Saturday, May 02, 2009

Conservatives Might Try The Exodus Strategy

Peggy Noonan throws cold water on the Republican idea of "shrinking to win:"

All the metaphors here are tired, so let's stick with the big tent. A big tent is held up by tent poles. No poles, no tent. No poles, all you have is a big collapsed canvas. The poles that keep up the tent are the party's essential beliefs. Republicans over the next few years should define what each of their tent poles stands for—a strong defense being an obvious pole, a less demanding and intrusive government being another, a natural affection and respect for tradition and for life being a third . . .

But also, the people inside can't always be kicking people out of the tent. A great party cannot live by constantly subtracting, by removing or shunning those who are not faithful to every aspect of its beliefs, or who don't accept every pole, or who are just barely fitting under the tent . . . . Especially in those cases when Republican incumbents and candidates are attempting to succeed in increasingly liberal states, a certain practical sympathy is in order.

In the party now there is too much ferocity, and bloody-mindedness. The other day Sen. Jim DeMint said he'd rather have 30 good and reliable conservative senators than 60 unreliable Republicans. Really? Good luck stopping an agenda you call socialist with 30 hardy votes. "Shrink to win": I've never heard of that as a political slogan.

Well, if "shrink to win" doesn't work, what does?. Not compromise and negotiation. The conservative core of the Republican Party doesn't believe in negotiating--with ANYBODY. From the conservative point of view, negotiation is weakness and compromise is appeasement. That's the case whether it's with our foreign enemies like Iran, our foreign friends like France, or the domestic opponents of the Republicans like Harry Reid. It's also the case with Republicans who disagree with them. As the neo-cons say, they don't want to negotiate with "evil," they destroy it, and that's true whether the evil is North Korea, Arlen Specter, or Olympia Snowe.

Given the white southern tilt of Republican conservatives, the guiding principles of "no negotiation/no compromise" are rooted in the experience of being masters under the slavery and the master race under segregation. One key to white supremacy in the South was that whites were above the law when it came to race. In their own minds, white southerners thought they could do almost whatever they wanted with black people whenever they wanted. There was no need for negotiation, no need for compromise, and no need to worry about the law, public opinion, the media, or anything else. Far from being hidden and furtive, lynchings were community celebrations of the power of white people. Southern whites were masters of the racial domain and they exulted in reminding everyone of that.

Teaching in Kentucky, I'm continually reminded of just how slow and hesitant the retreat from white supremacy has been. Actually, a large number of the white students in my classes don't think anything has changed at all. The point isn't that racism continues (although it does), it's that a lot of the Southern whites involved in the conservative movement took their disgust with any idea of negotiation and compromise to Washington when they got elected to Congress, started serving in the Bush administration, or went to work for think tanks and lobbying firms.
Conservatives aren't going to open up to Northeastern moderates, African-Americans, Hispanics, or anyone else. They just don't believe in it.

Where does that leave conservatives? Given that conservatives don't think much of all that Jesus "turn the other cheek/love your enemies" stuff in the New Testament, they might consider the Exodus model of the Old Testament, Mormonism, or Israel. In the exodus model, one group packs up and moves to an area where they could dominate either as the only people or as an overwhelming majority. I once heard the right-wing economist Walter Williams on Rush Limbaugh's show fantasizing about an exodus in which conservatives would move to Texas, secede from the United States, and set up a free enterprise utopia. Part of the romance of secession in states like Texas and Georgia is to create a homeland in which conservatives no longer have to answer to the rest of liberal, multi-cultural America.

Maybe that's how conservatives will respond to the decline of the Republican Party--figure out a way to leave.

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