation of Science and Math,” “Gender-Imbalanced Situation of Math, Science, and Engineering,” “Sex Differences in Math and Science,” “You Shouldn’t Stereotype Stereotypes,” “Women’s Situation in Economics,” and “Your Group is Bad at Math.”

Posted in Abstracts, Education, Implicit Associations, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Impressions of a New President

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 9, 2009

President ObamaPew Research has put together a neat interactive chart featuring the top 20 used to describe President Barack Obama in April compared with the frequency of respondents using those words last September.

Some big changes:

* On the plus side for the President, people are now more likely to describe him as “intelligent” and “good”, and far less likely to describe him as “inexperienced.”

* On the down side (in the eyes of most), the President is far less likely to have the word “change” associated with him, while “socialist” has become a much more popular description of him.

Whatever words are used to describe President Obama, his 67% approval rating suggests people are generally supportive of him.  It will be interesting to see Pew’s findings later this year and into the 2010 midterm elections.

For related Situationist posts, see The Situation of Voting for Obama and Stereotype Lift – The Obama Effect.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Conspiracy and President-Elect Obama’s Origin of Birth

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 9, 2008

obama-childhoodAlex Koppelman of Salon has an interesting piece on the quixotic–and today, courtesy of the U.S. Supreme Court, rejected–claims that Barack Obama was not born a naturalized U.S. citizen, and thus should not be eligible to become President on January 20, 2009.  We excerpt the piece below.

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Barack Obama can’t be president: He wasn’t really born in Hawaii, and the certification of live birth his campaign released is a forgery. He was born in Kenya. Or maybe Indonesia. Or, wait, maybe he was born in Hawaii — but that doesn’t matter, since he was also a British citizen at birth because of his father, and you can’t be a “natural-born citizen” in that case. (But then, maybe his “father” wasn’t really his father; maybe his real dad was an obscure communist poet. Or Malcolm X.

You might think these rumors would have died off after Obama produced proof in June that he was, in fact, born in Hawaii to an American citizen, his mother, Ann, or after Hawaii state officials confirmed in October that he was born there. You might think the rumors would have died off after he was elected by a comfortable margin. Instead, they’ve intensified. There have been paid advertisements in the Chicago Tribune questioning the president-elect’s birth certificate and eligibility, and one group is raising money to run a similar ad on television. The right-wing Web site WorldNetDaily has been reporting on the issue almost nonstop. Numerous plaintiffs have filed lawsuits in various states. And Friday, the Supreme Court’s nine justices will decide whether they want to hear one of those suits, which also contends that John McCain, born in the former Panama Canal Zone, does not meet the Constitution’s requirements to hold the presidency.obama-bush

The people hoping this is a sign the court will agree with them and stop Obama from becoming president are almost certain to be let down. The fact that the case has gone to conference doesn’t mean anything about its merits — the court will also be deciding whether to take up a number of other cases, and the chances that the suit will actually be heard is exceedingly small. Eugene Volokh, a law professor at UCLA, has calculated that over the past eight years the court has considered in conference 842 cases that sought a stay. Only 60 of them were actually heard. Seven hundred and eighty-two were denied.

But that doesn’t matter. The faux controversy isn’t going to go away soon. Yes, Obama was born in Hawaii, and yes, he is eligible to be president. But according to several experts in conspiracy theories, and in the psychology of people who believe in conspiracy theories, there’s little chance those people who think Obama is barred from the presidency will ever be convinced otherwise. “There’s no amount of evidence or data that will change somebody’s mind,” says Michael Shermer, who is the publisher of Skeptic magazine and a columnist for Scientific American, and who holds an undergraduate and a master’s degree in psychology. “The more data you present a person, the more they doubt it … Once you’re committed, especially behaviorally committed or financially committed, the more impossible it becomes to change your mind.”

Any inconvenient facts are irrelevant. People who believe in a conspiracy theory “develop a selective perception, their mind refuses to accept contrary evidence,” Chip Berlet, a senior analyst with Political Research Associates who studies such theories, says. “As soon as you criticize a conspiracy theory, you become part of the conspiracy.”

Evan Harrington, a social psychologist who is an associate professor at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, agrees. “One of the tendencies of the conspiracy notion, the whole appeal, is that a lot of the information the believer has is secret or special,” Harrington says. “The real evidence is out there, [and] you can give them all this evidence, but they’ll have convenient ways to discredit [it].”

Whatever can’t be ignored can be twisted to fit into the narrative; every new disclosure of something that should, by rights, end the controversy only opens up new questions, identifies new plotters. Perhaps the most common argument of those questioning Obama’s eligibility is that he should just release his full, original birth certificate, rather than the shorter certification, which is a copy. His failure to do so only proves there is reason to be suspicious, they say, and if the document was released, the issue would go away. But that’s unlikely. It was, after all, the Obama campaign’s release of the certification this summer that stoked the fever of conspiracy mongers.

