Tag Archives: Rick Santorum

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.

Race and Religion: Islamophobia or Christian Jihad?

2 May

Franklin Graham, the son of Christian evangelist Billy Graham, and head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, was interviewed on MSNBC back in February of this year. In the interview, the Reverend Graham, as a representative of one of the most influential evangelical Christian organizations in the world, was asked if he considered President Obama a Christian. His now famous response can be summed up in one word: maybe. When questioned further, he made a statement that should give us all pause.  He said he “can’t say categorically…” that Obama is not a Muslim, because Muslims have gotten a “free pass” under the President’s administration, creating a situation in which Christian minorities in the Arab world are being attacked and killed by Muslims.

In about 30 seconds, Graham summed up the position of much of the right wing of the evangelical Christian movement in America. That is, to be a Christian, one must be opposed to Islam. The two religions cannot peacefully co-exist.

Welcome to the culture wars, what I un-affectionately refer to as the right wing Christian jihad.

From the people who gave us trans-vaginal probes and the war on drugs, all new and repackaged for our convenience, here is a new way of dividing up humanity that ultimately serves the interests of the rich. By cooking up Islamophobia (the fear and loathing of Muslims), they are ginning up a war of worlds – a fight for control of coveted natural resources and geopolitical position disguised as a war on terror.  The domestic foot soldiers of this war are motivated by a belief that Christianity is under attack by queers, feminists, immigrants, (Black) drug criminals, and, especially since 9/11, by Muslims.

By some estimates, as much as 45% of the American public considers themselves born-again Christians. The majority, though by no means all, are conservatives. That is the audience for whom Graham’s hemming and hawing was meant. It’s the same audience Rick Santorum played to during his primary campaign. He suggested that Obama is guided by a wrong-headed theology and then defended his comments by claiming he accepts that Obama is a Christian but that his “worldview” is “different than how most people do in America.”

To the jihadists of the right, Christians are challenged to no longer define their faith via their individual relationship with Jesus. They must promote their faith through the political process in order to protect it from insurgent “others” who threaten traditional Christian morality and the security of the Christian community.

This reasoning is nothing new. In the name of religion, a form of racism was justified that resulted in the near genocide of the indigenous people of North America. Starting in the early 1600s and extending to the 1920s, what has become known as the American Indian Wars either directly or indirectly resulted in the native population dropping from approximately 1,000,000 (many suggest this number should be multiplied by 8 or 9) at first contact, to about 250,000 by the end of the 19th century.

The Puritans believed that native peoples were savages. Unless converted to Christianity, they were subject to servitude or simple eradication. By the 1800s, the ideology of Manifest Destiny, the belief that the Anglo Saxon race was destined to expand across the North American continent bringing civilization and “progress” in their wake became the popular justification for a federal policy of “Indian removal.” That same ideology drove us to war with Mexico in 1846, the spoils of which included all or part of Texas, California, Nevada, Utah, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona. That’s right, the most anti-immigrant state in the U.S. also happens to have once been part of Mexico.

While Africans during this same period were cast as animals to justify slavery, native people were cast as “heathens” to justify native “removal” either by genocide or forced treaties that often involved trading resource rich territory for poor scrub land. They are the flip sides of the same ideology; one that begins with an assumption of white, Christian supremacy.

This was jihad, American-style. It’s a tradition we seem determined to continue. And, as always, those chumming the waters are motivated less by religion than by their desire to acquire resources. Land, minerals, food, timber, oil. The commodities may change over time, but the dynamics remain largely the same.

Why I Rooted For Mitt, Or Rick Santorum Is A Danger…Still

23 Apr

Hallelujah! Rick Santorum is finally out of the Republican primary race! What, you didn’t think I would feel that way?

I’ve been listening to liberal media pundits talk about the unlikely prospect of Rick Santorum winning the Republican presidential nomination as if it would be a “gift” to Democrats all season. Some liberals have even turned out Democrats to vote for Santorum in open primaries. And now, some of them are talking like they’re actually a little sad that he dropped out, boohooing over how good it was for Democrats to have him in the race.

I say they’re nuts. As conservative and elitist as Mitt Romney is, he’s not a right winger. He may be pandering to the right wing, but he doesn’t belong to that movement. He’s neither a theocrat nor a libertarian, and, while it is true that Mormons once believed that Black people are cursed by God, Romney is not an ideological white supremacist.

As much as I disagree with Mitt Romney, I do not by any means consider Santorum a “gift.” Misogyny, and racial fear and loathing are powerful motivators.  In the end, I’m not at all certain Santorum would have lost (which we should keep in mind since he seems to be hoping for another chance in 2016).

