Posted by Michael Kennedy on October 15th, 2012 (All posts by Michael Kennedy)
Frank Rich, a furious and frantic left wing writer, formerly writing for the NY Times, has concluded that liberalism will not be successful in transforming American society because the American public “loathes government and always has.” His essay in New York magazine is interesting although it drifts into his usual hostile rhetoric in the end.
Were the 2012 campaign a Hitchcock movie, Mitt Romney would be the MacGuffin—a device that drives a lot of plot gyrations but proves inconsequential in itself. Then again, Barack Obama could be, too. Our down-to-the-wire presidential contest is arguably just a narrative speed bump in the scenario that has been gathering steam throughout the Obama presidency: the resurgence of the American right, the most determined and coherent political force in America. No matter who is elected president, what Romney calls severe conservatism will continue to consolidate its hold over one of our two major parties. And that party is hardly destined for oblivion. There’s a case to be made that a tea-party-infused GOP will have a serious shot at winning future national elections despite the widespread liberal belief (which I have shared) that any party as white, old, and male as the Republicans is doomed to near or complete extinction by the emerging demographics of 21st-century America.
Here, Rich cannot resist dismissing Romney as an “inconsequential plot device” but he does recognize that conservatism is more in tune with American values than the political left, of which he is an enthusiastic member.
The tea-party harbinger from 2008, Sarah Palin, and the bomb throwers who dominated the primary process of 2012, led by the congressional tea-party caucus leader Michele Bachmann, were vanquished and lost whatever national political clout they had, along with much of their visibility (even on Fox News).
He may have a point here as I was a bit surprised that Sarah Palin, who I still admire, was not invited to speak at the GOP convention. I don’t think she has lost her “political clout” and Bachmann should be comfortably re-elected to the House.
In 2009, he referred to the Tea Party as “Stalinists.”
[T]he right has devolved into a wacky, paranoid cult that is as eager to eat its own as it is to destroy Obama. The movement’s undisputed leaders, Palin and Beck, neither of whom has what Palin once called the “actual responsibilities” of public office, would gladly see the Republican Party die on the cross of right-wing ideological purity. Over the short term, at least, their wish could come true.
I suspect that the Democrats’ efforts to demonize both women has made the Romney campaign a bit nervous at openly supporting Sarah Palin. After all, she endorsed another candidate in the primaries and Bachmann ran against Romney. He owes neither much and can count on their support in the election. Now, Rich writes that:
“In reality, of course the Republican party of 2012 is pretty much the tea party at this point,” he wrote. “One need only look at the party platform and listen to what the speakers are actually saying to recognize that fact.” He saw the tea party as “likely to see its influence increase after the November elections regardless of what happens to the Romney/Ryan ticket”—and rightly so. Though the label itself had to be scrapped—it has been permanently soiled by images of mad-dog protesters waving don’t tread on me flags—its ideology is the ideology of the right in 2012.
Here, Rich shows that he has shrewdly estimated the tea party in its efforts to reform the old country club Republican Party into a real small government conservative force. The Tea Party members, themselves, have no hesitation about claiming membership but their agenda is more important than a fight about labels. They went to work after the 2010 election to learn retail politics and began to run for local party posts all across the country. Rich is right when he says that the GOP is now the Tea Party in all but name. There were amateurs who lost elections that might have been won by pros but that weakness has already been fixed.
History tells us that American liberals have long underestimated the reach and resilience of the right, repeatedly dismissing it as a lunatic fringe and pronouncing it dead only to watch it bounce back stronger after each setback. That pattern was identified in an influential essay, “The Problem of American Conservatism,” published by the historian Alan Brinkley in 1994. Brinkley was writing two years after the religious right of Pat Robertson had stunned liberals by hijacking the GOP convention from the country-club patrician George H.W. Bush—the same fundamentalist right that had ostensibly retreated from politics after the humiliating Scopes trial in the twenties.
Here, Rich can’t resist a swipe at the GOP on the Scopes trial although William Jennings Bryan, who took the side of the Bible against evolution, was the three time Democrat presidential nominee. From Wiki: “He was a dominant force in the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, standing three times as its candidate for President of the United States (1896, 1900 and 1908).”
No, Bryan was the Democrat of the Scopes trial era. Darrow, of course, was also a Democrat. Republicans were not involved.
Rich also tries to imply other sins to the Republicans.
The GOP may be a small-tent party, male and mainly white, but Romney was still attracting as much as 48 percent of the vote despite being the most personally unpopular presidential nominee of either party in the history of modern polling. And while polls found Obama ahead of or even with Romney in every policy category, conservative ideology in the abstract fared far better. In the late-September Quinnipiac University–New York Times–CBS News survey of the swing states Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania, for instance, the view that government is “doing too many things” easily beat the alternative that government “should do more.”
Rich is unable to bring himself to admit that the GOP conservative philosophy is attractive to non-whites. The famously edited video of a man carrying a gun at a Tea Party rally in Arizona is but one example. The editing cut off the man’s head from the photo, which would have shown that he was black. The response to the tweet that Stacey Dash was endorsing Romney is another example.
He does admit the alienation that Americans share about the role of government.