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For the rest of the piece, click here.  For other posts on the various conspiracies about Barack Obama, including the belief that he is un-American or, worse, the Anti-Christ, click here.

Posted in Life, Politics | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

The Situation of the Obama Presidency and Race Perceptions

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 10, 2008

Rick Montgomery and Scott Canon have an interesting piece in the Kansas City Star on how attitudes towards race may change as a result of the first African-American becoming President of the United States.  We excerpt the piece below.

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Barack Obama’s ascension to the White House raises anew the question of whether color lines, however faded, still exist in America.

They do — just look at housing patterns, church congregations and prison populations. But will the election of a biracial president — with the blessings of much, but not yet a majority, of white America — find the country concluding that it has finally overcome its race thing?

“One reaction might be, see, a black man can reach the top — why can’t the others?” said Christian Crandall, a social psychologist at the University of Kansas.  “There’s no way to avoid that problem,” he said. “It’s the price of success.”

Obama’s election may offer evidence to some white Americans that doors of opportunity once barred by racial bias have swung open.

“I wouldn’t buy the argument because I tend to measure things more by statistics” on persistent economic disparities between races, said Roderick Harrison, a sociologist at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, which focuses on black issues. “It underestimates just how exceptional Obama is and the culmination of being the right person at the right time.”

* * *

Research has shown that people of all races become more accepting of racial and ethnic minorities in positions of power through experience. Someone who has already worked for a black boss, for instance, or had important Latino clients, is less skeptical of their capabilities.

In that way, Harrison said, Obama’s mere presence could have an almost subconscious effect on how Americans view the capabilities of minorities.

For Charles McKinney of Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn., the thought of “my children growing up seeing a brother as the leader of the free world, that’s priceless.”

But opportunities for better racial understanding can backfire.cosby-show2

As much as white audiences admired TV’s Huxtables of “The Cosby Show,” research in the early 1990s revealed many viewers held the family up as a model to which other black families should — but wouldn’t — aspire.

“Bill Cosby’s white audience didn’t want to be reminded of America’s racial past,” said Sut Jhally, who wrote Enlightened Racism after conducting the studies for the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. “They loved the blackness, but only a certain kind of blackness…

“The unintended message was, ‘If you work hard, you can succeed … and if you fail, the fault must be yours,’ ” said Jhally. “In terms of overall race relations, it was one step forward and two steps back.”

* * *

In a national survey, half the country agreed with the statement that “Irish, Italians, Jewish and other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up, blacks should do the same without special favors.” Almost two in five agreed that blacks would be as well off as whites if they “would only try harder.”

A third of whites said that blacks are responsible for most or all of the country’s racial tension. And given a set of words to describe blacks, at least one in five whites agreed with “violent,” “boastful” and “complaining.” One in 10 agreed blacks are “lazy” or “irresponsible.”

So while white America can’t assume all is forgiven, neither can those who have battled racism expect that the mere presence of a black family in the White House protects black shoppers from the glares of sales clerks or racial profiling by police.

“Obama’s victory says we have the ability to transcend race, but we still have a huge opportunity to move ahead and do all that must be done next,” said Gwen Grant, president and chief executive officer of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City. “We can’t just relax.”

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For the rest of the article, click here.  For other Situationist articles on President-Elect Obama, click here. For some other related Situationist posts, see “The Cognitive Costs of Interracial Interactions,” “Guilt and Racial Prejudice,” “Perceptions of Racial Divide,” and “Banaji & Greenwald on Edge – Part IV.”

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

The Situation of Being “(un)American”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 13, 2008

Shankar Vedantam has written another terrific (situationist) article, “Does Your Subconscious Think Obama Is Foreign?,” published in today’s Washington Post.  Here are some excerpts.

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A few years ago, psychologists [and Situational contributor] Mahzarin Banaji and Thierry Devos showed the names of a number of celebrities to a group of volunteers and asked them to classify the well-known personalities as American or non-American. The list included television personality Connie Chung and tennis star Michael Chang, both Asian Americans, as well as British actors Hugh Grant and Elizabeth Hurley. The volunteers had no trouble identifying Chung and Chang as American and Grant and Hurley as foreigners.

The psychologists then asked the group which names they associated with iconic American symbols such as the U.S. flag, the Capitol building and Mount Rushmore, and which ones they associated with generically foreign symbols such as the United Nations building in Geneva, a Ukrainian 100-hryven bill and a map of Luxembourg.

The psychologists found that the participants, who were asked to answer quickly, were dramatically quicker to associate the American symbols with the British actors, and the foreign symbols with the Asian Americans. The results suggest that on a subconscious level people were using ethnicity as a proxy for American identity and equating whites — even white foreigners — with things American.

The psychologists initially assumed that this bias began and ended with Asian Americans and would not apply to other ethnic groups. But in another experiment involving famous black athletes around the time of the 2000 Sydney Olympics, they found that the same pattern applied to African Americans. . . .

