Dropping All Pretense

It’s getting cold out, even here in Los Angeles, and the days are getting shorter, and we all live in the moment. In late October it’s hard to remember the middle of March:

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus presented a 100-page blueprint aimed at rebuilding his struggling GOP after a four-month analysis, and he delivered a particularly blistering assessment of the party’s problems appealing to women and minorities at the polls.

The plan called for Republicans to embrace comprehensive immigration reform, overhaul the party’s digital and research operations, and hold a shorter, more controlled presidential primary season. Priebus also announced a $10 million plan to dispatch GOP operatives to black, Latino and Asian American communities, which voted overwhelmingly to reelect President Obama.

“There’s no one reason we lost,” Priebus said of November’s elections, in which Democrats held the White House, kept control of the Senate and gained seats in the House. “Our message was weak, our ground game was insufficient, we weren’t inclusive, we were behind in both data and digital, and our primary and debate process needed improvement.”

Priebus added: “When Republicans lost in November, it was a wake-up call. We know that we have problems. We’ve identified them, and we’re implementing the solutions to fix them.”

Eric Cantor said the plan was a “fantastic job by all involved” and Newt Gingrich called it “historic” and the “first big step toward [a] GOP majority” one day soon, and it was spring, the time of growth and change:

The RNC’s “Growth and Opportunity Project” report is the product of a listening tour by Priebus and several leading GOP strategists. “Focus groups described our party as ‘narrow-minded,’ ‘out of touch’ and ‘stuffy old men,'” Priebus said. “The perception that we’re the party of the rich continues to grow.”

They would end all of that, but of course Jenny Beth Martin, head of the Tea Party Patriots, wasn’t impressed – “Americans and those in the Tea Party movement don’t need an ‘autopsy’ report from the Republican National Committee to know they failed to promote our principles, and lost because of it.”

There was another way of looking at this. After the McCain-Palin loss, and then the Romney-Ryan loss, and after failing to regain the Senate, and after deeply offending Hispanics and gays and blacks and women and the young and those who kind of like science, and many who work for a living rather than getting rich through strategic investments and clever trading in odd investment instruments, it might be that all these people who just didn’t vote the right way just didn’t understand the glory of their awesome ultraconservative principles, and how climate science is a hoax, and how good Christian women let the men decide about their lives, and also never think about sex at all, and how extreme wealth demonstrates extreme virtue, while being gay demonstrates the exact opposite, even if you’re gay and rich, and how minorities are pretty much the Takers who have no sense of personal responsibility and demand all the hard-earned goodies of the Makers, and how the government should just get out of the way and let people be, and how it might be good if it pretty much disappeared, except for the military, because that’s true freedom. The way to win future elections, by stunning landslides, might be to convince everyone of the rightness of all those things, to be inclusive by changing the minds of Hispanics and blacks and women and gays and the young and all those folks who foolishly think science is pretty nifty. Don’t reach out to them by acknowledging their views. Change their views. Make them all hang their heads in shame, every single one of them, and admit you were right all along. That’s inclusion too.

The alternative was to make sure none of them would ever get much of a chance to vote again, and they got some help with that. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is in play again, with the Supreme Court in June saying that old thing might have been a good idea, at the time, but now it’s just quaint, and it has to go – so from North Carolina to Texas to Florida, now, a whole lot of minority folks, and the young, really are going to find it damned hard to ever vote again, and Reince Priebus is actually okay with that concept. He is coordinating efforts across all states controlled by the Republicans to enact strict voter ID laws and restrict early voting and voting on Sundays, and working to make sure that pesky League of Women Voters or anyone else like them will now be forbidden to conduct any voter-registration drives. The Supreme Court had suggested that Congress rewrite the provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that they considered problematic, to make sure everyone everywhere gets a chance to vote while not singling out particular states which have behaved badly in the past, but the Republicans still control the House. That’ll never happen. No one has proposed anything of the sort. Blacks and Hispanics and the young will be systematically disenfranchised – count on it. They’ll scream bloody murder, but so what? What are they going to do? Barack Obama, and Eric Holder with his Justice Department lawsuits against Texas and North Carolina, will be gone in a few years.

The matter has been settled. The Reince Priebus autopsy – presented after Romney lost almost all the Hispanic and black vote, and lost the women’s vote and the vote of the young and the vote of anyone with even a year or two of college, by wide margins, and after the Republicans didn’t win back the Senate when two or three of their Tea Party candidates imploded – was no more than window dressing. It was a PR stunt that fooled everyone for a few weeks. It sounded so hopeful – the Republicans were going to reach out and become inclusive and we’d have two evenly-matched political parties again, espousing their competing philosophies without demonizing anyone at all – but that wasn’t to be. That was March, the time of rebirth. Now it’s late October. That’s when things start to die. All the fall foliage is spectacular, but things are dying.

