The Cul-de-Sac

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conservatism

I hope Paul Krugman is right:

… the soon-to-be-gone administration’s failure is bigger than Mr. Bush himself: it represents the end of the line for a political strategy that dominated the scene for more than a generation.

The reality of this strategy’s collapse has not, I believe, fully sunk in with some observers. Thus, some commentators warning President-elect Barack Obama against bold action have held up Bill Clinton’s political failures in his first two years as a cautionary tale.

But America in 1993 was a very different country — not just a country that had yet to see what happens when conservatives control all three branches of government, but also a country in which Democratic control of Congress depended on the votes of Southern conservatives. Today, Republicans have taken away almost all those Southern votes — and lost the rest of the country. It was a grand ride for a while, but in the end the Southern strategy led the G.O.P. into a cul-de-sac.

Mr. Obama therefore has room to be bold. If Republicans try a 1993-style strategy of attacking him for promoting big government, they’ll learn two things: not only has the financial crisis discredited their economic theories, the racial subtext of anti-government rhetoric doesn’t play the way it used to.

The whole column is very much worth reading. Krugman says (I’ve said the same thing) that our current GOP is the result of a deal with the devil made 40 years ago. That deal was the “Southern Strategy”; the tactic of using race baiting to pick up white voters who were fleeing the Dems because of civil rights and affirmative action policies. Krugman says (and I’ve also said the same thing) that even the GOP antipathy to taxes can be traced to that.

Krugman doesn’t say anything about the myth of the “liberal elite,” which is the other part of the rightie equation. Seething resentment toward anything that pushes their buttons — urban people, educated people, foreigners, and especially liberals — is the fuel of movement conservatism.

At the end of the cul-de-sac the GOP has marched into stands Sarah Palin. As Michael Tomasky wrote, “Never in my adult lifetime has one politician so perfectly embodied everything that is malign about my country: the proto-fascist nativism, the know-nothingism, the utterly cavalier lack of knowledge about the actual principles on which the country was founded.” The hard-core Right is in love with her, because she perfectly embodies and gives voice to their ignorance, their belligerence, their resentments, and she does so with a smile and a pretty face.

Speaking of Palin, be sure to read Michael Stickings’s essay at The Guardian: “Hockey Mom, you’re no Iron Lady.” Movement conservatives are so besotted with Palin that they are comparing her to their Mother Goddess, Margaret Thatcher. And it is Thatcher, not Palin, who falls short in this comparison.

As Michael says, this is, um, delusional, even if you don’t care for Thatcher. What what either Palin or Thatcher are, or were, or what they’ve accomplished, is less important to righties than what they represent in their addled mythos. But most Americans see Palin for the joke she is.

A cornerstone of the right-wing worldview is the belief that most Americans — most white Americans, anyway — believe the same things righties believe. If they see another American expressing a different worldview, either this person is “loony” — an aberration; not to be taken seriously — or “they’re just being PC,” meaning most Americans who express liberal ideas are just saying what they are supposed to say, not what they really believe. And if conservatives lose elections, it’s either because of voter fraud or media bias, not because most American don’t think the way righties do.

Most Americans, however, may have some lingering racist attitudes but don’t like racism and want us to all get along, somehow. Most Americans think that if a woman really doesn’t want to be pregnant she ought to be able to get a legal abortion, at least in the early months of the pregnancy. Most Americans think most other Americans ought to be able to get decent health care. Most Americans think Social Security and Medicare are good programs, if not perfect, even if they need tweaking now and then. Most Americans think the invasion of Iraq was a huge mistake and don’t give a hoo-haw about staying there in order to achieve something we can call “victory.” Most Americans don’t get bent out of shape if someone wishes them “happy holidays.” Most Americans expect government to be functional and don’t mind paying some taxes if they feel they are getting some value from those taxes (which, of course, is not always the case). Most Americans are catching on to the fact that, sometimes, some government regulation and oversight are a good thing.

Most of all, I don’t think most Americans are riddled with the fear, loathing and anger of the Right. They may be ignorant of many things, but on the whole most Americans are decent, well-meaning, live-and-let-live types who appreciate fairness and don’t necessarily fear everything that’s different. And that’s why they’re not following the Right into that cul-de-sac.

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18 Comments

  1. erinyes  •  Jan 2, 2009 @1:36 pm

    Oh how right you are Barbara, and Tomasky’s take on Frau Palin hits the nail on the head.