“The reason this is powerful is it shows our minds will not just distort our preferences but distort facts,” said Banaji, who works at Harvard. “African Americans in their [own] minds are fully American, but not in the minds of whites.”

The experiments, based on tests that are accessible at, have provoked controversy — especially in terms of what they mean. It may embarrass people when they subconsciously associate whites with being American, but does that matter? If people have no trouble distinguishing Americans and foreigners in their conscious minds, why should we care about their subconscious tendencies?

It may matter a lot when it comes to voting behavior, the researchers said.

In a new series of experiments, Devos has shown that the “white equals American” bias could well be playing a powerful role in the presidential election.

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[The article then summarizes Devos’s (and Debbie Ma‘s) latest research indicating (1) that people more quickly associate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Sen. John McCain, and Tony Blair with being American than they do Sen. Barack Obama and (2) that the subconscious associations mattered (that is, that both Republicans and Democrats “who were slower to see Obama as American on a subconscious level were less likely to be willing to vote for the senator from Illinois than people who more easily associated him with American symbols”), (3) that although this source of voting bias is subtle, it is still “clearly a drag on Obama’s prospects,” and (4) that it “may help explain why Obama has proved vulnerable to negative messages that question his identity and his loyalty to America.”]

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“We cannot think of him as frightening or a likely criminal — he is the antithesis of that,” Banaji said. “So when the mind goes searching for reasons to distrust him, the first thing it lands on are the foreign connections” — Indonesia and Africa, places to which Obama has ties.

“Suggesting Obama is foreign or unknown offers a cover for racism,” she said. “You can’t say he is black and unfit to be president, but you can say that he is Muslim and therefore unfit to be president.”

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Read the entire Vedantam article here.

Take our Policy IAT here.

For some posts examining the the role of implicit associations in elections, see “Patricia Devine on Resisting Implicit Associations,” The Interior Situation of Undecided Voters,” On Being a Mindful Voter,”Lopez-Torres, Justice Scalia, and the Situation of Elections,” “Your Brain on Politics,” “Implicit Associations in the 2008 Presidential Election,”The Situation of Political Animals,” “Political Psychology in 2008,” “Perceptions of Racial Divide,The Psychology of Barack Obama as the Antichrist,” and “The Interior Situation of Undecided Voters.”

To review all of the previous Situationist posts discussing implicit associations click on the “Implicit Associations” category in the right margin, or, for a list of such posts, click here. For other Situationist posts on the 2008 Presidential Election, click here.

Posted in Choice Myth, Ideology, Implicit Associations, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

New Yorker Cover of the Obamas and Source Amnesia

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 14, 2008

We recently posted on an interesting op-ed in the New York Times, titled “Your Brain Lies to You” by Sam Wang and Sandra Aamodt. Their op-ed discussed “source amnesia,” which refers to our brains’ tendency to remember information but not its source. Put another way, we are surprisingly prone to remembering that which we initially perceive as incredible, including satire and lies, as true.

Wang and Aamodt discussed source amnesia in the context of lies about Senator Barack Obama that a surprising number of Americans believes, such as the lie that he is Muslim when in fact he is Christian.

Given source amnesia, we can understand the Obama camp’s stern rebuke of the upcoming cover of the New Yorker.

What do you think about the cover?

Posted in Politics, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , | 5 Comments »

On Being a Mindful Voter

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 3, 2008

Our intense scrutiny of the presidential candidates has produced a relentless stream of questions, some thoughtful and relevant, others spectacularly irrelevant and even embarrassing: Why are you not more likable, Hillary? How good a Christian can he be with the name Hussein?

With our focus solely on the candidates, however, we have neglected to examine the other powerful determinant of the election: the state of our own minds. And yet we know that the voter’s mind, the very thing doing the questioning, probing and judging, is itself prone to limitations no less profound than those of the candidates themselves.

Keeping one’s own mind “in mind” and being aware of its limitations is the first step toward making a conscious choice of who is best for us, the country and the world.

Human minds have a remarkable capability for self-reflection — the envy of every chimpanzee. This fanciest bell and whistle of the brain bestows on us the ability to consciously look into our own mind, recognize its contents, report on it and even change it.

As remarkable as this ability is, however, it tends to mask the fact that we are nonetheless unaware of the vast majority of our minds’ work.

It keeps us from knowing, and therefore from accepting, that the reasons we offer for our choices may not actually be driving those choices. This blindness should not be underestimated, because it is always accompanied by an insidious if honest denial of facts.

The mind sciences tell us much about the invisible mental gymnastics that end up dictating what we like and dislike, what we believe to be true and not, what drives us toward particular people and their ideologies.

My colleagues and I have posed two kinds of questions to understand these two sides of the mind, the conscious and the less conscious. Measuring the conscious side is familiar, tried and true. In the context of race, we ask, “Whom do you like? Whom will you vote for? Why?”

