There has been a firestorm of commentary on Racism in America since the infamous Joe Wilson You Lie remarks in Congress and Tea Party Marchers in Washington this last weekend. President Jimmy Carter said it was racist attacks Like Joe Wilson’s on the President that was the new norm. Newsweek has a cover story asking Is your Baby Racist. NYTimes correspondent Bob Herbert argues “the Sourge Persists” and lays the blame squarely on the Republican party as “Republicans are trying to ride that dependable steed of bigotry back to power”. NYTimes David Brooks counters that “No, Its Not About Race but rather “The progressive elite is starting to dismiss rural white America as illegitimate, and vice versa.” In effect, Brooks argues that it is a longstanding conflict between populists and the aristocratic, ruling elites. And probably not having the last word, President Obama rejected race as cause of criticism and citing “distrust of the role of government”. And on the pot boils. So here is my turn and take on the situation.
I agree with Bob Herbert. Many in the Republican party and particularly the extreme elements in the Conservative [=Republican?] media like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly and others, sailing under the banner of Free Speech have become more rude, more strident, downright toxic and near treasonous in their remarks about President Obama, Democrats and/or Liberals.
The result is that their over-the-top remarks are in effect green-lighting some of the outlandish behaviors seen at town-hall meetings, TeaParty protests, and bile laden blogs [in the latter case, the Republican do not have a monopoly]. Too many Conservatives and Republicans, tottering at the brink of irrelevance, are reaching back to their infamous standby, a politics of fear, smear and character assassinations. This from the party that a)supports the center; b) knows best how to govern civilly; and c)admonishes that the best government is less government. It seems even (c) does not apply to the spend-crazy 8 years of the Bush years. Why is this so ?
For the past 12-16 years, Conservative and Republican Leadership have made a very curious political amalgam – support for many business elites while pandering to ever more strident populist causes. Think tax breaks for the rich, job-chopping concessions to businesses large and small, fruitless warring adventurism in Iraq, or Medicare not allowed to solicit competitive bids for huge drug purchases as just a small sampling of Conservatism in serious reverse gear. At the same time, to broaden their Base, Conservatives have been embracing knee-jerk but deeply dividing issues. Thus many Republicans and Conservatives are championing unreservedly politically charged populist causes such as Right to Life, Gay Marriage Bans, Unlimited Rights to Bear Arms, Supreme Court and Constitutional Literalism, Christian Prayers Only in Schools, etc. This is a very unstable mix which was bound to totter despite having the Presidential and Congressional leadership for 8 and 6 years respectively. Unfortunately, on this Conservative + Republican Watch the country suffered the first major attack on US soil by terrorists for whom both the CIA Director and the Federal Terrorist Security Chief had produced many warnings right up to 9/11. On the Conservative and Republican Watch the US invaded Iraq on patently false pretenses and got caught in Iraqi Civil/Religious Wars that were one of many unintended consequences not anticipated by the Neconservatives and Presidential leadership at the cost of of trillions of dollars, 5000 US lives, and a diminished standing in World public opinion. Finally, Conservatives and Republican leadership were at the helm when Business Financial Elites unleashed the Financial Meltdown and consequent 2 year[so far] long Recession which has had a very harsh loss of jobs which particularly effects many Republican populists. Finally, there is contrast of the energy, centrist policies, willingness to tackle a whole range of wicked problems plus consistent eloquence of President Obama which stand in stark contrast to the meandering and doctrinaire Republican leadership of George Bush, Dick Cheney and the Republican favored, far-right elites.
In short the Republican party is in shambles. And nobody on the Right knows how to put together the Humpty Dumpty Business elite+Populist causes together again. Look at the inherent contradictions. True nation loving Populists have been fighting and dying for a cadre of draft-eluding neo-conservative war policy makers in Iraq and the ignored and now festering war that is now Afghanistan. Business elites, particularly the Financial elites have been rewarding themselves just 3-6 months after being rescued by the government to the tune of $795 billion dollars of taxpayer money by adding to their already outsized wages tens of billions in bonuses. At the same time many of these Business and Financial elites have been insisting that companies cut back on “high unionist wages”, eliminating health and other benefits plus demanding huge cutbacks in jobs such that a jobless recovery into 2010 or longer is the consensus prediction for the US economy.
How do you fit the square Business elite peg into the round Populist whole ? No longer without crude and uncouth stridency. The moderate Republicans have been largely eliminated in the last two elections. Even strong Conservative thinkers like David Frum or Andrew Sullivan have been largely ignored. So almost by reflexive impulse many Conservatives and Republicans are resorting to the old standbys – screaming attacks, fear mongering on health care, and fanning wounded populist resentments/sensibilities/vulnerabilities. Take Minnesota Governor Pawlenty, offered as a sample of a Centrist Republican, for an example. His attacks on President Obama and the Democrats have all of these elements. I think too many Conservatives and Republican Party members have sold their souls to the devils of extremism [all apologies to true Values-oriented citizens]. Look no further than the inability of independent Conservatives and Republicans to provide any moderation/control of a)the huge multi $trillion overspending by a Republican President and Congress for 8 years in contrast to the fiscal discipline of the Democratic Clinton years and b)to even call into question the planning let alone the rationale of the Iraq war. So now they are not able to return to the center but rather trying to repair a political amalgam that just wont stick together any more. And so if Racism helps, some strategically placed Republicans are saying “so be it”.
What the US needs more than ever is a viable third party. Perhaps a true conservative party to emerge somewhat on the libertarian directions of Ron Paul. Vital is a party that is able to rise up above “party discipline” and champion fiscal responsibility and good, effective governance. But the writing is on the Wall – diffusion and loss of unilateral US Power is inevitable [the Iraq War and US-led World-wide Financial Recession sealed the loss in power]. At the same time, more government not less is the order of the day as worldwide problems fester. This is evident as the US becomes the World’s secondary economic power with fast growing emergence of BRIC countries [resource and population rich Brazil, resource rich Russia, people and science rich India and China] while at the same time major worldwide problems like climate change, broad non-renewable resource depletion[oil is not the only scarce commodity, but also food, water, and minerals needed to run growing economies], nuclear proliferation, growing vulnerability to pandemics, and destabilizing population growth. Each of these are “elephants crowding into the room” which could easily explode and stampede out to the immense destruction of not just the US but World welfare. And the US with its democracy proving ever more fragile and unworkable [look at what is being said about why the US being is less than able and prepared to act in a leadership role in the upcoming and critical Energy conferences]. So yes there are festering pockets of relentless Racism in America but it is also the deliberate and almost malignant corrosiveness of much of the the Conservative and Republican leadership that uses racism or whatever smear that will work to gain back notions of leadership in US politics. This is the real Political Plight in America – without an effective opposition party, American Democracy and World leadership is foundering.