Tag Archives: Democratic Party

Politics is a Battle for Position: More Thoughts on the Election

8 Nov

As relieved as I am about the outcome of the national elections, I can’t get the thought of how much we’ve lost in order to “win” out of out my mind. Something an old colleague of mine told me in the 1980s keeps popping into my head: politics is a battle for position.

What he meant by that, I think, is that political fights are won or lost based on how one is positioned vis a vis the public, and relative to one’s opponents. He told me that in order to help me wrap my then relatively inexperienced mind around the idea that fighting the religious right by calling them supremacist bigots was a losing strategy. To the mainstream, religious rightists looked like church-goers exercising their religious freedom and right to speech by protesting abortion and gay rights. To get folks to listen, we needed to pivot and talk about democratic values.

On Tuesday (in addition to deploying a tactically brilliant campaign), Barack Obama won re-election because the GOP blundered spectacularly in the battle for position.

For 50 years the GOP fought to reposition itself among voters as something other than the folks who brought you the Great Depression. They did so by placing their political fortunes in the hands of a coalition of radical factions whose most powerful appeal is among white males. That move was a winner. It positioned them to win the presidency for Nixon, Reagan, and the Bushes. But, while conservative white males are still influential, that influence is declining. Romney losing on Tuesday with 59% of the white vote was a clear indication of that reality.

But, too late now. That right wing coalition the GOP built dominates the party’s presidential nomination process. That’s why right wing ideologues with no business working for government much less running for president like Michele Bachman, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum were each briefly GOP frontrunners. Moderate Mitt only won by turning sharply to the right (and being the only one with a real campaign).

And on Tuesday, we, or some version thereof, won. And yes, the influence of people of color, younger voters, and women in this election may be the first few rays of light indicating a new day dawning in American politics. Maybe.

However, there’s another side to this story. It goes something like this.

The GOP wedge strategy – their 50 year campaign of using controversial social issues to split liberal coalitions and push the left out of meaningful influence in politics – did succeed for a good long time. There were a few gaps along the way. The Watergate scandal gave us Carter, Ross Perot gave us Clinton in ’92, and the Iraq War and financial crisis gave us Obama.

The one legit presidential win for the Dems since Johnson was Clinton’s second term. Clinton won the Democratic nomination in 1992 and re-election in 1996 by figuring out that the Dems had lost the battle for position in a white dominated electorate when it traded white southerners for the black vote. When Lyndon Johnson led the charge to the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act he anticipated the backlash, saying to an aide, “We have lost the South for a generation.” He could have tripled that and still come up short.

Under Clinton’s leadership, the Dems moderated their message and pivoted on key issues. The Secretary of Explaining Stuff  conceded to racist attacks on welfare, reforming it by imposing benefit caps and a work requirement, but without providing a meaningful path to livable wage employment nor addressing what would happen to those who were pushed off the rolls by those caps without first finding decent jobs. Clinton also gave us the North American Free Trade Agreement. In addition to devastating the Mexican economy, NAFTA did a whack job on American workers and crushed the small farm economy in the U.S. And it was under Clinton’s watch that Glass-Steagall was repealed, and the basic architecture of the economic bubble that finally burst in 2008 was built.

Clinton also showed American voters that a Democratic president could be just as much of a hawk as a Republican one when he signed the Iraq Liberation Act, better known as “regime change,” and led Operation Desert Fox. The Iraq Liberation Act was the trail head leading to the Iraq War.

This is some of what it took to win on Tuesday. Each time the GOP took a step to the right, the Democratic Party stepped to the right to capture the territory it left behind. And the Dems kept moving to the right until, by November 6, 2012, it had made itself nearly indistinguishable from the GOP of the 1970s, with key exceptions on social issues that, as fortune and careful polling would have it, anticipated generational and demographic change.  But those positions do not represent the kind of justice great movements formed to achieve in the years before the rise of the right.

So was Tuesday a new dawn in American politics? Only if we treat the election as the beginning and not the end of our fight, and use the rays of hope it cast to find a path to justice.

