Never Say Never

I wrote yesterday that I hadn’t seen any Democrats talk of a permanent majority. Well, now I’ve found one.

“This was not just a change election, but a sea-change election,” Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future, said during remarks at the National Press Club. “This is the end of the conservative era.”

“What you’re seeing in the nation is the emergence of a center-left majority,” Borosage continued. “We are witnessing the creation of a permanent progressive majority.”

Let’s forget the word “permanent,” shall we? That’s nonsense. The pendulum will continue to swing. But the rest of the Politico article linked above makes some critical points.

The groups Democrats were successfully able to court in 2008, including Hispanics, single women, Asians and youth voters, are a growing part of a electorate, said [Stan] Greenberg, while the base voters Republicans have depended on have become a proportionately smaller part of it.

Conservatives ought to be worried that 66 percent of voters under 30 voted for Barack Obama. A clear majority of voters between the ages of 30 and 64 voted for Obama. Only the 65+ voters preferred John McCain. This doesn’t bode well for the future of the Republican Party.

Certainly, many of those young voters might be persuaded to vote Republican in the future. However, this election shows us that this group won’t be won over by Atwater-Rove style “fear and smear” campaigns. This means the current Republican establishment has no clue how to campaign to them. Also, I think Republicans have bleeped up so badly that younger voters will be wary of them for a very long time. They are not likely to switch allegiances until Democrats bleep up really badly. Which, of course, they are capable of doing.

Back to Stan Greenberg:

“A lot of Republican voters were brought in with gimmicks,” the pollster said. “They had their base and then would try to pick off specific groups of voters on narrow issues.”

Greenberg insisted meanwhile that those who voted for Obama “share a world view.”

I think this is critical. I’ve lectured many times on the patched-together nature of the Reagan coalition. People calling themselves “conservatives” in America really do not share a worldview in the intellectual sense. They share a lot of resentments and biases, yes. They are attracted to the gauzy glow of a shared mythos, and the imagery (e.g., cheesy eagle art), narratives and slogans that go with it.

Other than that, however, conservatives don’t make sense. They want “small government” but a big military. They support war as a solution to foreign policy problems, but they don’t want to raise taxes to pay for war. They want “liberty” but support warrantless wiretaps. They want “free markets” but mostly support corporate welfare. They want government “off our backs” but in our bedrooms. (One could do a lot with that last one, metaphorically speaking, but I think I’ll leave that to your imaginations.)

In other words, they have a laundry list of positions (on which they do not all agree), but the positions do not make an integrated whole. They don’t see how the parts fit together. Well, they don’t fit together. But they should, if they’re going to come together as a philosophy of governance. This give us a clue why a Republican Congress, working together with a Republican president, totally bleeped up large parts of the planet.

Frankly, after the New Deal coalition broke up in the early 1970s, Democrats didn’t have much in the way of a worldview, either. Less ideological than Reagan Republicans, Dems have been great at thinking up programs to solve this or that problem, but beyond “good government” they had no glowing worldview to unite them or make the Dem brand distinctive. They had no talent for pointing to the shining city on the hill.

Republicans, on the other hand, were great at pointing to the shining city on the hill. They developed a religious faith that if they were true to their ideology, it would lead them to the Promised Land. But, as I’ve said, their ideology is a disjointed mess. And as the luminous Saint Ronald fades from memory, if not from rhetoric, they’ve forgotten the shining city and have fallen back on stoking hate, fear and wedge issues to keep the coalition together.

[Update: Yes, I know Saint Ronald stoked hate, fear and wedge issues also, but he made these nasty things sound virtuous and positive. A large part of Reagan’s appeal was that he could make bigots feel good about themselves again. There was genius to that. No one who has come after has been able to match him.]

The hopes many of us have pinned on Barack Obama is that he personifies the best of both sides. He has the rhetorical skills to show us the shining city, while at the same time he’s got the smarts to see how the parts fit together, how the details add up to a big picture. If he gets anywhere in the ball park of being the president he promises to be, he’ll be a great president.

(This morning I changed the default blog category, the stuff that is listed after “Filed Under,” from “Bush Administration” to “Obama Administration.” Boy, did that feel good.)

I’ve been having a lot of fun reading conservative commentary on where conservatism should go from here, and I hope to write about that sometime over the weekend.

10 thoughts on “Never Say Never

  1. conservatives don’t make sense. They want “small government” but a big military. They support war as a solution to foreign policy problems, but they don’t want to raise taxes to pay for war. They want “liberty” but support warrantless wiretaps.

