Someone should have reminded the Republicans that the day after the big 2012 election, where their guy lost so thoroughly to Obama, where they actual lost ground in the Senate when they had been so sure they’d take it over, and where same-sex marriage and legalizing marijuana won big, was Albert Camus’ birthday – the man forever associated with the absurd. That made sense. Jan Crawford’s insider report – that Romney was “shellshocked” by the loss – was widely discussed. The whole crew in Boston couldn’t believe it. All they had heard from Fox News and Rasmussen polling people and pundit after pundit, on their side, was that they had the momentum and this was a done deal. And then they lost, quickly.
This was surely absurd, and the Crawford item is a fascinating read – a narrative of smart people facing the concept that what they had been doing for the last eighteen months or more had been absurd, in the existential sense. Sisyphus slowly and painfully rolls that heavy rock up that steep hill, and it rolls back down again, every damned time. It happened with McCain, and now it has happened with Romney. Doubt is not a very pleasant state, but maybe the effort really was pointless, without any real meaning. Camus would tell them that’s just life. There is no inherent meaning in rolling that rock up that hill, or in anything else for that matter, but you have to do it. What else are you going to do? What defines man at his best is accepting the absurd, and then doing one’s best anyway, even if it really means nothing in the great scheme of things. That’s heroic. The stunned depression and tears that Crawford reports were inappropriate. Embrace the absurdity.
That’s hard to do, but someone should do a study of geography and existentialism. Where you’re from may have something to do with your willingness to accept the absurdity of life and even embrace it. Camus was from Algeria and Jean-Paul Sartre was not, and Kierkegaard, who tried to meld Christianity with existentialism with that “leap of faith” business, was a dour Scandinavian, but if you really want to find someone who has decided to embrace the absurd you should visit Pittsburgh. No, really. Everyone famous left – Gertrude Stein, Andy Warhol, Gene Kelly and Oscar Levant and so on. Those who remained you might find at a Pirates game on a sunny summer afternoon, watching what has become no more than a minor league baseball team now, a farm team providing future stars to the real teams. At one time they were the best of the best, but with twenty consecutive losing seasons to date, the longest in North American professional sports history, they have become absurd – but pleasantly so. Forbes Field is long gone but the new park, with its glorious view of the city skyline, is just fine. The games now mean nothing, but a sunny afternoon at the ballpark is quite a good thing.
It’s a matter of embracing absurdity and actually enjoying it. Chicago Cubs fans feel the same way. You slowly and painfully roll that heavy rock up that steep hill, and it rolls back down again, every time. You get used to it. You even come to enjoy it. There are worse things than being relegated to the minors.
There’s a lot of talk that now, given what just happened. The Republicans have been relegated to the minors, and maybe they have become absurd, in both the popular and existential sense, or not. Kevin Drum warns against writing them off:
Liberals, you should rein in the triumphalism. Obama won a narrow 51-49 percent victory and the composition of Congress changed only slightly. This was not a historic vindication of liberalism, and it doesn’t mean that we can suddenly decide that demography will sweep us to victory for the next couple of decades. The plain truth is that although an increasing number of voters are turned off by what Republicans represent, that doesn’t mean they’ve become lefty converts. A lot of them are still pretty nervous about a big part of our agenda, and we have a lot of work ahead to get them more solidly on our side.
Also: No matter how much you hate to hear it, long-term deficit reduction and entitlement reform really are pretty important. Just because conservatives abuse the point doesn’t mean there isn’t something to it.
In short, none of this is absurd.
This election marks a moment in which the racial and social hierarchy of America is upended forever. No longer will it mean more politically to be a white male than to be anything else. Evolve, or don’t. Swallow your resentments, or don’t. But the votes are going to be counted, more of them with each election. Arizona will soon be in play. And in a few cycles, even Texas. And those wishing to hold national office in these United States will find it increasingly useless to argue for normal, to attempt to play one minority against each other, to turn pluralities against the feared “other” of gays, or blacks, or immigrants, or, incredibly in this election cycle, our very wives and lovers and daughters, fellow citizens who demand to control their own bodies.