The Right, The Election, And What’s Next

7 Nov

A while back I wrote a post called “The Party of Lincoln.” In it, I said that the GOP,

[has] become the instrument of power of a right wing movement bent on resetting the social, political, and economic clock in America to a time when women were marginalized, the rich were beyond accountability, and overt racism and racial codes were business as usual…

The majority of the Republican activist base is made up of ideologically inflexible, overlapping rightist factions. They include the Tea Parties, the religious right, libertarians, white nationalists, anti-communist conspiracy theorists, and assorted more exotic white supremacists. That’s why the Republican primary played like a re-run of Barry Goldwater’s famously far right presidential campaign of 1964.

These various factions keep uneasy company with the GOP’s traditional base of old-fashioned economic conservatives. And while the [more] radical factions may often seem at war with one another, they’re mostly unified in their racism and their hatred of liberals, and liberal ideas, including the notion that government, not the private sector, should be responsible for providing a social safety net. Moreover, for the sake of unity, they appear to have conceded to the baseline notion that anybody and anything not not in agreement with them is an enemy of the state.

How, you may ask, did the Party of Lincoln become home to right wing radicals? The answer is, they were invited.

The invitations started going out about 60 years ago. Back then, the GOP was in serious trouble. White Southerners were holding what appeared to be a permanent grudge against them over the Civil War and the abolition of slavery. The stock market crash of 1929 inspired a healthy cynicism of economic elites, and the GOP was rightly perceived as their party. We’d also successfully waged WWII under Democratic presidents, and all while Democratic policy appeared to have pulled the country out of a depression.

Moreover, the Republican elite were viewed as a bunch of aloof aristocrats and intellectuals whose theories were indecipherable and whose policies were all for the rich. Not exactly how they wanted to be perceived at a time when a burgeoning [white] middle class dominated the electorate.

It appeared as though the GOP would have to permanently settle for a role as a pro-capital counter-weight to Democratic liberalism. But as the 1960s rolled around, the libertarian wing of the party started getting organized. They intuited that the cultural fault lines of the time, especially around religion and identity, could be turned into political battle lines. With that in mind, they began rebuilding the party using a dual strategy of 1) splitting liberal coalitions by raising controversial social issues, and 2) building their base by appealing to racism and religiously-based cultural conservatism.

[Some of] the earliest appeals targeted racially sensitive white Southern Democrats. [The GOP] learned about the power of racism as a political tool by analyzing the failed George Wallace and Barry Goldwater campaigns for president. Both the Wallace and Goldwater campaigns mobilized white Southerners across party lines and attracted more small contributions than any other presidential campaigns until that time.

The lists of both campaigns were used by rightists like Paul Weyrich, co-founder of the Heritage Foundation. Weyrich’s pioneering use of direct mail marketing became the fundraising template of many right wing institutions.

So the first invitation was to racists. They constituted a chunk of the early fundraising base for key rightist organizations and their continued importance to the success of the GOP explains all of that dog whistling in this campaign.

From an ideological standpoint, Goldwater in particular showed Republicans that racism is a powerful lever…

The next invitation was to the born-again Christian movement, the fastest growing social movement in the world at the time. The evangelical movement was driven in part by backlash against the social liberalism of the 1960s, including a growing acceptance of women’s equality, free love, LGBT rights, and Black civil rights. As such, it was almost entirely white, straight, and socially conservative.

By aligning themselves with evangelical leaders such as Jimmy Swaggart, Pat Robertson, Tim and Beverly LaHaye, et al, the libertarian elites of the GOP formed an uneasy alliance the cracks in which are lately becoming more apparent. This alliance produced both a highly motivated base for the GOP and gave them legitimacy as an arbiter of family values. With this base and from this moral position, they launched a wedge strategy that involved raising social issues divisive to the Democratic coalition.

By attacking abortion rights as murder, they were able to peel Catholics off of the liberal coalition built by Kennedy. By attacking affirmative action as anti-white racism, they softened liberal whites’ support of civil rights. And by vilifying gays they split just about everyone else, and all while raising buckets of money for the non-governmental organizations of the movement. Issue by issue, they fractured their opposition until the evangelical base of the GOP rose to power as the most highly motivated and well-organized plurality (the largest minority) of voters.

