03 June 2008

Another Day, Another Survey

One day after receiving a begging letter from a black conservative Republican woman, I found a survey, with a begging letter attached, from one of the groups she'd like to give nightmares to. It came with a cover letter from Julian Bond, the Chairman of the Board of the NAACP, warning me that "The backlash is in full swing....reactionary forces are fighting back with a fierce intensity fueled by their misguided belief that 'pushy' women and minorities have 'too much' equality." Bond decries new reports of police brutality, deadly hate crimes, court rulings undermining affirmative action, and voter disenfranchisement "by tactics reminiscent of the shameful Jim Crow era," all driven, presumably, by "Ultra-conservative politicians and pundits warning against putting anyone but a white man in the White House."

That last bit sets the tone for the whole letter. It's a nasty bit of sophistry, since you'll notice that it implicitly labels anyone who supports John McCain a white male supremacist, and nothing else in the letter hints that anyone has any reason to oppose Senators Clinton or Obama apart from bigotry. Are Nader or Bob Barr supporters also bigots, one wonders. I'm not saying that McCain supporters, at least, have good reasons to oppose the Democratic nominee, but only a small number, I suspect, will vote for the Republican mainly to keep women and minorities in their place, as Bond suggests.

In any event, this is all a set-up for the 2008 National Survey on Race, Gender and Equality in America. This is a well-meaning but worthless document. It's worthless because it is a self-evidently biased survey, since only people on liberal mailing lists, presumably, have been invited to participate. It's guaranteed to produce large majorities in favor of the correct positions. You can tell this from Question #2:

Some argue that women and minorities now have 'too much' equality. Do you think the NAACP has gone 'too far' in correcting injustices of the past and leveling the playing field for women and minorities?

Who in their right mind, even among right-wingers, would say that there's "too much equality?" The right-wing complaint is not that there's too much equality, but that affirmative action programs and quotas have privileged minorities rather than leveling the playing field. The survey addresses this argument in Question #3:

Opponents of affirmative action, including some of America's most powerful politicians and judges, say it discriminates against people who may be better qualified. Supporters say these policies are needed to fight the effects of gender and racial discrimination.

But the question doesn't ask you to choose between these two interpretations. It shifts the playing field by asking: "Has affirmative action affected you?" and offering the choices of Helped, Hindered, No effect, and Don't know. A question of policy or political philosophy is reduced to personal experience, which doesn't really answer the complaint. I'm not pointing this out to signal any opposition to affirmative action, but to illustrate how these fundraising surveys inevitably steer people toward the correct answers. Julian Bond admits this purpose in his cover letter, explaining that "Your answers will give the NAACP added ammunition in our battle to regain the high ground....you will help send a strong message that people of conscience are saying 'NO' to divisiveness and 'YES' to equality for all."

Other questions in the survey are probably more useful for measuring opinion within the liberal constituency most likely to get it in the mail. They ask whether you agree or disagree with greater diversity in the workplace, the academy, and society as a whole. Finally, before seeking personal information, it asks whether I'm optimistic or pessimistic about women's pay for equal work equaling men's in the next decade.

At the bottom of the survey, a box is checked off in advance reading "YES! I believe in, and will help fight for, equality for all," and a choice of contribution amounts ranging from $15 to $500. Bond explains that "your support will help with NAACP media outreach, community organizing, voter registration, litigation, grassroots mobilization and coalition building."

As a rule, I'm less hostile to begging letters from organizations like this, which have real expenses like court costs for litigation, than I am to appeals from political candidates. As a more general rule, I still don't donate to these organizations, if only because I feel quite capable of speaking for myself on the issues that matter to me. I have to laugh a little when Bond urges me, "Don't be silent, don't stand by passively," while almost literally putting words in my mouth. I'm not opposed absolutely to giving others a greater voice, but I do that by subscribing to magazines across the political spectrum. I see the real results of those donations every week in my mailbox, but you can't get those without the junk mail, apparently. It doesn't anger me as much as it does others, because at least it gives me something to blog about.

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