It’s time to embrace being a minor league team, because all we have now are minor league teams:
America is different now, more so with every election cycle. Ronald Reagan won his mandate in an America in which 89 percent of the voters were white. That number is down to 72 percent and falling. Fifty thousand new Latino citizens achieve the voting age every month. America will soon belong to the men and women – white and black and Latino and Asian, Christian and Jew and Muslim and atheist, gay and straight – who can comfortably walk into a room and accept with real comfort the sensation that they are in a world of certain difference, that there are no real majorities, only pluralities and coalitions. The America in which it was otherwise is dying, thank god, and those who relied on entitlement and division to command power will either be obliged to accept the changes, or retreat to the gated communities from which they wish to wax nostalgic and brood on political irrelevance…
Alyssa Rosenberg riffs on that:
This phrase stuck out at me, the idea of people “who can comfortably walk into a room and accept with real comfort the sensation that they are in a world of certain difference.” My friend Tyler Lewis and I spend a lot of time talking about the real losses that would come to culture from being “post-racial” if such a thing were possible. It makes characters flatter to insist that their experiences living as a person of whatever race they are have had as little influence on their character and outlook as a sip of water has on the tongue, just as it does so to create characters who represent only racial tropes, uninflected by generation, or geography, or profession, or groups of friends, or cultural exposure. David Simon’s work has always occupied a rare space in between the colorless of race neutrality and the obscurantism of race as the only important fact about a character: his characters’ lives are shaped by race, including, and sometimes even especially in the case of Jimmy McNulty, their whiteness. And Simon is interested in how living as members of particular races and ethnicities have shaped his characters because he’s interested every single thing about the people he conjures to life on screen.
Things are complicated and more than a bit absurd and it’s best to embrace that:
That ability to be interested in difference rather than intimidated by it, and to approach the things that make someone different from you not as a matter of anthropology but out of desire to know them, is critical to the political distinctions Simon is drawing here. For so long, our politics have been split between ideas like Mark Penn’s theory of micro-targeting, which aimed to divide up the population into easily comprehensible interest groups based on shared characteristics, or the uglier, more pervasive strain of thinking that President Obama’s blackness, like that of all African-Americans, is the most defining thing about him. It’s time to abandon that tendency to predict or diagnose behavior from a distance maintained out of distaste and fear. And it’s time to embrace a politics oriented towards a genuine desire to understand and appreciate difference, a process that allows for mistakes and clarification as a necessary precondition for growth. It’s made for astonishing television. It could make for transformative politics.
A genuine desire to understand and appreciate difference is what’s missing on the Republican side of course, as most post-election demographic analysis seems to be about the Republicans’ overwhelming loss of the Hispanic vote.
How do you fix that? Across the pond, at the Spectator, Alex Massie suggests that at least the Republicans could show some respect:
I don’t disagree with Max Boot when he says it would be useful if Republicans thought again about the DREAM Act but I think doing so will not be enough to solve the GOP’s Hispanic problem. Because it is not just about immigration. It is about belonging. It is about respect. It is about being part of the American family.
Massie recommends this long item from Matthew Yglesias that he summarizes this way:
The GOP doesn’t understand this. Remember the brouhaha over Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court? Conservative snake-oil salesmen rushed to portray her as an “affirmative action” pick who was, anyway, some kind of racist because she had the temerity to suggest that her own background might prove a useful qualification for a place on the court. You don’t need to be an illegal immigrant to be annoyed by that.
Michael Tomasky takes the next step, suggesting that the Republicans need a whole new platform:
Latino people, like people generally, aren’t stupid. Allegiance comes from substance. It’s pretty simple. It doesn’t come from symbolism or rhetoric. As I got in the car yesterday morning, I heard a guy on NPR talking, didn’t catch his name, and he was talking about Republicans and blacks. He said basically: If Republicans want people of color to vote for them, they have to change their policies. They’ve been saying to blacks, for example, get off that Democratic plantation and join us. Well, that’s absurd. Democrats’ didn’t get the allegiance of women by hectoring them, by saying take off that apron, GOP housewives, and join us. They won it with policies.
In the Washington Post, Ruy Teixeira in this item argues that any new Republican “Hispanic-friendly” policies need to go far beyond immigration reform:
I wrote a piece arguing that the GOP stances on immigration, in terms of projecting hostility toward that population, it clearly hurt them. But I also thought if you looked at Hispanics’ other opinions – opinions on the economy and opinions on the role of government, on education – just look at a wide variety of views on who can handle the economy, they’re very much aligned with the Democratic Party, and an activist view of government, and not with the hardcore, quasi-libertarian approach of the Republicans, which putting Paul Ryan on the ticket seemed to underscore. It wasn’t just immigration, but the general Republican stance on the role of government. I don’t think it just needs to be moving to the center on immigration, though that would certainly help. It needs to move on the role of government.