The other question is not only unfamiliar, it isn’t a question at all. To measure race preferences that may be less conscious, we measure the speed and accuracy of the mind at work. How quickly and how accurately do we — can we — perform the simple task of associating black and white with both good and bad? In the gender case, do we associate female or male more easily with “commander-in-chief”?

Such tests do not seek a reasoned answer but an automatic one, a response we form without “thinking.” From such responses we can derive an estimate of our less-conscious likes and dislikes, called automatic preferences. If the results of the two tests agree; that is, if you say you prefer black and you show the same level of preference for black on the automatic test, the two are boringly consistent.

But in ordinary people like me, we often don’t see consistency. Rather we see disparities between what we say and what we reveal. I, for example, report a seemingly genuine attitude of equal liking for black and white, but the automatic test reveals that I have a preference for white over black (as do the majority of whites and Asians in the United States and at least a third of African-Americans). Likewise, although I might express and even have an automatic preference for women, I struggle more than I’d like when I am asked to associate “female” with commander-in-chief.

Such disparity tells me that my spoken preference and beliefs, my intended egalitarian values are out of sync with my less explicit, less conscious preference for white (or for a male leader).

It tells me that I may not be fully aware of who I am or wish to be. What I take away from such a fracture in my own mind is a skepticism that I am color-blind or that I can look past gender to the truly competent candidate. Without awareness of the slippage in my own mind, I am likely to believe that all the relevant data are embedded in the candidates, not in me.

* * *

In the Democratic primaries, we have been given two candidates who represent what was unthinkable in any previous election. Both represent what it means to be American in the broadest, most optimistic sense possible.

One represents the gender of half the people of this country and half the people of the world, but who after 232 years of independence is the first viable female candidate for president.

We also have a candidate who captures another aspect of a changing America: a person with parents from two continents, who is both black and white, from two cultures, rich and poor, with their own languages and religions.

But wait, we have a third candidate, whose demographics represent the familiar — a white, Southern male candidate — but whose actions reflect virtues so powerful that we might indeed set aside the strengths of the first two.

Everything that is tribal and ignorant about us should move us away from them. And that’s the mind’s natural, unexamined inclination. But I see millions taking these candidates seriously. The crossing over is thrilling to watch. Black, male and young, casting for Clinton. Women, white and elderly, voting for Obama. Northerners, the rich supporting Edwards.

These voters have overcome the easy inclination to go with the familiar past. They have broken a tribal cord that bound their predecessors. Their minds have seen through those candidates who create false fears of the enemy outside, who even now fail to recognize what is clearly a futile and unjust war, who lie about taxes, who hold religious beliefs contradictory to physical reality.

* * *

The next election will again be determined not by Democrats or Republicans but by the sizable bloc of independents. Independents cannot be proud of the opportunities they missed four and eight years ago.

But now, there’s a new moment. From the research evidence, I know that to support any of the three Democratic candidates will not come easily. They demand that you give up a preference for the status quo, for what looks familiar, for what sounds superficially “presidential.”

* * *
If that tribal preference is at all attractive, any of the throwbacks on the Republican slate will do.

But if Americans are ready to do what they have occasionally done before . . . the time to cast a similar vote is 2008.

Hillary, Barack and John, as much as we are testing them, are testing us.

* * *

To read the entire editorial, click here. To visit the Project Implicit website and find out more about implicit associations, click here. To review previous Situationist posts discussing implicit associations click on the “Implicit Associations” category in the right margin or, for a list of such posts, click here.

For a sample of previous posts examining situational elements of voting or, specifically, the 2008 presidential election, see “Implicit Associations in the 2008 Presidential Election,” “Lopez-Torres, Justice Scalia, and the Situation of Elections,” “Heart Brain or Wallet?” “Your Brain on Politics,” “Al Gore – The Situationist” and “Irrelevant Third Options in Presidential Campaigns.”

Posted in Choice Myth, Implicit Associations, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Daily Show’s John Oliver at the Pollies

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 7, 2008

“The best political ads have the ability to mislead us, demoralize us, and disenfranchise us from the political process . . . .”

~ John Oliver

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Posted in Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Emotions, Events, Ideology, Marketing, Naive Cynicism, Politics, Uncategorized, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Naïve Cynicism in Election 2008: Dispositionism v. Situationism?

Posted by Adam Benforado & Jon Hanson on May 5, 2008

This post was originally published on April 23rd. Because the “elitism” card continues to played, we thought it worthwhile to republish this post for those who might have missed it the last time.

* * *

In case you missed it, the last week and a half have been a bit rough for the golden boy from Chicago. To boil down hundreds of hours of cable news commentary, political punditry, and radio talk-showery: Obama called certain working-class Midwesterners bitter, and everyone else called Obama elitist. The conventional wisdom is that Hillary’s success in Pennsylvania last night was at least partially the result of Obama’s remarks.

