Sunday, August 17, 2008

Beneath Contempt

So Howard Dean called the Republican Party "the white party". Strategically speaking, this insult (he has said it before in other situations so it is neither a gaffe nor an accident) is beyond tone deaf and is sheer political idiocy. This moronic mouthing off plays into every standard stereotype of an arrogant Stevensonian elitist and adds fuel to the race-baiting fires already burning through the Democrats' support this year, thanks to Obama's smear-and-run campaign.

This is a different claim than if Dean had gone after the Republicans as the "racist party" or even the "anti-minorty party", which is what he probably thought he was doing. By making an insult out of a biological fact instead of a pattern of behavior, Dean has declared that he (and thus Democrats as such, being as how he is the DNC Chair) think that "white" is a suspect and dangerous category of person. He did a crude inversion of racist claims about non-whites and it says a hell of a lot about the moral and ethical midden between Dean's ears.

What has Dean done? He has replaced political claims with personal morality, and has attached that moral condition to a biological one. One of the things this electoral cycle has thrown into relief is the way in which Stevensonians like Dean make shame stand in for policy, and reduce structural problems in society into questions of personal choice. This approach intellectualizes material problems, such as health care or just compensation, rejecting relationships of power or even common sense evaluation of actual living conditions in favor of finger wagging at the people on the short-end of the stick. Retrograde social beliefs (Guns & God!) are the reason for economic stagnation, not the gutless behavior of Congress or state legislatures. It looks aside from power relationships that keep socio-economic elites in control, and doesn't want to sully its pure ideas with "pandering" i.e., providing material benefits to woo rank and file supporters away from the other side. "You people" should know that we are your salvation from your benighted lives. You should be smart enough to know better than to vote for the other guy, and you can't be mad if we dump on you for being so stupid. If you won't do what you know you should do, I'm going to call you WHITE, so there!

This is both insult and challenge. It offers only stick and no carrot, and it does so by trying to shame people for inhabiting a condition they cannot change - their own skin. This is why racial categories are so deeply pernicious; how can you stop being you genetic condition? Race rather than racism, a condition rather than a behavior, is targeted with no way out.

This has to be the absolutely worst way to try to get people to abandon their cultural identification. It is reducing the complexity of an individual to a stereotype rather than teasing out the parts of that identity that can be built up in opposition to the artificial simplicity of that stereotype.

What can it mean for an incredibly privileged male of Northern European ethnic decent to snear that the main opposition party is the "white party"? He may imagine that everybody who hears this of course understands that he means a particular mode of societal privilege that is normative for how individuals are ranked and treated and which is encapsulated in a speech act that accompanies the term "white", which is not equivalent to genetic inheritance but is rather a socially constructed pattern of rules, behaviors, unarticulated expectations for relative treatment accorded to specific individuals without regard for their particularity, but most people think Howie just said, "White people suck." And how is it that Dean can exempt himself and all of his predominantly white and male cohorts from that incendiary claim?

Like it or not, Howard Dean has just made the claim that if you are white, you are A) racist and B) Republican, your actual acts and deeds in this world not withstanding. The only way to be relieved of this taint is to vote Obama. Not even Democrat - you must vote for Obama. If Obama should fail at the polls, then all "white" Americans stand indicted for racism because that is the only way he can fail and the only reason for failing to vote for The Precious is you're just a racist white Republican at heart.

The impulse among old-line Stevensonian leadership to accuse other people of racism at the drop of a hat, categorically condemning millions of white voters, will do nothing to bring voters of all ethnicities together to support progressive politics. This is a fundamental failure of this faction within the Democratic Party and is why we consistently lose national elections.

Anglachel

7 comments:

lakelobos said...

Like it or not, Howard Dean has just made the claim that if you are white, you are A) racist and B) Republican, your actual acts and deeds in this world not withstanding. The only way to be relieved of this taint is to vote Obama. Not even Democrat - you must vote for Obama. If Obama should fail at the polls, then all "white" Americans stand indicted for racism because that is the only way he can fail and the only reason for failing to vote for The Precious is you're just a racist white Republican at heart.

The paragraph above is the post's real point. Since I am ignorant of the Stevensonian section of the Democratic Party, my read of the paragraph is rather simple. Obama has conned many Democrats, the DNC in particular, that the Clintons are racist. Oobama is using race as a weapon. Very much like Dean, Obama is actually a White man with darker skin. He wasn't never African American nor was he African; he grew up white.

Now Obama, of course, Dean and many blogosphere idiots have solved their superiority feeling by blaming any opposition to Obama on racism. Since all of them are white, this outrageous approach almost guarantees a lose in November.

The other facet of the issue is that many real progressives, e.g. Borosage, are so afraid of being racist that they support a right wing, sleek talking, empty suit person such as Obama.

The recovery from Obama either in late November or in 2012 will be very painful for the progressives. It reminds me of the collapse of the Israeli left after the 2000 Clinton peace deal which Arafat responded to by starting a war. In both cases, the left had a wrong grasp of reality that caused its collapse.

Pol C said...

Terrific post.

I was shaking my head at this when I saw Tapper's report on it over at the ABC site. I have never seen a bunch of politicians so committed to the notion that they can win people's support by making them feel guilty about others' wrongs. Nietzsche would have a field day with this nonsense.

bluelyon said...

At first glance I thought you were writing about what HD said a couple of years ago, but nooo, oh.my.god. he said it again?

Beating head against the wall.

daily democrat said...

Thank you for elucidating Howard Dean's "white party" comment. I knew there was something deeply wrong with that idea the moment I heard about it, but without your essay, I would have had to spend all day thinking about it to understand why.

edgeoforever said...

Thanks for this perspective.
This is not the first time Howard is putting his foot in his mouth like this - in his ill fated campaign in 2004 he made disparaging remarks of the South as well.
He also insulted women in this statement - by implying they are something other than "folk" and relegating them to second class citizens by saying "even women"

BCC said...

Dean better wake up quick.

He's trying to guilt me and people like me into voting HIS way to support HIS agenda.

And it is about to backfire.

demogrunt said...

As a white male, I don't appreciate being called a racist when I am not. False accusations of racism make it much easier for me to vote against the accusers. It seems easy for the insolent Obama supporters to accuse anyone not of like mind of being racists, stupid people voting against their interests,"Republicans", and a host of other insults, without them realizing that each accusation erodes Obama's support just a wee bit more. Why would anyone on the receiving end of their accusations want to unite with them? I detest these Democrats (are they really Democrats?) at this point. The Obama supporters act morally superior, but then behave in ways that show otherwise much like what the very people that they have complained about in the past. Elections are not just about a candidate's policies, but also about the candidate's persona.
A candidate's persona may provide clues of how the candidate would perform his duties. Personally, I don't like Obama's persona. I don't like his manipulativeness nor his egotistical behavior which may very well be masking what I believe is an inferiority complex which indicates a psychological problem that would affect the decisions that he makes in a negative way. He is not genuine, and I find it very difficult to believe much of what Obama says. After all, Obama's words have been shown to be apparently "just words". This is not a lie since all one has to do is compare what Obama says today with what he has said in the past. Obama is not the transformative figure that he would like us to believe. In fact, that is one of the biggest lies coming out of his campaign.