    I would argue that conservatives do make sense, on their own terms–that is, they have a perfectly self-consistent political philosophy. It just isn’t the one they think they have.

    Conservatism is about hierarchy. Conservatives are happy when someone has more power and someone else has less. (Significantly, they don’t insist on having the most power themselves; they just want the most power to be in the hands of someone they can identify with.) To a conservative, it’s not possible to win unless someone else loses.

    The want “small government” and “less regulation” and so forth because government power provides a counterbalance to the power of the wealthy. They wars and a powerful military because that means America can kick other countries around and act as a hegemony. Their idea of “liberty” is all about making sure powerful people have more freedom to screw with non-powerful people–and it’s not at odds with warrantless surveillance, because that means cops have more freedom to screw with non-powerful people. I’ve looked for a long time, but I have yet to come across any conservative principle that would tend to reduce a differential in power and privilege; they always either maintain or increase the differential.

    Thomas Jefferson nailed it when he said: “Men by their constitutions are naturally divided into two parties: 1. Those who fear and distrust the people, and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of the higher classes. 2. Those who identify themselves with the people, have confidence in them, cherish and consider them as the most honest and safe, although not the most wise depositary of the public interests. In every country these two parties exist, and in every one where they are free to think, speak, and write, they will declare themselves. Call them, therefore, Liberals and Serviles, Jacobins and Ultras, Whigs and Tories, Republicans and Federalists, Aristocrats and Democrats, or by whatever name you please, they are the same parties still and pursue the same object. The last one of Aristocrats and Democrats is the true one expressing the essence of all.”

    Conservatives are aristocrats. Their problem is finding a way to sell this to people who aren’t. Using fear to stroke the tribal lizard-brain works for a while, but apparently not forever. But they’ll be back, because they are not confused about what they want. They want someone’s boot on someone else’s face.

  2. I’m (sadly) not around young people very much, and so it was refreshing a few nights ago, when I opened my door to a couple of young high school girls who were selling newspaper subscriptions.

    They were brown skinned, and through conversation, identified themselves as blacks. I had asked them if they had been for Obama, and they said “oh yes” and they went on how this had been a historic event for the black race. They asked me if I thought he would be assasinated.

    As I was filling out the subscription form (I didn’t really want the newspaper – it was for the local rag instead of the superior LA Times – but it was cheap enough to help these young ladies out) they were noticing the various items around my apartment. I could tell that despite their lower-middle class upbringing, these young girls were very into ecology and caring for the planet and so on, which kind of amazed me. I’m used to this being a concern primarily for the affluent and educated.

    And so I’d say Borsage is onto something. If these young girls were typical, in my apartment that night was the beginning of the majority he wrote about. Let’s hope the fear tactics employed so successfully by Nixon and his successors have lost their power. And I’d say lets press forward on cementing a progressive vision for the world. The young people who overwhelmingly turned out for Obama have the seeds of this vision, even if it’s not fully articulated yet.

  3. You nailed it Maha.
    Evan’s comment is right on also.
    My wife and I went to see W the movie last weekend .A number of people walked out about half way through the film, hard to tell if they were pissed how the film portrayed Bush or pissed that Bush was such a simpleton. ( Jethro on a binge)
    My wife was very angry that our country put up with Bush for 7 years plus, and angry that her boss most of our neighbors displayed McCain / Palin yard signs after putting up with the sad realities of his rule and the crash landing.
    Anyway, It seems that the Repubs are the “daddy” party and the Dems are the “mommy” party, trouble is that “daddy” has been on a drunken binge picking fights with everyone, now “mommy” has to clean it up. It seems that the right wants a “ruler” while the left seeks a “leader”.

    There are a few things about Obama that I’m not crazy about.
    He, like McCain, wants to press to get The Republic of Georgia and Ukraine into NATO. He wants to escalate the war in Afghanistan, which I think is as bad if not worse than the war in Iraq. I’m not a fan of Rahm Emanuel {see wiki bio]. I’m not a big fan of Colin Powel, but after seeing the movie W, I’ve come to appreciate that he at least tried to keep us out of Iraq.I think Powell is a great man that went wrong to please his boss, make of that what you will.
    I’m very happy to see Obama has tapped Volker and Reich (see wiki bios).
    Obama is a great motivational speaker and a good organizer.I’m hopeful that Obama will pick the right team to lead us out of this “perfect storm” mess.
    Bush is a bull shit artist.(with cheesy eagle art…..)

