Culture

Class, Change and Revolution By Richard D. Wolff, Truthout, 16 February 2015  The winds of change are blowing harder… it is time to draw some lessons from the major social changes of the past and apply them now. One of the most important lessons concerns class.

Neil Gabler on How Pop Culture Influences Political Expectations, by Neal Gabler, Bill Moyers.com,February 24, 2012

How to Tell a Sociopath from a Psychopath By Scott A. Bonn, Psychology Today, Alternet.org, July 31, 2014 – Key traits that sociopaths and psychopaths share include: 

  • A disregard for laws and social mores
  • A disregard for the rights of others
  • A failure to feel remorse or guilt
  • A tendency to display violent behavior

In addition to their commonalities, sociopaths and psychopaths also have their own unique behavioral characteristics as well. Sociopaths tend to be nervous and easily agitated. They are volatile and prone to emotional outbursts, including fits of rage…It is difficult but not impossible for sociopaths to form attachments with others. Many sociopaths are able to form an attachment to a particular individual or group, although they have no regard for society in general or its rules… Psychopaths, on the other hand, are unable to form emotional attachments or feel real empathy with others, although they often have disarming or even charming personalities. Psychopaths are very manipulative and can easily gain people’s trust…

The Sociopathic 1 Percent: The Driving Force at the Heart of the Tea Party By Paul Rosenberg, Salon.com, March 8, 2014  hsociopaths are defined by their lack of empathy, conscience or any form of intuitive social awareness…Venture capitalist Nick Hanauerrecently appeared on “All In with Chris Hayes.” – “…The point isn’t to stigmatize any one particular individual, but to identify and arm ourselves against a pervasive, corrosive mindset. It’s a mindset devoid of empathy or conscience, for whom other people simply are not real, a mindset that has gripped us collectively, ever more tightly, over the past 30 to 40 years…Remember Margaret Thatcher’s remark, “There is no such thing as society, only individuals”? That’s the sociopathic mindset in a nutshell… Sociopaths are like that — they lie a lot….other people simply are not real to sociopaths… the influence of sociopathic thinking is far broader than we realize, particularly since it’s almost never recognized as such. That’s precisely why we need more awareness of the workings of the sociopathic imagination — the forms it takes, the impacts it has, the conditions in which it flourishes and spreads…. It’s also been argued that sociopaths have a sense of morality, only it’s a different one than the rest of society, perhaps, in which selfishness is a virtue, and altruism a vice, as per Ayn Rand…Now, even if it could be generalized, a 4% presence of psychopaths in business is not a lot, except when compared to 1%. The greater significance lies in why psychopaths are so dramatically over-represented in corporate management, and what that says about the environments they find so hospitable — which ties in directly to the rise of the 1 percent, who have done so much better than everyone else since the 1970s…

The Pentagon Is Preparing for the Collapse of Society By Matt Connolly, PolicyMic,  June 13, 2014

5 Signs That America Has Gone Bonkers — And a Glimmer of Hope by Jim Hightower, AlterNet/BillMoyers.com, May 30, 2014 …Symptoms of this national insanity include these examples: We can’t even keep the doors of our government open. In October of last year, Washington’s tea party Republican faction…shut down the nation’s government for 16 days and bled $24 billion from the US economy…2)  Lloyd Blankfein, bankster-in-chief of Goldman Sachs…took a $10 billion taxpayer bailout to keep it afloat and lobbied furiously to kill regulatory reforms…continues to reign… and hauling in $23 million last year in personal pay. 3) A narrow, five-man majority of the US Supreme Court has decreed that corporations are “persons” with the right to spend unlimited sums of their shareholders’ money to elect or defeat whomever they want — and to do so secretly. This year, in McCutcheon v. FEC, the Court also overturned the campaign finance rules limiting individual’s contributions on aggregate federal campaign contributions — thus enthroning a tiny elite as America’s ruling electoral power. 4) Big Money’s control of politics gives it control of public policy…5) From retail workers to adjunct college professors, the new normal for workaday people is poverty-wage, part-time, temporary, no-benefit employment…Most people know that things are screwy, that this is not the America that’s supposed to be. And therein lies the good news: The USA hasn’t gone crazy — its leaders have and they can be changed.

War Gear Flows to Police Departments By MATT APUZZOJUNE, New York Times, June 8, 2014

Reweaving the Fabric of our Society by Joan Blades, Living Room Conversations, posted on HuffingtonPost.com, 05/22/2012 …Most of us agree that D.C. dynamics have got to change for the U.S. to solve the real challenges we confront and to retain our leadership role in the world. Political leaders and the media are failing us on so many levels…all Americans have a great deal in common. But our understanding of politics, economics, science and even basic facts is increasingly disparate. We cannot afford to continue on this path. A healthy democracy requires an educated electorate that shares basic truths and values — or at least is willing to sit down and listen to one another with an open mind, with mutual respect and civility…While the traditional media loves fights, the new and emerging social media loves connections. We can leverage the wisdom and creativity of crowds to find win-win solutions to our common problems. We can scale our efforts to tens of thousands of conversations, giving individuals the power to begin to reweave the social fabric of our communities…

U.S. to Grow Grayer, More Diverse, Minorities Will Be Majority by 2042, Census Bureau, WashingtonPost, August 14, 2008 The nation’s population will look dramatically different by mid-century, becoming more racially and ethnically diverse and a good deal older as it increases from about 302 million to 439 million by 2050, according to projections released today by the U.S. Census Bureau…Minorities, about one-third of the U.S. population, are expected to become a majority by 2042 and be 54 percent of U.S. residents by 2050.

How American Society Unravelled After Greedy Elites Robbed the Country Blind by George Packer, The Guardian, June 20, 2013  — posted on Alternet.org — In or around 1978, America’s character changed…Americans were no less greedy, ignorant, selfish and violent then than they are today, and no more generous, fair-minded and idealistic. But the institutions of American democracy, stronger than the excesses of individuals, were usually able to contain and channel them to more useful ends. Human nature does not change, but social structures can, and they did… In Washington, corporations organised themselves into a powerful lobby that spent millions of dollars to defeat the kind of labour and consumer bills they had once accepted as part of the social contract. Newt Gingrich came to Congress as a conservative Republican with the singular ambition to tear it down and build his own and his party’s power on the rubble…The large currents of the past generation – deindustrialisation, the flattening of average wages, the financialisation of the economy, income inequality, the growth of information technology, the flood of money into Washington, the rise of the political right – all had their origins in the late 70s.…American elites took the vast transformation of the economy as a signal to rewrite the rules that used to govern their behavior…There will always be isolated lawbreakers in high places; what destroys morale below is the systematic corner-cutting, the rule-bending, the self-dealing…It is no wonder that more and more Americans believe the game is rigged. It is no wonder that they buy houses they cannot afford and then walk away from the mortgage when they can no longer pay. Once the social contract is shredded, once the deal is off, only suckers still play by the rules.

Overview – Change/History

…the debacle of the last ten years didn’t just happen. And, yes, plenty of people did see it coming. Their warnings were ignored. What followed, then, didn’t “just happen,” but was the consequence of conscious choice…it is important to discuss and determine the causes of the various messes we find ourselves in The Uh-Ohs: A Decade of Conservative Failure by Terrance Heath

In or around 1978, America’s character changed…the institutions of American democracy, stronger than the excesses of individuals, were usually able to contain and channel them to more useful ends … In Washington, corporations organised themselves into a powerful lobby that spent millions of dollars to defeat the kind of labour and consumer bills they had once accepted as part of the social contract… what destroys morale below is the systematic corner-cutting, the rule-bending, the self-dealing…It is no wonder that more and more Americans believe the game is rigged…Once the social contract is shredded, once the deal is off, only suckers still play by the rules.   How American Society Unravelled After Greedy Elites Robbed the Country Blind By George Packer

The Long, Sordid History of the American Right and Racism

5 Christian Right Delusions and Lies About History By Amanda Marcotte, AlterNet, November 21, 2013 

 

Tom Foley’s passing recalls the bipartisan spirit of a bygone era

By Robert H. Michel, Washington Post, October 20, 2013

(Robert H. Michel, a Republican, represented Illinois in the U.S. House from 1957 to 1995. He was Republican leader from 1981 to 1995. Thomas Foley represented Washington in the U. S. House as a Democrats from 1965 to 1995 and was Speaker of the House from 1989 to 1995 when he was defeated for reelection during the Gingrich Revolution. Newt Gingrich, a Republican from Georgia, succeeded him as Speaker.)

Excerpt  

Speaker Tom Foleysaid it was a tragedy that our fellow citizens don’t see the full dimensions of the House, because “of all the institutions of public life it is in the Congress, and particularly in the House, where the judgment, the hopes, the concerns and the ambitions of the people are made for the future.” He said that members of Congress have a responsibility to ensure that the public sees what the institution means to our democracy.

It is a sad footnote to Tom’s death last week [October 18, 2013) that the Senate and the House of Representatives, the crown jewel of our democratic republic, are held in lower esteem by the public than at practically any time since those records have been kept.

Tom Foley’s stewardship of the House was a reaffirmation of what the Founding Fathers intended. He was a partisan, but he was fair, intellectually honest and decent. He was a master of legislative procedure and an excellent political strategist. His most important virtue, however, was his trustworthiness. His word was his bond. And in relationships between leaders, nothing is more important than trust…The House was truly a deliberative democratic body that day.

Tom had a natural affinity for the legislative process. He understood its politics, personality and distinctive culture. He was dedicated to preserving the institution, which he knew was being challenged by turbulent political winds and growing partisan stridency…This was during the ascendency of Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and a stout legion of new members loyal to him. Tom knew that change required a delicate balance of resistance and accommodation, sound judgment, good temperament and, most of all, a healthy appreciation for history’s lessons about transitions in power…

Full text

Try as he might, Speaker Tom Foley could not gavel the House to order. It was Nov. 29, 1994, the last day of the 103rd Congress. I had just offered a resolution honoring him, and the speaker was being given a standing ovation for his 30 years of service. Our fellow members would not sit or quiet down.

It was a fitting tribute to a great public servant who assumed the mantle of leadership in the House at a difficult time.

Tom had just been defeated for reelection, and I was retiring. In an unprecedented gesture of goodwill and comity, Tom invited me to assume the chair on the speaker’s podium while he gave his farewell address. For the first time in 40 years, a Republican presided over the House, if only for a few minutes.

Tom’s remarks were eloquent. But one comment struck me then and came to mind again recently amid all the rancor and partisan brinkmanship our country can ill afford.

Tom said it was a tragedy that our fellow citizens don’t see the full dimensions of the House, because “of all the institutions of public life it is in the Congress, and particularly in the House, where the judgment, the hopes, the concerns and the ambitions of the people are made for the future.” He said that members of Congress have a responsibility to ensure that the public sees what the institution means to our democracy.

It is a sad footnote to Tom’s death last week that the Senate and the House of Representatives, the crown jewel of our democratic republic, are held in lower esteem by the public than at practically any time since those records have been kept.

Tom Foley’s stewardship of the House was a reaffirmation of what the Founding Fathers intended. He was a partisan, but he was fair, intellectually honest and decent. He was a master of legislative procedure and an excellent political strategist. His most important virtue, however, was his trustworthiness. His word was his bond. And in relationships between leaders, nothing is more important than trust.

When Tom became speaker, he suggested that we get together once a week to discuss matters before the House. One week, he said, I will come to your office, and the next you can come to mine. We did that regularly. We had disagreements over policy and we pushed and pulled politically, but the hallmark of our conversations was the trust underlying them. We could talk about anything, knowing that our discussions would remain private unless we decided otherwise. We had some very personal and delicate exchanges and never compromised their confidentiality.

The meetings themselves were a rarity in Washington. House Speaker Carl Albert and Minority Leader Gerry Ford used to park themselves on a bench just off the House floor and talk, but so far as I know the regular meetings Tom and I had in our offices have not been repeated since.

Tom and I last spoke four days before he died. We recalled one of the toughest tests of our relationship. It occurred in 1991 over Operation Desert Storm. It was important to President George H.W. Bush that Congress authorize military action over Saddam Hussein’s occupation of Kuwait. Rep. Steve Solarz (D-N.Y.) and I introduced a resolution authorizing military action. This was an agonizing decision for me, having served as a combat infantryman in Europe during World War II. Sending Americans into combat is always tough. Tom harbored personal reservations about military intervention, and a substantial number in his caucus strongly opposed an invasion. Allowing the resolution to go to the floor for open debate and a recorded vote took political courage and personal decency. The debate that ensued did the country proud. The House was truly a deliberative democratic body that day.

Tom had a natural affinity for the legislative process. He understood its politics, personality and distinctive culture. He was dedicated to preserving the institution, which he knew was being challenged by turbulent political winds and growing partisan stridency. As speaker, he had replaced Jim Wright (D-Tex.), himself a tough partisan who had been forced from office. This was during the ascendency of Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and a stout legion of new members loyal to him. Tom knew that change required a delicate balance of resistance and accommodation, sound judgment, good temperament and, most of all, a healthy appreciation for history’s lessons about transitions in power.