  2. Pat Pattillo  •  Jan 2, 2009 @2:36 pm

    Discussion I’ve had with conservatives rarely eke out acknowledgement of the existence of any so-called Southern Strategy that seems to be as plain and obvious to everyone else as the nose on one’s face. The meme of “government taking your money and giving it to THOSE PEOPLE” (wink…nod…we all know who “those people” are, just substitute the off-white group du jour) has been the proverbial “other shoe dropping” and like a matching bookend for whining “income redistribution” at the suggestion of anything being done for the common good of the citizens of this country.

    This has been more aptly described as a “rural strategy” and it has worked quite well in coopting the lower class and uneducated into sealing their fate on or near the bottom rung by pointing out that those, imagined or real, on the rung below them might benefit from something government does.

    I suppose millions needed to suffer needlessly before they realize that all the corporate efficiency and goodness promised to result downsizing government out of existence only led to something less benevolent and fair filling the vacuum formerly occupied by progressive government. Now, that our nation is down, but not out and listening to the ten count as the party of the Southern Strategy has liittle to offer them except for more scapegoating they have finally started to listen, just a little.

    Education might be the key but we can hardly count on that happening on any scale yet. The school of hard knocks will have to suffice for now.

    I only hope that someone trusted and intelligent can explain to uneducated and cognitively challenged demographic groups how deep-deficit spending can be bad in general but in an extreme situation it can be the remedy. This is counterintuitive to so many and has allowed a Hooverite southern cadre of senators to maintain a following, however ignorant it may be.

  3. c u n d gulag  •  Jan 2, 2009 @3:09 pm

    maha,
    Spot on!
    The term “Conservative” means, by definition, that they want to conserve something.
    We need to use this moment to point out that what they want to “conserve” at this time is 40 years of racism, obstructionism and failure.
    If that’s what you want for our future, by all means, stay a conservative.

  4. moonbat  •  Jan 2, 2009 @4:17 pm

    Is it really a cul-de-sac, or is it a festering boil, that threatens to explode?

    If the GOP is retreating into Palinism, and the Dems are reaching out to bring anybody onboard they can work with, what happens when the economy really hits the bricks, when the Federal government loses its ability to ameliorate worsening conditions, therefore losing its legitimacy? Will the Palinistas, with their guns, their bibles and their anger explode? I’m not heartened by reports we’ve been reading over the last few weeks about US military units preparing for civil unrest here at home.

    We’ve seen our country’s foundations shaken these last eight years, by the general lawlessness of the executive, aided and abetted by a supine Congress, a reactionary Supreme Court, and a cowardly media. Barack Obama notwithstanding, it’s an open question in my mind if we will ever return to a functioning representational democracy. While I don’t think the Palinistas would ever prevail through government – they don’t comprehend the basic principles of this country – they could act as the tinder that finally burns the whole rotten structure down to the ground.

  5. erinyes  •  Jan 2, 2009 @4:45 pm

    “The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes,prejudices-to be found only in the minds of men.
    For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy, and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all its own-for the children, and the children yet unborn. And the pity of it is that these things cannot be confined to the Twilight Zone”
    -Rod Serling/ The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street

  6. Swami  •  Jan 2, 2009 @5:46 pm

    Exactly, moonbat. My faith in the American people has been so rattled that I’m reluctant to categorize them as decent, live and let live people. Over the past 8 years I’ve witnessed an ugly spirit coming from the American people that I never would have believed possible. I’m not naive in understanding our history, and realize that we haven’t always been so wonderful as a nation, but I guess my assumption that we’ve progressed as a people has been challenged by the advent and antics of the Bush administration. For me , the jury is still out, and more time is needed before my faith in the American people as a whole is restored.

    Bush and his maggots did a trip on our national psyche.

