Saturday, May 26, 2012

E. J. Dionne misses the elephant in the living room

Just as I called out a couple of California journalists for ignoring the obvious yesterday, I can't resist calling out a national journalist for clearly describing our political dysfunction -- and then ignoring the elephant in the living room. Washington Post writer E.J. Dionne asks "Conservatives used to care about community. What happened?" After sharing some of the history of conservatism's roots in reaction against unfettered individualism, he goes on

… until recently conservatives operated within America’s long consensus that accepted a market economy as well as a robust role for a government that served the common good. American politics is now roiled because this consensus is under the fiercest attack it has faced in more than 100 years.

For most of the 20th century, conservatives and progressives alternated in power, each trying to correct the mistakes of the other. Neither scared the wits out of the other (although campaign rhetoric sometimes suggested otherwise), and this equilibrium allowed both sides to compromise and move forward. It didn’t mean that politics was devoid of philosophical conflicts, of course. The clashes over McCarthyism, the civil rights revolution, the Vietnam War, Watergate and the Great Inflation of the late 1970s remind us that our consensus went only so far. Conservatives challenged aspects of the New Deal-era worldview from the late 1960s on, dethroning a liberal triumphalism that long refused to take conservatism seriously. Over time, even progressives came to appreciate some essential instincts that conservatives brought to the debate.

So why has this consensus unraveled?

He goes on to describe the current partisan divide as a nasty bi-product of President Obama's effort to restore some comity in Washington. If the Democratic usurper wanted it, Republicans must strike back by utterly rejecting any serious effort to get along or even govern. Okay, well and good as description.

But what's different about the current President from any other? Oh yeah, he's a Black man.

For too many among us, that's impossible -- time for a war to save the white race. Sure, not all Republicans go there, but the prevalence of that sentiment gives energy to many Republicans' maniacal fantasy of regressing to a brutal dog-eat-dog society for happy heroic (male) individuals. They seem to have lost any concern for the collective good. They look toward a future in which citizens of the United States won't look like their children. It's burn it all down now time, all to overthrow the illegitimate Kenyan imposter.

Don't tell me the President's race is not a big part of "what happened?"


Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

Jan: I think you were around at COG when i was questioning Sir C's similar comments, but I've rarely seen a better response than this piece by Susie Madrak.

As she does, I don't doubt that racism plays a part, but feel you and Sir C overestimate it. To quote from the piece [without a blockquote, which blogger does not permit]:
I know all about racists, I grew up surrounded by them and I live in a white working class neighborhood. So yeah, I know there's a problem.

But if there's one thing I do know about my racist working-class peers, it's that the racism is more of a secondary characteristic. (In my neighborhood, they turned out for Obama when he first ran in 2008. I remember being pleasantly surprised when I read the precinct returns.) The racism really comes to the forefront when times are tough, and they're really tough now.

Her point -- and mine -- is that Obama has done little if anything that is specifically aimed at the working class. I'd take it a step farther, and argue that even those things that in fact did benefit the WWC were not 'pitched' to them. In fact, one of my complaints about Obama is that, during his entire Presidency I cannot remember him even acknowledging that there were any people below the Middle Class.

Furthermore, while I reject the idea that the WWC is "stupid' -- some are, but we've got our share of people who are equally so -- I insist that they are both ignorant and unsophisticated two traits we frequently confuse with stupidity.

Let's face it, we've probably both spent nearly a half century thinking about and understanding politics, and all the factors involved, including the initially counter-intuitive Keynesianism that has been a part of Liberalism -- if not always of the Democratic Party -- since FDR.

The WWC hasn't. It doesn't have the background, it doesn't have the practice at looking at the whole economic picture, it doesn't, particularly in hard times, have the patience to understand why some moves benefit it. And it doesn't have the background, political and personal, that shows it why it should disregard every word it hears from radio blabbers.

The racism is there, I am not denying this, but this is a secondary cause. It 'opens their minds' to various conservative fantasies, to Birtherism, to various attempts to deny his legality, or his Americanism -- and they never realize the essential conservatism he unfortunately represents.

Susie finishes her post with:

All that said, it's still the job of the president and his administration to win the support of the voters. People vote to make their lives better, not worse. Explaining to them how much worse it could have been if the president's half-hearted stimulus package hadn't passed doesn't make a very compelling case for his reelection.

Here's a novel idea: Why not do something to actually help them?

But that still slightly misses the point. Certainly there is nothing the Republicans are offering that helps them either. Why should they listen to them?

That seems to need a separate comment.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

[Okay, there IS a character limit -- Grrr. So this will be two parts, at least.]
I've argued that one consistent failing among my fellow liberals -- particularly those whose liberalism is economically based -- is two-headed, we both fail to realize that all people have multiple 'identities' and that the relevant one in any particular situation is a very personal matter, AND we frequently attempt, in discussing identities, to 'insist' the people we are talking to accept the identity we choose for them. (What's worse, if they respond with a different identity, we 'blame the victim' and call them 'stupid' or 'racists' or 'blind fools marching behind the Pied Pipers of Paranoia like Beck and Limbaugh.')

