Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Looking backward: whatever happened to the Republicans?

I'm still trying to capture what I found missing in Rick Perlstein's Invisible Bridge.

The Berkeley economist Bradford DeLong took a crack at the question in the title of this post yesterday. I think his rant gets at what Perlstein either wasn't willing or able to raise up. Here are some long excerpts:

... You and I alike still wonder what Pete Wilson thought he was doing, and how the other senior Republicans in the California Republican Party reacted, when Wilson decided that he could try to win another term's governorship by blowing up the party's future in an increasingly Hispanic California. Wilson's strategy [a nativist initiative in 1994] was momentarily advantageous to him, but enormously shortsighted--and unjustifiable if he has any sense of loyalty to his Republican comrades or to the Republican Party of the future.

Perhaps it is be[s]t to think of it as the curse imposed on the Republican Party by Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon. The 1964 Civil Rights Act seemed to them to create an opportunity for the Republican Party. It could attract Southern Democrats conservative and hostile to civil rights by covering the flag of racism under the banner of libertarianism and individual freedom. They could thus make the South competitive.

There is this line in the comic book The Watchmen: "You think I am locked in here with you. But actually you are locked in here with me!"

Nixon and Goldwater thought they were locking a segment of ex-Southern Democrats into the Republican Party under conditions that would [gi]ve them a subordinate role. But now the Eisenhower, the Nixon, and I would say even the Herbert Hoover and Barry Goldwater Republicans find themselves locked in and in a subordinate role with a bunch of people who are very difficult to live with. People who think the world is against them. People who think that, somehow, others are manipulating the system and stealing their stuff. Sometimes those others are "eggheads"; sometimes they are, in Nino Scalia's terms, those "pursuing the homosexual agenda"; Black welfare queens are a constant threat; immigrants--God alone knows why a party that thinks it is for the entrepreneurial and upward-striving doesn't regard someone who has managed to dodge the dogs and walk a thousand miles from Chiapas to get here as their best friend--are a threat; feminists seems to be a constant threat. I really do not understand it.

... Alongside this transformation of the Republican Party into the Party of the Wingnuts, there has come the end of the Republican Party as a party of economic development, economic growth, and upward mobility. They are, now and for the forseeable future, much more the party of entrenched, and increasingly, inherited wealth--people for whom economic development and creative destruction is actually a minus.

A generation ago the Koch enterprises were interested in economic growth: disrupting old arrangements and building a high-productivity petroleum-based economy as the energy sector and energy businesses expanded massively. A generation ago Sam Walton was very interested in growth, productivity, prosperity, and disruption as he sought to build up the most efficient nationwide retail chain in the world. And now? Are the Koch brothers today interested in accelerating and profiting from the structural transformation that is coming as we move from a petroleum to a non-carbon energy economy? Not at all. Kansas governor Sam Brownback used to be in favor of wind energy in Kansas. The Koch brothers said: "frog". He hopped. Now he is opposed to it.

Are the grandchildren of Sam Walton going to be incredibly interested in creative destruction when it takes the form of the destruction of the value of Walmart? No. ...

I note that DeLong, located in California, knows that racism underpins what Republicans have become. As in Nixonland, Perlstein's big picture history can't reach that conclusion. Perhaps professional conventions or his location makes that impossible. But it is still true. Republicans embraced white supremacy explicitly. And the rest is history.

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