The first thing to die this day was the whole idea of Republican outreach to Hispanics:

House Republican leadership has no plans to vote on any immigration reform legislation before the end the year.

The House has just 19 days in session before the end of 2013, and there are a number of reasons why immigration reform is stalled this year.

Following the fiscal battles last month, the internal political dynamics are tenuous within the House Republican Conference. A growing chorus of GOP lawmakers and aides are intensely skeptical that any of the party’s preferred piecemeal immigration bills can garner the support 217 Republicans – they would need that if Democrats didn’t lend their votes. Republican leadership doesn’t see anyone coalescing around a single plan, according to sources across GOP leadership. Leadership also says skepticism of President Barack Obama within the House Republican Conference is at a high, and that’s fueled a desire to stay out of a negotiating process with the Senate. Republicans fear getting jammed.

This was a strategic decision. Passing any immigration reform legislation would only make Obama look good, and frankly, their constituents don’t give a damn about the Hispanic vote. All those Hispanic voters have been gerrymandered into a very few large and thus insignificant congressional districts, and all the new voter-ID laws will keep them from voting much anyway. Screw them, and at the moment there are scores to settle:

Prominent immigration supporters like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) have also backed off any deal, saying the Obama administration has “undermined” negotiations by not defunding his signature healthcare law. Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) went further, saying Obama is trying to “destroy the Republican Party” and that GOP leaders would be “crazy” to enter into talks with Obama.

Obama didn’t give in and give up on Obamacare, so they won’t give in on this. Losing the Hispanic vote forever is collateral damage, which they will accept, even under pressure from their friends:

Conservative and business groups are focused on putting pressure on Republicans to take action. Conservative immigration reform groups will bring more than 400 local business, law enforcement and religious leaders next week to Washington to try and increase the pressure on rank-and-file GOP lawmakers to force leaders to move on reform. …

“There is still an appetite to get comprehensive immigration reform done this year,” U.S. Chamber of Commerce head Tom Donohue told reporters recently. “There is still strong support among the public and lawmakers. And our nation – our economy, our businesses, and our workers – need it more than ever.”

The Chamber is also releasing Friday an immigration “Myths and Facts” document trying to debunk some fallacies on immigration reform.

In so many ways it’s the right thing to do, and it also would help the party in future elections, but… something. It’s hard to say what, but something. What are they going to do anyway?

They’re going to do this:

Immigration advocates are increasingly anxious and vowing to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience as Republicans reaffirm their defiant tone against President Barack Obama’s call for reviving the stalled overhaul effort.

“We are in full escalation mode,” Greisa Martinez, an organizer of the pro-reform United We Dream, told reporters on a conference call Friday. “We want the House GOP to know we will not let up the pressure on them … We are asking that they stop obstructing the progress on immigration reform.”

So much for that Reince Priebus Growth and Opportunity Project – Republicans just wrote off the Hispanic vote. That vote is insignificant, or they will soon make it insignificant in state after state, as long as Eric Holder doesn’t win those lawsuits about their voter-ID laws and whatnot. They can probably stretch those out past the next round of elections – continuances are wonderful things – so this matter is settled for now. Let those immigration advocates howl.

They’ve dropped any pretense of inclusion on this, and another pretense is dropping away:

A Republican precinct chairman in North Carolina was asked to resign Thursday after making racially inflammatory comments during a ‘Daily Show’ interview on Wednesday, WRAL reported.

Buncombe GOP Chair Henry Mitchell said Don Yelton resigned for making remarks that were “offensive, uniformed and unacceptable of any member within the Republican Party.”

In an interview centered on North Carolina’s voter ID law conducted by the Daily Show’s Aasif Mandvi, Yelton criticized “lazy black people that wants the government to give them everything.”

“The bottom line is the law is not racist,” Yelton said.

“Of course the law isn’t racist, and you’re not racist,” Mandvi responded.

The Daily Show is a satire show, all about puncturing pretense, but they didn’t expect that. There was no pretense here at all, and this guy now wishes his party would drop all of their pretense:

“When a nigger can use the word nigger and it not be considered racist, that’s the utmost racism in the world, and it is hypocrisy,” he said.

Yelton told a North Carolina radio station Thursday that the “Daily Show” had edited his interview in such a way that his comments were taken out of context. In the interview on voter ID laws, Yelton had criticized “lazy black people that want the government to give them everything,” and told correspondent Aasif Mandvi that one of his “best friends” is black.

He told TheWrap.com that his local Republican party, which he had called “gutless” for asking him to resign, should have spun his “Daily Show” interview to show the party accepts all points of view.

“They can turn it into a positive if they want to,” Yelton said. “The party does not try to control the speech of individuals. That’s the point they could have made. You have to let people have an opinion.”

