The conservative crackup: How the Republican Party lost its mind

Source: Salon.com

Author: Kim Messick

“In a recent article, I argued 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” – 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”), and won four states in the deep South.

The first Republican successes in the South came in the elections of 1952 and 1956, 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 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.

Kim Messick lives and writes in North Carolina. He’s working on a novel.

 

Can Science Vanquish the Small-Mindedness and Bigotry of Social Conservatism?

Social conservatives are fighting a losing battle — not against a global secular humanist conspiracy, but against the pill, the car, and the Internet.

From: AlterNet

By: Michael Lind

Growing public support for gay rights, including gay marriage, is the latest example of the moral liberalism that has transformed advanced industrial societies in the last few generations. The social traditionalists who claimed to be a “moral majority” in the United States in the 1980s are acting like an embattled, declining minority in the second decade of the 21st century. A few years ago the conservative activist Paul Weyrich declared that the right had lost “the culture war” and called on social conservatives to withdraw from mainstream society into their own traditionalist enclaves.

Many paranoid social conservatives blame the triumph of moral liberalism on a conspiracy of sinister secular humanists, using the media and the public schools to indoctrinate their children and grandchildren in a godless morality. But the truth is that social conservatism has been undermined by technological progress, which has increased the opportunities for freedom in matters of sex and censorship while raising the costs of enforcing traditional norms.

The pill did more to undermine traditional sexual morality than an imaginary secular humanist conspiracy could have done. Advances in contraception, far more than liberalization of abortion laws, not only reduced the costs of premarital sex but allowed married couples greater opportunities to plan their fertility. One result has been below-replacement fertility for most natives of advanced industrial societies, as a result of choice rather than coercion. Given the opportunity, most Americans, like most people in other advanced industrial nations, prefer fewer or no children to the large families of yesteryear. Participation in the modern workforce by the majority of mothers as well as unmarried women would have been impossible, if not for the pill.

By turning parenthood into a choice, rather than the nearly inevitable result of sex within marriage, the pill turned marriage into a relationship between two adults, with or without children, rather than a child-centered institution. This redefinition of marriage, along with social acceptance of growing numbers of heterosexuals who never marry or cohabit without marriage, inevitably undermined opposition to toleration or approval of gay and lesbian unions. Once most Americans stopped listening to priests, preachers and rabbis who seek to prescribe what married couples do in bed, it was only a matter of time before they stopped paying attention to clerical rules about what anyone does in bed.

In addition to the pill, the automobile is another technology associated with sexual liberation. In the premodern village or urban tenement neighborhood or sex-segregated campus, people were under the constant surveillance of family and neighbors. After World War II, access by young people to cars gave rise to institutions like road trips, “parking” in farmers’ fields and the one-hour hotel stay. And automobile-based suburbanization has enabled moral liberalism by creating communities in which people know few if any of their neighbors. Few progressives who long for a return of pedestrian villages want a revival of village surveillance and moral conformity.

If contraceptive technology has already let the horse of moral liberalism out of the barn of traditionalism, communications technology has burned down the barn. As recently as the 1970s and 1980s, Protestant and Catholic pressure groups were able to impose wide-ranging censorship on American television and radio and schools and public libraries. The church lady who insisted on the removal of “dirty books” from the library and organized boycotts of television shows and movies was a powerful figure in American life. Now pornography and graphic scenes of violence can be downloaded on a PC or a phone. Censorship was easy when there were choke points like TV and radio networks and the U.S. Postal Service. But technology has radically altered the cost-benefit calculation. Re-creating something like the older regime of media censorship would require not only North Korean or Iranian-style repression but also a vice squad with a bigger budget than the Pentagon.

The replacement of centralized, heavily censored broadcast media by a seemingly infinite number of channels has enabled far greater realism in cinema and television. Even before the Internet, subscription-only cable television was making possible uses of profanity and sexual explicitness that would never have been tolerated in broadcast television. Older generations may be shocked by graphic language, violence and sex, but it seems unlikely that we will return to the kind of bowdlerized entertainment in which characters said “frigging” and “darn,” in which characters in TV shows and movies did not bleed when shot or cut by swords, and in which the camera discreetly swiveled to the fireplace during romantic encounters.

