The Purest Politics

Call it identity politics, or tribal politics, but it’s clear that when it comes time to choose someone to run things, that someone should be one of “us” – because few have the time or energy or patience to consider the issues at hand, which can be complicated, with no neat and clean and satisfying way to fix the problems at hand. Sure, we should wipe out ISIS, and get Russia out of the east end of the Ukraine and make Putin eat humble pie, and stop Iran from even thinking of developing nuclear weapons, and get rid of that Assad fellow in Syria and that short strange man who runs North Korea – just do it. We do have the most awesome military the world has ever seen, and everyone else has nothing much at all. What’s the problem? Using diplomacy to find political solutions to any of this is Neville Chamberlain stuff, appeasement. Chamberlain gave the Sudetenland to Hitler and Hitler wasn’t appeased. Everyone knows what happened next. It’s the same with Putin – the West shrugged and let him take Crimea, as if that would satisfy him. It didn’t, and it’s the same with Iran and Syria and North Korea and maybe ISIS too. There’s no point in talking to any of these people. Stand up to them. Offer them nothing, and they don’t fold and slink off into the shadows in shame, bring on the pain – but no boots on the ground. All those years in Vietnam, the eight years in Iraq, the more than ten years in Afghanistan, and counting, were really stupid. Don’t do that again.

Those who think Obama is a weak fool, like all Democrats, will listen to John McCain and Lindsey Graham telling Obama to grow a pair and do something massive and violent, and listen to Bill Kristol and Dick Cheney, when that odd fellow resurfaces again, coming up for air like a giant killer whale. What they say feels right. It makes no sense, if you’d rather not commit America to multiple simultaneous massive foreign wars, each of which will likely last a decade or more, but it feels right – and Obama doesn’t “feel” right, even if many on the right often concede he’s doing the only possible thing that can been done with any of this. They kind of mumble as they say that, and hate it when they’re asked what they would do, specifically, right now.

Five years ago they would have done this. Ten years ago they would have done that. Ask them what they would do now. Five years ago they would have done this… Ten years ago they would have done that… They have no answer, but they will tell you Obama is weak. That man, if he even is a man, won’t stand up for America. Americans must know by now he’s not one of “us” – not that he was born in Kenya or anything. It’s the weakness. He may be doing the right thing quite often, damn it, but he’s a wimp. Anyone who voted for him is a fool, and thus also not one of us, the Real Americans.

That’s how identity politics is played, and in the 2008 campaign, Sarah Palin was a master at that, probably because she had no alternative. With each passing day it became clearer and clearer that she had no idea what the issues were, much less who the key players were, domestic or foreign, but she let America know that she was one of us, the Real Americans, and Obama certainly wasn’t one of those. Think of Reverend Wright and Bill Ayers too – and don’t ask her any of those damned Katie Couric questions. This was about Obama, not about whether Sarah Palin really could see Russia from her house, or if she even knew what the Federal Reserve and Supreme Court actually did. People knew her. That was enough.

Palin almost pulled it off. Her supporters out there in the heartland, whatever that is, might again and again be forced to concede she was dangerously empty and uninformed, but they voted for her anyway. She felt right – and the world is a complicated place. Who really understands it? John McCain tried this too, dropping his policy talk, but it scared him. He’d give it a good try, at a few rallies asking who Obama really was, and the crowd shouted back – He’s a terrorist! – Kill him!

McCain dropped it. It was too dangerous, but identity politics isn’t always that dramatic. Everyone knows that the Republican Party is the party of businessmen, or at least those who know how the economy really works. That’s what the smirking and stiff Mitt Romney ran on – he may have been an awkward jerk, but he knew that you don’t spend what you don’t have, and when you’re in financial trouble, you slash spending. You cut out the dead wood – a businessman trying to save his business fires everyone in sight, and a father cuts the kid’s allowance to next to nothing, or eliminates it. Businessmen know this, and every family knows this.

