By Mark Esposito
A fascinating trope making the rounds on the right-wing blogs this week (here‘s one from the Mothership) concerns Michigan Communications Professor Susan Douglas and her provocative article originally entitled I Hate Republicans. In it, Douglas lays out her indictment of the monolithic bandwagon of the Right and its clarion calls for a return to the good ol’ days when the “White Man’s Burden” was in full-flower and political power was the exclusive right of the rich and the Caucasian:
A brief review of Republican rhetoric and strategies since the 1980s shows an escalation of determined vilification (which has been amplified relentlessly on Fox News since 1996). From Spiro Agnew’s attack on intellectuals as an “effete corps of impudent snobs”; to Rush Limbaugh’s hate speech; to the GOP’s endless campaign to smear the Clintons over Whitewater, then bludgeon Bill over Monica Lewinsky; to the ceaseless denigration of President Obama (“socialist,” “Muslim”), the Republicans have crafted a political identity that rests on a complete repudiation of the idea that the opposing party and its followers have any legitimacy at all.
Douglas objected to the title which bore the exact verbiage as the story’s kicker and likely because of this line from the editor’s note preceding the story: We have also removed from the “Comments” section all threats to the author’s life and personal safety. Now unless you believe those death threats came from overjoyed Democrats hell-bent on crucifying Douglas in an misplaced attempt to deify her, you’ve got to admit of another fine reason to accept the author’s original premise.
It got me thinking about my own attitudes towards our brothers (and that’s the vast majority of them) on the Right and how my thoughts have grown. Growing up fairly conservative like most evolving beings fearful of the world, I had the gift of a mother, father and surrounding family who refused to let me rely on ideological crutches to evaluate both people and ideas. Mom never let me be a respecter of persons reminding me that “everybody has feet of clay.” Dad was no liberal but he understood that fiscal self-interest masquerades behind all kinds of political banners especially the ones flown over the heads of businesses. My uncle, a bona-fide Korean War combat hero, was the most liberal of my kitchen cabinet. “You never know people until things get tight,” he’d say with the assurance of a man who went up a hill near Seoul with eight comrades and came back down with two — one of whom he carried.
Republicans were the “other” in the early 70s rural Virginia where I grew up. The Old Dominion was decidedly “Solid South” Democratic in those days. Conservative, segregationist but willing to eschew ideology if it meant keeping the machinery of Virginia running smoothly, the blue Old Guard ran things. And as they used to croon to themselves the did so “pretty damn well.” Republicans were on the far periphery of power then and seemingly composed of whiners and “law and order” types to whom most folks paid little attention.
They had all the cache’ of Peter Lorre’s pathetic, trollish character, Ugarte,in the wartime cinema classic, Casablanca. Lorre’ played the sniveling black marketeer ready to gouge advantage from any poor refugee he could to Bogie’s noble, anti-hero, Rick, who just happens to be the most trusted man in all of North Africa. Ugarte corners Rick in his nightclub and asks the question we all wonder looking at this odd couple: “You hate me, don’t you Rick?” Came the lightning fast yet nonchalant reply, ” Well, if I gave you any thought, I probably would.”
As I grew and the Republicans gradually drove a wedge between poor blacks and poor whites using the infamous “Southern Strategy” the power see-saw began to tip purely on the counter-weight of race. As consummate politician Lyndon Johnson told an trusted aide after signing the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act, “We have lost the South for a generation.” And so he had, as children of privileged white men came into adulthood resenting what many of them viewed as a national government favoring African-Americans to the detriment of their birthrights to Southern power and wealth.
Republican strides took over ancient institutions that were at once both liberal and humanitarian. Southern churches, once the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement, became enclaves of conservative ideology and what the French call Ressentiment. That philosophy of basking in the frustration of being “put upon” by others fit quite nicely in the “Lost Cause” Movement that had been ingrained in Southern Whites since the crumbling of the rebellion known south of the Mason-Dixon as the “War of Northern Aggression.” Hostility coupled with frustration born of denial of birthright is heady stuff in a largely patriarchal society convinced of its own nobility.
The Ressentment led to a revulsion of all things called rightly or wrongly national government, which translated roughly to those northerners in Washington DC who ruined our orderly and perfectly workable way of life. Beaten back by a series of Warren Court decisions hoping to blunt attitudes that belonged in a century before, Southern Republicans benefited from that omnipotent god of politics –demographics. The rise of populations in Southern cities from reverse immigration in places like Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, Virginia and Texas gave the Republicans and their natural constituency, the monied interests, a huge influx of both cash and electoral leverage.
Interestingly, it was Southern Democrat Jimmy Carter who first benefited from the political sea change but his widely perceived failed Presidency wrought of weakness and incompetency served only to strengthen Republican chances in the wake of the disastrous Nixon Administration. Seen as crooked but capable, the Republicans trumped the idealistic but incompetent Democratic pretenders to real power. And that perception has real staying power even today as the nation looks to even more complex challenges that induce the same fear that pushed me into a conservative mindset years ago.
That fear has had a price indeed. Government shutdowns, near misses with scary nincompoops like a Dan Quayle and Sarah Palin, and a polarization of society can rightly be laid at the feet of those Southern conservatives. That seems to the be at least part of Douglas’ ill-received message. Douglas’ is not a call to action merely permission to call the play the way she sees it. That’s where the good Professor and I differ.
I have grave concerns about a return to the America of the 50s as William F. Buckley once characterized the agenda of some of his conservative brethren. Specifically, rolling back the clock simply fails to take into account the changes America has seen since the days of the Bunny Hop. Demographics, once the ally of the Right, is now taking another partner as growth in the Latino and Asian sector is bringing an entirely different agenda for economic opportunity that is dead set against the status quo wealth distribution.
Simply put, this return to Republican “normalcy” is dangerous and precisely for this reason articulated in a famous scene from the movie Hoosiers. New men’s basketball coach Norman Dale, played by the incomparable Gene Hackman, is taking the reins of power from an interim coach (played by veteran character actor Chelsie Ross) who is steeped in the team’s tradition. The dynamic is tense as Ross sets forth the two kinds of dumb:
So it seems my attitudes have come 180 degrees on the opposition — from overconfident neglect to direct opposition. The Republican agenda is antithetical to most things I believe foster a tolerant, inclusive society and comprise, as Chelsis Ross calls it, “the second kind of dumb.” And being the “Stupid Party” as Bobby Jindal famously remarked surely takes nothing away from my position. That’s why I try and highlight the excesses of the ideology in the hopes we can avoid its inevitable consequences. As Professor Douglas points up for us:
[T]he two core dimensions of conservative thought are resistance to change and support for inequality. These, in turn, are core elements of social intolerance. The need for certainty, the need to manage fear of social change, lead to black-and-white thinking and an embrace of stereotypes. Which could certainly lead to a desire to deride those not like you—whether people of color, LGBT people or Democrats. And, especially since the early 1990s, Republican politicians and pundits have been feeding these needs with a single-minded, uncomplicated, good-vs.-evil worldview that vilifies Democrats.
I don’ hate the Republicans. I pity them and their fear-based ideology that always leads to a fractured and failed society.
Source: In These Times