The storm began when, speaking to a private group in San Francisco, Obama offered this take on the effects of economic stagnation in certain parts of Pennsylvania:

“You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are going to regenerate and they have not.”

* * *

“And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

In the debates about how deep the offense to Midwesterners might have been and, more important, how, if at all, Obama might recover from the gaff, relatively little attention was given to whether Obama’s remarks were accurate and to why the charge of “elitism” has been so common and such a show-stopper for democratic candidates in each of the last three presidential elections.

To answer those questions, it’s helpful to understand that there is a real, meaningful divide in America—a great rift that extends across debates. We’re not referring to the gulf between elitists and commoners, but rather a division in attributional proclivities: a divide between relative dispositionists and relative situationists. As we explore in an article published this week (“The Great Attributional Divide“), dispositionists tend to explain outcomes and behavior with reference to people’s stable dispositions (i.e., personalities, preferences, character, values and the like), and situationists tend to base attributions of causation and responsibility on unseen (though sometimes visible) influences within us and around us.

A situationist is more likely to view the housing crisis as not simply the result of bad apples making bad choices, but also, more significantly, about changing cultural beliefs concerning borrowing money, serious problems in our financial markets and regulatory regimes, and other system-level concerns. A dispositionist, when assessing a policy concern, is more likely to employ the words “bootstraps,” “hard work,” “tough love,” and “strength of character.” In those ways, the different methods of constructing causal stories and assigning fault color individual issues from gay marriage to welfare and from abortion to social security reform.

Those attributional styles also help define the walls of the broader liberal-conservative crevasse. Broadly speaking (with some notable exceptions), conservatives tend to be more dispositionist and progressives tend to be more situationist. That is true, in part, because, as Situationist contributor John Jost has demonstrated, (e.g., here), conservatives exhibit stronger needs for order, structure, and closure, a more potent sense of system threat, greater intolerance for ambiguity, and a greater acceptance of inequality, among other things — interior factors that align with the elements underlying dispositionism.

As this blog is devoted to documenting, despite being the dominant framework, dispositionism is a less accurate attributional approach than situationism. The mystery of how dispositionists nonetheless maintain confidence in their attributions is only explained by understanding a dynamic that we call “naïve cynicism”: the basic subconscious mechanism by which dispositionists discredit and dismiss more accurate situationist insights and their proponents.

As we explain in a forthcoming article, naïve cynicism predicts that, like most humans, dispositionists put great faith in the veracity of their perceptions and conceptions of how the world works. They see themselves as objective and reasonable and expect other reasonable and objective people to reach the same conclusions as they do. As a result, when a dispositionist encounters a situationist attribution that conflicts with his own causal story, that person experiences a cognitive conflict, and naïve cynicism provides a ready resolution: explaining the opposing attribution as the product of bias, ignorance, or some other flaw. Rather than engage the substance or merits of the conflict, naïve cynicism involves an attack on the perceptions, cognitions, or motivations of the individuals and on the institutions associated with the situationist conception. Without it, the dominant person schema—dispositionism—would be far more vulnerable to challenge and change, and the more accurate person schema—situationism—less easily and effectively attacked. Naïve cynicism is, thus, critically important to explaining how and why certain legal policies manage to carry the day—and why certain presidential candidates carry an election.

The details of naïve cynicism, as depicted in the above diagram (from our article), are too complex to review here, as are the various reasons why this dynamic is so effective. For present purposes, however, we can boil down all the factors to one simple naïve-cynicism-promoting frame that dispositionists employ to minimize situationist ideas: the individuals, groups or institutions that offer situational arguments are unreasonable outgroup members that are attacking us, our beliefs, our system, and the things we value. It is this frame that helps to energize, coalesce, and mobilize opposition to the relative situationist perspectives, individuals, and institutions and to further encourage dispositionism.

With that in mind, let’s return to Obama’s comments. Although inartfully phrased and somewhat lacking in nuance, Obama seemed to be hitting on a central situationist insight: people’s beliefs might be, at least partially, a product of their environments and experiences. People might be bitter because they felt powerless as a result of their situations, not because they had bitter “personality” types. People might be anti-trade or anti-immigrant, not because they had carefully assessed the various political positions and freely chosen the most convincing, but for the same reasons that struggling groups have historically felt animosity toward outgroups with whom they feel competitive. People might mistrust governments on economic issues and focus on religious or social issues in part because of the perceived futility of relying on the government to successfully address economic concerns.

Similarly, Midwesterner’s ideology might reflect internal situational forces that operate beneath the radar of conscious cognitions. Situationist contributor John Jost and his colleagues have found significant evidence, for instance, that “conservatives are, on average, more rigid and closed-minded than liberals.” There is, according to that research, “a clear tendency for conservatives to score higher on measures of dogmatism, intolerance of ambiguity, nees for order, structure, and closure and to be lower to openness to experience and integrative complexity than moderates and liberals.”

