Here it is, late May, and Team Obama and Team Romney have decided the November election will be a plebiscite on private equity firms, and whether running one of those, like Bain Capital, superbly qualifies you to be president in these hard times. Yes, private equity firms get rich investors to pool their resources to buy a company that’s kind of a cash cow – doing well enough but sitting on its assets – and load it up with debt against those assets, extracting as much profit as possible, richly rewarding the investors, and then stripping the company down to a sort-of bare-bones operation, and then walking away with the remaining cash. If the company fails you stiff the creditors – they get two cents on the dollar, maybe, on that debt load you set up – and the workers lose not only their jobs, and healthcare, but their pensions as well. But there’s a government agency that insures pension programs and the taxpayers can cover that. And if the new leaner and meaner company can overcome its new massive debt load and, restructured, survive and begin to thrive – well, that’s okay too. That wasn’t the point of the original exercise, but it does happen. Heck, maybe new jobs are created. And the question is whether this is the model for how government should operate – by means of ruthless financial engineering that can ruin lives, and communities, but can sometimes actually create jobs. Team Romney says yes. Team Obama says no. And the nation is puzzled. It all seems rather arcane. But free enterprise is good, or something.
But maybe Team Obama and Team Romney are on the wrong track here. The blank stares at their rallies might be a clue. And, at Buzzfeed, McKay Coppins reminds us of the kinds of stories that really grab voters’ attention:
It was near midnight on April 14 when the Chevy Cavalier carrying Dave Forster and Marjon Rostami rolled to a stop at a red light in Norfolk, Va. As the pair waited, one of a crowd of teenagers on the sidewalk threw a rock at the passenger seat window, prompting Forster to get out of the car and confront the aggressor.
That’s when the beating began.
Forster later said the crowd swarmed, taking turns punching and kicking him in the ribs and face. When Rostami got out to help, the attackers moved on to her, pulling her hair and dealing one blow after another. Police eventually arrived, the crowd dispersed, and the victims were left shaken and bruised, but not gravely injured. Local authorities wrote it off as an all-too-routine assault in a city whose violent crime rate is well above the state average.
In fact, the Norfolk newspaper, the Virginian-Pilot, skipped the story, as the editor decided it just wasn’t newsworthy:
We have done our due diligence with the story. We have checked the police report. I have read it. On its face, it would not merit a story. We have checked that neighborhood to see if there is an inordinate amount of crime there. There is not.
We will continue to monitor the investigation, just as we would with any story that has lingering questions. If the crime is reclassified, we will make a decision about further coverage then.
The editor had to explain this because the Drudge Report and Bill O’Reilly found out about it – a black crowd beating up two white folks, just after the Trayvon Martin killing, proving that people should be just as upset at this as at the hapless fellow shooting an unarmed young black kid – fair is fair. And Thomas Sowell, the favorite black intellectual on the right, offered a conservative race war theory in this column on the obvious ongoing nationwide cover-up of black-on-white crime:
What the authorities and the media seem determined to suppress is that the hoodlum elements in many ghettoes launch coordinated attacks on whites in public places. If there is anything worse than a one-sided race war, it is a two-sided race war, especially when one of the races outnumbers the other several times over.
Coppins covers all the subsequent detail and adds this:
If you’ve spent much time consuming conservative media lately, you’ve probably learned about a slow-burning “race war” going on in America today. Sewing together disparate data points and compelling anecdotes like the attack in Norfolk, conservative bloggers and opinion-makers are driving the narrative with increasing frequency. Their message: Black-on-white violence is spiking – and the mainstream media is trying to cover it up.
But Coppins notes the facts of the matter:
Indeed, the irony of the race war narrative’s latest flare-up is that it comes at a time when national crime rates have reached historic lows – including reported hate crimes against whites. According to a report released by the FBI, there were 575 anti-white bias crimes reported in 2010 – up slightly from the 545 reported in 2009, but distinctly lower than the 716 reported in 2008. Overall, the past decade has seen a downward trend in anti-white bias crime. What’s more, hate crimes against blacks have continued to outstrip those against whites by about four-to-one: In 2010 alone, there were 2,201 reported. Violent crimes across the spectrum reached a four-decade low in 2010.