Ta-Nehisi Coates adds this:
I am hearing a great deal of talk about “appealing to Hispanics” and “appealing to women.” But I am not hearing much about endorsing actual policies. What happened Tuesday night is not a matter of cosmetics. This is not false consciousness. This is a real response to real policies. Mitt Romney actually endorsed Arizona’s immigration policies. You can’t fix this by flashing more pictures of brown people.
All of this seems to be advice not to roll the same damned rock up the hill all the time. Needless absurdity is avoidable. That’s something you really don’t need to embrace, and John Heilemann argues that they have no alternative now:
Republicans now find themselves facing a moment similar to the one that Democrats met in the wake of the 1988 election, when the party found itself markedly out of step with the country – shackled to a retrograde base, in the grip of an assortment of fads and factions, wedded to a pre-modern policy agenda. And so, like the Ds back then, the Rs today must undertake a wholesale modernization of their party, starting with, but not limited to, making real inroads with those ascendant elements of the electorate. Doing so will be a Herculean task, and one that will require not just institutional resolve but individual leadership; it will require, that is to say, that the Republicans find their own version of Bill Clinton circa 1990. But daunting as the task may be, what last night indicated is that the party has no choice but to undertake the assignment – because to forgo it would be to risk not just irrelevance but extinction.
Michael Grunwald sees little hope for that:
For all the punditry about a coming Republican civil war, it’s not clear that the party really wants to change in any serious way – or that it could change if it wanted to. Even GOP elites, while concerned that winnable races are being sacrificed on the altar of extremism, suggest that the party is likely to stay the course that worked in 2010. Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma, a former Republican political consultant, has been a consistent voice for pragmatism over purity inside the party, but he doesn’t foresee any radical shifts after Tuesday’s split decision. “It’s sobering that we’re throwing away Senate seats. But I don’t see a great schism,” Cole says. “I see a very unified and very conservative party that’s very alarmed about the growth of government. Who would be the generals in our great civil war?”
Lauren Ashburn asks around and it seems it won’t be Mitt:
Historian Douglas Brinkley, author of the bestselling book Cronkite, argues that life in politics is over for the man who could have been president. “There is no such thing as a Romney Republican,” Brinkley says. The former Massachusetts governor’s move to the center and his flip-flopping on such issues as abortion, health care, and tax cuts during the campaign left many wondering just exactly what he stands for. “He’s not going to be beloved by the conservative movement. Not when you lose when unemployment is 7.9 percent.”
The obvious place for Romney to hang his hat, says Brinkley, is back in the world of business, where the Republican made a fortune as an aggressive dealmaker at Bain Capital. “The only thing he seems proficient at is making himself money,” he says.
That means there is no leader of the party at all right now. There were runner-ups in the primaries. Newt Gingrich called for the end of all child labor laws. Rick Perry listed the three departments of government he would immediately abolish, although he couldn’t quite remember one of them. Michele Bachmann, when asked the fair percentage of income people should pay to keep the government providing at least some essential services, said people should keep every penny they earn – until she quickly realized a government can’t run on wholly voluntary contributions and the occasional bake sale. Rick Santorum talked a lot about the evils of sex and what the government could do to make sure people weren’t enjoying it, or weren’t enjoying it for the wrong reason. Mitt just nodded. He didn’t say he disagreed with any of that, but he didn’t say he agreed either – he just kept saying he had been an astoundingly successful businessman, so obviously he knew how the economy worked and he could fix it in a jiffy – and he wasn’t Obama, who had done every single thing wrong. Everyone agreed that he wasn’t Obama, but other than that no one knew what to make of him. There was Herman Cain too of course. The absurdity of it all was always clear. Now they’re stuck with it, and they can’t embrace it now either.
How did it come to this? Andrew Sullivan has some ideas:
When you have divided the world into two categories – freedom or tyranny – and there is no ground whatever between them, you are not only among the least intelligent commentators out there; you also have to be completely fanatical even in the face of popular repudiation.