In addition, “[c]onservatives are, on average, more likely than liberals to perceive the world as a dangerous place . . . and to fear crime, terrorism, and death. They are also more likely to make purely [dispositionist] attributions for the causes of others’ behaviors . . . and to engage in moral condemnation of others, especially in sexual domains. . . . Finally, [c]onservatives tend to hold more prejudicial attitudes than liberals toward members of deviant or stigmatized groups, at least in part because of chronically elevated levels of threat and rigidity.” Relatedly, as Jost and his colleagues have discovered, voting patterns in different regions and states (red and blue) have been found to correlate with variables such as voters’ “openness to experience.”

The evidence also suggests that external situational forces influence such internal situational tendencies significantly. The threat posed by 9/11, for instance, encouraged a shift toward conservative (dispositionist) ideological attributions and presumptions. Unstable social and economic situations would likely have a similar effect.

Put differently, Obama’s remarks – call them elitist if you like – do not seem far off from what social scientists have discovered about the situational influences on people’s ideologies and political proclivities.

Predictably, however, Obama’s comments were met with a strong dispositionist backlash, containing two key components: (1) the assertion that Obama’s remarks reflected his true (heretofore concealed) elitist disposition; and (2) that Obama’s comments were themselves an attack on us, our beliefs, our system, and the things we value.

Some of the more extreme backlash included several additional features: (1) the suggestion that Obama’s “slip” revealed the dispositions of all individuals and groups on the left; (2) that Obama’s views toward working-class Pennsylvanians reflect the view that all democrats and liberal institutions take of anyone on the right; and (3) that all of “them” on the left are a threat to all of “us.” Although extreme, Rush Limbaugh’s reaction illustrates the naïve cynicism backlash in its most strident form:

RUSH: . . . . So, Barack Obama, talking to a bunch of elitist millionaires and billionaires in San Francisco on April 6th, basically reveals what we have all known that all Democrats think of the people who make this country work. They hold average people in contempt! They don’t think average people are capable of overcoming the obstacles in life, they think they’re racists and bigots, homophobes and all of this, a bunch of hayseed hicks. This really isn’t news to those of us who have spent our lives studying leftists. . . .

* * *

. . . [W]hat’s happening here is that the Democrat Party, by itself, with its two top-tier presidential front-runners, is exposing who they are themselves for one and all to see. The Democrat Party is in an absolute mess over this because they know full well, when they’re in their little doors, behind their doors in the little cloakrooms in the privacy of their own moments, they are gnashing their teeth over the fact that the truth of who they are is coming out. Let’s go to the audiotape just to establish here what Obama said in San Francisco on April 6th, he was at a campaign fundraiser . . . . The quality is not all that good. But you can still hear it, and it’s indicative of who liberal Democrats are. Most importantly, it’s indicative of who Obama is! Obama is a radical socialist liberal. He always has been. His campaign has been an effort to cloud that, to mask it, to cover it up. . . .

* * *

OBAMA: It’s not surprising, then, that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

* * *

RUSH: . . . . So basically people are a bunch of racists and bigots and kooks and hayseeds. . . . So he makes these comments to a bunch of elitist San Francisco millionaires and billionaires, and the point here has to be made that Obama was not just talking about the people of Pennsylvania. He was talking about people in Missouri, and southern Illinois, Iowa, North Dakota, Kansas, North Carolina, Alabama, flyover country, the people who make the country work. He is talking about all the people who did not use affirmative action to get into Harvard and Yale and Princeton, who don’t have the money to live in mansions in the cities; the people who I say make this country work; the people who will be in church on Sunday clinging to their God not because they have nothing else to hold onto, they cling to God — they are not even clinging to God, they are worshiping God. It is part of who they are. Now, this, to me, folks, makes all the Jeremiah Wright, Michelle Obama stuff crystal clear to anybody just glimpsing this. Damn the middle class, damn it. Michelle Obama has said as much, and so has Reverend Wright from the pulpit. The middle class, the people who pay the freight, the people who pay the taxes so these elites can destroy the country, the people who make the country work.

* * *

Now, what’s happened here, folks, is that Barack Obama has succeeded in attacking not only American values, he’s done it by attacking the Americans who embrace those values. . . . It is one of the most insulting comments that a presidential candidate could make. He’s going out, he’s attacking the customers. He’s attacking his voters. But this is who they are, folks, this is who liberals are. The great thing about this is that Barack Obama’s telling all of us what all Democrats think of average Americans, which is why they want them to become dependent, why they want them to vote Democrat, they want them to be undereducated, they want them to be bigoted, they want them to be angry all the time, they want them to be fed up, they want them to be filled with rage, they want them to be hopeless.

* * *

Contrary to his campaign being all about hope, he wants these people to be hopeless. . . . If there’s hate for the people who make this country work, if there is contempt for the people who make this country work, its home is smack-dab in the middle of the Democrat Party.