The GOP also mobilized evangelicals and working class Southerners to win regressive tax reform. They did so in order to weaken government, especially in terms of its regulatory role, and got the help of rightists by claiming government had been taken over by feminists and the civil rights lobby. They attacked public schools as sources of secular liberalism, and preyed on the economic uncertainty caused by a changing economy to raise resentment against public employees whom they vilified as lazy clock-watchers.

But in order to get evangelicals involved in politics, they had to do more than touch on their issues. They needed to get them to commit to politics as an act of religion. To do that, some evangelical leaders turned to post-millennialism, the belief that there will be a 1000 year reign of godly men on earth before Jesus returns for the final judgement. The importance of post-millenialism is that it calls on Christians to engage in a takeover of all societal institutions, making politics a matter of life or death (or life after death) for certain evangelicals.

One of the principle ways that conservative evangelicals have served this mission is as Republican precinct captains, allowing them to achieve a bottom-up take over of many state GOP organizations. They also ran evangelicals as stealth candidates who focused on economic issues while hiding their radical social agendas. Stealth candidates went after every kind of office from judge to dog catcher in order to build the cadres of those with the political experience and name recognition to run for more influential offices (Rep. Michele Bachman, for instance).

These strategies are now the staple of Republican base building. Accordingly, Republicans reacted to the urban uprisings of the 1960s with a tough on crime campaign the centerpiece of which is the war on drugs, premised on the notion that America’s drug problem is a black people problem. They’ve attacked immigration, accusing immigrants of color of stealing jobs and government funded benefits. And they’ve attacked Muslims, equating Islam with Christian-hating and terrorism.

Lest we forget, of course, they’ve also accused liberals of being so limp-wristed when it comes to war and trade policy that in their hands the U.S. will tumble from it’s status as [the] world’s number 1 bully and become the 98 lb weakling of the global schoolyard. That fall, I guess, is something to fear when you do in fact know you’ve been a bully, but I digress.

Because the architects of this movement were, for the most part, libertarians, they’ve all the while used the openings created by their various attacks to popularize a laissez-faire philosophy of capitalism that conflates freedom with commerce. Variants of the ideology of free enterprise as freedom live within nearly all of these factions, and for that reason they are able to hang, however loosely, together. And because of what holds them together, the Republican corporate elites have been tolerant of their more extreme views, including the views that we ought to build an electrified fence on our southern border, and that we should abolish all abortions, even in cases of incest or threat to the life of the mother, as just two examples.

The most recent guests to the Party are the Tea Parties. They’re a hybrid of all of the above, with a dose of anti-authoritarianism and distrust of large institutions in general thrown in for good measure. They weren’t invited guests so much as crashers until Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor extended the invitation.

And now that all of these factions have arrived, Reince Priebus, Mitt Romney, and company have a management problem on their hands. As ye sow, so shall ye reap, as they say, and they deserve every bit of their bitter harvest.

Last night was part of that bitter harvest. The GOP has moved so far to the right that a growing coalition of younger voters, voters of color, and women were able win the day for Obama. But, before we start patting ourselves on the back, we need to remember that while the GOP is clearly losing the war of position on the political spectrum, that spectrum that has moved far to the right of where it was before the Republican backlash/bigotry strategy push it to where it is now.

The right got knocked, but Romney beat Obama among whites by 20% and won the white vote even in almost all blue states.   Voter suppression efforts though ineffective at stealing the election wove a web of lies about voter fraud that many, especially white voters, have bought into, and indications are that racism against African Americans is rising. We didn’t defeat the right last night. We just kept ourselves in the struggle.

Who Is More Racist, Republicans or Democrats?

17 Sep

Lately, the debate over who is more racist, the Democratic Party or the Republican Party, has heated up, with accusations flying from both sides. The discussion really got going when Chris Hayes, host of MSNBC’s Up with Chris Hayes, said of Republicans, “It is undeniably the case that racist Americans are almost entirely in one political coalition and not the other.”

