Sunday, January 22, 2012

Republican Follies

Obama is extraordinarily lucky in his selection of opponents this time around. Though hard to believe, the Republican Party is more internally divided than the Democrats, though the individual divisions have more ideological and participatory coherence than their counterparts in the Democratic Party.

I'm basically in agreement with Sam Popkin of UCSD (someone the Spousal Unit and I worked with during our grad school days) in this account he provided to the local fish wrap, the Union-Tribune last night, "GOP defies its own reality". Popkin gets down to business in the first paragraph, saying, "I never thought I’d see the day where you got punished in the Republican Party for making a fortune. Stranger than three-wives Newt Gingrich winning the religious vote is a capitalist big winner being punished."

This is a rather amazing turn of events. The business wing of the party can no longer call the shots, at least not in two of the three political environments they've encountered - Midwest, upper New England, deep South. The resentment voters I mentioned in an earlier post appear to be holding sway, with resentment being aimed at two things, economic success and religious minorities. Popkin foregrounds this:
Look, we are not talking a lot about it and we want to pretend it’s not an issue, but Romney’s religion is an issue — there’s no getting around it. In South Carolina, among people who said it was very important the candidate shared their religious beliefs, it was Newt 45 percent to Mitt’s 9 percent.

This is conservative populism, but it’s also anti-Mormon. Both Mitt and Newt did well with Catholics. The big thing is the religious Protestant. This is the election where the conservative religious community is in the position the unions were in in the Democratic Party in the 1980s. This is not a growing power, this is their fighting to hold on a little longer. It’s very clear how much more secular the country is becoming.
The religious angle was probably the deciding factor in Iowa for Mittens, and gave Santorum the Sanctimonious a big boost. It was not so much on display in South Carolina where it worked more as a disqualification factor for Mittens than a preference factor for Man-On-Dog.

What won the day for Newt was resentment. Someone has screwed me over and someone is going to pay. This is why Ron Paul can't really break into the top-tier - he's crazy enough, he's got perfectly crack-pot economic theories, he's got the right teenage boy fantasy of rugged individualism and self-sufficiency (Mom! Bring me a soda!), but he just isn't resentful enough. He wants to tell people what to do, but he doesn't actually take pleasure in doing harm, which is what Newt and Santorum are peddling.

The surprise that Popkin expresses is how the resentment over the excesses of Wall Street are being applied to one of their own insider candidates, someone who has basically been selected by the powers that be as the preferred choice of the current crop. The boogey monster is no longer just the metrosexual multi-colored Other in the urban jungle driving a Cadillac and living off welfare. It's now the top-dog in the economic kingdom, the alleged wealth creators who just need to be freed up from all the regulations and tax burdens to let the honest, hard-working 'Murikan join the gravy train.

I'm getting interested in how this will play out. Something has happened to the Republican Party base, the forces mobilized first by Nixon with the Southern Strategy of racial division and then with Reagan's anti-feminist, anti-abortion engagement with the previously a-political evangelical community. They are having a hard time keeping a pro-business agenda in front of a base that wants the government to punish people for personal success. Where I disagree with Popkin is his claim that this is not a growing power, though it may be divorcing itself from actual religious belief.

The political gambit set in motion by reactionaries to try to reclaim a pre-war social order seems to have taken on a life of its own.


1 comment:

jmac said...

The Republicans no longer need to worry about big business. The Democrats take care of them well enough.