  7. c u n d gulag  •  Jan 2, 2009 @6:26 pm

    The past eight years have done us a favor in one respect – they hav placed in a spotlight the uglier aspects of our national character.
    There has been little economic justice in the history of our country. A true middle class existed only just before, and just after, the Revolution. Until FDR and WWII, there was little, or no growth in the middle class. There was little interest in growing it since robber barons could make fortunes on the backs of the less unfortunate.
    Our genocide of indigenous American’s rates up there, or above what happened in Europe over centuries, Turkey in the early 20th Century massacre of Armenians, what happened in Europe in the the ’30s and ’40’s, let alone Russia, China, Darfur, and Somalia.
    To protect corporate interests, we have had some of the worst policies in Central and South America, the Middle East, and Asia. We have overthrown freely elected Democraries, and put in brutal dictator’s in the name of ‘free-market’s.’
    And all of this has taken place under both Democrats and Republicans. What is the common theme? Manifest Destiny taken beyond the expanding nation borders and the continent, and extended to the entire world.
    No one in our history has had the guts to put the brakes on the corporate mindset and its military expansion used to police their interests. No one…
    I could continue the list, but I don’t want to write a book on this site.

  8. joanr16  •  Jan 2, 2009 @7:16 pm

    I’m in the middle on this one. The past 8 years surely did expose the worst in the American character. And I don’t kid myself; our ugly side keeps popping up with terrible frequency: we clung to slavery long after the rest of Western Civ abandoned it; we committed genocide on Native Americans; we rounded up and imprisoned Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor; we allowed Joe McCarthy to run amok; we created havoc in Southeast Asia in the 1960s, Central America in the 1980s, and the Middle East in this decade; we lead all nations in crapping on Planet Earth so that it becomes uninhabitable.

    But through all these grievous sins, an American progressive movement of one sort or another has always survived. And when things get really ugly, there’s an explosion of support for progressive ideas in the popular culture and the electorate. This was true in the 1930s & 1940s, non-governmentally in the 1960s (and could’ve been much more, had RFK lived to become president), and I think we’re seeing it again right now.

    So, yes, we Americans have a tendency toward utterly reprehensible behavior, but we also have a track record of coming to our senses and saving ourselves from ourselves in the nick of time. For that reason, I don’t think I can ever give up on us altogether.

  9. c u n d gulag  •  Jan 2, 2009 @10:50 pm

    joanr16,
    I never meant that we should ever give up on ourselves altogether. Just that we need to look to the past so that we can improve ourselves by learning from our mistakes.
    As long as we beleive in ‘American Exceptionalism,” we are doomed repeat the same mistakes…

  10. joanr16  •  Jan 2, 2009 @11:39 pm

    gulag, I agree in theory– but it seems to me an unfortunate fact of human (not just American) existence that every generation has to re-learn some of the lessons that fell so hard upon their forebears. In spite of the famous saying, almost no generations ever “remember history,” and so, time and again, “are doomed to repeat it.”

    One thing I think we all understand here is that “American democracy” has always been, in large part, a myth, and that the only reason it isn’t a complete fraud is the struggle of those who resisted the tide, and turned this country around after a period of darkness.

    Quite often, I find myself depressed and pessimistic about the state of things, but I also try to remember those who lived and died to make this country progressive, who kept the tiny little spark alive during the cyclical dark times. If they had no hope, we’d have been lost to fascism or nuclear holocaust or what-have-you, long ago.

    John Brown… Susan B. Anthony… Abraham Lincoln… Frederick Douglass… the IWW… Clarence Darrow… Eleanor Roosevelt… Malcolm X… Dr. King… Cesar Chavez… AIM… Phil & Daniel Berrigan… Joan Baez… John Lennon… Harvey Milk… Paul Wellstone… Joe Wilson… Paul Krugman… Barbara O’Brien. Just some of the names I can think of; we could easily add a thousand more.

  11. c u n d gulag  •  Jan 3, 2009 @8:39 am

    joanr16,
    I like it! Kind of like a political “These are a few of my favorite things.” 🙂

  12. another joe  •  Jan 3, 2009 @9:46 am

    While you and krugman have many good points here, I believe both sell-short the ability of the folk’s behind dur chimpfurher to “catapult the propaganda”.

    Fact: chimpy is not the brains behind any of this – neither was rove, cheney, rummy, or the rest.

    Too many want to make this all about personal character defects and incompetence – that is not what we have seen the past 4 years. The folks in charge have been EXTREMELY SUCCESSFUL and have looted BILLIONS AND BILLIONS of dollars.

    They succeeded in orchestrating a media campaign to fraudulently hoist an AWOL abusive alcoholic/cocaine addict into the White House and then used this man to initiate a neocon agenda that is largely based on looting the federal treasury.

    Unfortunately, most focus on the morons in front of the cameras and the microphones – they are not our problem. These people are a dime a dozen – when they server their purpose, they are set aside.