That got the twitter-verse screaming foul. Hayes himself quickly took back his statement citing economist Alex Tabarrok’s research revealing that where racism is concerned, the parties are pretty much in a tie.  Hayes also cited John Sides‘ research that indicates a slightly stronger lean toward racism among Republican’s. But while the lean seems real, it’s not significant.

I side with Tabarrok and Sides. Racism is a problem for both parties. But, I think the issue is more complicated than what’s indicated by their research.

While I agree that the base of each party is equally racist, at least as measured by the narrow metrics of the research, the difference between the Democrats and the Republicans has to do with how each party’s leadership deals with the racism in their ranks. The Republican’s strategy is to organize, amp up, and exploit racist sentiment for political gain. Where racism is concerned, the GOP is about as manipulative as you can get, and given the history of this country and the affect of that history on our culture, that’s saying something.

One can’t put too fine a point on this difference. The Republicans are inciting a racist movement for political gain. Because of that they are, I believe, more dangerous. However, while they are actively breaking new ground and expanding opportunities for racists and racism, they’re no more cynical nor effective at institutionalizing, or at least accommodating, racism than the other side.

The Democrats present themselves as agents of equity while acting in ways that define what is necessary to achieve equity as nothing more than a bunch of empty platitudes. And that’s not the worst of it. Obama has one upped the Republicans when it comes to xenophobia, not through his words but through his actions, ordering a record number of immigrant detentions and deportations.

The Obama administration has also done next to nothing to end the crisis of mass incarceration of black and brown people in the U.S. They have also failed to directly address the disproportionate impact of the recession and the mortgage crisis on communities of color.

When it comes to race, the Republicans have started a racist movement that is pulling them ever further to the right. But the Democrats have passively played along by following them to the right to capture the political space the Republicans’ rightward march is leaving open. In other words, for the sake of political gain, the Democratic Party has, over the last 32 years or more, grown increasingly conservative on race, not to mention many other issues.

The Obama administration’s policy on deportations is one expression of that growing conservatism. His near silence on the issue of race is another.

I get the fact that being a Black president in a racist society makes talking about race poisonous to Obama’s political prospects. He didn’t create that problem. But, if you buy that, then it’s up to us to be the antidote to that poison by stepping up the pressure and making it more politically expedient for him to speak out than to shut up.

Even in this campaign, with coded and not so coded racist messaging a core strategy of the GOP, the Democrats are leaving discussions of racism to their surrogates. And boy are those surrogates buzzing about Republican racism.

But are they doing so in order to end racism? Nope. They’re doing so in order to make political points.

Now that’s cynicism, and it needs to be called out, not just because it’s bad politics, but because it leads to bad policy.

Why I Voted for Barack Obama and Will Again

8 Sep

A lot of folks I think of as leftists have told me they are considering not giving their vote to Barack Obama in November. They say they feel cheated that the actions of his administration didn’t live up to the soaring rhetoric of his campaign, and are opting out in protest.

I’m no Democratic Party loyalist, nor am I uncritical of the President. But their disappointment to the point of opting out frustrates me nonetheless. My frustration can be summed up by the question, “what in the world did you expect?”

It speaks to an uncritical liberalism not worthy of the left to assume that by electing a Black liberal to the presidency we would experience a revolution of values and priorities in governance. As leftists we know, or should know, that the institutions of government in the U.S. only allow change to occur in increments, and always within the parameters of the interests of those who control those institutions.

This is what I believe Derrick Bell meant when he wrote,

Black people will never gain full equality in this country. Even those herculean efforts we hail as successful will produce no more than temporary ‘peaks of progress,’ short-lived victories that slide into irrelevance as racial patterns adapt in ways that maintain white dominance. This is a hard-to-accept fact that all history verifies. We must acknowledge it, not as a sign of submission, but as an ultimate act of defiance.

I’ve used that quote often because I believe in it. It is, to me, a statement relevant to the condition of all oppressed people in America. The system of governance under which we live, and the elites who control our institutions of power, both public and private, will never voluntarily concede to the demands of justice. In order to win justice, we need a complete reorganization of power.

To expect a reorganization of power via the election of a president is simply unrealistic. It is a notion based in the magical thinking that if  enough of “us” are elected to government, we can overcome the limits of our institutions and create “change we can believe in.