But if that’s not enough to get you feeling grateful that all we got was Mr. Etch-A-Sketch, allow me to tell you a little story about Barry Goldwater, aka Mr. Conservative, and the impact he had on all of us by running for president and not just losing, but getting his ass handed to him.

Johnson’s ass-kicking of Barry Goldwater in 1964 appeared to signal the end of racial conservatism in national politics. Sadly, it ended up being a new beginning. With Goldwater’s campaign lists of highly motivated anti-civil rights voters serving as a resource, and his strategy of appealing to racism to win white Southern votes as a template, libertarian economic elites began to build the Republican’s Southern Strategy.

Goldwater exposed the power of racism as a political tool by running against Civil Rights and winning big among white Southern voters, including Democrats who jumped the fence in order to support him. He ran on a platform of turning Social Security into a voluntary program, and eliminating farm subsidies among other schemes that were very unpopular in the South, much as limiting access to birth control is a very unpopular position today. But, because he ran against Civil Rights, he won Southern votes, even from white people for whom the programs he promised to destroy were the most popular.

Goldwater’s strategy turned race into a partisan issue. In 1962, a national poll asked which party would more likely ensure Blacks got fair treatment in housing and employment.  22.7% answered Democrat compared to 21.3% who said Republican. 55.9% said there was no difference. By late 1964, another poll showed that 60% of those questioned said Democrats were more likely to ensure fairness and 7% said Republicans, with only 33% seeing no difference. Such was the suddenness and force of the backlash strategy.

In the 1950s, poor white Southerners were the third most liberal voters on issues of government intervention for full-employment, education, and affordable health care, right behind Blacks and Jews. By the early 70s, they did a values flip. When it came to poverty alleviation programs, they went from being liberals to being statistically indistinguishable from wealthy white Northerners, the traditional base of the GOP. Given the ongoing poverty of the South, this move was akin to poor white Southerners cutting off their toes for want of smaller shoes.

The Republicans, smelling blood, went about breaking the class basis of the New Deal Coalition by appealing to racism. In a pattern that would repeat itself throughout the South, GOP voter rolls shot up from 49% to 76% in Birmingham, Alabama’s poorest white communities between 1960 and 1964. In Macon, Georgia, it went from 36% to 71%. Atlanta went from 36% to 58%, and so on.

The GOP was able to affect this shift by linking federal intervention on economic issues with federal intervention on civil rights. By 1980, Ronald Reagan’s anti-government platform would begin a revolution in our political culture about federal intervention in general.

The current Tea Party protest language against government spending started out as coded language designed to build opposition to Civil Rights. Anymore, most aren’t even conscious of it. They just use the language and achieve the effect of mobilizing race sensitive whites who, themselves, often don’t understand they are responding to calls to racism: it’s just part of the political culture now.

So you think Rick Santorum is a gift to Democrats? Consider the legacy of Barry Goldwater and think again.

BTW: Credit is due to Thomas Byrne Edsall and Mary D. Edsall for some of the stats above. I’m not sure I agree with all of the political conclusions they draw, but they do good research!

Four Tips On Talking About Racism

28 Mar

I’m often asked the question, “How do you talk about racism with white people who think we’re post-racial?” It’s a good question. I wish I had an easy answer. Short of that, here are a few tips to try:

First tip is, avoid moral superiority. It’s not only unflattering to you, it also doesn’t work. I know, I tried it all through my 20s. It felt f**king great, but it accomplished next to nothing. Racism is, for sure, a moral problem, but the solution will require something other than moralizing.

Second, find common ground. One way is to use the Felt, Found, Feel” strategy. It’s a twist on the Feel, Felt, Found sales method. Here’s how it goes: “When Obama was elected I felt like, at last, we’re past race! But then I found out that Obama got a smaller share of white votes than any successful presidential candidate in history, and heard about all these racist tea party protests. Now I feel like the racist reaction to Obama’s election is evidence that racism is still a problem.”

I learned that method from a friend of mine who could talk you into drinking cyanide even without the Kool-Aid.

Third, don’t just list off the horrors of racism. That kind of thing mostly gets white people feeling guilty and buying Dance Rock Dana Asian Barbies for their kids. It’s all well and good, but you’re making a call to action, and long, tragic lists are pretty paralyzing.

Finally, don’t be a smarty pants. One of the obstacles to dialogue is that folks think of racism as a litmus test of whether you’re good (as in educated and smart), or a red neck, a term that comes right after “white trash” in the list of things one should never say, not just because they’re mean, but because saying stuff like that is bad politics. Want an example of why? Just watch how Rick Santorum fans react when he calls Obama a snob for suggesting it’s a good thing to give everyone a chance at college.

Rather than use this as a chance to show how smart you are, stop talking about you and focus instead on the self-interest of your audience. After all, racism is definitely a 99% issue.  It affects all of us to the detriment of most of us.

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