* * *

. . . . He said what he said. And what he said was that middle America is full of redneck, God-fearing racists and bigots. That’s what he said.

* * *

. . . . See, he’s bitter. Liberals are bitter and angry. You know this. You can listen to them talk about any circumstance in this country, any issue, from the war in Iraq to the economy to Wal-Mart to Big Oil to Big Drug, anything they talk about they are filled with rage, they are angry, and they want everybody else to be angry, they are bitter. . . .

* * *

. . . . The issue is that Obama exposed his attitude toward millions and millions of Americans which he had thus far concealed by dismissing previous efforts to reveal them based on his contacts and associations with people like Jeremiah Wright. This makes it totally clear to me why he will not disown and disavow Wright. He agrees with him! This is the same stuff that Jeremiah Wright believes. And his attitude is shared by the left in the media, the Democrat Party, universities, colleges, and so forth. When he made those comments to the San Francisco millionaires and billionaires, he was reinforcing their hateful and bigoted views.

In short, Obama as well as the groups or institutions with which he is associated are unreasonable outgroup members that are attacking us, our beliefs, our system, and the things we value.

Notice that built into Limbaugh’s logic are several tensions. For instance, Rush is, on one hand, indignant that “they” could prejudge “us,” but Rush has no trouble throwing large groups into a single category and calling them hateful and bigoted. More important, in denying that Midwesterners are bitter, he nonetheless seems to reflect and foment a deep bitterness.

Rush’s rant exemplifies an extreme version of naïve cynicism in action, but there are less extreme versions of the dynamic influencing other commentators and politicians.

Karl Rove, for example, underscored the “us” and “them” by suggesting that Obama’s words were”almost Marxian in this ‘they cling to their religion.’ I mean, you know, it’s sort of like it’s the opiate of the masses.”

Charles Krauthammer similarly attempted to draw a link between Obama and Marx, as he underscored Obama’s flawed disposition:

The idea that the working class people don’t understand the world and cling to religion, the opium of the people, as Marx says, and Frank’s book is a new way to state it. It is an old left idea which goes back 100 years, and it’s a classic idea that if they only understood what the upper, academic left understands, they would act differently.

* * *

What’s involved here, I think, is also a sense of this arrogance. It’s not only a personal arrogance. It’s a political, intellectual, and almost a class arrogance. And that, I think, in the end is going to hurt him, because it’s a question of character.

More important, the naive cynicism dynamic also characterizes the reactions of the other presidential candidates to Obama’s now infamous remarks.

McCain’s campaign, for instance, responded to Obama’s comments both by asserting that they revealed Obama’s bad disposition and by reassuring the public that the dispositionist take on the issues was reasonable and correct.

According to McCain, Americans don’t allow situations to change their dispositions. McCain pounded on the fact that the views of small town folks aren’t shaped by exterior events: “These are the people that have fundamental cultural, spiritual, and other values that in my view have very little to do with their economic condition.” The Great Depression did not erase “their confidence that America and their own lives could be made better. Nor did they turn to their religious faith and cultural traditions out of resentment and a feeling of powerlessness to affect the course of government or pursue prosperity.” Rather, “[t]heir faith had given generations of their families purpose and meaning, as it does today.” It was that American disposition “that made the world safe for democracy” and created “the wealthiest, strongest and most generous nation on earth.” Similarly, American’s “appreciation of traditions like hunting was based in nothing, nothing, other than their contribution to the enjoyment of life.”

In other words, Obama’s mistake was to characterize these people as not being in control of their beliefs, their ideologies, and their destinies. Obama’s situationist argument presented a “fundamental contradiction to what . . . America is”: a land where people think their own thoughts, embrace their own values, make up their own minds, and blaze their own trails all regardless of the circumstances. After all, Americans are disposition-driven choosers, not situational characters.

When later asked specifically about whether he thought Obama was an elitist, McCain was careful to maintain his “policy” of not engaging in character attacks and focused on the sin and not the sinner: “I think those comments are elitist,” McCain said. “I can only look at his remarks and say that those are certainly not the vision I have of America and its strength and greatness.” (Watch the video here.)

McCain’s senior advisers apparently did not feel similarly inhibited by that policy and were far more willing to call an elitist an elitist. As McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds explained, “Barack Obama’s elitism allows him to believe that the American traditions that have contributed to the identity and greatness of this country are actually just frustrations and bitterness.”

McCain adviser Steve Schmidt called it a “remarkable statement and extremely revealing.” And what did it reveal? Obama’s true disposition, of course. “It shows an elitism and condescension towards hardworking Americans that is nothing short of breathtaking.” Schmidt went further to underscore the extent to which Obama is an outsider: “[i]t is hard to imagine someone running for president who is more out of touch with average Americans.” Moreover, it’s not just that Obama is one of “them” — the ivy-league, silver-spoon, Martha’s Vineyard crowd; it’s also the case that his outsider views are a threat to “us.” Obama’s remarks, according to Schmidt, hit the “heart and soul of this country.” And just in case anyone missed the emotional, attitudinal, and behavioral implications of this attack, Schmidt opined that “people will resent it and be very angry about it because that is not how most Americans view themselves. That’s now how most Americans view their lives in terms of practicing their faith or exercising their Second Amendment rights or having a desire to secure the borders in the country.”