Tom and I conversed many times publicly and privately after leaving Congress. In all of those exchanges, we agreed on how to govern, how to get decisions made and how to find reasonable solutions to difficult problems.

We were too conditioned by our personal and political upbringing to assume that we had the market cornered on political principle or partisan superiority. We knew, too, that there should always be a distinction, and separation, between campaigning for office and serving in office. We were pupils of the old school.

When we stood side by side at the speaker’s podium on the last day of the 103rd Congress, political adversaries but personal friends, we knew that we were icons of a bygone era. As we visited last week, almost 20 years later, I think we both felt good about that. We both took great pride in knowing we had made things happen. I hope the past turns out to be prologue, and I think Tom would have agreed.

Read more on this topic: Chris Matthews: Breaking the deadlock on Pennsylvania Avenue Eric Cantor: Divided government requires bipartisan negotiation Joseph A. Morris: Shutdowns have been frequent tools of policy. Just ask Reagan. Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein: Our fantasy is a Congress that gets stuff done

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/tom-foleys-passing-recalls-the-bipartisan-spirit-of-a-bygone-era/2013/10/20/897201ca-39ab-11e3-b6a9-da62c264f40e_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines

The Radicalization of the GOP is the Most Important Political Story Today

by Joshua Holland, Bill Moyers.com, October 10, 2013

Rep. Peter King (R-NY) once claimed that “80 to 85 percent of mosques in this country are controlled by Islamic fundamentalists” and called those who worship in them “an enemy living amongst us.” He held McCarthyesque hearings into the supposed “radicalization of American Muslims,” parading a line of prominent bigots through the House Homeland Security Committee.

He’s an outspoken advocate of the war on terror – The New York Times called him “the Patriot Act’s most fervent supporter” – and has been a leading figure politicizing the attacks on our consular office and CIA station in Benghazi. King was a fierce opponent of George W. Bush’s efforts to reform the immigration system. He railed against the Occupy movement, and opposed both the 2009 stimulus package and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. He called for the prosecution of journalist Glenn Greenwald for reporting Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks. He has a 100 percent rating from the National Right to Life Committee and a zero percent rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America. The Drum Major Institute gave him a seven percent rating for his votes on issues of importance to the middle class last year.

In the past few weeks, dozens of political journalists have dubbed him a moderate. In fact, he’s been anointed a leader among the Republican moderates. He earned that label because, like other New York pols, he doesn’t blindly support the National Rifle Association, and because he opposes shutting down the government and threatening to unleash a potential economic catastrophe in a hopeless quest to defund Obamacare. That’s it. That’s how low the bar of moderation in the Republican Party now falls.

Arguably, the most important political story of our time – one necessary to understanding the last five years of so-called “gridlock” in Washington, DC – is one that journalists wedded to the idea that ‘both sides do it’ are uncomfortable reporting: the wildly asymmetric polarization of our two major political parties as Democrats inched to the left and Republicans lurched to the right.

This week, Dan Balz, senior correspondent for The Washington Post, took a deep dive into the roots of the latest crisis. He attributes it to “a deepening red-blue divide in America [that] has made this era of politics the most polarized in more than a century.”

The bonds that once helped produce political consensus have gradually eroded, replaced by competing camps that live in parallel universes, have sharply divergent worldviews and express more distrust of opponents than they did decades ago. Many activists describe the stakes in apocalyptic terms.

Balz covers a lot of ground, noting that red districts have become redder and blue districts bluer. He points out that there are fewer districts in which one party won the congressional vote while the other party got more votes in the last presidential election and notes that conservative Democrats or liberal Republicans no longer exist in Congress. He talks about the role gerrymandering has playedin this and the even greater impact of natural migration patterns that concentrated Democrats into tightly packed urban districts while Republicans got the advantage in suburban and rural areas.

But, he didn’t discuss the most important political trend of our time. Only toward the end of the piece, on the fifth and final page, did he offer a throwaway observation that, “Republicans have shifted more to the right than Democrats have shifted to the left,” before adding, “but on both sides passions are stronger than they were two decades ago.”

This anodyne statement glosses over the radicalization of the Republican Party since the 1980s. That shift isn’t merely a matter of opinion. Political scientists Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal developed a statistical measure of lawmakers’ voting records that allows scholars to study the dynamics in Congress empirically. The system, known as DW-NOMINATE, ranks legislators according to how far they veer from the midline of congressional votes.

Yale political scientist Jacob Hacker used this data for his 2006 book, Off Center, in which he noted that since 1975, Senate Republicans have moved twice as far to the right as their Democratic counterparts have moved to the left. Of course, this shutdown is being driven by the Republican-controlled House, and in the lower chamber Hacker found that Republicans had shifted six times further to the right than their Democratic counterparts went to the left.

On the DW-Nominate scale, -1.000 represents the position of the most liberal vote, while +1.000 is that of the most conservative. The bigger a lawmaker’s number, the further his or her record is from Congress’s center. In the 100th Congress (1987-1989), only around four percent of Republicans had a score over 0.600, but by the last Congress almost a quarter of the Republican caucus fell into that group. The same dynamic wasn’t apparent on the Democratic side of the aisle: The share of Democrats who scored between -0.600 and -1.000 rose from slightly less than six percent of the caucus in 1989 to just over nine percent in the last Congress.

But that’s not the whole story. DW-Nominate scores don’t measure lawmakers’ liberalism or conservatism. They measure how far their votes are from other votes in the same Congress. As such, it doesn’t factor in shifts in the ideological center itself. That center has shifted dramatically to the right over the last 30 years.

In a 2012 article for The New Yorker, Ryan Lizza quoted Thomas Mann, of the Brookings Institution, and Norman Ornstein, of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, from their book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks:

One of our two major parties, the Republicans, has become an insurgent outlier—ideologically extreme, contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime, scornful of compromise, unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science, and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

There is no doubt that at the root of this crisis is a deeply polarized public. But, the key aspect of this story is that the Republican Party veered toward the extreme of its ideological orientation just as the country was becoming more diverse and tolerant – and as the most progressive generation in 70 years was coming of age – and that dissonance has driven them to cast off the legislative norms that have traditionally made our divided government work.

Joshua Holland is a senior digital producer for BillMoyers.com. He’s the author of The Fifteen Biggest Lies About the Economy (and Everything Else the Right Doesn’t Want You to Know about Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America) (Wiley: 2010), and host of Politics and Reality Radio. Follow him on Twitter or drop him an email at hollandj [at] moyersmedia [dot] com.

http://billmoyers.com/2013/10/10/the-radicalization-of-the-gop-is-the-most-important-political-story-today/

The Rise of the New New Left

by Peter Beinart, The Daily Beast, Sep 12, 2013

Bill de Blasio’s win in New York’s Democratic primary isn’t a local story. It’s part of a vast shift that could upend three decades of American political thinking. By Peter Beinart

Maybe Bill de Blasio got lucky. Maybe he only won because he cut a sweet ad featuring his biracial son. Or because his rivals were either spectacularly boring, spectacularly pathological, or running for Michael Bloomberg’s fourth term. But I don’t think so. The deeper you look, the stronger the evidence that de Blasio’s victory is an omen of what may become the defining story of America’s next political era: the challenge, to both parties, from the left. It’s a challenge Hillary Clinton should start worrying about now.

To understand why that challenge may prove so destabilizing, start with this core truth: For the past two decades, American politics has been largely a contest between Reaganism and Clintonism. In 1981, Ronald Reagan shattered decades of New Deal consensus by seeking to radically scale back government’s role in the economy. In 1993, Bill Clinton brought the Democrats back to power by accepting that they must live in the world Reagan had made. Located somewhere between Reagan’s anti-government conservatism and the pro-government liberalism that preceded it, Clinton articulated an ideological “third way”: Inclined toward market solutions, not government bureaucracy, focused on economic growth, not economic redistribution, and dedicated to equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome. By the end of Clinton’s presidency, government spending as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product was lower than it had been when Reagan left office.

For a time, small flocks of pre-Reagan Republicans and pre-Clinton Democrats endured, unaware that their species were marked for extinction. Hard as they tried, George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole could never muster much rage against the welfare state. Ted Kennedy never understood why Democrats should declare the era of big government over. But over time, the older generation in both parties passed from the scene and the younger politicians who took their place could scarcely conceive of a Republican Party that did not bear Reagan’s stamp or a Democratic Party that did not bear Clinton’s. These Republican children of Reagan and Democratic children of Clinton comprise America’s reigning political generation.

By “political generation,” I mean something particular. Pollsters slice Americans into generations at roughly 20-year intervals: Baby Boomers (born mid-1940s to mid-1960s); Generation X (mid-1960s to early 1980s); Millennials (early 1980s to 2000). But politically, these distinctions are arbitrary. To understand what constitutes a political generation, it makes more sense to follow the definition laid out by the early-20th-century sociologist Karl Mannheim. For Mannheim, generations were born from historical disruption. As he argued—and later scholars have confirmedpeople are disproportionately influenced by events that occur between their late teens and mid-twenties. During that period—between the time they leave their parents’ home and the time they create a stable home of their own—individuals are most prone to change cities, religions, political parties, brands of toothpaste. After that, lifestyles and attitudes calcify. For Mannheim, what defined a generation was the particular slice of history people experienced during those plastic years. A generation had no set length. A new one could emerge “every year, every thirty, every hundred.” What mattered was whether the events people experienced while at their most malleable were sufficiently different from those experienced by people older or younger than themselves.

Mannheim didn’t believe that everyone who experienced the same formative events would interpret them the same way. Germans who came of age in the early 1800s, he argued, were shaped by the Napoleonic wars. Some responded by becoming romantic-conservatives, others by becoming liberal-rationalists. What they shared was a distinct generational experience, which became the basis for a distinct intra-generational argument.

If Mannheim’s Germans constituted a political generation because in their plastic years they experienced the Napoleonic Wars, the men and women who today dominate American politics constitute a political generation because during their plastic years they experienced some part of the Reagan-Clinton era. That era lasted a long time. If you are in your late 50s, you are probably too young to remember the high tide of Kennedy-Johnson big government liberalism. You came of age during its collapse, a collapse that culminated with the defeat of Jimmy Carter. Then you watched Reagan rewrite America’s political rules. If you are in your early ‘40s, you may have caught the tail end of Reagan. But even if you didn’t, you were shaped by Clinton, who maneuvered within the constraints Reagan had built. To pollsters, a late 50-something is a Baby Boomer and an early 40-something is a Gen-Xer. But in Mannheim’s terms, they constitute a single generation because no great disruption in American politics divides them. They came of age as Reagan defined a new political era and Clinton ratified it. And as a rule, they play out their political struggles between the ideological poles that Reagan and Clinton set out.

To understand how this plays out in practice, look at the rising, younger politicians in both parties. Start with the GOP. If you look at the political biographies of nationally prominent 40-something Republicans—Bobby Jindal, Scott Walker, Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz—what they all have in common is Reagan. Jindal has said about growing up in Louisiana, “I grew up in a time when there weren’t a whole lot of Republicans in this state. But I identified with President Reagan.” At age 17, Scott Walker was chosen to represent his home state of Colorado in a Boys Nation trip to Washington. There he met “his hero, Ronald Reagan,” who “played a big role in inspiring me.” At age 21, Paul Ryan interned for Robert Kasten, who had ridden into the Senate in 1980 on Reagan’s coattails. Two years later he took a job with Jack Kemp, whose 1981 Kemp-Roth tax cut had helped usher in Reaganomics. Growing up in a fiercely anti-communist Cuban exile family in Miami, Marco Rubio writes in his autobiography that “Reagan’s election and my grandfather’s allegiance to him were defining influences on me politically.” Ted Cruz is most explicit of all. “I was 10 when Reagan became president,” he told a conservative group earlier this year. “I was 18 when he left the White House … I’ll go to my grave with Ronald Wilson Reagan defining what it means to be president … and when I look at this new generation of [Republican] leaders I see leaders that are all echoing Reagan.”

Younger Democratic politicians are less worshipful of Clinton. Yet his influence on their worldview is no less profound. Start with the most famous, still-youngish Democrat, a man who although a decade older than Rubio, Jindal, and Cruz, hails from the same Reagan-Clinton generation: Barack Obama. Because he opposed the Iraq War, and sometimes critiqued the Clintons as too cautious when running against Hillary in 2008, some commentators depicted Obama’s victory as a rejection of Clintonism. But to read The Audacity of Hope—Obama’s most detailed exposition of his political outlook—is to be reminded how much of a Clintonian Obama actually is. At Clintonism’s core was the conviction that to revive their party, Democrats must first acknowledge what Reagan got right.