    The folks we should be talking about are the criminal cabal behind it all – the one’s that know you need to be very quiet and anonymous when you steal!

  13. Comrade Rutherford  •  Jan 3, 2009 @11:47 am

    Krugman said, “If Republicans try a 1993-style strategy of attacking him for promoting big government, they’ll learn two things: not only has the financial crisis discredited their economic theories, the racial subtext of anti-government rhetoric doesn’t play the way it used to.”

    What Krugman hasn’t learned is that the national media, including his own NYTimes, is strictly controlled by the GOP. Not only will the GOP attack Obama for promoting ‘big-government’, the media will gleefully blame everything that happened between 2000 and 2012 on the Democrats. It’s already starting and Obama isn’t even in office yet.

    The reason that anyone at all is following them into the cul-de-sac is because the media has been intentionally lying to them for the past 40 years and that isn’t changing.

  14. maha  •  Jan 3, 2009 @12:40 pm

    While you and krugman have many good points here, I believe both sell-short the ability of the folk’s behind dur chimpfurher to “catapult the propaganda”.

    To assume that Maha does not have all-pervasive knowledge is a perilous thing. She might hurl thunderbolts and stuff at you.

    Fact: chimpy is not the brains behind any of this – neither was rove, cheney, rummy, or the rest.

    Well, yes, that’s pretty much what Krugman and I were saying. The Bushies are just the end result of a process going back a few decades. I have argued elsewhere that you really have to go back to the end of World War II to understand the rise of modern movement conservatism.

    However, if you were paying attention you might have noticed the forces of the Right got clobbered in the last couple of elections, except in the South. This suggests they are not omnipotent.

    The only constant is change. Everything changes. Nothing lasts forever. I don’t expect the Wingnut Right to completely disappear, because they’ve been with us in one form or another since the foundation of the republic. However, their dominance of the national political discourse has been cracked. The Bushies can catapult propaganda all they like; nobody is listening.

  15. maha  •  Jan 3, 2009 @12:43 pm

    What Krugman hasn’t learned is that the national media, including his own NYTimes, is strictly controlled by the GOP.

    That’s not as true as it used to be, or else Rachel Maddow would never have gotten her own television show. Remember when MSNBC pulled Phil Donohue out of exactly the same time slot because he was too liberal?

    The press has been lapdogs of the Right for a long time, but there are complex reasons for this, and I’ve seen many signs that it isn’t quite as true as it used to be.

    When we go about assuming our adversaries have omnipotent powers and we are helpless to fight them, we defeat ourselves. Stop doing that. It annoys the hell out of me.

  16. felicity  •  Jan 3, 2009 @2:58 pm

    Comrade’s (and maha’s 12:43 pm post) point is well-taken. And I’ll add: Accused of being part of the ‘liberal’ media, Wapo etc. periodically beat themselves up, don hair shirts and move Right. They clinch the deal by then hiring some right-wing ill-informed, misinformed conservative poser. Perhaps we should consider we-have-met-the-enemy-and-it-is-us (we)?

    I’ve always compared the right-wing’s use of the ‘liberal media’ label to their use of terrorist and terrorism to frighten us into submission – and to justify all their ugly and pernicious dirty dealings.

  17. another joe  •  Jan 3, 2009 @7:19 pm

    maha – they got “clobbered” and still go EVERYTHING THEY WANTED TO.

    Proclaim you know more than everyone – doesn’t make you look smart.

    Are YOU paying attention?

    I have not said we cannot change things – only that we need REAL change and conveniently overlooking the fact that the neocon/repugs are still getting EVERYTHING they want is not helpful.

    In fact, it is a recipe for more of the same – but I know…

    It’s your blog and you can proclaim yourself supreme being of the world – at least in this tiny section of cyberspace.

  18. maha  •  Jan 3, 2009 @9:10 pm

    Are YOU paying attention?

    Do YOU have a sense of humor? Apparently not. Jeez, dude, get a grip.

    Also, please note that the new Congress has not been seated and the new POTUS has not been inaugurated. We won’t know what will change until after the seated/inaugurated thing. Proclaiming that they’ve already failed is a bit asinine.

    I’ll give you one more comment to prove you have half a clue what’s going on around here, but if you next comment is as stupid as this one, you’re banned.

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