That’s what he saw on Fox News:
Every pore on Sean Hannity’s face quivered. He seemed close to tears at times. He blamed Obama for a horribly negative campaign. He basically told the majority of Americans who voted for a president Hannity actually seems to believe is the worst in modern times that they will now deserve their enslaved state.
And there was Ann Coulter, who insisted on talking about the 2014 midterm elections:
She cannot process the past, and yet she preposterously calls herself a conservative. Her gig is attacking – in the crudest, snarkiest, most cynical fashion – anything she can decide to call “liberal”. To ask her to reflect retroactively on a massive realigning loss for her kind of slash-and-burn conservatism was to ask her to do something she has no capacity to do.
And there was the big gun of that crowd:
O’Reilly was fascinating and immediately explained the result as a function of there being too many black and Latino and young voters who voted for “free stuff.” At no point last night did anyone on Fox even mention the four democratic victories for marriage equality across the country. When they referred to the Colorado marijuana legalization, they cut to a teenager bragging that he was going to get stoned tonight. William F Buckley was in favor of legalization. These performers had no argument as such; they just had contempt.
Pittsburgh Pirate fans long ago got over losing all the time. This crowd is having a hard time dealing with their team having become a minor league team now, but Sullivan’s real beef, being one of the few remaining Edmund Burke conservatives left these days, is with this crew calling themselves conservatives:
These charlatans and money-grubbers have turned the broad tradition of Anglo-American conservatism into Southern Fried Fanaticism – and I wanted to see them crackle in their batter. They have replaced empirical doubt with unerring faith in an ideology that had its moment over thirty years ago and is barely relevant to the world we now live in. That faith has been cynically fused with fundamentalist religion to make it virtually impossible for the GOP to accept that women are the majority of voters in this country, that gay couples are equal to straight ones, that eleven million illegal immigrants simply cannot be expected to “self-deport” en masse by a regime of terrifying policing, that war is a last and not a first resort, that the debt we have is primarily a function of two things: George W. Bush’s presidency and the economic collapse his term ended with.
This kind of total fanaticism about an ideology that bears no resemblance to Burkean conservatism is often called religious. But the truly religious person is not focused on the Electoral College math, but on living her own life the right way in accordance with the God she worships. She is not obsessed with policing society to keep the “other” at bay – the homosexual, the African-American, the Latino immigrant, the single mother, the young straight dude who is truly baffled by the anachronisms of homophobia and the belief that alcohol is less harmful than marijuana. She knows that living a good life is hard enough without controlling the lives and fates and dignity of others.
They just don’t see the absurdity of their position:
The person who fuses Manichean political warfare with theological certitude cannot, will not, abandon that stance for pragmatic purposes – because there is no greater evil than pragmatism for the fanatic. A political party can adapt and change; a fundamentalist religious party loses its entire authority if it admits error, because its message is based on religious texts that are held to be inerrant.
Sullivan calls this theo-political fundamentalism:
Listen to its tone, hear its anger, and absorb its utter irrelevance to anything but fantasy and delusion and mania…
To that end he cites Mark Levin:
We conservatives, we do not accept bipartisanship in the pursuit of tyranny. Period. We will not negotiate the terms of our economic and political servitude. Period. We will not abandon our child to a dark and bleak future. We will not accept a fate that is alien to the legacy we inherited from every single future generation in this country. We will not accept social engineering by politicians and bureaucrats who treat us like lab rats, rather than self-sufficient human beings. There are those in this country who choose tyranny over liberty. They do not speak for us, 57 million of us who voted against this yesterday, and they do not get to dictate to us under our Constitution.
We are the alternative. We will resist. We’re not going to surrender to this. We will not be passive. We will not be compliant in our demise. We’re not good losers, and you better believe we’re sore losers! A good loser is a loser forever. Now I hear we’re called ‘purists.’ Conservatives are called purists. The very people who keep nominating moderates now call us purists the way the left calls us purists. Yeah, things like liberty, and property rights, individual sovereignty, and the Constitution, and capitalism. We’re purists now. And we have to hear this crap from conservatives, or pseudo-conservatives, Republicans.
You know what, Mr Levin? The “crap” coming your way has only just begun.
That’s probably true, which leads back to Camus and absurdity. These guys really ought to read L’Étranger – that novel all about suddenly discovering that you’re a total stranger in your own land – and in life in general. It was Camus’ birthday after all, and that’s where they seem to be. It’s best to deal honestly with the absurd. Those of us from Pittsburgh know that.