His opinion is that those lazy black people want the government to give them everything, and that’s a legitimate opinion. In fact, that is pretty much the party’s opinion. Of course they don’t call them niggers, just a key component of the forty-seven percent, but who is fooling whom? And thus the black vote is gone for good now, as Ed Kilgore notes:

How could that comment possibly be taken “out of context?” What’s the “context” that could make it non-racist? It’s really getting to the point where the anti-anti-racism mania on the Right is convincing people that if they don’t say “I’m a racist,” then calling them out for racist comments is unfair, if not an actual example of “playing the race card” and hence racism itself.

No, don’t try to follow all that. It really does make no sense, but there’s more:

Birther alert! North Carolina state Rep. Larry Pittman (R), speaking to a friendly crowd in Concord on Monday, joked that President Obama hasn’t done anything to harm his native country – Kenya.

“Someone had posted something [on Facebook] with a picture of Barack Obama and across it said ‘traitor,'” Pittman said. “And, you know, I don’t always agree with the guy, I certainly didn’t vote for him but I gotta defend him on this one. I just don’t think it is right at all to call Barack Obama a traitor. There are a lot of things he’s done wrong but he is not a traitor. Not as far as I can tell. I haven’t come across any evidence yet that he has done one thing to harm Kenya.”

Steve Benen takes it from there:

So, let’s recap, shall we? North Carolina Republicans started the week offering a spirited defense of a voter-suppression bill that will make it harder for people of color to participate in their own democracy. Then a North Carolina Republican official was forced to resign after referring to “lazy black people that wants the government to give them everything” during an interview for national broadcast. Then North Carolina’s Republican governor, Pat McCrory, decided it’d be a good idea to honor the late Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) – arguably the last proud, unrepentant racist to serve in Congress.

And then a Republican state senator in North Carolina thought it’d be hilarious to celebrate Birther humor.

Here’s a new working theory: Republicans in North Carolina hope to win 0% of racial and ethnic minority voters in all future elections.

That’s not a theory. That’s an active strategy now, nationwide, even if an odd one. These folks can’t reverse the demographic trends – racial and ethnic minorities will soon be the majority here. It’s like an incoming tide, where you can pile up the sandbags to contain or redirect the flooding – those voter ID laws and all the rest – but the tide keeps rising no matter what you do, and you drown unless you head for higher ground.

Yeah, those damned Democrats are up there on that higher ground already, and they’d welcome you up there, but that’s too galling. Pride keeps you piling those sandbags down in the muck. There are a lot of angry old white people down there piling those sandbags with you of course, but the trends there too are a bit of a problem. All those angry old white folks, who really do miss Ozzie and Harriet and also thought Ronald Reagan was a pretty fine actor way back when, when movies were wholesome, are, well, old. They’re going to die off, one by one, and those who will take their place formed their lifelong political opinions during all those years you called them useless fools and tried to take their vote away from them. They’re not going to pile sandbags with you.

It’s hard to explain this all-out exclusion strategy, but Chris Mooney does offer this:

If you want to understand how American politics changed for the worse, according to moral psychologist and bestselling author Jonathan Haidt, you need only compare two quotations from prominent Republicans, nearly fifty years apart.

The first is from the actor John Wayne, who on the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960 said, “I didn’t vote for him, but he’s my president and I hope he does a good job.”

The second is from talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, who on the inauguration of Barack Obama in 2009 said, “I hope he fails.”

Something utterly changed:

The latter quotation, Haidt explains in the latest episode of Inquiring Minds, perfectly captures just how powerful the animosity between the two parties has become – often overwhelming any capacity for stepping back and considering the national interest (as the shutdown and debt ceiling crisis so unforgettably showed). As a consequence, American politics has become increasingly tribal and even, at times, hateful.

And to understand how this occurred, you simply have to look to Haidt’s field of psychology. Political polarization is, after all, an emotional phenomenon, at least to a large degree.

That is what changed:

“For the first time in our history,” says Haidt, a professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business, “the parties are not agglomerations of financial or material interest groups; they’re agglomerations of personality styles and lifestyles. And this is really dangerous. Because if it’s just that you have different interests, that doesn’t mean I’m going to hate you. It just means that we’ve got to negotiate, I want to win, but we can negotiate. If it’s now that ‘You people on the other side, you’re really different from me, you live in a different way, you pray in a different way, you eat different foods than I do,’ it’s much easier to hate those people. And that’s where we are.”

