Since the election last Tuesday, we have brought you example of example of ways in which the Republicans have willfully misinterpreted the causes of their resounding defeat; the reasons why President Barack Obama was granted a mandate by the American people; the reasons why the impossible occurred.
We have seen preachers, pundits, and politicians offer up their lame rationales. All of them have, to a man and a woman, avoided the unpalatable truth: that history has passed God’s Own Party by. Since 1964, the Evangelical-controlled GOP has fashioned a culture war to raise against Americans and their constitutional rights; a crusade, as brutal in its own way as that of the Yahweh-Alone Party in post-Exilic Israel: diversity be damned: you must all think as we do and live as we say. You must all worship our God and no other.
Despite treating the rest of us like despised Canaanites, these blinkered fanatics can only see themselves as victims.
The whining tone of an opinion piece on CNN.com by William J. Bennett, provides another example of how misled Republicans can be by their ideology. Bennett was the U.S. secretary of education from 1985 to 1988 and director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President George H.W. Bush. If you ran across him on Craig’s list you’d find that he prefers beheading drug dealers to long walks on the beach, and high-stakes gambling to both.
Bennett announced that the Republicans have lost the culture war. This, in itself, is unremarkable. I had come to the same conclusion. I think most people had.
What is remarkable is his complete inability to understand what happened to his party and to his ideology, and the ways in which those two things are intertwined. Causation is not well understood in conservative circles, a sad commentary on Bennett’s own education, perhaps.
After enumerating the many constituencies won by Obama in 2012, Bennett correctly points to the “drumbeat of the Obama campaign”:
To women they said: Republicans are waging a “war on women,” trying to outlaw abortion and contraception and would take them back to their rights in the 1950s. To minorities they said: Republicans are anti-government services, cold-blooded individualists, and cannot represent minority communities. To middle and low income Americans they said: Republicans are the party of the rich, who will slash taxes for only the richest Americans and cut social safety nets for the poor.
What Bennett catastrophically fails to see is that the Republicans were guilty of all these things. Perhaps he hasn’t paid attention to the GOP’s legislative track record in recent years:
These bills, whether they became laws or not, were not just inventions of the Democratic Party, or of Team Obama. The reason the Obama campaign was able to make these points was that the Republicans were guilty as charged. If he wants to know why women voted for Democrats, or perhaps more accurately, against Republicans, Bennett need only look at this example from Ireland.
Bennett says that “Rather than offer a broad sweeping vision for the country, Democrats played identity politics.”
This is not a new charge. Joe Klein of Time Magazine urged Democrats to move away from identity politics; Ross Douthat claimed that “when it comes to exploiting America’s ethnic divisions to mobilize key constituencies, today’s Democratic Party sins as much as it is sinned against.”
These claims about identity politics don’t ring true. As Ann Friedman wrote at the American Prospect in 2010, “all politics are identity politics”: “Critiques of identity politics fail to acknowledge that people join social-justice and political groups because they actually do want to look beyond themselves and make our country a better place. ” As she points out,, “Identity groups are made up of people who want to be part of something bigger, people who recognize personal injustices and want to channel their indignation into a greater quest for a better country. That sentiment is the very fuel of progressivism… After all, my identity is why I’m a liberal in the first place.”
The problem for Republicans is that they just had fewer identities: rich white folks, Evangelical Christian leaders (also, by and large, rich), and the dirt poor white folks who believed their lies.
Sounds like a case of sour grapes to me. And, after all, it wasn’t Democrats who insisted the Republicans have a smaller tent each year than the last. The difference is, the Democratic vision of America, like the Constitution’s, make room for all these various identities; the Republicans insist if you are not a white Evangelical Christian you are not an American at all.
We should perhaps point out here that Bennett is an ancient foe of multiculturalism from his Reagan days. I suppose if the GOP succeeded in forcing us all into their theocracy the problem would be neatly made to disappear, wouldn’t it?
Bennett willfully ignores Obama’s sweeping vision for change. Facts are as poisonous to the Republican old guard, apparently, as to the new. So in this narrative, “Republicans were the culprits, and women, young adults, black, Latinos, etc… were the victims. And voters believed it. Why? For the same reason this litany — gender, race, ethnicity, class — sound so familiar.”
Ready? Sure you are. You won’t be terribly surprised.
