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Tuesday
Feb122013

The New Republic Breaks Down How the GOP Doubled-Down on Whiteness

The best retort critics could come up with was "you do it too."

That was the slam after The New Republic published its piece "Original Sin: Why the GOP is and will continue to be the party of white people." Conservatives quickly googled Wikipedia, and pointed out how lacking in a tan The New Republic's staff is, failing to grasp that The New Republic (while could benefit from diversity) is not one of two national political parties that takes turns in writing, executing and judging our laws.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say the GOP might be a bit more important and powerful than a magazine. I can't think of the last time TNR did something that determined what military contracts we might purchase and how much interest the government will have in my womb year-to-year.

As Dylan Byers writes at Politico: "Should TNR diversify its offices? That's up to them. But for the GOP, it isn't a case of should or shouldn't. It's a case of must."

TNR's piece chronicles in how trying to find a unifying force for the conservative movement conservative thinkers and politicos reached back to the "States Rights" ideology of nullification, which was fueled by the desire to keep slavery legal. The article makes the interesting note that even back then Southern political thinkers knew they were likely to end up on the losing side. This was due to the United States continually adding new territories and the likelihood that these territories would not allow slavery. Thus insuring these would eventually become "free" states, finally creating enough abolitionist legislators to outlaw slavery. Hence, the creation of the politics of nullification that announces "majority be damned."

Who cares if the other side wants to consider equality for all, slavery's apologists cried, We're trying to keep our racially-based caste system going.

From TNR:

When the intellectual authors of the modern right created its doctrines in the 1950s, they drew on nineteenth-century political thought, borrowing explicitly from the great apologists for slavery, above all, the intellectually fierce South Carolinian John C. Calhoun. This is not to say conservatives today share Calhoun's ideas about race. It is to say instead that the Calhoun revival, based on his complex theories of constitutional democracy, became the justification for conservative politicians to resist, ignore, or even overturn the will of the electoral majority.

This is the politics of nullification, the doctrine, nearly as old as the republic itself, which holds that the states, singly or in concert, can defy federal actions by declaring them invalid or simply ignoring them. We hear the echoes of nullification in the venting of anti-government passions and also in campaigns to "starve government," curtail voter registration, repeal legislation, delegitimize presidents. There is a strong sectionalist bias in these efforts. They flourish in just the places Kevin Phillips identified as Republican strongholds—Plains, Mountain, but mainly Southern states, where change invites suspicion, especially when it seems invasive, and government is seen as an intrusive force. Yet those same resisters—most glaringly, Tea Partiers—cherish the entitlements and benefits provided by "Big Government." Their objections come when outsider groups ask for consideration, too. Even recent immigrants to this country sense the "hidden hand" of Calhoun's style of dissent, the extended lineage of rearguard politics, with its aggrieved call, heard so often today, "to take back America"—that is, to take America back to the "better" place it used to be. Today's conservatives have fully embraced this tradition, enshrining it as their own "Lost cause," redolent with the moral consolations of noble defeat.

The article's author, Sam Tanenhaus, quotes past TNR writer Gary Wills, who wrote in 1975: "American politics is the South's revenge for the Civil War." And it does often feel that way. That when the old saying "the South shall rise again" was uttered, it should have been amended to say "the South shall rise again thanks to bureaucrats with political ideologies that were hard to sell without a threatening Negro to dangle in front of it."

And thanks to the Culture Wars, you can easily replace "threatening Negro" with "man-hating sluts," "job-stealing illegals," "radical Islam" or "the gay agenda." Using fear to sell mythologized nostalgia is an oft-successful tactic, as it involves absolving people of their culpability in propping up a system that promoted discrimination and oppression. 

Maybe some think it would be better to bring back indentured servitude, the Holy Roman Empire, the Caliphate, the monarchy, warlords and serfs -- but through progress, we got rid of those things for a reason. You only got to enjoy those times if you were the original "One percent." And they didn't have weekends off and indoor plumbing or something called "the middle class" then. And people died in masse of things like influenza and small pox, and the life expectancy was somewhere around 35. 

That's always been my issue with the brand of Conservatism that is solely focused on going back, removing or denying progress and returning us to the environment that caused the initial upheaval in the first place. 1) How far back are we planning on going? and 2) Why must we pave over the truth in order to sell this nostalgia? It wasn't "racial agitators" that caused the Civil Rights Movement, it was the laws of Jim Crow and racism. It wasn't misandry that caused modern feminism, but the fact that many women were treated like property by their families and the state. Something was wrong. Something was inherently terrible about life then that it made people stop what they were doing, leave their homes and stage protests. 

You don't get up and march in the streets over minor inconveniences.

Change is always scary to those least inclined to adapt to it. But it's a logical fallacy to think that to go back, we can continue to move forward (economically or otherwise) as a nation. The GOP's problem is there are too many members in their party still pushing for us to go back, rather than accepting the shift that has taken place and adapting Conservative ideology to reflect our times. To make it not about returning us to our former "white men only" glory where we fantasize black people and women were happy to be subjugated, but to again put it out there on its original merits. Sure, it was incredibly hard to sell conservatism without the white elitist nostalgia bait, as the article outlines. But there is an actual conservative dogma that is separate from the reactionary and socially harmful politics of nullification being pushed today. 

Why does it need a gimmick? Why does it need a mascot in the dreamy past? Is there a flaw in its classical philosphy that makes it a harder sell to working class people? And if that is the case, aren't we at a point where that needs to be addressed rather than waiting for a "Great White Conservative Hope" to come and return us to the not-so-glorious status quo?

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Reader Comments (2)

Welcome back Danielle,

Belated congrats on your new TV assignment. But glad to see you posting on your blog again.

February 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLenis Boswell

"Sure, it was incredibly hard to sell conservatism without the white elitist nostalgia bait, as the article outlines. But there is an actual conservative dogma that is separate from the reactionary and socially harmful politics of nullification being pushed today."

This dichotomy is the fact that the Taliban never even tries to understand.

February 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRobM
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