It’s been a long dry spell for Republicans. The first George Bush, in spite of his masterful handling of our first war with Saddam Hussein, couldn’t get himself reelected. We got eight years of Bill Clinton, and it spite of the fact that tax-and-spend Democrats know absolutely nothing about how the economy actually works, and even less about what any business needs to thrive and make every single citizen’s life better, when Clinton left office we were at close to full employment and the federal government was actually running a surplus. The economy was booming, and everyone was making good money, from top to bottom – and we weren’t even at war with anyone. What people remember of the Republicans in the Clinton years was unfortunate too – the House Republicans, led by the Speaker at the time, Newt Gingrich, shut down the government, twice, to force Clinton to make massive cuts to Social Security. They called those “reforms” of course, but no one wanted them, and they didn’t get them, or anything, for their efforts. All they got was scorn, and their impeachment of Clinton didn’t work out either. Yep, Bill Clinton did “have sex with that woman” – and tried to deny it by essentially lying – but no one much cared. He was doing his job well enough, and that other thing was a personal matter, and most felt it should have remained a private matter. America saw Republicans endlessly obsessing about hot and heavy sex, in explicit detail – like your basic neighborhood pervert – not about governance. America turned against them. Clinton wasn’t exactly forgiven, but at least he wasn’t a pervert. He was just a horny guy with bad judgment, but only in what was an entirely nongovernmental matter. Impeachment really wasn’t necessary. It really wasn’t appropriate. The Republicans, in the nineties, were a bit of an embarrassment.
They did come roaring back after Clinton, sort of. In 2000, Al Gore won the popular vote, but the Electoral College vote was essentially a tie, and it came down to recounting the votes in Florida, where George Bush’s brother Jeb was governor and had appointed all the election officials. Even that didn’t help. Things were too close, and the matter had to be decided by the Supreme Court, dominated by justices that George Bush’s father had appointed. That did the trick. That Supreme Court called an immediate halt to all the recounting of votes in Florida, because this could go on forever and we really did need a new president, like right now. George Bush would do. He probably did have the votes, maybe – but endless challenges would be a disaster for the country. Al Gore begrudgingly agreed. He certainly didn’t want to be the pain-in-the-ass who ruined everything. Think about it. If he eventually won, maybe two years later when all the Florida votes were finally really counted, accurately, he couldn’t govern. There’d be too much resentment – and all the intervening time, with some sort of caretaker government of congressional committees or something, would make America the laughingstock of the world. Al Gore did the right thing. The Republicans were back.
That didn’t work out. Bush rammed through two massive tax cuts, mainly for the rich, saying any extra money should be returned to the people, because it was their money after all. That drained the Clinton surplus dry, and then actually created more debt that had to be serviced. Medicare Part D didn’t help matters either. Yeah, that helped the elderly pay for their expensive prescription drugs, but it really helped the pharmaceutical industry. Competitive bidding was forbidden – Medicare providers and the Veterans Administration would have to pay full price for everything, or what the giant pharmaceutical firms said was the appropriate price, no questions asked. And Medicare Part D was entirely unfunded – so add thirty billion or more to the debt. The Bush administration was then blindsided by 9/11 – not their fault exactly, but someone hadn’t been paying attention to what had been going on in the Middle East. The response to that, a war in Afghanistan that should have been wrapped up quickly but wasn’t, and our war in Iraq that in the end changed very little, was unfunded too – all paid for by emergency appropriations, off-budget. Combined, those two wars may eventually end up costing us two trillion dollars, entirely financed by borrowing – and there would be no new taxes. Taxation is theft. Everyone knows that.
Bush had effectively dismantled the thriving economy Bill Clinton had left him. He demolished it, but there was more. The second Iraq war, all about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, was about something else every six months, because there were no weapons of mass destruction. Soon no one knew what it was about, and we had also endorsed torture as national policy, even if we had renamed it, and we had Guantanamo and our black sites where people just disappeared. We had become the bad guys, and we were told to be proud about that. Everyone was out to get us. When everyone is out to get you, anything is entirely justified. They started it, damn it.
The less said about the Bush administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina the better – even callous and snide indifference would have been better than bewildered cluelessness. This crew wasn’t even close to marginally competent, and many died who need not have died. That didn’t help the Republican brand, so to speak, nor did the collapse of the economy in the last months of the administration. It seems markets aren’t self-regulating, and it took seven hundred billions dollars, and trillions in guarantees, to save the financial sector, and no one else got much of anything. Millions lost their homes. Tens of millions lost their jobs. We still haven’t recovered. Only the banks recovered – and the wealthy. With the stock market hitting record highs quite often now, there’s a lot of money to be made in selling fifty thousand shares at what you bought at twenty-a-share last week for twenty-eight this week. Wages may be stagnant – they have been since the second George Bush took office – but wages are for losers.