Obama didn’t know this. He kept trying to stimulate the economy by borrowing money to pay people to work, so more people would be able to buy things, getting the economy moving again, when he should have been shutting down as much of the government as possible, to save money. People were also getting food stamps and unemployment benefits when there was no money for that, and that was exactly like continuing the kid’s allowance when the bank account was empty and the bills were piling up. No sensible parent would do such a thing. We all know that. Obama isn’t one of us. Shut it all down.

That would shut down the economy of course, collapsing demand for goods and services and thus driving a lot of folks out of business, creating more unemployed folks, who in turn would get no government help, further collapsing demand, driving even more folks out of business, creating even more unemployed folks, and so on, finally putting the economy in a death spiral – but the idea felt right, because government should be run like a business, and all this is just like your family finances. That’s nonsense, as the government isn’t a business out to make massive profits by getting lean and mean – everyone chips in for things that must be done for the common good, activities that aren’t designed to turn a profit – nor is it a family. A family cannot print money that everyone accepts to cover the bills. Still, it feels like that to many. It’s a matter of what you identify with, or who you identify with. Sensible people shut everything down in hard times, and unlike Obama and the Democrats, we’re all sensible people here, so when it comes time to choose someone to run things, that someone should be one of “us” – the sensible people.

That’s human nature. We’re all tribal in a way, but as Simon Maloy reports, odd things happen when the terms are reversed:

At this point, it would be safe to assume that the black community in Ferguson, Missouri, is probably feeling poorly represented by its elected officials. Over a week’s worth of unrestrained police crackdowns, curfews and bad-faith machinations by the local law enforcement – all with the blessing or tacit approval of political leaders – will tend to erode whatever trust one has left in the people in charge.

One of the upsides to living in a democracy, though, is that there are regular opportunities to boot out the people in charge. And so, with the situation spiraling out of control in the streets, activists and community leaders have set up voter registration drives in Ferguson. This act of civic engagement is drawing howls of outrage from conservatives and Republicans.

There is, however, justification, and also that outrage:

Low black voter turnout (combined with an unusual election calendar) has resulted in a local government that looks nothing like the population of Ferguson. The community is majority black, but the mayor is white, and five of the six City Council members are white. For members of the community who feel their interests aren’t being represented, the first step toward changing that is registering to vote.

For conservatives and the local GOP, this is apparently unconscionable. “If that’s not fanning the political flames, I don’t know what is,” the Missouri Republican Party executive director Matt Wills told Breitbart News. “I think it’s not only disgusting but completely inappropriate.” Again, this is in response to a voter registration drive in a majority black community.

Wills wasn’t quite through, though. Wills explained that the shooting death of Michael Brown was a tragedy for everyone.

“This is not just a tragedy for the African American community this is a tragedy for the Missouri community as well as the community of what we call America,” he said. “Injecting race into this conversation and into this tragedy, not only is not helpful, but it doesn’t help a continued conversation of justice and peace.”


I don’t want to question the obvious expertise of a local Republican official, but I’m pretty sure that voter registration drives are not what’s responsible for “injecting race into this conversation and into this tragedy.”

He also cites Tucker Carlson’s Daily Caller with the inevitable conspiracy theory:

Jesse Jackson and other liberal activists are rolling out voter registration efforts as part of a coordinated left-wing push to sign up voters during the wave of violent protests engulfing Ferguson, Missouri in the aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting.

Racial activist and former Democratic presidential candidate Jesse Jackson met with St. Louis clergy Monday to plan a formal Ferguson voter registration drive.

“Five thousand new voters will transform the city from top to bottom” Jackson explained during a stop at a Ferguson McDonald’s, where he discussed voter registration with local denizens.

Liberal activists – including from the George Soros-funded Center for Constitutional Rights – have promoted voter registration booths at multiple locations in Ferguson, including at the roadside memorial marking the spot where Brown was shot.


Jesse Jackson, George Soros, “coordinated left-wing push” – so many scary things!