  4. Bravo, Evan, and maha. I detect in your commentaries the traditional definition of the conservative – one who believes that there are those who should rule and those who should be ruled. The difference in American conservatism is that the rulers are not necessarily to the manor born as in the old European etc. models.

    Moving on, Eric Schneiderman in ‘The Nation’ suggests that the conservative tsunami of the last 30 years was accomplished because the conservatives moved the voters closer to them, rather than changing their positions or rhetoric to move toward the voters. He calls this tranformational politics rather than transactional. Something to think about.
    I believe that the Vietnam War era unleashed a wave of discontent, pessimism and a general malaise across America which gave rise to the Republican 30 year tsunami. It’s true that people overcome their unhappiness either by behaving as aggressively as possible or by clinging to a fixed moral code. The Republicans identified themselves in those terms and it was those policies that in turn drew the (unhappy) to them.

  5. I was trying to avoid some editing work this afternoon, aimlessly flipping the TV remote. I don’t have cable or satellite, and so far only 3 broadcast-digital channels to choose from. One was showing the Wall Street Journal Review, and they were speculating on Obama’s cabinet picks, so I stopped there out of curiosity.

    Lacking cable, I don’t know my talking heads like I should (unless you mean David Byrne et al); one of the guys on WSJR was Hugh(?) Beschloss(sp), a name I recognized. All the talkin’ noggins were bobbing in agreement whenever anyone gave a “good job” or “attaboy” to the manner in which Obama is proceeding. OK, says me, this show has something to do with the actual Wall Street Journal, right? They were all so upbeat and optimistic, I was afraid for a moment I’d stumbled onto an old rerun of The Donny and Marie Show!

    It’s too early to say if this optimism among pundits and the MSM will last. In a truly perfect world, they’d be out of jobs. But it’s reassuring that for now they’ve caught the sense of the American majority, that “hope and change” are more than just buzzwords.

  6. “In a truly perfect world, they’d be out of jobs”
    Yeah, Joan, but as in my previous comment I mentioned the possible end to the maha blog, or more likely it would deteriorate(evolve?) into a forum about how our cats are doing and trading recipes….(in a perfect, but boring world}
    Olbermann and Maddow have nothing to fear, the rabid right will keep on keeping on and so will we.

  7. More likely [mahablog] would deteriorate (evolve?) into a forum about how our cats are doing and trading recipes….

    For now, we can just enjoy the ride. Every day now it’s like Super-Fun Happy Slide meets the Tilt-A-Whirl, minus the cotton-candy barf. Here’s this from the Washington Post:

    Transition advisers to President-elect Barack Obama have compiled a list of about 200 Bush administration actions and executive orders that could be swiftly undone to reverse White House policies on climate change, stem cell research, reproductive rights and other issues, according to congressional Democrats, campaign aides and experts working with the transition team.

    A team of four dozen advisers, working for months in virtual solitude, set out to identify regulatory and policy changes Obama could implement soon after his inauguration. The team is now consulting with liberal advocacy groups, Capitol Hill staffers and potential agency chiefs to prioritize those they regard as the most onerous or ideologically offensive….

    And this from Huffington Post:

    President-Elect Barack Obama held his first press conference yesterday, one that focused mainly on the current economic crisis. One detail that flew under the radar, however, was which networks and newpapers got to ask questions, or, rather, which one didn’t get to ask a question. As Media Bistro notes, one network who was not called upon sticks out: Fox News…. Michael Wolff, a Vanity Fair columnist who is writing an authorized biography on Rupert Murdoch’s career and family, claims that even Murdoch is embarrassed by Fox News….


  8. Other than that, however, conservatives don’t make sense. They want “small government” but a big military. They support war as a solution to foreign policy problems, but they don’t want to raise taxes to pay for war. They want “liberty” but support warrantless wiretaps. They want “free markets” but mostly support corporate welfare. They want government “off our backs” but in our bedrooms.

    This is exactly right and we need to hear a lot more of this. The conservative narratives are generally self-contradictory and if we can destroy their narratives, we can destroy conservatism in America.

  9. “Conservatives are aristocrats.”

    Yes indeed they are and regardless of how cleverly disguised their class struggle might be and how many other names they might call it by it is still basically a class struggle.

    They are deserving because of what they have and they shall have more because they are deserving.

    Reagan support might have been a patchwork quilt but he was the answer those who considered Vietnam a shameful loss of national pride…he offered explanations that suited those needing to salvage esteem for personal reasons.

Comments are closed.