Given all this, John McCain didn’t stand a chance in 2008, with or without Sarah Palin. The party hid George Bush, or he knew enough to stay away, given his eight years, but it didn’t matter. The damage had been done, and really, George Bush had just squeaked by in 2004, with Ohio playing the role of Florida, but without the Supreme Court. Voters already knew all about Republicans, and Mitt Romney managed to do no better than McCain. He was not only the ultimate rich white guy, and proud of it, and dismissive of others, his forty-seven-percent comment sank him. He dismissed almost half the country as useless moochers and losers, who would always be losers. And there were the dismissive random comments. Corporations are people, my friend? No, they’re not, and that time he said that, like everyone, he likes to fire people, he crossed a line. Yeah, he was only joking that he wanted to fire Obama, but too many people had been fired as a result of what the Republicans had screwed up already. It was an odd choice of words, a bad choice – but at least he wasn’t Michele Bachmann or Rick Santorum or Herman Cain. The Republicans were, however, still continuing to be a bit of an embarrassment.
Romney lost badly, all the time thinking he had this in the bag. Election night, he hadn’t even written a concession speech – he had no idea one would be necessary – but others sensed something had gone wrong, this time particularly, but also generally. 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 – tried to address that. It was time for outreach to minorities, and women, and the young and maybe even gays. 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. There’d be no more angry old white men sneering at anyone unlike them, and sneering at science too. There’d be no more rich white guys sneering at anyone who wasn’t a millionaire just like them – or they’d tone it down, trying to be a bit more sympathetic to the total losers out there. And there’d be no more old men talking about “legitimate rape” and how women’s bodies really work. In fact, the National Republican Congressional Committee has been training incumbents on how best to interact with women voters – there’s a nice way to tell them they can’t be trusted with moral choices like abortion, or any choices about their own body, and how their accepting less pay than a man for the same work is really good for the economy, so they ought to do their part.
It’s all about how you put things, and Republicans now know this:
Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI) thinks some of his fellow Republicans sound downright primitive when they talk to voters.
“You have people on our side of the aisle that have a really abrasive tone,” Duffy said Tuesday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “We can come across as knuckle-dragging Neanderthals on occasion.”
There should be no more knuckle-dragging Neanderthals in the party – so show respect when you explain your views, that minorities and women and gays are lesser people, and that wealth is the only reliable indicator of moral worth, and that all science is bunk and you’re a fool if you believe any of it, and so on and so forth. Respectfully say the new Pope is a Marxist who hates everything America stands for, because he seems to think vast wealth is a moral trap, and respectfully call him a fool for being willing to accept the idea that gays and atheists and even true Marxists are good people, good people with what he considers the wrong views, but good people nonetheless. Be respectful when you tell him he just doesn’t understand Christianity at all.
That seems to be the general idea, but this can take even odder turns, especially when it comes to race, because Jesus was white – or if not really blond and blue-eyed, he was close enough to white. Deal with it. And Santa was (as is) white too – that’s historical fact. And no, he shouldn’t be replaced with a penguin – if there is a Santa. The War on Christmas that Fox News, which seems to exist to create politically useful feelings of outrage invented out of thin air, got way out of hand last week. Megyn Kelly really stepped in it, but she deftly shifted the talk from the War on (white) Christmas to the War on Fox News. Everyone calls the Fox News folks racists when they simply point out that this is a white world, so everyone might as well get used to it.
It’s so unfair! All they’re doing, they say, is defending lonely and outnumbered Christianity from its hoards of oppressors, and damn it, that new Pope isn’t helping matters at all either.
Jon Stewart has a great deal of fun with this, suggesting Fox News actually has another trademarked slogan:
Fox News: Expressing Anger and Victimization over the Loss of Absolute Power and Reframing It as Persecution of Real America by Minorities, Freeloaders and Socialists
That looked pretty cool up there on screen with the Fox News logo, and like all satire it’s not far from the truth, or it is the truth.
What’s a sensible conservative to do? Conservatives can make sense, insisting that things shouldn’t change very much, if at all – because tradition matters, as that’s what holds societies together. And as far as institutions go, conservatives insist that it’s dangerous to end what might not be working too well, but is working well enough. Make adjustments, don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater – the new way of doing things might make things worse, and probably will. One must be careful. That’s all they’re saying. They’re not all knuckle-dragging Neanderthals, or sneering rich guys who want to rub your face in your total failure as a human being.
The trick is to prove that, and one of the two New York Times conservative columnists, Ross Douthat, gives it a go:
For our age of wonks and white-papers and warring experts, there ought to be a word – something just short of, though not shorter than, schadenfreude – for the gentle thrill inspired by a social-science finding that mildly unsettles one’s ideological opponents.
I’m thinking of the satisfied tingle a liberal might get from a study that suggests high taxes are good for economic growth. Or the spring added to a libertarian’s step by a report that environmental regulations hurt the poor.
Or the pleasure that I took recently from the headline: “Study: Having daughters makes parents more likely to be Republican.”
