It was the summer of 1781 and things were going badly for our side – the British occupied New York City and a second British army lead by Cornwallis was having a fine old time to the south, capturing Charleston and Richmond, and then heading for the Chesapeake Bay. There were rumblings of mutiny in the American army in New York and New Jersey. Washington was none too happy, but not all was lost. The French had our back. They’d been in this thing since 1778 and had just landed six thousand troops in Rhode Island, and the French fleet was forming up in the Caribbean, getting ready to stick it to the British, which was why they were on our side in the first place.
That helped. Washington had met with the French commander, Comte de Rochambeau, in May 1781, to plan a strategy. Washington wanted to attack the British in New York, but Rochambeau talked him out of that – the place was too well-fortified and the Continental Army was demoralized. Rochambeau recommended marching south to fight Cornwallis in Virginia, and Washington reluctantly agreed. The combined American and French armies marched south, there was an epic battle between the French and British fleets in the Chesapeake Bay, with the French routing the Brits, and that was it for Cornwallis – the British troops at Yorktown were cut off. They didn’t hold out long – there was no choice but to surrender, which Cornwallis did on October 19 – sort of. Cornwallis didn’t attend the surrender ceremony, saying that he wasn’t feeling well, which is understandable. He sent one General O’Hara instead, who tried to surrender to the Comte de Rochambeau, who smiled and pointed O’Hara to General Washington. Hey, surrender to the right guy. Don’t you know what actually happened here? It is said that during the ceremony a British band played The World Turned Upside Down – which is likely enough. Losing, when you were supposed to win, is disorienting. How could this happen? This couldn’t have happened. This can’t be the real world, and if it is, the world is upside down.
This is what happened to the Republicans when Obama was reelected in November. This couldn’t have happened. Karl Rove had that astounding hissy-fit on Fox News, telling them their in-house team had to be wrong – Obama couldn’t have really won Ohio – they had their math all wrong. They didn’t. Mitt Romney hadn’t written a concession speech – his in-house team had run the numbers and there was no way they could lose. That’s what they told Mitt. That’s what they told each other. They were wrong too. The world had turned upside down, and Andrew Sullivan captures some of Cornwallis-at-Yorktown astonishment over on Fox News on election night:
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.
The performance artist, Ann Coulter, just Etch-A-Sketched immediately to 2014 – 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.
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.
Sullivan argues that these guys didn’t know what actually happened here, which was what they called conservatism had just died:
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 11 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.
Southern Fried Fanaticism met Thoughtful Pragmatism at something like Yorktown, and lost, big time, even if they didn’t realize what happened, because they couldn’t:
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. The biggest obstacle in front of today’s GOP therefore remains theo-political fundamentalism, and how it can be overcome.
That is the problem, which must seem to them like having to deal with a world turned upside down. In fact, at the time, Alex Massie, writing in the Spectator, wrote about the right-side-up world they had imagined:
Obama wants to make the United States a kind of France? Check. Obama wants to crush religious liberty in America? Check. Our colleges are indoctrinating yet another generation of sadly-impressionable young American minds? Check. (Bonus: perhaps it would be better and certainly safer if fewer Americans risked going to college!) There is a War against Americanism and Barack Obama is the enemy general? Check. The media are hoodwinking poor, gullible Americans? Check. Universal healthcare is the road to serfdom? Check. The people, damn them, are too stupid to know any better and deserve what they get? The fools! Check.
That world turned upside down – most Americans said no, what those guys saw was what was actually upside down. Now Fox News’ ratings are at dropping like a rock and they’ve cut Sarah Palin loose – previously discussed here – and what is happening is clear. As before, Republicans had finally honed their message to a sharp edge, to match how the country was feeling – but after Katrina and then Sandy, the idea that the government was evil and should do less and less wasn’t what people were feeling. They’d paid their taxes and felt the big federal government could and should do useful things to help those who had lost everything. After the Bush (Republican) economic collapse, the worst since the Great Depression, they also seemed to feel that the big federal government could and should regulate the markets and the banks at least a bit more, and maybe bump up the taxes on the rich back to what they used to be. All the polling showed that. Add too that any Republican who stood up and shouted that we should go to war over there, or that other place over there, was met with a shrug, or ridicule. America had had enough of that, and the same happened with gay marriage – scream about how evil that is and folks will walk away. The majority is now fine with gay folks – the polling shifted when no one was looking. And as for abortion, forty years after the Roe decision seventy percent of Americans want that decision to stand as is – so forget shouting about that, or about the evils of contraception and access to contraception that creates sluts, and needless to say, comments about legitimate rape, as opposed to fake rape or something – to prove some point or other about the sanctity of life – will ruin your political career. And by the way, threatening to shut down the government, or even better, destroy the world economy, unless you get your way on every single thing about fiscal policy and tax policy, doesn’t make you seem heroic. You look like a dork, with a not-too-well-thought-out grudge. Republicans just met in Charlotte to figure out how to save their party, with Bobby Jindal giving a rousing speech about how it’s time “to stop being the stupid party” – but that’s easier said than done. The question was and still is how to change no policies while appearing all shiny and new, and there may be no answer to that question.