It’s a great story, and far easier to grasp than all the private equity stuff, and is utterly wrong, as Adam Serwer comments:
As Coppins writes, the conservative “race war” narrative is largely about flooding the zone with stories of white persecution in order to blunt liberals’ charges of racism, which conservatives believe are unfair. That strategy, in and of itself, reflects the conservative view that racism against minorities is largely nonexistent; that disparities in wealth, employment, and education are simply manifestations of self-perpetuating discrepancies in human capital; and that the only reason anyone ever brings up race or racism is as a political weapon. Moreover, the notion that explicit racial violence is the only accurate barometer for bigotry ignores the uncountable ways institutional prejudice can sustain itself without explicit violence. Even if hate crimes in 2010 were slightly higher in 2008 instead of being lower, that wouldn’t alter the fact that more young black men were “randomly” stopped and frisked in New York City than there are young black men in New York City.
But Serwer sees something else going on:
The more disturbing implication of the newfound conservative focus on “white-on-black violence” is the idea that allowing black people to rise to positions of authority places white people in physical danger. Or as Rush Limbaugh so concisely put it, “In Obama’s America, the white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering.” (We can assume an exception for allowing Republican African-Americans to rise to positions of power. As Ann Coulter put it, “Our blacks are so much better than their blacks.”)
But this is just what you’d expect:
The conservative race war argument – that if “those people” get something, you’re going to lose, or perhaps even get beaten up – is well-suited for a world of budget cuts and public-sector layoffs. The smaller the pie, the more hostile people get to the idea of sharing, particularly with those who are “undeserving.” It also helps explain why some people might have thought that now-disavowed ad tying Barack Obama to Jeremiah Wright was a good idea. If you’re working back from a predetermined conclusion that the Obama agenda is the product of anti-white racism, you’re primed for the ad’s explanation that Wright is responsible for a still-sluggish economy.
Well, this isn’t that odd private equity stuff – there’s a race war going on, a cultural war, and one that’s now physical – these folks want to beat you dead and take your stuff. And David Frum, Bush’s former speechwriter, sees it too:
The Drudge Report showcases selected local police blotters to create an impression of an intensifying criminal rampage by blacks against whites. Rush Limbaugh very explicitly describes the Obama presidency as a project of racial revenge. Fox News suggests the same idea more obliquely. The theme is taken up – with appropriate euphemism – by elected politicians and some conservative writers as well.
What’s going on is obvious to all, but of course any mention of what is being done is met with indignant denials.
But he understands the feelings:
Yes, some of them are common prejudices, such as rattle around in many of our heads. But others were so very highly specific. The belief that the country is pulsing with potential “flash mobs,” ready to erupt at any moment? That black people form a new privileged caste in America?
Just yesterday morning, I invested a few minutes to take the temperature of local talk radio. I heard the host deliver a rant about how terribly unfair and one-sided the media are, culminating in the outright declaration: “We [meaning conservatives, or maybe Republicans] are the new blacks.” Meaning, presumably, that blacks are the new whites.
It’s in the air, in this case quite literally.
So Frum says it comes down to this:
The question ahead for American conservatives is whether they envision their future as a multi-ethnic coalition in favor of enterprise and individualism – or as a Bloc Québécois for older, white people. Fox News and Rush Limbaugh have embraced this latter future, and profited immensely by it.
But there may be a different way to put that. The question ahead for American conservatives might be how to deal with having lost the Great Culture Wars that started in the sixties. Uppity black folks, turning murderous, are the least of their worries. And Michael Lind delves into that in his examination of What Killed Social Conservatism:
Growing public support for gay rights, including gay marriage, is the latest example of the moral liberalism that has transformed advanced industrial societies in the last few generations. The social traditionalists who claimed to be a “moral majority” in the United States in the 1980s are acting like an embattled, declining minority in the second decade of the 21st century. A few years ago the conservative activist Paul Weyrich declared that the right had lost “the culture war” and called on social conservatives to withdraw from mainstream society into their own traditionalist enclaves.
Yes, Paul Weyrich was a man ahead of his times, with, from February 16, 1999, his now famous Letter to Conservatives:
What many of us have been trying to do for many years has been based upon a couple of premises. First of all, we have assumed that a majority of Americans basically agrees with our point of view. That has been the premise upon which we have tried to build any number of institutions, and indeed our whole strategy. It is I who suggested to Jerry Falwell that he call his organization the “Moral Majority.” The second premise has been that if we could just elect enough conservatives, we could get our people in as Congressional leaders and they would fight to implement our agenda.
In looking at the long history of conservative politics, from the defeat of Robert Taft in 1952, to the nomination of Barry Goldwater, to the takeover of the Republican Party in 1994, I think it is fair to say that conservatives have learned to succeed in politics. That is, we got our people elected.