Premodern societies, including the United States in recent memory, were based on a kind of Orwellian doublethink. There was the real world, populated by people who had premarital and extramarital sex, used contraceptives inside and outside marriage and had abortions, had children out of wedlock, patronized prostitutes and looked at pornography. And there was a fictitious world of literature and cinema and public discourse in which these aspects of life could not be mentioned, or could only be hinted at darkly. Much illicit behavior was tolerated, but occasionally and arbitrarily individuals who were caught were singled out and sacrificed, to maintain appearances. The cultural revolution of recent decades does not mean Americans are less moral than they were in the ages of speak-easies and corner bordellos and vaudeville strip shows. They are just less hypocritical.

Paul Weyrich was right about the culture war. Social conservatives are fighting a losing battle — not against a global secular humanist conspiracy, but against the social consequences of the pill, the automobile and the Internet. Short of reversing the industrial revolution, emptying the cities and restoring agrarian society, after the manner of Pol Pot’s communists in Cambodia in the 1970s, the best hope for social conservatives is to retreat to minority enclaves like those of the Amish. On self-created reservations they can raise their children as they see fit, segregated from mainstream culture and visited, perhaps, by morally liberal tourists nostalgic for an older, simpler way of life. And if their fertility is higher than that of the morally liberal majority, they can hope to take over America by strength of numbers — in 500 or a thousand years.”

Emphasis Mine

see: http://www.alternet.org/story/155552/can_science_vanquish_the_small-mindedness_and_bigotry_of_social_conservatism?akid=8838.123424.AH7LRN&rd=1&t=12

Occupy Wall Street and its foes…

Paul Krugman, NY Times (Losing Their Immunity)

“As the Occupy Wall Street movement continues to grow, the response from the movement’s targets has gradually changed: contemptuous dismissal has been replaced by whining. (A reader of my blog suggests that we start calling our ruling class the “kvetchocracy.”) The modern lords of finance look at the protesters and ask, Don’t they understand what we’ve done for the U.S. economy?

The answer is: yes, many of the protesters do understand what Wall Street and more generally the nation’s economic elite have done for us. And that’s why they’re protesting.

On Saturday The Times reported what people in the financial industry are saying privately about the protests. My favorite quote came from an unnamed money manager who declared, “Financial services are one of the last things we do in this country and do it well. Let’s embrace it.”

This is deeply unfair to American workers, who are good at lots of things, and could be even better if we made adequate investments in education and infrastructure. But to the extent that America has lagged in everything except financial services, shouldn’t the question be why, and whether it’s a trend we want to continue?

For the financialization of America wasn’t dictated by the invisible hand of the market. What caused the financial industry to grow much faster than the rest of the economy starting around 1980 was a series of deliberate policy choices, in particular a process of deregulation that continued right up to the eve of the 2008 crisis.

Not coincidentally, the era of an ever-growing financial industry was also an era of ever-growing inequality of income and wealth. Wall Street made a large direct contribution to economic polarization, because soaring incomes in finance accounted for a significant fraction of the rising share of the top 1 percent (and the top 0.1 percent, which accounts for most of the top 1 percent’s gains) in the nation’s income. More broadly, the same political forces that promoted financial deregulation fostered overall inequality in a variety of ways, undermining organized labor, doing away with the “outrage constraint” that used to limit executive paychecks, and more.

Oh, and taxes on the wealthy were, of course, sharply reduced.

All of this was supposed to be justified by results: the paychecks of the wizards of Wall Street were appropriate, we were told, because of the wonderful things they did. Somehow, however, that wonderfulness failed to trickle down to the rest of the nation — and that was true even before the crisis. Median family income, adjusted for inflation, grew only about a fifth as much between 1980 and 2007 as it did in the generation following World War II, even though the postwar economy was marked both by strict financial regulation and by much higher tax rates on the wealthy than anything currently under political discussion.

Then came the crisis, which proved that all those claims about how modern finance had reduced risk and made the system more stable were utter nonsense. Government bailouts were all that saved us from a financial meltdown as bad as or worse than the one that caused the Great Depression.