That list of seemingly upside down policy positions isn’t even the half of it. There’s also immigration reform – previously discussed here – as Monday, January 28, 2013, suddenly became Immigration Reform Day. Out of the blue, eight senators – four Republicans and four Democrats – announced that they had solved everything. Only a few months ago Mitt Romney had been speaking of the wonders of self-deportation, the idea we should make it so excruciatingly uncomfortable for Hispanics in America that any of them who were here illegally would howl in despair and scurry home to wherever. There was talk of sealing the border with something like the Berlin Wall, but more high-tech and far more lethal. Drones with missiles might help, and now this gang of eight was suggesting almost exactly what Obama suggested more than a year ago – yes, work on tightening up the border, but the eleven million undocumented workers already here should have a path to citizenship. Republicans, in spite of their nativist wing of folks who always thought Obama was from Kenya and recoils at brown folks with an accent, want to do this deal, to survive as a party, and passing this rudimentary form of immigration reform might help, or couldn’t hurt, and it could stop the bleeding. Ceding the votes of the fastest growing and ever-larger minority group to the Democrats is suicide, and as much as it’s fun and vaguely legal to make it hard as hell for Hispanics and blacks to even cast a vote, those bastards vote anyway, out of spite. This was surrender – the French fleet was out there in Chesapeake Bay and they were cut off and surrounded. Cue the band, but surrender.
Rush Limbaugh wasn’t happy with what he called amnesty, but then Marco Rubio talked him down – pretty much. The hidden problem here is with Marco Rubio, the Republican senator from Florida who was part of that gang of eight. He’s Cuban-American and most Hispanics in America really resent those holier-than-thou Cuban-Americans, who always got all the breaks, like immediate full citizenship the moment they waded ashore – a policy that had more to do with our loathing of Fidel Castro than anything else. No one else gets that break. Rubio isn’t a hero to them, so Rush, like General O’Hara at Yorktown, was trying to surrender to the wrong person.
And see this – Pushback: Gingrich, Vitter, National Review, Malkin, Coulter and Erickson Oppose Rubio’s Immigration Plan – the details of the angry-conservative backlash. Marco Rubio may be trying to drag his party into the twenty-first century, or into reality – because he really wants to president – but his party sees the real world of the twenty-first century as completely upside down. David Vitter says Marco Rubio is a wonderful guy, a brilliant guy, but hopelessly naïve – this won’t win Republicans any votes from these people, as least in the next few election cycles, and suddenly shifting and supporting immigration reform really only makes the party look desperate and kind of pathetic. That’s the consensus now, at least among those who say they are the true Republicans and the True Conservatives.
This too is like Yorktown – King George III wanted to continue the war, but the Yorktown surrender finally forced his prime minister, Lord North, to resign in March 1782, and North’s replacement began the process that led to the Treaty of Paris in September 1783, granting independence to the American colonies. These things take time.
The issue of gun control will take time too. After the Sandy Hook massacre – twenty first-grade kids and six teachers killed by a disturbed young man with an assault rifle with lots of big magazines of ammo – where the kids were shot over and over and over again – the Republicans are opposing gun control tooth and claw. The world must be upside down, as there’s a new poll from Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health:
According to the survey, released today, a majority of Americans support a wide array of policies being discussed in Congress: 89 percent support closing the so-called gun show loophole by requiring background checks for all firearms sale; 69 percent support banning the sale of semiautomatic assault weapons; while 68 percent support banning the sale of large-capacity ammunition magazines. Meanwhile, more than 80 percent favor prohibiting “high-risk individuals” from having guns, including those convicted of a serious crime as a juvenile or those convicted of violating a domestic-violence restraining order.
The results were published online in the New England Journal of Medicine, not exactly a left-wing rag, and there was also that Gallup poll that found that ninety-one percent of Americans would vote for universal background checks, while sixty percent favor a ban on assault weapons and fifty-four percent favor a ban on high-capacity magazines. How could this happen? This can’t be the real world, and if it is, the world is upside down.