Yes indeed, but folks want to be represented by someone like them:

Much of this whining is couched in terms of “politicizing” the death of Michael Brown, but that’s a hollow, lazy complaint made by people who don’t quite feel comfortable saying that they’re fine with the status quo. And it’s also baffling to see people complain, in the midst of a near total civic breakdown, that there are activists encouraging people to get involved to fix the root causes of the chaos. They’re evangelizing faith in the political system and encouraging people to act within established political norms. I’m not sure how one can view that as “disgusting” and “completely inappropriate.”

The black folks, seeing what’s happened in Ferguson, and keeps happening there, think the folks who run things should, from now on, be one, or more, of them. The white folks fear someone who is not one of “us” – the usual. It’s not exactly racism, being more of a tribal thing, but Josh Marshall came across this:

It’s incredibly unfair that it worked out this way but I think the historical take on the biggest success of the Obama presidency will be this.

As a white, suburban, middle (++) aged liberal, I saw the run up to his first election as proof of what I believed for a long time – we were in a post-racial world where the only thing that was holding individuals of color back was a willingness to do the hard work that the rest of us were doing to get ahead.

The re-surfacing of the hidden racism that had become invisible to me was (and is) worldview shattering. The breadth and depth and virulence of both institutional and individual racism are so enormous that I have a hard time coming to grips with it. I’m entirely embarrassed by my pre-Obama beliefs and am still trying to figure out what I can do to move from being part of the problem and becoming part of the solution.

While discussing Ferguson with folks who fall in to the “don’t think there’s any racism” category, I’m seeing a shift. Events like this, and the pro-protester media coverage seems to be chipping away at the middle. More people are starting to see the world like it really is.

Looping back to my hypothesis, I suspect that without an Obama presidency, the lens through which we view the current events would have been much less sympathetic to the protesters.

Oh, and healthcare.

This fellow is onto something. Our sense of who “us” is really did get scrambled this time. Those folks in Ferguson who aren’t “us” may be “us” after all, and Obama may have something to do with that. The days of Republicans reminding everyone, with some success, that they are the Real Americans, may be numbered. There’s the mess that was Ferguson, so badly handled by the powers that be out there, and then there’s Obama himself. Look, an angry black man! Where? Look, a radical socialist! Where? Look, a militant Malcolm X angry Muslim! Where? Look, a lazy shiftless try-not-to-use-that-word who sticks to nothing! Where? Look, an ignorant affirmative-action charity case who knows nothing! Where? Look, one of those ghetto folks, one who sneers and walks out on the wife and kids and dicks around with the local sluts! Where? Hey, that was sort of Bill Clinton’s thing, wasn’t it? He was the one who couldn’t keep it in his pants and he was white. This black guy is boring and normal, and smart as hell. He might actually be one of us. He might even be a Real American. Who knew?

It’s possible to lose at tribal politics, where identity is everything, when the concept of “us” shifts like this, and this leaves the Republican Party, and its Tea Party core, on the outside looking in. They’re in trouble. They need some advice, and although the party expelled Dave Frum, Bush’s former speechwriter, for warning them about this sort of thing one too many times, he hasn’t given up one them, and he offers this assessment of the party’s current problems:

Three big trends have decisively changed the Republican Party over the past decade, weakening its ability to win presidential elections and gravely inhibiting its ability to govern effectively if it nevertheless somehow were to win. First, Republicans have come to rely more and more on the votes of the elderly, the most government-dependent segment of the population – a serious complication for a party committed to reducing government. Second, the Republican donor class has grown more ideologically extreme, encouraging congressional Republicans to embrace ever more radical tactics. Third, the party’s internal processes have rigidified, in ways that dangerously inhibit its ability to adapt to changing circumstances. The GOP can overcome the negative consequences of these changes and, in time, surely will. The ominous question for Republicans is, how much time will the overcoming take?

Who knows? But he is sure that conservatism will be reborn:

For every action – whether in physics or in politics – there is an equal and opposite reaction. The liberal surge of the Obama years invites a conservative response, and a multiethnic, socially tolerant conservatism is waiting to take form. As the poet T. S. Eliot, a political conservative, once gloomily consoled his readers, “There is no such thing as a Lost Cause because there is no such thing as a Gained Cause.” The message reads better when translated into American vernacular: “It ain’t over till it’s over. And it’s never over.”