Haidt is best known for his “moral foundations” theory, an evolutionary account of the deep-seated emotions that guide how we feel (not what we think) about what is right and wrong, in life and also in politics. Haidt likens these moral foundations to “taste buds,” and that’s where the problem begins: While we all have the same foundations, they are experienced to different degrees on the left and the right. And because the foundations refer to visceral feelings that precede and guide our subsequent thoughts, this has a huge consequence for polarization and political dysfunction. “It’s just hard for you to understand the moral motives of your enemy,” Haidt says. “And it’s so much easier to listen to your favorite talk radio station, which gives you all the moral ammunition you need to damn them to hell.”

The rest of this long item, full of charts and graphs and tables, explains how our political views are a byproduct of emotional responses instilled by evolution, as if it matters. The point is that what makes emotional sense is the problem here:

“My analysis is that the Tea Party really wants the Indian law of Karma, which says that if you do something bad, something bad will happen to you, if you do something good, something good will happen to you,” says Haidt. “And if the government interferes and breaks that link, it is evil. That I think is much of the passion of the Tea Party.”

If so, there’s nothing to argue about. All talk of karmic evil leads nowhere. There’s nothing that can be verified, as Ed Kilgore explains:

Haidt is speaking of the Tea Party attitude towards the Wolf Blitzer’s famous hypothetical slacker who doesn’t take care of his health and then gets sick and expects the rest of us to take care of him (you know, the one members of a Republican debate audience thought maybe should be left to die). But it’s just as interesting in terms of “constitutional conservative” feelings about market economics. Markets and property rights being, in their view, part of “natural law” (whether inherent or God-given), government interference with markets isn’t just inefficient, it’s morally wrong.

This is what glues religiously indifferent libertarians and wildly religious fundamentalists together on economic issues: they share a tendency to view markets as embedded in the structure of the universe as arbiters of the value of human labor and creativity. They cannot be defied without consequences, or the stars might fall and consume the earth.

Yeah, well, they seem to view everything that way, and this agglomeration of personality styles and lifestyles is making some odd decisions. In the spring it was inclusion and heading for the high ground, and by autumn it was exclusion and pile sandbags in the muck. But at least Reince Priebus got it right. That was an autopsy, the examination of a corpse, of something quite dead.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to Dropping All Pretense

  1. Rick says:

    “In so many ways it’s the right thing to do, and it also would help the party in future elections, but… something. It’s hard to say what, but something.”

    That “something” is this:

    Everyone is pretty sure the chances of Republicans benefiting from helping the Democrats fix immigration are less likely than their being hurt by fixing immigration — that is, by just legalizing more Democratic votes. Should they take that chance? They seem to have decided not to.

    Sure enough, with the Reince Priebus “autopsy”, the Republicans came up with a plan that, at the time, sounded foolproof: “If we do the right thing — for example, by helping pass a bi-partisan comprehensive immigration law — maybe people will stop hating us and will actually vote for us.” But to make that work, it has to be sincere — which reminds me of that saying that you, Alan, cite now and then, something to the effect of, “In Hollywood, sincerity is everything! So if you’re able to fake sincerity, you’ll always do well in Hollywood.”

    The problem is, the Republicans can’t simultaneously do “the right thing”, and also do what they think they need to win — that is, to cheat. After all, just as there would be no point for the student to both study hard for the upcoming test, then also to break into the teacher’s office to copy the test questions, and risk getting caught doing it, what would be the point for the Republicans to both expend time and money doing outreach to Hispanics, then come election time, make sure they can’t vote? I guess they figure it makes sense for them to do only one of those things, and do the one they do best — that being, to cheat.

    As for Jonathan Haidt’s differentiating the moral psychology of the right and left, he may be right, but I think the main problem, no matter the moral makeup of the competing sides, comes down to one of political science: There are two, mutually-exclusive political philosophies of what kind of country we should be, and the supporters of one of them (you can guess which) are completely frustrated by a political system that refuses to allow them to make their country over into their own image.

    I mean, the way our vaunted American system of governance is designed, if you want to get your way, you get the American people on your side, and they vote your way into existence.

    But what are you supposed to do if you fail to convince the American people that, say, our government should stop helping people of “whatever race” (if we catch your drift) who won’t, for whatever reason, help themselves?

    Here are three choices:

    (1) Try, try again.
    (2) Just give in, accept the national consensus, and go with the flow.
    (3) Ignore the “vaunted American system of governance” that doesn’t seem to be working for you, and instead threaten, unless you get your way, to destroy the economy of the country (and the world, for that matter — but at what point did we start caring about the rest of them socialist losers anyway?)

    It seems one side has chosen door number three — the thinking being, if the country is just going to continue, ad infinitum, pandering to its most irresponsible element (of “whichever race”, if we catch your drift), than it doesn’t deserve to exist anyway.

    Although this may be unsolvable, something the rest of us might consider: First, we could gerrymander our country by merely moving all those dissatisfied Republicans to Texas!

    And after that, maybe let the state secede!


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