Obama, in describing his own political evolution, does that again and again: “as disturbed as I might have been by Ronald Reagan’s election … I understood his appeal” (page 31). “Reagan’s central insight … contained a good deal of truth” (page 157). “In arguments with some of my friends on the left, I would find myself in the curious position of defending aspects of Reagan’s worldview” (page 289). Having given Reagan his due, Obama then sketches out a worldview in between the Reaganite right and unreconstructed, pre-Reagan left. “The explanations of both the right and the left have become mirror images of each other” (page 24), he declares in a chapter in which he derides “either/or thinking” (page 40). “It was Bill Clinton’s singular contribution that he tried to transcend this ideological deadlock” (page 34). Had the term not already been taken, Obama might well have called his intermediary path the “third way.”

The nationally visible Democrats rising behind Obama generally share his pro-capitalist, anti-bureaucratic, Reaganized liberalism. The most prominent is 43-year-old Cory Booker, who is famously close to Wall Street and supports introducing market competition into education via government-funded vouchers for private schools. In the words of New York magazine, “Booker is essentially a Clinton Democrat.” Gavin Newsom, the 45-year-old lieutenant governor of California, has embraced Silicon Valley in the same way Booker has embraced Wall Street. His book, Citizenville, calls for Americans to “reinvent government,” a phrase cribbed from Al Gore’s effort to strip away government bureaucracy in the 1990s. “In the private sector,” he told Time, “leaders are willing to take risks and find innovative solutions. In the public sector, politicians are risk-averse.” Julian Castro, the 39-year-old mayor of San Antonio and 2012 Democratic convention keynote speaker, is a fiscal conservative who supports NAFTA.

The argument between the children of Reagan and the children of Clinton is fierce, but ideologically, it tilts toward the right. Even after the financial crisis, the Clinton Democrats who lead their party don’t want to nationalize the banks, institute a single-payer health-care system, raise the top tax rate back to its pre-Reagan high, stop negotiating free-trade deals, launch a war on poverty, or appoint labor leaders rather than Wall Streeters to top economic posts. They want to regulate capitalism modestly. Their Reaganite Republican adversaries, by contrast, want to deregulate it radically. By pre-Reagan standards, the economic debate is taking place on the conservative side of the field. But—and this is the key point--there’s reason to believe that America’s next political generation will challenge those limits in ways that cause the leaders of both parties fits.

America’s youngest adults are called “Millennials” because the 21st century was dawning as they entered their plastic years. Coming of age in the 21st century is of no inherent political significance. But this calendric shift has coincided with a genuine historical disruption. Compared to their Reagan-Clinton generation elders, Millennials are entering adulthood in an America where government provides much less economic security. And their economic experience in this newly deregulated America has been horrendous. This experience has not produced a common generational outlook. No such thing ever exists. But it is producing a distinct intragenerational argument, one that does not respect the ideological boundaries to which Americans have become accustomed. The Millennials are unlikely to play out their political conflicts between the yard lines Reagan and Clinton set out.

Even if they are only a decade older than Millennials, politicians like Cruz, Rubio, and Walker hail from a different political generation.

In 2001, just as the first Millennials were entering the workforce, the United States fell into recession. By 2007 the unemployment rate had still not returned to its pre-recession level. Then the financial crisis hit. By 2012, data showed how economically bleak the Millennials’ first decade of adulthood had been. Between 1989 and 2000, when younger members of the Reagan-Clinton generation were entering the job market, inflation-adjusted wages for recent college graduates rose almost 11 percent, and wages for recent high school graduates rose 12 percent. Between 2000 and 2012, it was the reverse. Inflation-adjusted wages dropped 13 percent among recent high school graduates and 8 percent among recent graduates of college.

But it was worse than that. If Millennials were victims of a 21st-century downward slide in wages, they were also victims of a longer-term downward slide in benefits. The percentage of recent college graduates with employer-provided health care, for instance, dropped by half between 1989 and 2011.

The Great Recession hurt older Americans, too. But because they were more likely to already have secured some foothold in the job market, they were more cushioned from the blow. By 2009, the net worth of households headed by someone over 65 was 47 times the net worth of households headed by someone under 35, almost five times the margin that existed in 1984.

One reason is that in addition to coming of age in a terrible economy, Millennials have come of age at a time when the government safety net is far more threadbare for the young than for the middle-aged and old. As the Economic Policy Institute has pointed out, younger Americans are less likely than their elders to qualify for unemployment insurance, food stamps, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or the Earned Income Tax Credit. (Not to mention Medicare and Social Security.)

Millennials have also borne the brunt of declines in government spending on higher education. In 2012, according to The New York Times, state and local spending per college student hit a 25-year low. As government has cut back, universities have passed on the (ever-increasing) costs of college to students. Nationally, the share of households owing student debt doubled between 1989 and 2010, and the average amount of debt per household tripled, to $26,000.

Economic hardship has not always pushed Americans to the left. In the Clinton-Reagan era, for instance, the right often used culture and foreign policy to convince economically struggling Americans to vote against bigger government. But a mountain of survey data—plus the heavily Democratic tilt of Millennials in every national election in which they have voted—suggests that they are less susceptible to these right-wing populist appeals. For one thing, right-wing populism generally requires rousing white, Christian, straight, native-born Americans against Americans who are not all those things. But among Millennials, there are fewer white, Christian non-immigrants to rouse. Forty percent of Millennials are racial or ethnic minorities. Less than half say religion is “very important” to their lives.

And even those Millennials who are white, Christian, straight, and native-born are less resentful of people who are not. According to a 2010 Pew survey, whites under the age of 30 were more than 50 points more likely than whites over 65 to say they were comfortable with someone in their family marrying someone of another ethnicity or race. A 2011 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute found that almost 50 percent of evangelicals under the age of 30 back gay marriage.

Of course, new racial, ethnic, and sexual fault lines could emerge. But today, a Republican seeking to divert Millennial frustrations in a conservative cultural direction must reckon with the fact that Millennials are dramatically more liberal than the elderly and substantially more liberal than the Reagan-Clinton generation on every major culture war issue except abortion (where there is no significant generational divide).

They are also more dovish on foreign policy. According to the Pew Research Center, Millennials are close to half as likely as the Reagan-Clinton generation to accept sacrificing civil liberties in the fight against terrorism  and much less likely to say the best way to fight terrorism is through military force.

It is these two factors—their economic hardship in an age of limited government protection and their resistance to right-wing cultural populism—that best explain why on economic issues, Millennials lean so far left. In 2010, Pew found that two-thirds of Millennials favored a bigger government with more services over a cheaper one with fewer services, a margin 25 points above the rest of the population. While large majorities of older and middle-aged Americans favored repealing Obamacare in late 2012, Millennials favored expanding it, by 17 points. Millennials are substantially more pro–labor union than the population at large.

The only economic issue on which Millennials show much libertarian instinct is the privatization of Social Security, which they disproportionately favor. But this may be less significant than it first appears. Historically, younger voters have long been more pro–Social Security privatization than older ones, with support dropping as they near retirement age. In fact, when asked if the government should spend more money on Social Security, Millennials are significantly more likely than past cohorts of young people to say yes.

Most striking of all, Millennials are more willing than their elders to challenge cherished American myths about capitalism and class. According to a 2011 Pew study, Americans under 30 are the only segment of the population to describe themselves as “have nots” rather than “haves.” They are far more likely than older Americans to say that business enjoys more control over their lives than government.  And unlike older Americans, who favor capitalism over socialism by roughly 25 points, Millennials, narrowly, favor socialism.

There is more reason to believe these attitudes will persist as Millennials age than to believe they will change. For starters, the liberalism of Millennials cannot be explained merely by the fact that they are young, because young Americans have not always been liberal. In recent years, polls have shown young Americans to be the segment of the population most supportive of government-run health care. But in 1978, they were the least supportive. In the last two elections, young Americans voted heavily for Obama. But in 1984 and 1988, Americans under 30 voted Republican for president.

Nor is it true that Americans necessarily grow more conservative as they age. Sometimes they do. But academic studies suggest that party identification, once forged in young adulthood, is more likely to persist than to change. There’s also strong evidence from a 2009 National Bureau of Economic Research paper that people who experience a recession in their plastic years support a larger state role in the economy throughout their lives.

The economic circumstances that have pushed Millennials left are also unlikely to change dramatically anytime soon. A 2010 study by Yale economist Lisa Kahn found that even 17 years later, people who had entered the workforce during a recession still earned 10 percent less than those who entered when the economy was strong.  In other words, even if the economy booms tomorrow, Millennials will still be suffering the Great Recession’s aftershocks for decades.

And the economy is not likely to boom. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke doesn’t believe the unemployment rate will reach 6 percent until 2016, and even that will be higher than the 1990s average. Nor are the government protections Millennials crave likely to appear anytime soon. To the contrary, as a result of the spending cuts signed into law in 2010 and the sequester that began this year, non-defense discretionary spending is set to decline by decade’s end to its lowest level in 50 years.

If Millennials remain on the left, the consequences for American politics over the next two decades could be profound. In the 2008 presidential election, Millennials constituted one-fifth of America’s voters. In 2012, they were one-quarter. In 2016, according to predictions by political demographer Ruy Teixeira, they will be one-third. And they will go on constituting between one-third and two-fifths of America’s voters through at least 2028.

This rise will challenge each party, but in different ways. In the runup to 2016, the media will likely feature stories about how 40-something Republicans like Marco Rubio, who blasts Snoop Dog from his car, or Paul Ryan, who enjoys Rage Against the Machine, may appeal to Millennials in ways that geezers like McCain and Romney did not. Don’t believe it. According to a 2012 Harvard survey, young Americans were more than twice as likely to say Mitt Romney’s selection of Ryan made them feel more negative about the ticket than more positive. In his 2010 Senate race, Rubio fared worse among young voters than any other age group. The same goes for Rand Paul in his Senate race that year in Kentucky, and Scott Walker in his 2010 race for governor of Wisconsin  and his recall battle in 2012.

Pre-election polls in Ted Cruz’s 2012 senate race in Texas (there were no exit polls) also showed him faring worst among the young.

The likeliest explanation for this is that while younger Republican candidates may have a greater cultural connection to young voters, the ideological gulf is vast. Even if they are only a decade older than Millennials, politicians like Cruz, Rubio, and Walker hail from a different political generation both because they came of age at a time of relative prosperity and because they were shaped by Reagan, whom Millennials don’t remember. In fact, the militantly anti-government vision espoused by ultra-Reaganites like Cruz, Rubio, and Walker isn’t even that popular among Millennial Republicans. As a July Pew survey notes, Republicans under 30 are more hostile to the Tea Party than any other Republican age group. By double digits, they’re also more likely than other Republicans to support increasing the minimum wage.

Republicans may modestly increase their standing among young voters by becoming more tolerant on cultural issues and less hawkish on foreign policy, but it’s unlikely they will become truly competitive unless they follow the counsel of conservative commentators Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam and “adapt to a new reality—namely, that today, Americans are increasingly worried about their economic security.” If there’s hope for the GOP, it’s that Millennials, while hungry for government to provide them that economic security, are also distrustful of its capacity to do so. As a result of growing up in what Chris Hayes’ has called the “fail decade” —the decade of the Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina and the financial crisis—Millennials are even more cynical about government than the past generations of young Americans who wanted less from it. If a Republican presidential candidate could match his Democratic opponent as a champion of economic security and yet do so in a way that required less faith in Washington’s competence and benevolence, he might boost the GOP with young voters in a way no number of pop-culture references ever could.

If the Millennials challenge Reaganite orthodoxy, they will likely challenge Clintonian orthodoxy, too. Over the past three decades, Democratic politicians have grown accustomed to campaigning and governing in the absence of a mobilized left. This absence has weakened them: Unlike Franklin Roosevelt or Lyndon Johnson, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama could never credibly threaten American conservatives that if they didn’t pass liberal reforms, left-wing radicals might disrupt social order. But Democrats of the Reagan-Clinton generation have also grown comfortable with that absence. From Tony Coelho, who during the Reagan years taught House Democrats to raise money from corporate lobbyists to Bill Clinton, who made Goldman Sachs co-chairman Robert Rubin his chief economic adviser, to Barack Obama, who gave the job to Rubin’s former deputy and alter ego, Larry Summers, Democrats have found it easier to forge relationships with the conservative worlds of big business and high finance because they have not faced much countervailing pressure from an independent movement of the left.

But that may be changing. Look at the forces that created Occupy Wall Street. The men and women who assembled in September 2011 in Zuccotti Park bore three key characteristics. First, they were young. According to a survey published by City University of New York’s Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor, 40 percent of the core activists involved taking over the park were under 30 years old. Second, they were highly educated. Eighty percent possessed at least a bachelors’ degree, more than twice the percentage of New Yorkers overall. Third, they were frustrated economically. According to the CUNY study, more than half the Occupy activists under 30 owed at least $1,000 in student debt. More than a one-third had lost a job or been laid off in the previous five years. In the words of David Graeber, the man widely credited with coining the slogan “We are the 99 percent,” the Occupy activists were “forward-looking people who had been stopped dead in their tracks” by bad economic times.