After more than a decade of knuckle-dragging Neanderthals, spewing venomous nonsense, Douthat is happy again:
Previous research on this question had suggested the reverse, with parents of daughters leaning left and parents of sons rightward. And those earlier findings dovetailed neatly with liberal talking points about politics and gender: Republicans make war on women; Democrats protect them, and so it’s only natural that raising girls would make parents see the wisdom of liberalism…
But the new study undercuts those talking points. Things are more complicated than you thought, you liberals! You can love your daughters, want the best for them, and find yourself drawn to… conservative ideas! Especially if you’re highly educated…
Douthat uses the title character in Adelle Waldman’s novel The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. to explain this:
Waldman’s portrait of Nate’s romantic life is sympathetic enough to have earned her fan mail from young men. But it’s precisely because Nate is sympathetic rather than toxic that the “Nathaniel P.” phenomenon – or what Rebecca Traister has dubbed “the scourge of indecisive men” – is a hard problem to escape. Indeed, it seems like one of the hidden taproots of well-educated women’s work-life-balance angst, and one of the plausible explanations for declining female happiness in a world of expanded female opportunity.
And lurking in Waldman’s novel, as in many portraits of the dating scene (ahem, Lena Dunham, ahem), is a kind of moral traditionalism that dare not speak its name – or that can be spoken of only in half-jest, as when the novelist Benjamin Kunkel told Traister that the solution was “some sort of a sexual strike against just such men.”
Because Kunkel is right: One obvious solution to the Nathaniel P. problem is a romantic culture in which more is required of young men before the women in their lives will sleep with them.
To the extent that parents tend to see the next generation’s world through their children’s eyes, that’s an insight that’s more immediately available through daughters than through sons.
And no matter what the next study says about your likelihood of actually turning into a Republican, once you’ve flirted with that insight, you’ve tip-toed a little closer to something that might be described as social conservatism.
What? Ed Kilgore is simply confused:
It seems from Douthat’s analysis that if you favor, say, the Affordable Care Act or legalized abortion, you implicitly favor perpetual sex-without-commitment for young men. I must have missed that line in the Liberal Litmus Test last time I signed it.
Conversely, I don’t see a whole lot about the Republican (or for that matter, the “social conservative”) agenda that’s going to solve the problem of “Nathanial P.” Will deregulating Wall Street make him more interested in marrying and propagating? How about a war with Iran? Are SNAP benefits his kryptonite? And will taking away the reproductive rights of the women he exploits turn him around?
It may be true that having a daughter brings out strong paternalistic instincts in fathers, and in some cases that may be a good thing, but not something that requires state sanction or a political agenda. You’d think, in fact, empowering young women, with as much control over their own destinies as we possibly can, would be the most obvious way to give them leverage over men who want sex without responsibility.
Douthat was pretty much kidding, or just noodling around, but Kilgore is not impressed:
The idea that parents tacitly yearn for a Daddy State, to take away the moral risks in their daughter’s lives – presumably as an alternative to more material “liberal” types of support – has to be the least persuasive We’ll-Bury-You conservative pitch I’ve heard recently.
Yep, and Amanda Marcotte spells out the real argument here:
1. Vote Republican. 2. Your elected officials chip away at women’s rights. 3. Once legal abortion is abolished and contraception is hard to get, the unintended pregnancy rate goes up dramatically. 4. Your daughter, being a human lady, ends up knocked up by accident (likeliest scenario). 5. Her Lothario, even though he secretly hates her – as all women are contemptible people who only have their bodies to offer men – graciously offers to marry her. 6. Happiness is achieved by being paired off at a young age with a man who secretly resents and loathes you!
Of course, that’s just the likeliest scenario. Here is the idealized version of how it works:
1. Vote Republican. 2. Your elected officials chip away at women’s rights. 3. Once legal abortion is abolished and contraception is hard to get, the unintended pregnancy rate goes up dramatically. 4. Terrified of getting pregnant out of wedlock and making Daddy frown, your daughter tells her Lothario that he has to put a ring on it if he wants to tap that ass. 5. Her Lothario, even though he secretly hates her – as all women are contemptible people who only have their bodies to offer men – reluctantly agrees to marry her because he’s super horny. 6. Happiness is achieved by being paired off at a young age with a man who secretly resents and loathes you and kind of wonders if busting a nut was really worth a lifetime of being strapped to an icky, disgusting woman. He soothes himself by saying, “Well, at least someone cleans up after me.”
That’s what’s really being suggested. It seems that Douthat is a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal too. He’s just putting things nicely. It’s about expressing anger and victimization over the loss of absolute power, in this case over one’s daughter, but expressing it very nicely.
The New Republic’s Marc Tracy actually interviewed the novelist Adelle Waldman and puts it this way:
In my reading, Douthat makes the classic, noble conservative mistake of assuming that rigid social conventions must do the work that we cannot trust young adults to do themselves. Waldman’s opinion (and mine) is that granting young men and women the social freedom to make their own way will result, most of the time and more times than not, in liberated decision-making that leaves everyone better off.
Yeah, but conservatives don’t think that way. The idea of granting young men and women the social freedom to make their own way makes them squirm. No one wants their sweet young daughter to turn out to be another Monica Lewinsky. There are rules. There are social norms. That’s what matters. If you love your daughter, you’re a Republican, and so is she.
That’s a dubious claim, and thus the long dry spell for Republicans isn’t over yet. They do need to explain themselves better, but then, when they do, there’s still trouble. Some things cannot be explained away, and after all the years, there’s not much point in even trying now.