No, people are fed up, which just led to some curious confrontations, as Greg Sargent reports here:
Perhaps the most important moment so far in today’s Senate Judiciary hearing on guns came when astronaut Mark Kelly directly confronted NRA head Wayne LaPierre over the shooting of his wife, Gabrielle Giffords. Between that exchange and another one involving Senator Dick Durbin, LaPierre’s argument was completely unmasked for the sham that it is.
During the hearing, LaPierre repeatedly voiced the talking point that there’s no need to expand the background check system because criminals don’t cooperate with background checks.
Kelly was having none of that:
The Tucson shooter was an admitted drug user. He was rejected from the U.S. Army because of his drug use. He was clearly mentally ill. And when he purchased that gun in November, his plan was to assassinate my wife and commit mass murder at that Safeway in Tucson. He was a criminal. Because of his drug use, and because of what he was planning on doing. But because of these gaps in the mental health system, in this case, those 121,000 records, I admit did not include a record on him. But it could have.
And if it did, he would have failed that background check. He would have likely gone to a gun show, or a private seller, and avoided that background check. But if we close that gun show loophole, if we require private sellers to complete a background check, and we get those 121,000 records and others into the systems, we will prevent gun crime. That is an absolute truth. It would have happened in Tucson. My wife would not have been sitting here today if we had stronger background checks.
Ouch, and Sargent adds his:
There is no evidence for LaPierre’s suggestion that background checks don’t work. Indeed, as my Post colleague Glenn Kessler has shown, in 2010 alone tens of thousands of people with felony and criminal backgrounds were denied guns by checks. More broadly, over 1.5 million gun sales to people who are prohibited from having guns have been blocked by background checks. There is no way to know what would have been done with those guns had those sales gone through, since that is a counter-factual. But the question for those who oppose background checks remains a simple one: Do you think we would be better off if those sales had gone through, or is it a good thing that those sales were blocked?
And LaPierre’s suggestion fails the test of basic logic. If criminals don’t cooperate with background checks, and end up getting their guns from private sellers or gun shows, or from gun dealers who get them via such means, that is an argument for expanding the background check system, not an argument against it.
Indeed, these loopholes are the very reason that gun crime persists even in areas that have strict gun control.
Yeah, Chicago has strict gun control, and Senator Dick Durbin from up that way pointed out the obvious:
When you take a look at where these guns come from, 25 percent plus are sold in the surrounding towns around the city of Chicago, not in the city. Look over the last 10 or 12 years. Of the 50,000 guns confiscated in crimes, almost one out of 10 crime guns in Chicago came to that city from Mississippi. Why? Because the background checks there, and the gun dealers there, are a lot easier than in other places. And they end up selling these guns in volume.
These hearings were a disaster for the Republicans, always on the wrong side of history. King George III would have told them not to give up, but he was mad of course. And yes, as Andrew Sullivan now notes, the world really has turned upside down:
Is it just me or are more people surprised by the snowballing impact of Obama’s re-election?
It’s not just the return to Clinton tax rates for the very wealthy; it’s a real cultural shift as well. In the last week, we have seen the Boy Scouts back off a national policy of excluding openly gay scouts and scout-masters (which means the Mormon hierarchy must have not made too big a fuss); we have Tom Tancredo almost smoking a joint in public (don’t make a bet with him on anything in the future); we have Sean Hannity’s ratings plummeting; we see gay couples included in the president’s comprehensive immigration reform; we have Limbaugh edging ever-so-slightly toward Rubio on immigration; and we have this somewhat astounding ”favorable/unfavorable” chart for the president: the ABC/Post poll has him at 60 percent favorable. Meanwhile, a plurality of Texans wants an assault weapons ban. The ban on women in combat has been lifted, with little fuss.
And now there’s new polling on Obamacare – folks are edging closer to being fine with it – and Sullivan adds this:
A majority of Americans, moreover, now favor a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants – and a plurality of Republicans also agree. The forces against marriage equality are struggling to stay financially afloat; the NRA and AIPAC, two of the most toxic lobbies in Washington, have been off their game after the Newtown massacre and the Hagel nomination.
I’m sure the usual backlash is coming. I’m just as sure that honeymoons don’t last. But this doesn’t feel like a honeymoon; it seems to me that the size and composition of the electorate last November has shifted the mood and direction of the country – durably.
The world did turn upside down. That’s what the British band was said to have played at Yorktown, when surrender was the only option and Cornwallis decided to call in sick that day. He had the right idea. Perhaps the Republicans should follow his example. It would make life easier for the rest of us, and they can always complain about the damned French after all.