For a moment, Occupy shook the country. At one point in December 2011, Todd Gitlin points out in Occupy Nation, the movement had branches in one-third of the cities and towns in California. Then it collapsed. But as the political scientist Frances Fox Piven has argued, “The great protest movements of history … did not expand in the shape of a simple rising arc of popular defiance. Rather, they began in a particular place, sputtered and subsided, only to re-emerge elsewhere in perhaps a different form, influenced by local particularities of circumstance and culture.”

It’s impossible to know whether the protest against inequality will be such a movement. But the forces that drove it are unlikely to subside. Many young Americans feel that economic unfairness is costing them a shot at a decent life. Such sentiments have long been widespread among the poor. What’s new is their prevalence among people who saw their parents achieve—and expected for themselves—some measure of prosperity, the people Chris Hayes calls the “newly radicalized upper-middle class.”

If history is any guide, the sentiments behind Occupy will find their way into the political process, just as the anti-Vietnam movement helped create Eugene McCarthy’s presidential bid in 1968, and the civil-rights movement bred politicians like Andrew Young, Tom Bradley, and Jesse Jackson. That’s especially likely because Occupy’s message enjoys significant support among the young. A November 2011 Public Policy Polling survey found that while Americans over 30 opposed Occupy’s goals by close to 20 points, Millennials supported them by 12.

Bill de Blasio’s mayoral campaign offers a glimpse into what an Occupy-inspired challenge to Clintonism might look like. In important ways, New York politics has mirrored national politics in the Reagan-Clinton era. Since 1978, the mayoralty has been dominated by three men—Ed Koch, Rudy Giuliani, and Michael Bloomberg—who although liberal on many cultural issues have closely identified Wall Street’s interests with the city’s. During their time in office, New York has become far safer, cleaner, more expensive, and more unequal. In Bloomberg’s words, New York is now a “high-end product.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, despite her roots on the left as a housing and LGBT activist, became Bloomberg’s heir apparent by stymieing bills that would have required businesses to give their employees paid sick leave and mandated a higher minimum wage for companies that receive government subsidies. Early in the campaign, many commentators considered this a wise strategy and anticipated that as New York’s first lesbian mayor, Quinn would symbolize the city’s unprecedented cultural tolerance while continuing its Clintonian economic policies.

Then strange things happened. First, Anthony Weiner entered the race and snatched support from Quinn before exploding in a blaze of late-night comedy. But when Weiner crashed, his support went not back to Quinn but to de Blasio, the candidate who most bluntly challenged Bloomberg’s economic philosophy. Calling it “an act of equalization in a city that is desperately falling into the habit of disparity,” de Blasio made his central proposal a tax on people making over $500,000 to fund universal childcare. He also called for requiring developers to build more affordable housing and ending the New York Police Department’s “stop and frisk” policies that had angered many African-Americans and Latinos. Bloomberg’s deputy mayor Howard Wolfson tweeted that de Blasio’s “agenda is clear: higher taxes, bigger govt, more biz mandates. A u-turn back to the 70s.”

But in truth, it was Wolfson who was out of date: Fewer and fewer New Yorkers remember the 1970s, when economic stagnation, rising crime, and bloated government helped elect both Ed Koch and Ronald Reagan. What concerns them more today is that, as The New Yorker recently noted, “If the borough of Manhattan were a country, the income gap between the richest twenty per cent and the poorest twenty per cent would be on par with countries like Sierra Leone, Namibia, and Lesotho.”  In Tuesday’s Democratic primary, Quinn defeated de Blasio in those parts of New York where average income tops $175,000 per year.  But he beat her by 25 points overall.

Democrats in New York are more liberal than Democrats nationally. Still, the right presidential candidate, following de Blasio’s model, could seriously challenge Hillary Clinton. If that sounds far-fetched, consider the last two Democratic presidential primary campaigns. In October 2002, Howard Dean was so obscure that at a Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner, Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin repeatedly referred to him as “John.” But in the summer of 2003, running against the Iraq War amidst a field of Washington Democrats who had voted to authorize it, Dean caught fire. In the first quarter of the year he raised just under $3 million, less than one-third of John Kerry’s total. In the second quarter, he shocked insiders by beating Kerry and raising over $7 million. In the third quarter, he raised almost $15 million, far more than any Democrat ever had. By November, Harkin, Al Gore, and the nation’s two most powerful labor unions had endorsed Dean and he was well ahead in the Iowa polls.

At the last minute, Dean flamed out, undone by harsh attacks from his rivals and his campaign’s lack of discipline. Still, he established a template for toppling a Democratic frontrunner: inspire young voters, raise vast funds via small donations over the Web, and attack those elements of Clintonian orthodoxy that are accepted by Democratic elites but loathed by liberal activists on the ground.

In 2008, that became the template for Barack Obama. As late as October 2007, Hillary enjoyed a 33-point lead in national polls. But Obama made her support for the Iraq War a symbol of her alleged timidity in challenging the right-leaning consensus in Washington. As liberals began to see him as embodying the historic change they sought, Obama started raising ungodly amounts via small donors over the Internet, which in turned won him credibility with insiders in Washington. He overwhelmed Hillary Clinton in caucus states, where liberal activists wield greater power. And he overwhelmed her among younger voters. In the 2008 Iowa caucuses, youth turnout rose 30 percent and among voters under the age of 30, Obama beat Hillary by 46 points.

Hillary starts the 2016 race with formidable strengths. After a widely applauded term as secretary of state, her approval rating is 10 points higher than it was when she began running in 2008. Her vote to authorize Iraq will be less of a liability this time. Her campaign cannot possibly be as poorly managed. And she won’t have to run against Barack Obama.

Still, Hillary is vulnerable to a candidate who can inspire passion and embody fundamental change, especially on the subject of economic inequality and corporate power, a subject with deep resonance among Millennial Democrats. And the candidate who best fits that description is Elizabeth Warren.

First, as a woman, Warren would drain the deepest reservoir of pro-Hillary passion: the prospect of a female president. While Hillary would raise vast sums, Dean and Obama have both shown that in the digital age, an insurgent can compete financially by inspiring huge numbers of small donations. Elizabeth Warren can do that. She’s already shown a knack for going viral. A video of her first Senate banking committee hearing, where she scolded regulators that “too-big-to-fail has become too-big-for-trial,”  garnered 1 million hits on YouTube. In her 2012 Senate race, despite never before having sought elected office, she raised $42 million, more than twice as much as the second-highest-raising Democrat. After Bill Clinton and the Obamas, no other speaker at last summer’s Democratic convention so electrified the crowd.

Warren has done it by challenging corporate power with an intensity Clinton Democrats rarely muster. At the convention, she attacked the “Wall Street CEOs—the same ones who wrecked our economy and destroyed millions of jobs—[who] still strut around Congress, no shame, demanding favors, and acting like we should thank them.”

And in one of the biggest applause lines of the entire convention, taken straight from Occupy, she thundered that “we don’t run this country for corporations, we run it for people.”

Don’t be fooled by Warren’s advanced age. If she runs, Millennials will be her base. No candidate is as well positioned to appeal to the young and economically insecure. Warren won her Senate race by eight points overall, but by 30 points among the young. The first bill she introduced in the Senate was a proposal to charge college students the same interest rates for their loans that the Federal Reserve offers big banks. It soon garnered 100,000 hits on YouTube.

A big reason Warren’s speech went viral was its promotion by Upworthy, a website dedicated to publicizing progressive narratives. And that speaks to another, underappreciated, advantage Warren would enjoy. Clinton Democrats once boasted a potent intellectual and media infrastructure. In the late 1980s and 1990s, the Democratic Leadership Council and its think tank, the Progressive Policy Institute, were the Democratic Party’s hottest ideas shops, and they dedicated themselves to restoring the party’s reputation as business-friendly. Influential New Democratic–aligned magazines like The New Republic and Washington Monthly also championed the cause.

Today, that New Democratic infrastructure barely exists. The DLC has closed down. The New Republic and Washington Monthly have moved left. And all the new powerhouses of the liberal media—from Paul Krugman (who was radicalized during the Bush years) to Jon Stewart (who took over The Daily Show in 1999) to MSNBC (which as late as 2008 still carried a show hosted by Tucker Carlson)—believe the Democrats are too soft on Wall Street.

You can see that shift in the race for governor of the Federal Reserve, where the liberal media has rallied behind Janet Yellen and against the more Wall Street–identified Larry Summers. In the age of MSNBC, populist Democrats enjoy a media echo chamber that gives them an advantage over pro-business Democrats that did not exist a decade ago. And if Clinton, who liberal pundits respect, runs against Warren, who liberal pundits revere, that echo chamber will benefit Warren.

Of course, Warren might not run. Or she might prove unready for the national stage. (She has no foreign-policy experience). But the youthful, anti-corporate passion that could propel her candidacy will be there either way. If Hillary Clinton is shrewd, she will embrace it, and thus narrow the path for a populist challenger. Just as New York by electing Ed Koch in 1978 foreshadowed a national shift to the right, New York in 2013 is foreshadowing a national shift to the left. The door is closing on the Reagan-Clinton era. It would be ironic if it was a Clinton herself who sealed it shut.

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/09/12/the-rise-of-the-new-new-left.html

The Conservative Crackup: How the Republican Party Lost Its Mind

By Kim Messick, Salon.com, September 1, 2013

In a recent article, I argued [2] that the Republican Party has been captured by a faction whose political psychology makes it highly intransigent and uninterested in compromise. That article focused on the roots of this psychology and how it shapes the Tea Party’s view of its place in American politics. It did not pursue the question of exactly how this capture took place — of how a major political party, once a broad coalition of diverse elements, came to be so dependent on a narrow range of strident voices. This is the question I propose to explore below.

In doing so, we should keep in mind three terms from political science (and much political journalism) — “realignment,” “polarization” and “gridlock.” These concepts are often bandied about as if their connections are obvious, even intuitive. Sometimes, indeed, a writer leaves the impression that they are virtually synonymous. I think this is mistaken, and that it keeps us from appreciating just how strange our present political moment really is.

“Realignment,” for instance, refers to a systematic shift in the patterns of electoral support for a political party. The most spectacular recent example of this is the movement of white Southerners from the Democratic to the Republican Party after the passage of major civil rights laws in the mid-1960s. Not coincidentally, this event was critically important for the evolution of today’s Republican Party.

After the Civil War and the collapse of Reconstruction in the 1870s, the identification of white Southerners as Democrats was so stubborn and pervasive as to make the region into the “solid South” [3] – solidly Democratic, that is. Despite this well-known fact, there is reason to suspect that the South’s Democratic alliance was always a bit uneasy. As the Gilded Age gave way to the first decades of the 20th century, the electoral identities of the two major parties began to firm up. Outside the South, the Democrats were the party of the cities, with their polyglot populations and unionized workforces. The Republicans drew most of their support from the rural Midwest and the small towns of the North. The Democrats’ appeal was populist, while Republicans extolled the virtues of an ascendant business class: self-sufficiency, propriety, personal responsibility.

It will be immediately evident that the Republican Party was in many ways a more natural fit for the South, which at the time was largely rural and whose white citizens were overwhelmingly Anglo-Saxon Protestants. The South’s class structure, less fluid than that of the industrial and urban North, would have chimed with the more hierarchical strains of Republican politics, and Southern elites had ample reason to prefer the “small government” preached by Republican doctrine. But the legacy of Lincoln’s Republicanism was hard to overcome, and the first serious stirrings of disillusion with the Democratic Party had to wait until 1948. That year, South Carolina Gov. Strom Thurmond, enraged by President Truman’s support for some early civil rights measures, led a walkout of 35 Southern delegates from the Democratic Convention. Thurmond went on to become the presidential nominee of a Southern splinter group, the States’ Rights Democratic Party (better known as “Dixiecrats” [4]), and won four states in the deep South.

The first Republican successes in the South came in the elections of 1952 and 1956 [5], when Dwight Eisenhower won five and eight states, respectively*. These victories, however, were only marginally related to racial politics; Eisenhower’s stature as Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in World War II had a much larger role, as did his party’s virulent anti-communism. Nixon held only five of these states in 1960.

The real turning point came in 1964. After passage of the Civil Rights Act, Barry Goldwater’s conservative campaign, with its emphasis on limited government and states’ rights, carried five Southern states, four of which had not been won by a Republican in the 20th century. No Democratic presidential candidate has won a majority of Southern states since, with the single exception of former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter’s 1976 campaign. The South is now the most reliably Republican region [6] of the country, and supplies the party with most of its Electoral College support.

The South’s realignment explains a lot about our politics. But it doesn’t, in itself, explain one very important fact: why the post-civil rights Republican Party went on to become the monolithically conservative party we have today. We can put this point as a question: Why didn’t the Republican Party end up looking more like the pre-realignment Democrats, with a coalition of Northern moderates and liberals yoked to conservative Southerners? (And the Midwest along for the ride.) In effect, we’re asking how realignment is related to “polarization” — the ideological sorting out that has led to our present party system, in which nearly all moderates and liberals identify as Democrats and nearly all conservatives as Republicans.