And what about the current situation? Wall Street pay has rebounded even as ordinary workers continue to suffer from high unemployment and falling real wages. Yet it’s harder than ever to see what, if anything, financiers are doing to earn that money.

Why, then, does Wall Street expect anyone to take its whining seriously? That money manager claiming that finance is the only thing America does well also complained that New York’s two Democratic senators aren’t on his side, declaring that “They need to understand who their constituency is.” Actually, they surely know very well who their constituency is — and even in New York, 16 out of 17 workers are employed by nonfinancial industries.

But he wasn’t really talking about voters, of course. He was talking about the one thing Wall Street still has plenty of thanks to those bailouts, despite its total loss of credibility: money.

Money talks in American politics, and what the financial industry’s money has been saying lately is that it will punish any politician who dares to criticize that industry’s behavior, no matter how gently — as evidenced by the way Wall Street money has now abandoned President Obama in favor of Mitt Romney. And this explains the industry’s shock over recent events.

You see, until a few weeks ago it seemed as if Wall Street had effectively bribed and bullied our political system into forgetting about that whole drawing lavish paychecks while destroying the world economy thing. Then, all of a sudden, some people insisted on bringing the subject up again.

And their outrage has found resonance with millions of Americans. No wonder Wall Street is whining.”

Emphasis Mine

see:http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/17/opinion/krugman-wall-street-loses-its-immunity.html?_r=1

Our New Deal:What Obama and Congress can learn from the Depression of the 1930’s

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (George Santayana).

“Those who control the past control the future, and those who control the present control the past” (George Orwell).

On Nov. 5, 2008,I decided that our situation was closer to 1933 than 1993, and decided to reinvestigate the New Deal, which was the name Pres. Roosevelt gave to the programs of Relief, Recovery, and Reform that defined his administration.   The changes included relief for the unemployed, recovery of the economy by: Keynesian spending;  agricultural aid; direct help to industry; and reform of business, finance, and housing.  In addition, Social Security – a series of insurance programs to help the elderly, protect the survivors who lose a wage earner, and provide for the disabled – was established, and support for organized labor became law.  Some of the programs were invalidated by the Supreme Court, but many remain to this day.  The effects of the New Deal?

The GDP recovered to exceed the 1929 level by 1936, and then took a dip in 37-38, recovering to climb on war spending.

Social programs, such as Social Security, unemployment insurance, and the FHA are still in place.

Financial reforms, such as the FDIC, SEC, and others are also still in place.

Organized labor, strengthened by the Wagner Act, enabled many blue collar Americans to increase their standard of living in the post war economy,  and consume more of what America produced.

When The Roosevelt administration yielded to conservative pressure, and reduced spending in 1937, the economy took a dip.

The TVA, and other infrastructure programs, were successful in both providing gainful employment, and in providing needed facilities.

What are the lessons?

o Keynesian spending does work, provided it is not too little.

o Relief, in the form of safety nets, does work.

o Don’t listen to conservatives: it was their polices that got us where we are.

o A crisis can provide the moment for major reforms – ignore those who say we should not try to do too much.

o As J.K. Galbraith observed ( in “The Affluent Society”), strong unions negotiate good wages, which enable workers to consume more of what they make.  (It might be noted that the relaxation of regulation and dilution of wages are major contributors to our current economic problems.)

While it could be argued that the US economy did not recover fully until WWII, I offer:

o If we had kept spending in 1937, there would have been no drop.

o The strengthening and expansion of the central government under the New deal provided the precedents, methodologies, and structures that were necessary for the massive efforts required to win the war, which ended with the US as the most powerful country in the world.  (It may be noted that new centralized programs we create under the Obama administration will help us bring our infrastructure, education, economy, energy polices, and health care systems into the 21st century, and then maintain them for generations to come.)

As for those who say the new Deal failed? Perhaps in their short sighted view they oppose relief and strong unions, but they cannot disagree that the US economy, up until we became dependent on Middle Eastern Oil, and paid dividends rather than modernize, was on top of the world.

In closing:

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (George Santayana).

“Those who control the past control the future, and those who control the present control the past” (George Orwell).