But that did not result in the adoption of our agenda. The reason, I think, is that politics itself has failed. And politics has failed because of the collapse of the culture. The culture we are living in becomes an ever-wider sewer. In truth, I think we are caught up in a cultural collapse of historic proportions, a collapse so great that it simply overwhelms politics.
He tells the conservatives that they lost, even if they thought they won. And this was before anyone had any notion of a black president or was panicked about roaming gangs of black thugs beating up good white folks. And he had his advice:
The radicals of the 1960s had three slogans: turn on, tune in, drop out. I suggest that we adopt a modified version. First, turn off. Turn off the television and video games and some of the garbage that’s on the computers. Turn off the means by which you and your family are being infected with cultural decadence.
Tune out. Create a little stillness. I was very struck by the fact that when I traveled in the former Soviet Union, I couldn’t go to a restaurant or any place else without hearing this incessant Western rock music pounding away. There was no escape from it. No wonder some Russians are anti-American. When they think of the United States, they think of the culture that we exported to them.
Finally, we need to drop out of this culture, and find places, even if it is where we physically are right now, where we can live godly, righteous and sober lives.
Perhaps South Carolina would do. But Lind argues this just had to happen to these guys:
Many paranoid social conservatives blame the triumph of moral liberalism on a conspiracy of sinister secular humanists, using the media and the public schools to indoctrinate their children and grandchildren in a godless morality. But the truth is that social conservatism has been undermined by technological progress, which has increased the opportunities for freedom in matters of sex and censorship while raising the costs of enforcing traditional norms.
And the first problem was chemical:
The pill did more to undermine traditional sexual morality than an imaginary secular humanist conspiracy could have done. Advances in contraception, far more than liberalization of abortion laws, not only reduced the costs of premarital sex but allowed married couples greater opportunities to plan their fertility. One result has been below-replacement fertility for most natives of advanced industrial societies, as a result of choice rather than coercion. Given the opportunity, most Americans, like most people in other advanced industrial nations, prefer fewer or no children to the large families of yesteryear. Participation in the modern workforce by the majority of mothers as well as unmarried women would have been impossible, if not for the pill.
But it was more than that:
By turning parenthood into a choice, rather than the nearly inevitable result of sex within marriage, the pill turned marriage into a relationship between two adults, with or without children, rather than a child-centered institution. This redefinition of marriage, along with social acceptance of growing numbers of heterosexuals who never marry or cohabit without marriage, inevitably undermined opposition to toleration or approval of gay and lesbian unions. Once most Americans stopped listening to priests, preachers and rabbis who seek to prescribe what married couples do in bed, it was only a matter of time before they stopped paying attention to clerical rules about what anyone does in bed.
And one must not forget the automobile:
In the premodern village or urban tenement neighborhood or sex-segregated campus, people were under the constant surveillance of family and neighbors. After World War II, access by young people to cars gave rise to institutions like road trips, “parking” in farmers’ fields and the one-hour hotel stay. And automobile-based suburbanization has enabled moral liberalism by creating communities in which people know few if any of their neighbors. Few progressives who long for a return of pedestrian villages want a revival of village surveillance and moral conformity.
And then there’s communications technology:
As recently as the 1970s and 1980s, Protestant and Catholic pressure groups were able to impose wide-ranging censorship on American television and radio and schools and public libraries. The church lady who insisted on the removal of “dirty books” from the library and organized boycotts of television shows and movies was a powerful figure in American life. Now pornography and graphic scenes of violence can be downloaded on a PC or a phone. Censorship was easy when there were choke points like TV and radio networks and the U.S. Postal Service. But technology has radically altered the cost-benefit calculation. Re-creating something like the older regime of media censorship would require not only North Korean or Iranian-style repression but also a vice squad with a bigger budget than the Pentagon.
And there’s this:
The replacement of centralized, heavily censored broadcast media by a seemingly infinite number of channels has enabled far greater realism in cinema and television. Even before the Internet, subscription-only cable television was making possible uses of profanity and sexual explicitness that would never have been tolerated in broadcast television. Older generations may be shocked by graphic language, violence and sex, but it seems unlikely that we will return to the kind of bowdlerized entertainment in which characters said “frigging” and “darn,” in which characters in TV shows and movies did not bleed when shot or cut by swords, and in which the camera discreetly swiveled to the fireplace during romantic encounters.