It’s important to ask this question for at least two reasons. First, because it highlights the fact that realignment and polarization are analytically distinct concepts — a point often passed over in discussions of this subject. The sudden migration of Southern whites into Republican ranks is obviously connected with polarization; what we need to know is exactly how and why. Which brings us to the second reason. Because the answer we’re led to is so refreshingly old-fashioned and therefore, in today’s intellectual culture, completely counterintuitive: They are connected through the agency of political actors.

In “Rule and Ruin,” [7] his wonderful history of the collapse of Republican moderation, the historian Geoffrey Kabaservice documents the process by which conservative activists remade the Republican Party in their image. (If I could recommend only one book this year to students of American history, it would be this one.) Filling a broad canvas with an enormous wealth of detail, Kabaservice shows us that conservatives always thought of themselves as engaged on two fronts: Moderate Republicans were as much the enemy as liberal Democrats. William Rusher, Bill Buckley’s colleague at National Review, remarked revealingly that the modern conservative movement formed itself “in opposition to the Eisenhower administration.”

One can’t help but admire the tenacity, focus and creativity that conservative activists brought to their task. They transformed the Republican Party at every level: from the grass roots, where they assumed control of local bodies such as city councils, caucuses and county commissions, to the state and national party machinery. They also built a network of institutions [8] designed to cultivate and publicize conservative ideas. These ranged from relatively sophisticated periodicals and think tanks (National Review, the early Heritage Foundation) to rawer, more demotic facsimiles (the American Spectator, the Cato Institute). Groups such as the Moral Majority arose, especially on the religious right, and new media technologies allowed for the consolidation of conservative voices on talk radio and cable television.

These actions were all part of the same relentless design: to purge the Republican Party of moderate voices and to install conservatives in every position of meaningful power and influence. But they had another side as well. Because as a party shapes itself it also shapes its electorate. And a party engaged in a process of purification, if it wants to continue to win elections, needs a similarly purified electorate.

The realignment of Southern whites must be understood in this context. When they deserted the Democratic Party in the mid-’60s, they presented Republicans with a huge electoral windfall. Republicans then had to decide how to invest this unexpected capital. In doing so they had to balance at least two things: numbers and intensity. Numbers are important, of course — you can’t win elections without them — but it’s an old adage in politics that an intense 51 percent is better than a relaxed 55 percent. The Republican decision to embrace an increasingly radical version of conservatism should be seen, in effect, as an attempt to leverage the intensity and loyalty of their new Southern voters. These qualities were expected to offset the loss of any moderate or liberal supporters who might abandon the party as it lurched to the right.

It was a perfectly rational strategy, and it worked brilliantly. Between 1968 and 1992 — 24 years, an entire generation — Democrats won exactly one presidential election, the post-Watergate campaign of 1976. But after ’92 the strategy began to break down on the national level, due mainly to demographic factors: There simply weren’t enough rural white voters anymore to win presidential elections in a consistent way. But by then the right was fully in control of Republican politics and uninterested in sharing power (or policy) with their moderate brethren. They developed a narrative to counter any suggestion that ideological rigidity was the cause of the party’s losses in national (and, increasingly, statewide) races: the quixotic claim [9] that it had nominated “moderates” unable to bring out the conservative majorities who lurk, abandoned and bereft, in the heartland.

In the meantime the ritual purges have continued — the immediate denunciations, thundered from various media pulpits, whenever a Republican politician utters an unorthodox opinion; the threat (or reality) of primary challenges to silence dissent; the invocation of paranoid fantasies that inflame “the base” and make them ever more agitated and vindictive.

Now, in 2013, we have the politics that 50 years of this process have created. The Democratic Party has fewer conservatives than it once did, but is still a broadly coalitional party with liberal and moderate elements. It controls the coasts, has strength in the industrial Midwest, and is making inroads in the upper, more urbanized South and in Florida. It confronts a Republican Party almost wholly dependent on the interior states of the old Confederacy. (The party continues to win in the mountain and prairie West, but the region is too sparsely populated to provide any real electoral heft.) Because of its demographic weakness, it is more beholden than ever to the intensity of its most extreme voters. This has engendered a death spiral in which it must take increasingly radical positions to drive these voters to the polls, positions that in turn alienate ever larger segments of the population, making these core voters even more crucial — and so on. We have a name these days for the electoral residue produced by this series of increasingly rigorous purifications. We call it “the Tea Party.”

The cry of the hour is that our politics is “dysfunctional” [10] — mired in “gridlock,” all bipartisanship lost. This is of course true, but it must be seen as merely the latest result of the conservative politics of purity. After all, when does a politician, in the normal course of affairs, have a reason to do something? When he thinks it will gain him a vote, or that not doing it will cost him a vote. It follows that politicians have a reason to be bipartisan — to work with the opposition — only when doing so will increase, not decrease, their electoral support. And this can only happen if they potentially share voters with their opposition. But the Republican electorate is now almost as purified as the Republican Party. Not only is it unlikely to support Democratic candidates, it’s virtually certain to punish any Republican politician who works with Democrats. The electoral logic of bipartisanship has collapsed for most Republicans; they have very little to gain, and much to lose, if they practice it. And so they don’t.

Unfortunately, our government isn’t designed to function in these conditions.  The peculiarities of our system — a Senate, armed with the filibuster, that gives Wyoming’s 576,000 people as much power as California’s 38,000,000; gerrymandered districts in the House; separate selection of the executive and the legislature; a chronically underfunded elections process, generally in partisan hands and in desperate need of rationalization — simply won’t permit it. What we get instead is paralysis — or worse. The Republican Party, particularly in the House, has turned into the legislative equivalent of North Korea — a political outlier so extreme it has lost the ability to achieve its objectives through normal political means. Its only recourse is to threats (increasingly believable) that it will blow up the system rather than countenance this-or-that lapse from conservative dogma. This was the strategy it pursued in the debt ceiling debacle [11] of 2011, and if firebrands such as Ted Cruz and Mike Lee have their way it will guide the party’s approach to the same issue this fall, and perhaps to government funding (including “Obamacare”) as well. Realignment and polarization have led us to gridlock and instability.

The relentless radicalization of the Republican Party since 1964 is the most important single event in the political history of the United States since the New Deal. It has significantly shaped the course of our government and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. But this means it has also shaped the individual life of every citizen— the complex amalgam of possibilities and opportunities available (or not) to each of us. The conservative visionaries of the ‘50s and ‘60s wanted a new world. We’re all living in it now.

* The 1928 election is something of an exception to this statement; eight Southern states, offended by Democratic candidate Al Smith’s Catholicism, voted instead for Herbert Hoover. But it seems safe to regard this election as an outlier; FDR won every Southern state in the next four presidential elections.

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/tea-party-and-right/conservative-crackup-how-republican-party-lost-its-mind

Links:
[1] http://www.alternet.org/authors/kim-messick
[2] http://www.salon.com/2013/08/10/the_tea_partys_paranoid_aesthetic/
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solid_South
[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dixiecrat
[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solid_South#South_in_Presidential_elections
[6] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solid_South#.22Southern_strategy.22_today
[7] http://www.amazon.com/Rule-Ruin-Moderation-Destruction-Development/dp/0199768404/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1377452992&sr=1-1&keywords=Rule+and+ruin
[8] http://www.amazon.com/The-Rise-Counter-Establishment-Conservative-Political/dp/1402759118/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top
[9] http://spectator.org/archives/2012/11/08/when-conservatism-is-a-secon
[10] http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2010/08/19/our_dysfunctional_politics_106815.html
[11] http://www.amazon.com/Not-Ask-What-Good-Representatives/dp/1451642083/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1377461798&sr=1-1-fkmr0&keywords=%22ask+not+what+good+we+do%22
[12] http://www.alternet.org/tags/republican-party
[13] http://www.alternet.org/tags/tea-party-0
[14] http://www.alternet.org/tags/conservativism
[15] http://www.alternet.org/tags/editors-picks
[16] http://www.alternet.org/tags/south
[17] http://www.alternet.org/tags/democratic-party
[18] http://www.alternet.org/tags/civil-war
[19] http://www.alternet.org/tags/politics-news-0
[20] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

 

Are the Bible Thumpers Losing Their Grip on Our Politics?

AlterNet [1] / By Amanda Marcotte [2]  June 20, 2013

Excerpt

Is the religious right, which has been the electoral backbone of the Republican Party since the creation of the Moral Majority in the ’70s and the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, in trouble? …the religious right…still wholly owns the Republican Party…Evangelical writer and pastor John S. Dickerson certainly seems to think so. In a piece published for the New York Times in December 2012, Dickerson bluntly declared [4] that evangelical Christians have become a tiny minority in America… research… found that Christians who call themselves evangelicals account for just 7 percent of Americans….Of course, if you were gauging by the behavior of Republican politicians, you’d think that evangelical Christianity was not only growing in popularity but growing in conservatism… This change was the direct result of many years of liberals highlighting, protesting, and fighting the Christian right’s abuses of power. To make sure this change takes, it’s important for liberals to keep up the fight.

Full text

Is the religious right, which has been the electoral backbone of the Republican Party since the creation of the Moral Majority in the ’70s and the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, in trouble? The strongly right-wing Washington Times reports rather dimly on the conference for the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a group founded by religious right luminary Ralph Reed, because it couldn’t even gather 400 audience members, despite having a deep bench of fundamentalist-beloved politicians and celebrities like Pat Robertson, Sarah Palin, Rick Perry and Scott Walker. The Times contrasted the small conference with its ’80s and ’90s counterpart, the Christian Coalition’s Road to the White House conventions, which drew thousands of participants every year.

If such a right-wing publication as the Washington Times is willing to hint at it, maybe it’s really time to ask the question: Is the Christian right beginning to lose its numbers, its mojo, and even its power? While it’s definitely too early to count them out—after all, the religious right, weird fantasies about masturbating fetuses [3] and all—still wholly owns the Republican Party at this point. Still, is there some hope on the horizon that their once-mighty numbers and power are beginning to dwindle?

Evangelical writer and pastor John S. Dickerson certainly seems to think so. In a piece published for the New York Times in December 2012, Dickerson bluntly declared [4] that evangelical Christians have become a tiny minority in America:

In the 1980s heyday of the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, some estimates accounted evangelicals as a third or even close to half of the population, but research by the Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith recently found that Christians who call themselves evangelicals account for just 7 percent of Americans. (Other research has reported that some 25 percent of Americans belong to evangelical denominations, though they may not, in fact, consider themselves evangelicals.) Dr. Smith’s findings are derived from a three-year national study of evangelical identity and influence, financed by the Pew Research Center. They suggest that American evangelicals now number around 20 million, about the population of New York State.

One major reason is strictly demographic: Older fundamentalists are dying off and not being replaced by younger ones. Research by the Christian Barna Group shows that the 43% of young people raised as evangelicals [5] stop going to church once they grow up. The reasons that young people get disillusioned [6] with the church track nicely to the reasons the religious right is such a danger to American democracy and freedom: They disagree with the homophobic and sexually judgmental teachings. They disapprove of the church’s attacks on science. They find conservative Christianity intolerant and stifling.

Evangelical leaders themselves certainly believe they’re seeing a decline in influence in the United States. In a 2011 Pew Forum poll of evangelical leaders around the world, 82 percent of American evangelical leaders [7] said that evangelical Christianity was losing influence. Compare this to evangelical leaders in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and North Africa, Latin America and most of Asia, 58 percent who said that their faith was gaining influence. Which, sadly for the people of those countries, means more gay-bashing, more attacks on women’s rights, and more scientific illiteracy, though presumably the evangelical leaders see all these effects as good things.

Of course, if you were gauging by the behavior of Republican politicians, you’d think that evangelical Christianity was not only growing in popularity but growing in conservatism. The past few years have seen a dramatic escalation in the attacks on women’s rights [8], which politically can only be a bid for the fundamentalist votes, as most people outside the world of conservative Christianity are either pro-choice or don’t care enough about the issue to vote on it. (Yes, there are also Catholics, but despite their leadership, the majority of Catholics are pro-choice [9].) Not only that, but Republicans seem to have grown bolder in portraying themselves as religious extremists to pander to the religious right, often embracing absolutist approaches to abortion, opening up the war on choice to attacks on contraception, and sharing the bizarre, anti-science attitudes towards rape and pregnancy they pick up in their churches. While the majority of Americans turn toward favoring marriage equality for gays and straights, Republicans attack like the country still views the issue the way a megachurch pastor would, even going so far as to hire separate lawyers to defend DOMA when the Obama administration refused to do it.

All of this, as Todd Akin can attest, hurts you in the polls, and yet Republicans keep at it like they’re facing a country on the verge of having an evangelical majority, when in fact the exact opposite is happening. What gives?