Our liberal institutions of higher learning are to blame. Hollywood is to blame. Everyone is to blame except for those who are actually guilty: the Republican Party:
Voters believed it, not because it was something new or groundbreaking, but because this has been the template of many of our character-building institutions — our public schools, our colleges, and public universities — for the past 50 years. Go to any major university in America and this is the mindset that is taught, preached, and ingested. It also gets an assist from television drama, from the movies, and from much of the mainstream media.
Bennett maintains that “For decades liberals have succeeded in defining the national discourse, the terms of discussion, and, therefore, the election, in these terms.”
When Bennett says this, you have to wonder where he has been hiding his head for these past decades. Liberals have been grossly passive during this time frame, ceding the initiative long ago to the Republican Party, which is the party that has actually controlled the discourse.
But Bennett claims that the Democrats “have successfully set the parameters and focus of the national and political dialogue as predominantly about gender, race, ethnicity, and class. This is the paradigm, the template through which many Americans, probably a majority, more or less view the world, our country, and the election. It is a divisive strategy and Democrats have targeted and exploited those divides.”
Yes, in Bennett’s fevered imagination, as in Glenn Beck’s, those wicked liberals have created and exploited divisiveness.
How does he know this is all true?:
“How else can we explain that more young people now favor socialism to capitalism?”
In point of fact, socialism has been with us for a long time. As is often pointed out, we have public libraries, interstate highways and other pieces of our infrastructure that are used by all for the common good and which are paid for by the government.
Bennett complains that “According to a Pew Research poll taken last year, 49% of Americans age 18-29 have a positive view of socialism while just 46% have a positive view of capitalism. Such a view has roots.”
Yes, it does have roots. But again, Bennett can’t, or won’t, see where those roots lie. Socialism as a response to the rampant abuses of capitalism is hardly a surprise. Thomas Paine, that great 18th century radical liberal, argued for a social welfare system, a safety net, as we would call it today.
Bennett’s misdirected conclusion is that “in the long run” Republicans “must address the problem at its source: the culture.”
His complaint that “For the past 50 years liberals have had majority control of the character-forming institutions. If the national dialogue stays on their terms — gender, race, ethnicity, class — Republicans will continue to lose” misses the point entirely.
The Republican position is one contrary to the spirit of the Constitution, one of exclusion over inclusion, one of abridgment and limitation of rights rather than extension of rights, one of government sponsored religion rather than the First Amendment’s embrace of religious pluralism.
Bennett’s solution to the GOP’s self-created problems are to change nothing in the Republican message. Nothing in the failed and rejected Republican platform. He thinks the Republican message will be well received if only Republicans can gain control of the discussion they have already, for most of half a century, controlled.
He says liberal discourse must be countered with a message of “faith, freedom, principle, values, work, country, community, improvement, growth, and equality of opportunity.”
That’s a nice sentiment, I am sure, but most of it is not and has not for the period under discussion been a part of the Republican message, outside of faith, a faith that is decreasingly shared by Americans.
Like the Tea Party of 2010, Bennett says “It’s time for Republicans to take it back.”
The problem with this message is that by ignoring all the facts, it can offer nothing new; it can offer no solution. It is the same, tired, repetitious song-and-dance we have heard for the past two years. And the simple fact is that you cannot take back what you never possessed, nor take back something that never existed, which is the America of the Republican imagination.
You can create a lie to sell to your base, but when you make the mistake of believing it yourself, you create a reality bubble from which you can never escape.
The Republican Party has been busy constructing this bubble since 1964, and residing happily within it untl 2008, and then again in 2012, when reality bit them in the ass in a political blast the strength of Krakatoa. Their resultant delusion has been self-perpetuating, and cognitive dissonance has become their default reaction to any setback. There is zero evidence that any of this is going to change. They are more comfortable with delusions than with reality these days, and in the long run, that will only mean a longer period of liberal dominance.
That may or may not be a good thing in the long run. We need a balance of opinions and outlooks for a healthy political landscape. But like it or not, it seems to be a fact. While Republicans struggle to find ways to ignore the facts, it falls upon the rest of us to pick up the slack, recognize those facts for what they are, and move this country forward, which, after all, is the original trajectory set for it by those remarkable, if flawed, men we now know as our Founding Fathers.