So these guys lost, and lost to creeping and insidious reality:
Premodern societies, including the United States in recent memory, were based on a kind of Orwellian doublethink. There was the real world, populated by people who had premarital and extramarital sex, used contraceptives inside and outside marriage and had abortions, had children out of wedlock, patronized prostitutes and looked at pornography. And there was a fictitious world of literature and cinema and public discourse in which these aspects of life could not be mentioned, or could only be hinted at darkly. Much illicit behavior was tolerated, but occasionally and arbitrarily individuals who were caught were singled out and sacrificed, to maintain appearances. The cultural revolution of recent decades does not mean Americans are less moral than they were in the ages of speak-easies and corner bordellos and vaudeville strip shows. They are just less hypocritical.
So Paul Weyrich was right about the culture wars, and there’s no going back:
Short of reversing the industrial revolution, emptying the cities and restoring agrarian society, after the manner of Pol Pot’s communists in Cambodia in the 1970s, the best hope for social conservatives is to retreat to minority enclaves like those of the Amish. On self-created reservations they can raise their children as they see fit, segregated from mainstream culture and visited, perhaps, by morally liberal tourists nostalgic for an older, simpler way of life.
And once there they can stop worrying about those gangs of murderous black thugs, led by that evil mastermind, Obama. If you’ve lost it all, move.
But that’s hard to accept. See Irin Carmon:
Until Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke a slut, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops had almost convinced the public that fighting the contraceptive coverage mandate in the Affordable Care Act was about religious freedom. Now, 43 plaintiffs, including 13 dioceses, and most prominently the University of Notre Dame, would like to bring back the argument that the Obama administration is encroaching on their religious rights.
“This lawsuit is about one of America’s most cherished freedoms: the freedom to practice one’s religion without government interference,” opens the Notre Dame suit, which was filed Monday. “It is not about whether people have a right to abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization and contraception.”
But it’s nonsense. See E. J. Dionne:
The federal lawsuits filed Monday by Catholic institutions against the contraception mandate under the health care law are not surprising, but they are unfortunate. The Bishops’ Conference and many – though not all – Catholic organizations are acting as if the Obama Administration had never backed down from its original, broad mandate and had never offered to negotiate.
But the administration, responding to a broadly united Catholic community, did offer a compromise and has since shown a willingness to try to accommodate many of the concerns of Catholic and other religious institutions. Now the Catholic community is split because many of us who initially backed the bishops cannot understand why they did not respond to the administration’s olive branch. Many bishops seem to want this fight.
There is certainly a case to pushing the administration to rewrite the definition of religious organizations under the health care regulations, but no reason to treat President Obama as an enemy of religious freedom. The bishops’ “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign is looking more and more like a direct intervention in this fall’s elections.
But this happens when you lose. See Frank Newport of Gallup – Americans, Including Catholics, Say Birth Control Is Morally Okay – indicating the Church just wants the Republicans to win so a new Republican government can help them slap their own wayward flock into shape, and make them OBEY! But maybe they just need to retreat to a minority enclave – perhaps Ireland.
And sometimes you do just give in:
After days of ridicule for launching a conspiracy theory-fueled investigation into Barack Obama’s birth certificate, Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett on Tuesday backed off his threat to keep the president off the ballot in November and apologized to his state.
“If I embarrassed the state, I apologize, but that certainly wasn’t my intent,” Bennett said in an interview with Phoenix radio station KTAR. “He’ll be on the ballot as long as he fills out the same paperwork and does the same things that everybody else has.”
Ken Bennett is co-chair of Romney’s Arizona campaign and he may have simply wanted Romney to win the White House – and this would have been a quick and easy way to deliver the state. It was his decision alone. No one could have stopped him. But it wasn’t to be:
Last week, Bennett told a different Phoenix radio station it was “possible” he would keep Obama off the state’s ballot in November if Hawaii did not provide him with a satisfactory answers to his investigation.
On Tuesday, Bennett told talk show hosts Mac Watson and Larry Gaydos he had no idea about the wave of criticism he endured get after launching his investigation into the president’s birth certificate. He said again that he doesn’t consider himself a birther and he believes the president was born in Hawaii but he did this to satisfy a small number of vocal people who kept sending him angry emails about it.
“I feel like I was just trying to glue the far little corner of the carpet down,” Bennett said. “And as soon as you just touch the carpet, the whole floor buckles.”
Many on the right are feeling that way. And it may be time to reread that 1999 Paul Weyrich letter. When you’ve lost there’s no winning strategy.