Part of the problem is that while politicians have a reputation for being able to change their views on a dime, the reality is that they’re often thrown off by change and struggle to adapt. Many, possible most, Republican politicians are fundamentalist Christians themselves, and they started out in politics during the multi-decade heyday when being a Bible thumper was a sure path to power. It’s hard for them to accept that things have changed that quickly.

Akin is a classic example. Since 1988, Akin’s schtick as a wild-eyed anti-choice lunatic spouting every fundamentalist conspiracy theory [10] under the sun helped him win one office after another, usually annihilating his competition at the polls. When he made the move to run for Senate, it’s not surprising he thought the same strategy would work. After all, he’s tight with Paul Ryan [11], whom Republicans think of as their “mainstream” offering. They even authored anti-choice legislation together. Indeed, it’s easy to see how Akin would have easily won a few election cycles ago, “legitimate rape” comment and all. Back in the Bush era, being a dim-witted Bible thumper didn’t even block you from the presidency, so a Senate seat from highly religious Missouri should have been a breeze. The change has been happening so fast it’s no surprise Akin didn’t see it. Really, who could have?

Of course, as things can swiftly change for the better, they can just easily take a turn for the worse, so liberals shouldn’t sit on their laurels, confident that this decline in fundamentalism will last. This change was the direct result of many years of liberals highlighting, protesting, and fighting the Christian right’s abuses of power. To make sure this change takes, it’s important for liberals to keep up the fight.


Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/belief/christian-right-0

Links:
[1] http://www.alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/amanda-marcotte
[3] http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2013/06/18/rep_mike_burgess_of_texas_suggests_banning_abortion_because_fetuses_masturbate.html
[4] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/16/opinion/sunday/the-decline-of-evangelical-america.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
[5] http://www.cnn.com/2011/12/16/opinion/stepp-millennials-church
[6] http://www.barna.org/teens-next-gen-articles/528-six-reasons-young-christians-leave-church
[7] http://www.pewforum.org/Christian/Evangelical-Protestant-Churches/Global-Survey-of-Evangelical-Protestant-Leaders.aspx
[8] http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2013/06/16/conservatives-double-down-on-the-war-on-women/
[9] http://www.catholicsforchoice.org/topics/catholicsandchoice/documents/BRSCatholic.pdf
[10] http://stlouis.cbslocal.com/2012/10/03/akin-in-2008-doctors-give-abortions-to-patients-who-arent-pregnant/
[11] http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2012/08/20/712501/paul-ryan-and-todd-akin-partnered-on-radical-personhood-bill-outlawing-abortion-and-many-birth-control-pills/
[12] http://www.alternet.org/tags/christian-right
[13] http://www.alternet.org/tags/bible
[14] http://www.alternet.org/tags/politics-0
[15] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

Conservative donors eye independent groups with new skepticism

By Matea Gold, Published: June 22, 2013

Charlie Spies knows how to raise money. The Republican lawyer helped rake in $153 million for Restore Our Future, the pro-Mitt Romney super PAC.

But he’s had a harder slog with one of his latest projects, Republicans for Immigration Reform, a super PAC that aims to be a dominant force in the fight over revamping the country’s immigration laws. So far, the organization has made just a tiny ad buy in South Carolina and financed a poll with two other advocacy groups.

“It has been a challenge to get donors on the Republican side to reengage,” Spies said.

Seven months after the 2012 election, a lingering hangover among conservative donors has stalled efforts by right-leaning independent groups to fill their coffers. Wealthy contributors who dashed off six- and seven-figure checks last year are eyeing super PACs and other politically active groups more skeptically, frustrated that the hundreds of millions of dollars spent to elect Romney went for naught.

“There’s donor fatigue,” said Fred Malek, a veteran GOP operative wired into high-net-worth circles. “Everyone was in a frenzy of giving up until the November elections, and then everyone was sort of worn out on the whole process. It’s very hard to raise money after an election, especially after you lose.”

Several Republican fundraisers said they remain optimistic that the money spigot will reopen as the 2014 congressional elections approach. But this time around, donors are seeking to be more judicious about where they put their money, asking groups for detailed strategy and spending plans.

“At the moment, I’m kind of in a waiting and watching mode,” said Howard Leach, an ambassador to France under President George W. Bush. In 2012, Leach gave $100,000 each to Restore Our Future and American Crossroads, the conservative super PAC co-founded by former Bush political strategist Karl Rove.

Post-election donor apathy is not limited to the political right. Organizing for Action, a nonprofit group launched by former advisers to President Obama to back his agenda, has halved a $50 million fundraising goal for its first year after slower-than-expected fundraising, according to people familiar with the group’s plans. The decision came after the group reversed course and said it would not accept corporate funds.

But the pressure to bring in big checks is greater for pro-Republican groups, which have not been able to match the extensive small-donor network that was built by Obama’s campaign and that OFA is now drawing on.

There are signs that donor reticence stems in part from dissatisfaction with the uneven track record of super PACs, which report their funding sources, and opaque nonprofit groups, which do not disclose their donors. Both types can raise unlimited funds.

One well-connected Republican donor and fundraiser, who has held off writing big checks to outside groups since the election, said he is among a group of top contributors now questioning the value of financing such organizations, which operate independently of candidates and party leaders.

“I do find it a little worrisome, frankly, that there’s so much more money and so few people behind it,” said the contributor, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about his misgivings. “I am concerned that all that money didn’t seem to bring results.”

Frank VanderSloot, chief executive of an Idaho nutritional-supplement company who gave abundantly to Romney and groups backing him, said he has concluded that it is not effective to finance tax-exempt advocacy groups that can only spend a limited amount on politics.

“If you can’t say what candidate you’re for, it’s hard,” said VanderSloot, who said he gave “several million” in all to various groups, including $1.1 million to Restore Our Future.

From now on, he said, he is sticking with super PACs, which have more latitude to directly engage in elections: “That’s where my money is going.”

Major conservative groups such as Crossroads have stayed out of Tuesday’s special election for a U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts, leaving Republican Gabriel Gomez outmatched against the resources of Democrat Edward J. Markey and his allies.

Conservative donors said they have not softened in their opposition to Obama or stopped trying to stymie his presidency. If anything, recent revelations about the National Security Agency’s data gathering and the Internal Revenue Service’s scrutiny of conservative groups have intensified those sentiments, they said.

Having failed to deny Obama a second term, some contributors said they plan to work on flipping the Senate to Republican control in 2014 in order to block the president legislatively. Obama is “taking this country down the tubes,” said Andrew Sabin, owner of a New York-based precious-metal refining business, who gave $100,000 to American Crossroads in the last election cycle. “I’m extremely motivated.”

One fundraiser for a top conservative group, who requested anonymity to discuss private conversations with donors, said contributors understand that the midterms will be important. “I think they just have to understand how the money is being spent,” the fundraiser said.

New conservative outfits are finding that they have to work much harder to win over donors, some of whom now hire lawyers to conduct due-diligence inquiries about the organizations soliciting their support.

“We’ve learned to ask people: ‘What is your message? Where are you going to spend the money, and how?’” said VanderSloot, who said that he also requests information about how much of a group’s budget goes to paying people running the organization. “In some cases, you may want to get that answer in writing.”

The intense scrutiny “is winnowing the field of consultants who are able to raise significant funds,” said Robert Kelner, a Washington campaign finance lawyer who heads the political law practice at Covington & Burling.

“You’re seeing more impressive business plans, on better paper with fancier graphics,” Kelner added, referring to the efforts of political groups. “They look more like the kind of proposals someone would submit to a private equity fund.”

In their pitches, many organizations are pledging to diversify their approaches and not rely as heavily on expensive television advertising as they did in the last election, when the airwaves were crowded with discordant messages. The new emphasis is on digital campaigns and get-out-the-vote organizing — strategies that some groups expect to test this year in Virginia’s governor’s race and New Jersey’s U.S. Senate contest.

The desire of donors to see specific political plans has slowed the efforts of Republican groups seeking to promote their preferred versions of immigration reform, strategists said. The Senate is on track to approve a bipartisan compromise by the end of next week, but prospects in the House are less certain.

It remains to be seen whether any groups on the right will provide significant air cover for lawmakers who support the legislation.

So far, Crossroads GPS, the nonprofit sister of American Crossroads, has spent less than $100,000 to run a newspaper and online ad calling for comprehensive immigration reform. A spokesman declined to comment on whether the organization’s modest efforts so far were due to fundraising challenges.

One of the biggest players was expected to be Republicans for Immigration Reform, which Spies launched in the fall with Carlos Gutierrez, a former Kellogg chief executive who served as commerce secretary under Bush.

“This is not small ball,” Gutierrez told The Washington Post in November. “We’re serious, and we are going to push the debates on immigration reform to a place where I believe the Republican Party should be in the 21st century.”

Spies said that the group still hopes to launch a paid media campaign this summer but that no plans have been finalized.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/conservative-donors-eye-independent-groups-with-new-skepticism/2013/06/22/e8cb5f22-d8f3-11e2-a9f2-42ee3912ae0e_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines

How American Society Unravelled After Greedy Elites Robbed the Country Blind

By George Packer, The Guardian, June 20, 2013  – posted on Alternet.org

In or around 1978, America’s character changed…Americans were no less greedy, ignorant, selfish and violent then than they are today, and no more generous, fair-minded and idealistic. But the institutions of American democracy, stronger than the excesses of individuals, were usually able to contain and channel them to more useful ends. Human nature does not change, but social structures can, and they did… In Washington, corporations organised themselves into a powerful lobby that spent millions of dollars to defeat the kind of labour and consumer bills they had once accepted as part of the social contract. Newt Gingrich came to Congress as a conservative Republican with the singular ambition to tear it down and build his own and his party’s power on the rubble…The large currents of the past generation – deindustrialisation, the flattening of average wages, the financialisation of the economy, income inequality, the growth of information technology, the flood of money into Washington, the rise of the political right – all had their origins in the late 70s….A fuller explanation of the Unwinding takes into account… the way they were exploited by US elites – the leaders of the institutions that have fallen into disrepair…there was nothing historically determined about the poisonous atmosphere and demonising language that Gingrich and other conservative ideologues spread through US politics…..American elites took the vast transformation of the economy as a signal to rewrite the rules that used to govern their behaviour: a senator only resorting to the filibuster on rare occasions; a CEO limiting his salary to only 40 times what his average employees made instead of 800 times; a giant corporation paying its share of taxes instead of inventing creative ways to pay next to zero [17]. There will always be isolated lawbreakers in high places; what destroys morale below is the systematic corner-cutting, the rule-bending, the self-dealing…It is no wonder that more and more Americans believe the game is rigged. It is no wonder that they buy houses they cannot afford and then walk away from the mortgage when they can no longer pay. Once the social contract is shredded, once the deal is off, only suckers still play by the rules.

Full text

In or around 1978, America’s character changed. For almost half a century, the United States [3] had been a relatively egalitarian, secure, middle-class democracy, with structures in place that supported the aspirations of ordinary people. You might call it the period of theRoosevelt [4] Republic. Wars, strikes, racial tensions and youth rebellion all roiled national life, but a basic deal among Americans still held, in belief if not always in fact: work hard, follow the rules, educate your children, and you will be rewarded, not just with a decent life and the prospect of a better one for your kids, but with recognition from society, a place at the table.

This unwritten contract came with a series of riders and clauses that left large numbers of Americans – black people and other minorities, women, gay people – out, or only halfway in. But the country had the tools to correct its own flaws, and it used them: healthy democratic institutions such as Congress, courts, churches, schools, news organisations, business-labour partnerships. The civil rights movement of the 1960s was a nonviolent mass uprising led by black southerners, but it drew essential support from all of these institutions, which recognised the moral and legal justice of its claims, or, at the very least, the need for social peace. The Roosevelt Republic had plenty of injustice, but it also had the power of self-correction.

Americans were no less greedy, ignorant, selfish and violent then than they are today, and no more generous, fair-minded and idealistic. But the institutions of American democracy, stronger than the excesses of individuals, were usually able to contain and channel them to more useful ends. Human nature does not change, but social structures can, and they did.

At the time, the late 1970s felt like shapeless, dreary, forgettable years. Jimmy Carter was in the White House [5], preaching austerity and public-spiritedness, and hardly anyone was listening. The hideous term “stagflation”, which combined the normally opposed economic phenomena of stagnation and inflation, perfectly captured the doldrums of that moment. It is only with the hindsight of a full generation that we can see how many things were beginning to shift across the American landscape, sending the country spinning into a new era.