Jonathan Chait isn’t buying it:

The Republican Party constructed a geriatric trap for itself. Just how it will escape is hard to see. It is a small-government party whose base is wedded to the programs that constitute a large and growing share of government. The inability to touch the benefits of any old person, in combination with its still-extant support for defense and fanatical opposition to tax hikes in any form, have driven Republicans to propose massive cuts to the small share of government that benefits struggling workers. This priority has, in turn, saddled the GOP with the (correct) image of hostility toward the unfortunate.

And of course the unfortunate do vote, and turn out in greater numbers when told they’re useless moral failures. People are funny that way.

So, what will the Former Real Americans do now? Ah, they win the Senate and do this:

Mitch McConnell has a game plan to confront President Barack Obama with a stark choice next year: Accept bills reining in the administration’s policies or veto them and risk a government shutdown.

In an extensive interview here, the typically reserved McConnell laid out his clearest thinking yet of how he would lead the Senate if Republicans gain control of the chamber. The emerging strategy: Attach riders to spending bills that would limit Obama policies on everything from the environment to healthcare, consider using an arcane budget tactic to circumvent Democratic filibusters and force the president to “move to the center” if he wants to get any new legislation through Congress.

In short, it’s a recipe for a confrontational end to the Obama presidency.

Will that make them Real Americans again? Brian Beutler doubts that:

What McConnell’s promising makes very little sense. Even if you assume he and the House Speaker can unite their fractious conferences tightly enough to round up majorities for legislation, McConnell would still have a filibuster to contend with. And even if you ignore that obstacle, the political play is a known loser. Republicans controlled both the House and Senate when they shut down the government in 1995, and they lost the fight. Bill Clinton was a bit more popular at the time than Obama is now, but that’s not really what drove the dynamic. It’s just a losing ask to condition basic government services on weakening pollution restrictions or cutting healthcare spending or whatever. McConnell might be able to extract modest concessions in an appropriations tussle, but nothing big, and nothing along the lines of what conservative members will expect.

They’d still be on the outside looking in, with their base angry that this didn’t work very well, and Ezra Klein adds this:

McConnell intends to unleash a tactic that will almost inevitably end with shutdowns – whether he wants them or not. This might make sense if Barack Obama were running for reelection in 2016: the shutdown hurt his popularity, too, and perhaps it would make sense for congressional Republicans to mount a kamikaze mission against his third term.

But Obama isn’t up for reelection in 2016. These shutdowns will be a disaster for the Republican Party that will help elect Hillary Clinton – and help Harry Reid retake the Senate. Republicans will end up backing controversial positions with wildly unpopular tactics and the Democrats will take full advantage when they face the friendlier presidential electorate.

Let’s see – backing controversial positions with wildly unpopular tactics. What could go wrong? But there you have it. When it comes time to choose someone to run things, people who are too busy to attend to details decide that someone should be one of them, of what they see is “us” at the moment. Republicans have relied on that bit of human nature forever, but things shifted on them. There are those voter registration booths in Ferguson now, which infuriate them. Two can play at the game, their special game. It’s the purest form of politics, stripping away all discussion of policy and issues. There’s only that one basic question. Are you one of us? Answer correctly – and by the way, people know when you’re bullshitting them. So, who are the Real Americans? Wait! You said WHAT?

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.
This entry was posted in End of the Republican Party, Ferguson Missouri, Identity Politics, Tribalism in American Politics and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Purest Politics

  1. Rick says:

    I’m fascinated with the idea that Republicans are accusing “racial activists” and “Liberal activists” of injecting (horrors!) “politics” into Ferguson with voter registration drives!

    But couldn’t Republicans persuade some of their “racial activists” and “Conservative activists” over there on the right to mount voter registration drives of their own? And yet, I’m sure there’s a good reason this never seems to occur to them. After all, publicly climbing in bed with the KKK might look a bit too blatant these days.

    So yeah, once again, those Republicans really do find themselves between a rock and another rock.


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