Obama is just a man, barely a liberal much less a progressive, and the party he represents, the office he holds, and the institutions to which he is accountable will never allow any such magic to be conjured.

But I did vote for Obama-Biden in ’08, and I will do so again this year. Why? For a couple of reasons.

First, I believe the Republican Party has become the instrument by which a growing right wing movement hopes to exercise unjust power of a sort far worse than the horrors we are witnessing at this moment. If voting for a Democratic ticket slows them down, even slightly, and preserves the political space within which we can use the time we steal to do something, to organize ourselves, to seek an alternative or at least duck and cover, I’m there. I don’t care how many IDs I have to produce or how long the line.

Secondly, while Obama-Biden may only represent a difference in degree and not in kind from Bush-Cheney, McCain-Palin, or Romney-Ryan, I’ll take those degrees of difference. I’ll take them because, even from my perch in my very comfortable and well-stocked home, I know those degrees are measured in terms of human suffering.

It may not be the revolution of values and action that I am working for, but that work requires opportunity, certain freedoms of expression and of movement, and I may sound paranoid by saying this, but I feel those freedoms threatened, and more and more each day. Voting for Obama is just a tactical maneuver to be sure, but politics is made up, not just of vision, but of tactics.

Appalachian Voters

24 May

Thanks to a great article by Ta-Nehisi Coates in the Atlantic, I came across this quote by Steve Kornacki concerning Obama’s lack of popularity in Appalachia:

A majority of Kentucky’s 120 counties voted against Obama in the state’s Democratic presidential primary, opting instead for “uncommitted.” Big margins in Louisville and Lexington saved the president from the supreme embarrassment of actually losing the state, not that his overall 57.9 to 42.1 percent victory is anything to write home about…

Chalking this up only to race may be an oversimplification, although there was exit poll data in 2008 that indicated it was an explicit factor for a sizable chunk of voters. Perhaps Obama’s race is one of several markers (along with his name, his background, and the never-ending Muslim rumors, his status as the “liberal” candidate in 2008) that low-income white rural voters use to associate him with a national Democratic Party that they believe has been overrun by affluent liberals, feminists, minorities, secularists and gays – people and groups whose interests are being serviced at the expense of their own.

Coates addresses the race ignorance of failing to make the connection between perceptions of Obama as “Muslim,” and “liberal,” and all the b.s. about him being foreign and his race. Good point. I highly recommend reading the article.

To add a bit of wood to this fire, I’ll go a step further and say that low-income white rural voters are only half wrong (and half right) when they say the Democratic Party is overrun by affluent liberals, feminists, minorities, secularists, and gays at their expense. Here’s where they’re wrong – liberals, feminists, minorities, secularists, and gays are not in control of the Party.

Even calling the Democratic Party liberal is wrong. Democrats have run so far away from the label “liberal” that the Republican ploy of vilifying Democrats as liberals has had the effect of changing very meaning of the word for most Americans. Feminists certainly haven’t been able to move their agenda through the Party. Neither have LGBT folks. And minorities (I assume Kornacki is referring to people of color here) sure as hell aren’t in control.

When the Democratic Party becomes the champion of humane immigration policy we might start to imagine ourselves in control. When they finally stand up against the racist drug war, push for marriage reform so that everyone can marry, and domestic partners enjoy the same rights as married couples, we’d be getting somewhere. When the Party makes redirecting the more than $16,000,000 spent so far this year on the drug war to building schools and providing drug treatment and job opportunities in poor communities, I might start to take pride in my Democratic voter registration.

When honoring treaty rights, protecting the mineral rights, and providing adequate support for health, education, and economic development of Native people is a priority of the Democratic Party, we’d really be getting someplace.  When supporting pay equity for women is more of a priority than locking up non-violent drug offenders or detaining undocumented immigrants, the Party might start to feel like a par-tay. When President Obama starts to respond to accusations that he’s not a Christian by simply saying it doesn’t matter because we are not, by law, a Christian nation, I might faint, but only after getting on my knees to thank God.