In Youngstown, Ohio [6], the steel mills that had been the city’s foundation for a century closed, one after another, with breathtaking speed, taking 50,000 jobs from a small industrial river valley, leaving nothing to replace them. In Cupertino, California, the Apple Computer Company released the first popular personal computer, the Apple II [7]. Across California, voters passed Proposition 13 [8], launching a tax revolt that began the erosion of public funding for what had been the country’s best school system. In Washington, corporations organised themselves into a powerful lobby that spent millions of dollars to defeat the kind of labour and consumer bills they had once accepted as part of the social contractNewt Gingrich [9] came to Congress as a conservative Republican with the singular ambition to tear it down and build his own and his party’s power on the rubble. On Wall Street, Salomon Brothers pioneered a new financial product called mortgage-backed securities [10], and then became the first investment bank to go public.

The large currents of the past generation – deindustrialisation, the flattening of average wages, the financialisation of the economy, income inequality, the growth of information technology, the flood of money into Washington, the rise of the political right – all had their origins in the late 70s. The US became more entrepreneurial and less bureaucratic, more individualistic and less communitarian, more free and less equal, more tolerant and less fair. Banking and technology, concentrated on the coasts, turned into engines of wealth, replacing the world of stuff with the world of bits, but without creating broad prosperity, while the heartland hollowed out. The institutions that had been the foundation of middle-class democracy, from public schools and secure jobs to flourishing newspapers and functioning legislatures, were set on the course of a long decline. It as a period that I call the Unwinding.

In one view, the Unwinding is just a return to the normal state of American life. By this deterministic analysis, the US has always been a wide-open, free-wheeling country, with a high tolerance for big winners and big losers as the price of equal opportunity in a dynamic society. If the US brand of capitalism has rougher edges than that of other democracies, it is worth the trade-off for growth and mobility. There is nothing unusual about the six surviving heirs to the Walmart fortunepossessing between them the same wealth as the bottom 42% of Americans [11] – that’s the country’s default setting. Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates are the reincarnation of Henry Ford and Andrew Carnegie,Steven Cohen [12] is another JP Morgan, Jay-Z is Jay Gatsby.

The rules and regulations of the Roosevelt Republic were aberrations brought on by accidents of history – depression, world war, the cold war – that induced Americans to surrender a degree of freedom in exchange for security. There would have been no Glass-Steagall Act [13], separating commercial from investment banking, without the bank failures of 1933; no great middle-class boom if the US economy [14] had not been the only one left standing after the second world war; no bargain between business, labour and government without a shared sense of national interest in the face of foreign enemies; no social solidarity without the door to immigrants remaining closed through the middle of the century.

Once American pre-eminence was challenged by international competitors, and the economy hit rough seas in the 70s, and the sense of existential threat from abroad subsided, the deal was off. Globalisation [15], technology and immigration hurried the Unwinding along, as inexorable as winds and tides. It is sentimental at best, if not ahistorical, to imagine that the social contract could ever have survived – like wanting to hang on to a world of nuclear families and manual typewriters.

This deterministic view is undeniable but incomplete. What it leaves out of the picture is human choice. A fuller explanation of the Unwinding takes into account these large historical influences, but also the way they were exploited by US elites – the leaders of the institutions that have fallen into disrepair. America’s postwar responsibilities demanded co-operation between the two parties in Congress, and when the cold war waned, the co-operation was bound to diminish with it. But there was nothing historically determined about the poisonous atmosphere and demonising language that Gingrich and other conservative ideologues spread through US politics. These tactics served their narrow, short-term interests, and when the Gingrich revolution brought Republicans to power in Congress, the tactics were affirmed. Gingrich is now a has-been, but Washington today is as much his city as anyone’s.

It was impossible for Youngstown’s steel companies to withstand global competition and local disinvestment, but there was nothing inevitable about the aftermath – an unmanaged free-for-all in which unemployed workers were left to fend for themselves, while corporate raiders bought the idle hulks of the mills with debt in the form of junk bonds and stripped out the remaining value. It may have been inevitable that the constraints imposed on US banks by the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 would start to slip off in the era of global finance. But it was a political choice on the part of Congress and President Bill Clinton to deregulate Wall Street so thoroughly that nothing stood between the big banks and the destruction of the economy [16].

Much has been written about the effects of globalisation during the past generation. Much less has been said about the change in social norms that accompanied it. American elites took the vast transformation of the economy as a signal to rewrite the rules that used to govern their behaviour: a senator only resorting to the filibuster on rare occasions; a CEO limiting his salary to only 40 times what his average employees made instead of 800 times; a giant corporation paying its share of taxes instead of inventing creative ways to pay next to zero [17]. There will always be isolated lawbreakers in high places; what destroys morale below is the systematic corner-cutting, the rule-bending, the self-dealing.

Earlier this year, Al Gore made $100m (£64m) in a single month [18] by selling Current TV to al-Jazeera for $70m and cashing in his shares of Apple stock for $30m. Never mind that al-Jazeera is owned by the government of Qatar, whose oil exports and views of women and minorities make a mockery of the ideas that Gore propounds in a book or film every other year. Never mind that his Apple stock came with his position on the company’s board, a gift to a former presidential contender. Gore used to be a patrician politician whose career seemed inspired by the ideal of public service. Today – not unlike Tony Blair [19] – he has traded on a life in politics to join the rarefied class of the global super-rich.

It is no wonder that more and more Americans believe the game is rigged. It is no wonder that they buy houses they cannot afford and then walk away from the mortgage when they can no longer pay. Once the social contract is shredded, once the deal is off, only suckers still play by the rules.

George Packer’s The Unwinding is published by Faber & Faber.

See more stories tagged with:

al gore [20],

america [21],

American Enterprise Institute [22],

Andrew Carnegie [23],

Apple Computer Company [24],

bill clinton [25],

bill gates [26],

ceo [27],

california [28],

congress [29],

Council on Foreign Relations [30],

Cupertino [31],

Economy of the United States [32],

Glass–Steagall Act [33],

henry ford [34],

ipo [35],

jp morgan [36],

Jay Gatsby [37],

jay-z [38],

jimmy carter [39],

Mark Zuckerberg [40],

natural disaster [41],

newt gingrich [42],

ohio [43],

Person Career [44],

Political positions of Newt Gingrich [45],

president [46],

Qatar [47],

Salomon [48],

senator [49],

Steven Cohen [50],

tony blair [51],

USD [52],

United States federal banking legislation [53],

united states [54],

walmart [55],

washington [56],

white house [57],

Youngstown [58],

bank failures [59],

finance [60],

financial product [61],

Information technology [62],

investment bank [63],

investment banking [64],

oil exports [65],

patrician politician [66],

steel mills [67],

steel [68]


Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/how-american-society-unravelled

Links:
[1] http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/george-packer
[3] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/usa
[4] http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/franklindroosevelt
[5] http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/jimmycarter
[6] http://www.allthingsyoungstown.net/articles/in_youngstown_we_made_steel/article.htm
[7] http://oldcomputers.net/appleii.html
[8] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_Proposition_13_(1978)
[9] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/newt-gingrich
[10] http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/explainer/2008/03/what_is_a_mortgagebacked_security.html
[11] http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2012/07/walmart-heirs-waltons-wealth-income-inequality
[12] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steven_A._Cohen
[13] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glass%E2%80%93Steagall_Act
[14] http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/useconomy
[15] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/globalisation
[16] http://www.salon.com/2012/09/14/clintons_no_liberal_hero/
[17] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/03/apple-tax-havens_n_3378935.html
[18] http://www.businessinsider.com/al-gore-wealth-money-current-sale-al-jazeera-2013-5
[19] http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/dec/01/mystery-tony-blair-finances
[20] http://www.alternet.org/tags/al-gore
[21] http://www.alternet.org/tags/america
[22] http://www.alternet.org/tags/american-enterprise-institute
[23] http://www.alternet.org/tags/andrew-carnegie
[24] http://www.alternet.org/tags/apple-computer-company
[25] http://www.alternet.org/tags/bill-clinton
[26] http://www.alternet.org/tags/bill-gates
[27] http://www.alternet.org/tags/ceo
[28] http://www.alternet.org/tags/california
[29] http://www.alternet.org/tags/congress-0
[30] http://www.alternet.org/tags/council-foreign-relations
[31] http://www.alternet.org/tags/cupertino
[32] http://www.alternet.org/tags/economy-united-states
[33] http://www.alternet.org/tags/glass-steagall-act
[34] http://www.alternet.org/tags/henry-ford
[35] http://www.alternet.org/tags/ipo-0
[36] http://www.alternet.org/tags/jp-morgan
[37] http://www.alternet.org/tags/jay-gatsby
[38] http://www.alternet.org/tags/jay-z-0
[39] http://www.alternet.org/tags/jimmy-carter
[40] http://www.alternet.org/tags/mark-zuckerberg-0
[41] http://www.alternet.org/tags/natural-disaster-0
[42] http://www.alternet.org/tags/newt-gingrich
[43] http://www.alternet.org/tags/ohio
[44] http://www.alternet.org/tags/person-career
[45] http://www.alternet.org/tags/political-positions-newt-gingrich
[46] http://www.alternet.org/tags/president-0
[47] http://www.alternet.org/tags/qatar
[48] http://www.alternet.org/tags/salomon
[49] http://www.alternet.org/tags/senator
[50] http://www.alternet.org/tags/steven-cohen
[51] http://www.alternet.org/tags/tony-blair
[52] http://www.alternet.org/tags/usd
[53] http://www.alternet.org/tags/united-states-federal-banking-legislation
[54] http://www.alternet.org/tags/united-states
[55] http://www.alternet.org/tags/walmart
[56] http://www.alternet.org/tags/washington-0
[57] http://www.alternet.org/tags/white-house
[58] http://www.alternet.org/tags/youngstown
[59] http://www.alternet.org/tags/bank-failures
[60] http://www.alternet.org/tags/finance-0
[61] http://www.alternet.org/tags/financial-product
[62] http://www.alternet.org/tags/information-technology
[63] http://www.alternet.org/tags/investment-bank
[64] http://www.alternet.org/tags/investment-banking
[65] http://www.alternet.org/tags/oil-exports
[66] http://www.alternet.org/tags/patrician-politician
[67] http://www.alternet.org/tags/steel-mills
[68] http://www.alternet.org/tags/steel
[69] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

 

How the Right Has Turned Everything Into a Culture War — And Why That’s Terrible for Our Democracy

By Joshua Holland, AlterNet, February 28, 2012

Excerpt

The political press takes it as a given that there is a sharp dividing line between the “social issues” propelling the culture wars (abortion, school prayer, gay rights) and matters of substance (the economy, foreign policy, immigration and safety-net programs like unemployment benefits). But as the American conservative movement has veered sharply rightward over the past 30 years, that line is no longer so clean. Today, conservatives have a social argument for every subject of debate – everything has become part of the culture wars…
the intermingling of social and concrete issues has accelerated in the age of Obama… today cultural narratives dominate conservatives’ arguments.
This is not just a matter of academic interest. It’s helping to fuel the growing reality-gap between conservatives and liberals – and not just because we continue to see these issues as matters of substantive policy while increasingly they see them as cultural. It’s also because people tend to be more defensive about social issues, and less likely to be open to counter-arguments or new information.

In his new book, The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Don’t Believe in Science, Chris Mooney explores years of research into the cognitive and neurobiological features associated with our ideologies. “The way the mind works,” Mooney writes, “suggests that good arguments only win the day when people don’t have strong emotional commitments that contradict them.” Scientists, he writes, have long noted that “cold reasoning (rational, unemotional) is very different from hot reasoning (emotional, motivated).”

We are better able to have a cool, unemotional debate about the merits of, say, higher or lower corporate taxes. But cultural beliefs resonate more deeply, especially with conservatives; these beliefs become integrated into their identities, and once fixed, are difficult to dislodge with factual arguments. One area where conservatives and liberal tend to differ, according to Mooney, is “in their need to defend their beliefs, their internal desire to have unwavering convictions that do not and cannot change.” The culture wars are ultimately tribal, and as Mooney notes, conservatives are more likely to “be sure that their group is right, and the other group is wrong – in short, their need for group solidarity and unity, or for having a strong in-group/out-group way of looking at the world.”

So, having turned substantial issues into cultural debates, the right is more deeply invested in their outcomes, and less likely to be swayed by the reality we see around us. That “facts have a liberal bias” has become more than just a quip, and this is part of the reason why…consider some of the specific ways that what we think of as debates over concrete matters of public policy have been “culturalized” by the right.

The Economy and the Role of Government…this is the area where the culturalization of formerly non-social issues is most apparent.

Gun control…at this moment in our history, the substantive debates over guns are virtually nonexistent….Guns are too critical to the culture wars; they represent what Karl Rove called an “anger point” that stokes the passions of the conservative base…

a fringe conspiracy theory…reinforces the “othering” – the in-group/out-group dichotomy – at the heart of the culture wars…
Foreign Policy…
Immigration…

Everything Has an Element of Culture Wars…We have entered into an era of public discourse where issues like solar energy are being framed as issues of liberty and freedom…All of this does not serve our democracy well….