By margins that approach or exceed two to one, a majority of Americans believe that government regulation of business “does more harm than good”; that the federal government should only run things “that cannot be run at the local level”; and that the “federal government controls too much of our daily lives.” Intriguingly, this animus almost uncannily matches that at the time of Goldwater’s trouncing in 1964. LBJ’s whopping 61 percent popular-vote total was matched by the 60 percent of Americans who told pollsters they were deeply concerned about the growth of bureaucratic federal government. Then as now, more voters identify themselves as Democrats than Republicans, but the distrust of Washington transcends party lines and labels.
There is irony that Johnson was supported in spite of concerns about the role of government. The voters, I believe, have learned to be more careful about who they vote for, aside from the moment of insanity that elected Barack Obama. That was a singular moment as the public tried to put the racial divisions behind them, only to find that Obama was more divisive than anything that existed at the time. Goldwater was also a poor candidate and had voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act on Contstitutional grounds that were never explained properly.
the Times reported that neither Obama, Joe Biden, nor leading Democratic politicians in Ohio were willing to talk publicly about how administration policies, notably the auto-industry bailout, had contributed to that state’s economic turnaround. The White House feared that taking any credit for a liberal mission accomplished would inflame “public skepticism about large-scale government spending.”
They are also concerned that GM has not been saved, contrary to Joe Biden’s weird assertions, but the bill will eventually come due. There is also a concern that the public may eventually learn how much of the bailout is really foreign aid.
GM’s US operations have generated the lion’s share of the company’s profit since the bailout. And now, as the rest of the world economy slows, GM is spending more and more of its taxpayer-enhanced cash pile to shore up its faltering foreign divisions. In fact, according to an analysis of GM’s SEC filings, the company is likely to incur over $6.5 billion in losses and expenditures overseas in the 2011-2014 period, not counting over $1.6b in foreign potential legal liabilities or several other incalculable expenses that could add up to billions more. Not only are these expenses a challenge to GM’s overall financial health at a time when it also faces billion-dollar expenditures on pensions in the US, it shows the basic problem with national bailouts of global companies. Taxpayers who were told they were saving an American company are now seeing their tax dollars flowing overseas by the billions.
Oh well, a billion here, a billion here.
Eventually, Rich drifts into the old hateful rhetoric of his career at the Times.
The American right isn’t burdened by such Hamlet-like indecision about its own ideological rationale. It does, however, have plenty of its own problems—like the female, black, and Hispanic voters it has alienated and without whom the GOP cannot win national elections. But one shouldn’t underestimate the ability of the conservative movement to adapt to new marketplace circumstances even as it holds to its bedrock beliefs. That’s one reason why the right has survived past allegiances with the Ku Klux Klan, the McCarthy witch hunts, the John Birch Society, and all the rest. As McGirr suggests in Suburban Warriors, this adaptability has included such strategies as “abandoning older essentialist racial ideas (as well as anti-Catholicism and anti-Semitism)” after World War II and even repackaging old-time religion in user-friendly megachurch trappings consistent with the therapeutic ethos and consumer culture of mainstream daytime television.
The Klan was always a Democrat dominated organization, although it became powerful again in its 1920s revival.
Given success in state and local elections, the Klan issue contributed to the bitterly divisive 1924 Democratic National Convention in New York City. The leading candidates were William Gibbs McAdoo, a Protestant with a base in areas where the Klan was strong, and New York Governor Al Smith, a Catholic with a base in the large cities. After weeks of stalemate, both candidates withdrew in favor of a compromise. Anti-Klan delegates proposed a resolution indirectly attacking the Klan; it was narrowly defeated.
The other accusations are old and well known, plus they have all been either refuted or are ancient history. The John Birch Society was headquartered in South Pasadena at the time I lived there and I knew the only member of Congress who was a member. A friend once asked me about joining as he knew quite a few members. I told him I thought it was a bad idea as organizations like that drew fringe elements and somebody might take a shot at the president or some other crazy idea. In fact, those who have taken shots at presidents are either crazy or leftists. The John Birch Society quietly faded from view with the end of the Cold War.
In the end, Rich slides back to his hatred of the right.
For all its adaptability, it’s highly unlikely that the GOP can recapture the African-American voters it cast aside when it went from being the Party of Lincoln to the last refuge of white-supremacist Dixiecrats like Strom Thurmond in the Goldwater era. All these years after Jim Crow, the GOP is still scheming to disenfranchise black voters.
This, of course, is a reference to voter ID issues and parrots the DNC talking point.
But it’s entirely conceivable that a future Republican nominee, unlike the cowardly Romney, will pick a Sister Souljah fight when a lout like Rush Limbaugh maligns women as sluts. Even this year a few prominent Republicans—if only out of cynical election-year self-preservation—disowned Todd Akin and “legitimate rape” (or did so until the circus moved on and they could slither back into his fold). Eventually, the GOP might even figure out that it’s not in either its ideological or political interests to insist in perpetuity that government intrude on women’s reproductive rights and thwart equal civil rights (marital and otherwise) for gays. (Barry Goldwater, for one, knew this.) Such a shift might entice young libertarian voters, who care little about the Democrats’ entitlement trump cards of Social Security and Medicare, to give the Republicans a second look.
He does recognize the role of libertarian voters in the rise of the Tea Party. He won’t say so but it is implicit in the whole column. They know, even if Rich doesn’t, that the “entitlement trump cards of Social Security and Medicare” are about to go broke and must be reformed if they are to survive. If Romney and Ryan are elected, as it seems more and more likely will happen, we have a chance at that reform before collapse.