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Noemie Emery: Racism math doesn't add up

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Sam Tanenhaus has a great sense of humor. Four years ago, he came out with a piece about the demise of the conservative movement, which at the time -- with Obama elected by a 7-point margin, supermajorities in the House and the Senate -- didn't seem that unlikely. The problem was that by the time the book appeared some months later, Obama's poll numbers were plunging. The Tea Party movement had risen against him, and the table was set for the 2010 midterms, which cost Democrats the U.S. House and brought in a wave of brand-new conservative leaders.

Now Tannenhaus is tempting fate once again, claiming that the GOP has been steeped in the ethos of John C. Calhoun, a Democrat and an antebellum defender of slavery. He does so at the exact moment when a 41-year-old Hispanic senator has emerged as the major new voice of the party, and weeks after the daughter of Indian immigrants, who now runs Calhoun's home state of South Carolina, appointed Tim Scott to Jim DeMint's seat in the Senate as the first black Republican to sit in that body since 1979.

Scott won his old seat in the House by defeating a son of Strom Thurmond. Both Scott and Rubio will be in the mix in 2016 when the Republicans pick their next national ticket, along with female, Hispanic and Indian governors, meaning that white males might be in the minority. Against them, Democrats will likely be running what James Taranto refers to as "people of pallor." What Calhoun would have said to all this is unclear.

Concurrently, academics do a brisk trade in "subliminal bias," their term of choice for indirect racial hatred, which they claim infests the conservative movement. "Voters high on a racial resentment scale moved one notch toward intensification of partisanship within the Republican Party," says the New York Times' Thomas Edsall, citing two of these studies. "The percentage of voters with explicit anti-black attitudes rose from 47.6 in 2008 and 47.3 percent in 2010 to 50.9 percent in 2012."

This sounds dire, until one asks what "anti-black attitudes" are. According to the studies in question, the idea that blacks should "work their way up, like the Jews and the Irish," is an "anti-black" attitude. So is the notion that black Americans don't need special favors. So is saying that discrimination is no longer the worst hardship faced by racial minorities.

"Blindspot," a book by two more academics, found an "automatic white preference" in roughly three of four people, based on a test that measures "unconscious bias" by people's speed in pressing a key that links "good words" to white faces. An infallible measure if ever there was one -- or so the Washington Post's reviewer apparently believed. "An automatic white preference," he writes, "been found to correlate with ... suboptimal treatment of black emergency room patients, unfavorable judgment of black job applicants ... and voting for John McCain."

To be sure, the 47.6 percent of "anti-black" voters closely tracks McCain's 2008 total, but what accounts for the fact that this number ticked down slightly in 2010, when the Tea Party swept the 2010 midterms, and then rose 3 points in 2012, when Obama cleaned up?

If in 2012 more than 50 percent of the voters were racists, how did Obama come up with his 4-point margin? Why did these racists desert the Republicans? Did they stay home? Did they cross over? Or did they cast secret ballots for John C. Calhoun?

Examiner Columnist Noemie Emery is contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of "Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families."

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Noemie Emery

The Washington Examiner