Full text

The political press takes it as a given that there is a sharp dividing line between the “social issues” propelling the culture wars (abortion, school prayer, gay rights) and matters of substance (the economy, foreign policy, immigration and safety-net programs like unemployment benefits). But as the American conservative movement has veered sharply rightward over the past 30 years, that line is no longer so clean. Today, conservatives have a social argument for every subject of debate – everything has become part of the culture wars.

Viewing tangible matters through a cultural lens is not new. In the 19th century, dime novelist Horatio Alger wrote a series of formulaic books about poor, young, street urchins meeting some wealthy benefactor who teaches them the value of hard work and living a clean life. Once the urchins get on a properly Protestant, chaste path, their fortunes grow and they end up rising to the middle-class. It’s a narrative that resonates with the right today.

But the intermingling of social and concrete issues has accelerated in the age of Obama. Many on the right consider Barack Obama alien – consider birtherism, or Dinesh D’Souza’s claim that the president is influenced by “Kenyan anti-colonial behavior.” Whereas social issues once served as a distraction from matters of substance, today cultural narratives dominate conservatives’ arguments.

This is not just a matter of academic interest. It’s helping to fuel the growing reality-gap between conservatives and liberals – and not just because we continue to see these issues as matters of substantive policy while increasingly they see them as cultural. It’s also because people tend to be more defensive about social issues, and less likely to be open to counter-arguments or new information.

In his new book, The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Don’t Believe in Science, Chris Mooney explores years of research into the cognitive and neurobiological features associated with our ideologies. “The way the mind works,” Mooney writes, “suggests that good arguments only win the day when people don’t have strong emotional commitments that contradict them.” Scientists, he writes, have long noted that “cold reasoning (rational, unemotional) is very different from hot reasoning (emotional, motivated).”

We are better able to have a cool, unemotional debate about the merits of, say, higher or lower corporate taxes. But cultural beliefs resonate more deeply, especially with conservatives; these beliefs become integrated into their identities, and once fixed, are difficult to dislodge with factual arguments. One area where conservatives and liberal tend to differ, according to Mooney, is “in their need to defend their beliefs, their internal desire to have unwavering convictions that do not and cannot change.” The culture wars are ultimately tribal, and as Mooney notes, conservatives are more likely to “be sure that their group is right, and the other group is wrong – in short, their need for group solidarity and unity, or for having a strong in-group/out-group way of looking at the world.”

So, having turned substantial issues into cultural debates, the right is more deeply invested in their outcomes, and less likely to be swayed by the reality we see around us. That “facts have a liberal bias” has become more than just a quip, and this is part of the reason why.

That is not to say that conservatives have stopped deploying non-cultural arguments – many still do. But consider some of the specific ways that what we think of as debates over concrete matters of public policy have been “culturalized” by the right.

The Economy and the Role of Government

Many conservative policy experts and politicians still make the same substantive arguments they have for years about corporate taxes sending jobs overseas or “entitlements” breaking the budget, but this is the area where the culturalization of formerly non-social issues is most apparent.

Consider one of the most enduring and pernicious untruths in our political economy. As I wrote last summer, most conservatives have come to embrace the view that poverty and inequality don’t actually result from tangible economic factors.

Rather, the poor are where they find themselves as a consequence of some deep-seated cultural flaws that keep them from achieving success. They’re held back, the story goes, by what is known alternatively as a “culture of poverty,” or a “culture of dependence.” It’s a popular fable for the right, as it absolves the political establishment for public policies that harm the working class and the poor.

It’s also thoroughly and demonstrably untrue, flying in the face of decades of serious research findings. Yet it reinforces the in-group/out-group dynamic at the center of the culture wars and raises conservative defenses to factual information.

An excellent example of this is the simple fact that there are now 4.5 unemployed people for every full-time job opening (and 7.5 people looking for a full-time gig if you include those stuck “involuntarily” working part-time jobs), yet it remains a core belief on the right today that the unemployed are simply lazy – a cultural flaw — and therefore unemployment benefits (which are extremely modest in the United States relative to other wealthy countries) contribute to the problem.

The hottest book in conservative circles right now is Charles Murray’s Losing Ground, which calls for dismantling the social safety net based on a cultural analysis of inequality and has been touted by everyone on the right, from raging social-con Rick Santorum to David Brooks, the New York Times’ Upper West Side-friendly “center-right” columnist.

As far as taxation, the stand-by claim that taxing the wealthy leads to lower business investment has been overtaken by another cultural narrative – the Randian view of a world made up of a few virile, virtuous “producers,” and the many “parasites” who feed off their labors. It’s the producers who create wealth and make a better world, and they do so by pursuing their own dreams of success. In Ayn Rand’s books, though, moochers and petty, visionless bureaucrats persistently bite at the ankles of her capitalist “supermen,” which has the effect — unintended, but pernicious nonetheless– of harming all of society. Therefore, freeing the wealthy from their obligations, freeing the elite from their social contract with the rest of us, is the apex of morality. Rand may have been a staunch atheist, but this argument resembles a religious viewpoint more than it does a matter of simple economics.

Guns

Last week, Newt Gingrich claimed that “you can’t put a gun-rack in a Volt” – drawing a cultural line between gun-owning “real Americans” and granola-eating hippies who want to drive electric cars. (As is so often the case, Newt happened to be wrong.)

A few weeks ago, Talking-Points Memo covered a panel on dating at the Conservative Political Action Conference. At one point, participants were asked what one might do on a good right-wing date, and one of them replied, “A gun club works really well for that thing… It’s conservative, it’s fun, most women haven’t done that before…you get to look like you know what you’re doing.”

Gun control is an issue that has always cleaved more neatly along rural-urban lines, a gap that’s both substantive and cultural, than the left-right ideological divide. A lot of otherwise conservative mayors and police chiefs in densely packed cities have long favored stricter gun controls, and otherwise liberal politicians representing wide-open rural expanses have not.

But at this moment in our history, the substantive debates over guns are virtually nonexistent. In 2010, the Supreme Court issued a decisive ruling in favor of those who oppose restrictions on gun ownership. It was the last in a string of moves by the courts that have made Americans’ right to own firearms as secure today as they have ever been. The 5-4 decision established that all Americans have a fundamental, individual right to bear arms that constrains not only the actions of the federal government, but states and municipalities as well. It was a long-sought victory for gun rights advocates and a resounding defeat for those who favor stricter controls. In the words of conservative legal scholar Glenn Reynolds, the ruling meant that the Second Amendment “is now a full-fledged part of the Bill of Rights.”

In the wake of the ruling, gun control advocates now dedicate themselves to objectives with which the vast majority of gun owners agree – closing the so-called “gun show loophole” and keeping guns out of the hands of felons and potential terrorists. A 2009 poll by conservative messaging-guru Frank Luntz found that “NRA members and gun owners support sensible new measures to combat illegal guns, including closing the terror gap (82 percent NRA members support, 86 percent non-NRA gun owners support), closing the gun show loophole (69 percent / 85 percent), and requiring gun owners to report lost and stolen guns (78 percent / 88 percent).” Luntz, in an op-ed, characterized what remains of the issue as a social one, writing, “The culture war over the right to bear arms isn’t much of a war after all. As it turns out, there is a lot everyone agrees on.”

But the gun lobby hasn’t allowed the bitter debate over the scope of the Second Amendment to be settled. Guns are too critical to the culture wars; they represent what Karl Rove called an “anger point” that stokes the passions of the conservative base.

It’s worth adding that, among the more paranoid elements of the conservative movement, the idea that gun owners are not secure with their firearms springs from a fringe conspiracy theory about Barack Obama supporting a UN treaty that amounts to a “back-door” attempt to disarm America. This, again, reinforces the “othering” – the in-group/out-group dichotomy – at the heart of the culture wars, framing the issue as a conflict between (“real”) Americans and foreigners.

Foreign Policy

After killing Osama Bin Laden, escalating the war in Afghanistan and drawing down troops in Iraq, polls show that President Obama has evaporated Republicans’ traditional advantage on “national security.” Aside from portraying cuts in the defense budget as apocalyptic, if you watch the right’s current discourse on foreign policy, it’s now almost entirely cultural in nature.

Consider the conservative charges against Obama in the realm of foreign policy. As a factual matter, Robert Schlesinger noted that Obama had, as of last January, mentioned “American exceptionalism” far more frequently than his predecessor, George W Bush. But that didn’t keep Kathleen Parker from writing at the time that exceptionalism is a “word that isn’t much heard from this president but that tumbles so easily — and adamantly — from the lips of Republican[s],” and it hasn’t prevented the right from obsessing on the supposed failure.

Or consider Mitt Romney’s frequent and wholly erroneous claim that Barack Obama “went around the world and apologized for America.” Or consider the words of Franklin Graham, a prominent figure on the religious right, who questioned Obama’s religion based in large part because, “[Under] President Obama, the Muslims of the world, he seems to be more concerned about them than the Christians that are being murdered in the Muslim countries.” These words belong squarely in the category of the culture wars.

Even before Obama was elected, a great deal of the right’s views of foreign policy were culturally informed. With his 1996 book, The Clash of Civilizations, Samuel Huntington had an enormous impact on Republican foreign policy rhetoric, helping to inform George W Bush’s “war on terror.” Huntington was explicit in his social analysis of geopolitics, writing:

It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural… The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.

Immigration

Here is where this hypothesis is on its shakiest ground, not because immigration isn’t a cultural issue, but because one can argue that it has always been so. We talk about competing policies – “enforcement only” versus a more comprehensive approach – and those are certainly matters of substance. But the degree to which immigration has become a top-tier, litmus-test issue for the right, the degree to which it’s become polarized, has everything to do with the culture wars, and this is apparent in the symbolic issues that come up in the debate. Think about the brouhaha over displaying Mexican flags, or the fight to keep states from printing government forms in multiple languages.

In 1986, the father of the modern anti-immigration movement, John Tanton, wrote a memo laying out what he saw as the potential problems with our immigration system. He discussed a range of issues, including the economic and political impacts of large numbers of immigrants arriving in the United States, but much of his concerns centered around cultural issues. “Will Latin American migrants bring with them the tradition of the mordida (bribe), the lack of involvement in public affairs, etc.?” he asked. “What in fact are the characteristics of Latin American culture, versus that of the United States?” Arguing that Hispanics are inherently harder to educate than other groups, he wrote: “We’re building in a deadly disunity. All great empires disintegrate, we want stability.”

Twenty-five years later, the same social fears continue to inform conservative arguments about immigration. Lamenting the push for comprehensive immigration reform in 2007, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly claimed that advocates of the bill, “hate America, and they hate it because it’s run primarily by white Christian men. Let me repeat that. America is run primarily by white Christian men, and there is a segment of our population who hates that, despises that power structure.”

Samuel Huntington’s follow-up to The Clash of Civilizations, the influential book Who We Are, stems from the same premise, but covered with a more academic veneer. Reviewing the book for Foreign Affairs, Alan Wolf wrote that it’s riddled with “ moralistic passion — at times bordering on hysteria.”

He eschews realistic treatment of American history in favor of romantic nostalgia for Anglo-Protestant culture. And then there is the book’s fatalism: Huntington tells his readers that he is a “patriot … deeply concerned about the unity and strength of my country based on liberty, equality, law and individual rights,” but he portrays the United States as haplessly without resources in its struggle with immigration, as if the country’s identity were too fragile for the challenges it faces. Although Huntington was deeply troubled by the 1960s and their aftermath, he managed to maintain his cool in subsequent books. Immigration has touched his nerves in a way that flower children and protesters never did. Who Are We? is Patrick Buchanan with footnotes.

It was also, at heart, a social argument for limiting immigration.

Everything Has an Element of Culture Wars

Those are but a few examples of once-concrete debates over public policy having been tainted by the culture wars. There are others: The right’s obsession with light-bulbs and scorn for Priuses; justifying voting restrictions based on unfounded fears of undocumented immigrants voting; and conservatives’ blind insistence that because we supposedly “have the greatest healthcare in the world,” we can turn our backs on the data that belie that claim and ignore the plight of the uninsured. As the Policy Shop’s Mijin Cha wrote this week, “climate change has been slowly entering into culture war territory for a while now.”

We have entered into an era of public discourse where issues like solar energy are being framed as issues of liberty and freedom. Not to mention the backlash against seemingly innocuous policies, like bike lanes and smart growth. To see the somewhat dry issues of renewable energy and sustainable development discussed in the same vein as reproductive choice and marriage equality is strange, to say the least.

All of this does not serve our democracy well. While it may be difficult to find common ground on matters of public policy in a closely divided country, it’s all but impossible when the emotional heat of the culture wars – the tribal affinities – is added to the mix. It makes the right guard its positions more closely, and causes conservatives to defend themselves from any inconvenient facts that conflict with their positions.

Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet. He is the author of The 15 Biggest Lies About the Economy: And Everything else the Right Doesn’t Want You to Know About Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America. Drop him an email or follow him on Twitter.

© 2012 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at:

http://www.alternet.org/news/154339/