But these people have -- we all do -- many identities. They are members of a religious congregation, many of them. They watch tv. They have hobbies -- and those hobbies bring them into contact with other people who share them. They live in -- and probably grew up in -- states where the overall education system is nothing like that in Blue States. Those same states determine to some extent what information they receive. (For example, we may never have heard Bryan Fischer unless we've gone looking for him, but in these states he's on the radio every day at 1-3 PM, spewing his all-purpose bigotry.)

And one thing they lack -- again, hardly them alone, but in a higher percentage than we do -- is training on how to deal with 'cognitive dissonance.' These are people, for example, who, if Catholic, might very well sign a petition or respond to a sermon and condemn Obama for 'giving away free condoms.' (Not what he's doing, of course, but these people only heard the Limbaugh pieces, not the responses or the facts) And then, on the way home from Mass, they'll stop in the drugstore to get their wives prescription for the pill, and their own supply of condoms -- for sex within or outside their marriage. And they don't see the contradiction -- which is the key.

These are people who attend sermons damning gays to hell, and they shout "Amen!" and then go home and watch MODEN FAMILY -- the 9th most popular scripted show last year, and as popular in red states as in blue -- who watch GLEE and who simply find it interesting that Neal Patrick Harris and Matt Bomer are gay males playing heterosexual romantic leads.

[to be continued, immediately]

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

[Part 2]
They also aren't used to standing up against the crowd. If someone makes a bigoted statement or joke -- pick your own bigotry -- they are going to laugh, not protest, even if, in private, they reveal attitudes that should make them hate it -- again, no protection against 'cognitive dissonance.'

All of which is an explanation, not a solution -- and there isn't a 'one size fits all' solution. Maybe 90% of them just aren't going to be reachable, they'll never figure out how to get out of the cell that has been built around their minds -- by parents, bad schools, crazy preachers, and friends and neighbors, as well as the FOX/Limbaugh/Beck/Fischer crowd.

The others can be reached, but only on a state and local level. They'll dismiss much of what they hear on 'national politics' as the 'usual bull' and not take it seriously, but they may wake up to local sources who know how to talk to them without either condescension or 'playing into' their prejudices. That's one of the reason for my consistent insistence at COG to leave the Presidency to the DNC -- that as dumb as they are, even they can't figure out a way to lose that -- and spend far more of our time looking at and acting on local and state events.

We had a DNC Chair who understood that. Obama has made many mistakes, many, many manymanymany mistakes, yes, but one of the first and worst was replacing Howard Dean with Tim Kaine.

One last comment in this diverse salad of ideas, one which relates to my last paragraph but also is a thread between the other pieces above:

We forget that we don't have to win an election to make changes. If we picked out a prime example of a conservative idiot, a Louie Gohmert, a Virginia Foxx, or a Paul Broun and actually ran a Progressive candidate against him -- we'd lose. But we'd lose with a Blue Dog as well, and we'd certainly lose -- but save money -- if we let him or her run uncontested.

But our Progressive candidate might bring out 10% of voters who would have stayed home because 'what's the use?' They probably wouldn't defeat the Congresscritter, but they'd add their totals to the 'up ballot' races and maybe help sink a Governor or Senator.

(One final image and I'll shut up for now -- Blogger don't have no steenkin' character limit, I hope.)

Imagine one last picture. A Gohmert is giving a Town meeting and someone announces that he is both a constituent and 'one of those gay people you keep talking about. I was just wondering if you had the guts to say those things to my face.' (If there were a dozen other gay constituents there, it might be even more powerful.)

Now ideally, after the meeting the gay constituent would file papers to oppose the homophobe. but even without it, it would make enough news to attract national attention -- and imitators.

janinsanfran said...

Hey Prup -- thanks for dropping by. I actually tend to agree strongly with Susie Madrak that, although I think the response to Obama is about race, this is a "secondary" effect. What Obama is for lots of people is unimaginably Other in many respects - and for those susceptible to such a response, this often gets tagged as "race." Yet it has many facets. The guy is simply very unusual to most of us.

The Obama administration's complete political incapacity to explain its initiatives has been the greatest surprise about it for me. You'd think if a bunch of political operatives were smart enough to elect the first Black president, they'd be smart enough to know how to explain his policies to the broad masses of the population. Maybe they couldn't pass a health bill that anyone but a policy wonk would love, but didn't the political folks know that they'd have to sell and sell and sell this incomprehensible Rube Goldberg machine?

I don't know if you looked at my previous post about California, but I emphasize there that our experience is that a significant fraction of the white population do rather quickly get over their recoil from the rising political power of people of color. Whites are still the majority of the California electorate (though we lost our plurality several years ago) and will be until around 2040 -- but Californians have stopped fighting everything out in entirely racialized terms after a nasty decade in the 90s doing just that. A growing majority of Californians has gotten used to our polyglot society; we're on to new conflicts that amount to efforts to put the state back on a even keel amid the wreckage of those battles.