But here’s where those low-income, white rural voters are half right. Until Appalachia is able to rise out of poverty, they have a rightful claim to being victims of injustice. The interests of others are most certainly being serviced at their expense. But those interests aren’t our interests – they’re corporate interests.

And maybe if all of us ordinary folks mattered more to the Democrats than corporate interests, those Appalachian voters might stop being so damn mad at us.

Homophobia and Racism: How They Are Connected And Why People Of Color Should Care

18 Apr

The recent document dump of the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage (NOM) internal documents reveals their racist and homophobic strategy to divide the Democratic Party. Among other things, the docs state: “The strategic goal of this project is to drive a wedge between gays and Blacks—two key Democratic constituencies. Find, equip, energize and connect African American spokespeople for marriage, develop a media campaign around their objections to gay marriage as a civil right; provoke the gay marriage base into responding by denouncing these spokesmen and women as bigots…”

And, “The Latino vote in America is a key swing vote… Will the process of assimilation to the dominant Anglo culture lead Hispanics to abandon traditional family values? We must interrupt this process of assimilation by making support for marriage a key badge of Latino identity – a symbol of resistance to inappropriate assimilation.”

Ready for more race basics?

Back in the olden days, circa 1990s, one of the right wing’s most successful propaganda ploys was anti-gay documentaries. These were cheaply made and given away for free on street corners, in churches, even in Congress. The videos made quite an impression, especially one called Gay Rights/Special Rights: Inside the Homosexual Agenda. That 1993 tape echos the NOM strategy.

The tape begins with an image of Dr. King and a voice-over: “I have a dream that one day…this nation will rise up, and live out the true meaning of it’s creed, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'”

Then, a commentator: “Because of the kind of Constitution we have, it was wrong, just out of pure logic, for Black people to be discriminated against, solely on the basis of color.  The 1964 and 1965 Civil Rights Act, um, clearly something that needed to be done, in order to, uh, to hold, uh, to hold this notion of Justice in our country.”  And then, another image of Dr. King and his voice, “One day they will live in a nation where they will be judged not by the color of their skin but on the content of their character.” 

Next, the video features white gay AIDS activist Larry Kramer paraphrasing Dr. King, saying “I may not get there with you, but some day we shall enter the promised land, where men and women will not be judged by their sexual desires but by the content of their character.”

The commentator: “Many failed to notice Mr. Kramer’s substitution of the words ‘sexual behavior’ for ‘skin color’…thus began the 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Equal Rights.”  

Then, the tape presents images of men kissing men, same sex couples with children, flamboyant cross-dressers, and scantily clad men and women holding militant signs or raising their fists.  Then, the punchline – LGBT people are co-opting the Civil Rights Movement, literally “hijacking the freedom train and taking it from Selma to Sodom,” which, they argue would “completely neutralize the Civil Rights Act of 1964. What it would do is say that anyone, anyone with any type of sexual preference, which would include everyone, is…would be protected under this law, so therefore there would be no protection for minorities specifically…”

Former U.S. Attorney General, Edwin Meese drives the message home saying, “As a white male, I have no rights whatever, other than what is shared with everyone else…” while suggesting that civil rights are add-ons for those who have suffered as a result of certain “benign” characteristics.

The message?

  • that civil rights are bestowed on you as a special privilege, not just because you’re a citizen
  • therefore, white people, especially white males, don’t have civil rights
  • however, Black people do have them
  • therefore, civil rights are “special rights”

The false logic of this message was meant to inspire anti-LGBT activism among whites already resentful of the Black Civil Rights Movement. The tape depicted not the stereotype of the effeminate, middle-class, sweater queen, but a militant, sexually aggressive, and potentially criminal element. Sound familiar?

And they argued that LGBT people were denigrating the Civil Rights Movement by asking for civil rights protection for perverse sex acts, driving a wedge between culturally conservative Black church-goers and (white) LGBT people.

Evil genius, right? They used homophobia as a soft-entry point into Black and white church-going communities and once they were in, they told one of the most potent lies of the post-Civil Rights era; that not just gay rights but civil rights are special rights, and that the contest for special rights is one with winners and losers; that we can’t all be protected at the same time.

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