In my previous piece on "The O'Reilly/Stewart Brouhaha," I said that it's unclear whether conservatives like Bill O'Reilly really want to help foster a culture of responsibility among people at the lower end of the economic spectrum -- in particular, in black culture -- or whether they just "enjoy the excuse to beat up on an oppressed people, as their kind have been doing in America for centuries."
It looks a lot like it's the latter. We can infer this eagerness to kick down on those at the bottom from how much conservatives of this kind are willing to distort reality to justify their attitude of blame and attack.
Remember Mitt Romney's infamous "47%" comment in the 2012 presidential election? However much that comment reflected Romney's own beliefs, he surely had reason to believe that this condemnation of half the country as "takers" suited the beliefs of the Republican fat-cats to whom he was speaking.
After that 47% remark was made public, many came forward to expose how distorted was the notion that all these millions of Americans were somehow parasitic on the American bounty the fat-cats prided themselves on creating. This 47%, it was pointed out, included not only people who had retired after years of hard work, but also people supporting families, sometimes needing to work more than one job to make ends meet. Hardly parasites.
But on the right, it's not only the rich who seem drawn to this distorted fantasy. This I know from years discussing politics with a conservative audience in my part of Virginia.
Whenever the issue of the poor comes up, the callers conjure up the image of people who are gaming the system. The old, punitive notion of the "undeserving poor" is alive and well in the minds of these people, many of whom themselves are struggling to make ends meet.
Doubtless there are some people who do game the system to get food stamps, or welfare, or other forms of social support. But while the evidence suggests that these are a very small minority, in the picture these hardly-rich conservatives paint such mooches are the rule rather than the exception.
And as with Ronald Reagan's famous use of the image of the "welfare queen," the image of the parasitic poor that these white people conjure up is implicitly about black people. While it is obvious that , the 47% the rich Republicans heard Romney talk about can't all be black, for many of my white, right-wing callers, race is definitely part of the picture.
So distorted is the picture of the people at the bottom that we can infer there must be some big payoff that provides the motivation for such distortion. Which raises the question: just what is that payoff? What do these people get from creating a picture that justifies a kick-down attitude toward those at the bottom?
The beginnings of an answer are found in a quote, which I've cited in a previous article from a liberal friend of mine: "Having grown up in the South in the 1950s, I know something about how it feels to be part of a group you're told is superior. It feels really good. It's a feeling that shouldn't be under-estimated."
This lies near the heart of the "white privilege" on which Jon Stewart pressed Bill O'Reilly.
Thus does the poor white get taught to take his understandable frustrations out on those below him in the hierarchy.
And thus does the poor white come to need for those below him to stay down there.