Another spokesman for McCain responded to Obama’s defense of his remarks with this dispositionalizing gem:

“Instead of apologizing to small town Americans for dismissing their values, Barack Obama arrogantly tried to spin his way out of his outrageous San Francisco remarks. . . . Only an elitist would say that people vote their values only out of frustration. Barack Obama thinks he knows your hopes and fears better than you do. You can’t be more out of touch than that.”

In short, Obama and the groups and institutions with which he is associated are unreasonable outgroup members that are attacking us, our beliefs, our system, and the things we value.

Although the vitriol of some of the barbs may come as a surprise, McCain’s dispositionist backlash aligns with what we would predict; ideologically, he is already prone toward the relatively dipositionist attributional style – and politically, the strategy is a proven one.

Hillary Clinton’s use of the elitism card, on the other hand, is slightly more unexpected – not just because one is hard pressed to imagine a measure of “elitism” on which Obama scores higher than Clinton, but also because she is, at least when compared to most conservatives, a relative situationist. Apparently, though, trailing in the delegate count and with the clock ticking, the temptation to slice up her democratic rival has been too great for her to leave the potent political weapon of naïve cynicism in its sheath.

Hillary’s prepared remarks in the wake of Obama’s San Francisco speech emphasized that disposition not situation is the source of values and attempted to establish an “us” (composed of Hillary and mainstream American voters) and a “them” (composed of Obama and the rest of the outgroup cabal):

“Now, like some of you may have been, I was taken aback by the demeaning remarks Sen. Obama made about people in small town America. Sen. Obama’s remarks are elitist and they are out of touch. They are not reflective of the values and beliefs of Americans. Certainly not the Americans that I know — not the Americans I grew up with, not the Americans I lived with in Arkansas or represent in New York.

* * *

“You know, Americans who believe in the Second Amendment believe it’s a matter of Constitutional rights. Americans who believe in God believe it is a matter of personal faith. Americans who believe in protecting good American jobs believe it is a matter of the American Dream.

* * *

“When my dad grew up it was in a working class family in Scranton. I grew up in a church-going family, a family that believed in the importance of living out and expressing our faith.

* * *

“The people of faith I know don’t ‘cling to’ religion because they’re bitter. People embrace faith not because they are materially poor, but because they are spiritually rich. Our faith is the faith of our parents and our grandparents. It is a fundamental expression of who we are and what we believe.

* * *

“I also disagree with Sen. Obama’s assertion that people in this country “cling to guns” and have certain attitudes about immigration or trade simply out of frustration. People of all walks of life hunt – and they enjoy doing so because it’s an important part of their life, not because they are bitter

. . .

“Americans are fair-minded and good-hearted people. We have ups and downs. We face challenges and problems. But our views are rooted in real values, and they should be respected.

. . .

“If we are striving to bring people together – and I believe we should be – I don’t think it helps to divide our country into one America that is enlightened and one that is not.

. . .

“People don’t need a president who looks down on them; they need a president who stands up for them. And that is exactly what I will do as your president.”

* * *

“Because I believe if you want to be the president of all Americans, you need to respect all Americans. And that starts with respecting our hard working Americans . . . .”

In short, Obama and the groups or institutions with which he is associated are unreasonable outgroup members that are attacking us, our beliefs, our system, and the things we value.

If the situationist account of things is complex and counterintuitive, the dispositionist account feels logical and appealing. With her back up against the wall, Clinton’s choice of dispositionism is a potentially savvy move. It’s just easier to get votes when you tell people what they want to hear and know to be true: You are intelligent, hard-working, patriotic heroes, who exercise your freedom to choose – and anyone who says otherwise is insulting you and is a threat to all you hold dear.

Hilary’s strategy may be successful in the short-run during her competition for the nomination. The problem, in our view, is that a longer-run perspective is needed in the competition for policy. By making dispositionist attributions Hillary is effectively endorsing dispositionism – she is legitimating and agreeing to play on a field that is not only badly flawed and uneven, but also favors the opposing team.

* * *

We’re pleased to report that the two articles on which thiis post is based are the featured articles on the Emory Law Journal Website (you can read a summary and access the articles there). To read other Situationist posts discussing the 2008 presidential campaign, see On Being a Mindful Voter,”Lopez-Torres, Justice Scalia, and the Situation of Elections,” “Heart Brain or Wallet?” “Your Brain on Politics,” “Al Gore – The Situationist” and “Irrelevant Third Options in Presidential Campaigns.”

Posted in Deep Capture, Ideology, Legal Theory, Naive Cynicism, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

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