October 11, 2013

The Southern strategy is still at the core of the Republicans.

My latest op-ed for Al Jazeera English surveys how several different long-term explanations for the government shutdown weave together, starting with Ross Douthat on the right and Joan Walsh on the left:

A Southern-based minority-within-a-minority is furiously opposed to letting the will of the majority be realised. As the government shutdown drags on, the debt-limit default looms, and it looks like years of the same ahead for us, so it makes good sense to step back from the daily blow-by-blow and ask ourselves what's really going on here.

On the right, Tea Party Republicans rallied by Senator Ted Cruz insist that Obamacare will destroy America, and they're just trying to save the country. Since the US is the only advanced industrial country without universal health care, few international observers - whose countries have been enormously helped, not destroyed by universal health care - can take the Tea Partiers seriously. So let's look elsewhere for our explanations.

It's helpful to begin with three different explanations. First, there's conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, who has a column explaining, "Why the Right Fights." He gives a nod to "polarisation and redistricting", along with "the conservative media landscape and anti-Obama sentiment", as well as "the weakening of institutional party power", but his real subject is conservative activists' frustration with their repeated failure to roll back the New Deal and the Great Society. With Obamacare set to expand the scope of government, this long-term desperation has boiled over, it seems.

Beating the same bush over again

As Douthat puts it, there's a "long term pattern" that "has played out repeatedly in our politics: Conservative politicians take power imagining that this time, this time, they will finally tame the New Deal-Great Society Leviathan … and then they make proposals and advance ideas for doing so, the weight of public opinion tilts against them, and they end up either backpedaling, getting defeated at the polls, or both." Most folks would see that as a feature of democracy - unpopular ideas get rejected. But for conservatives, it's a bug.

On the other side of America's political spectrum, Salon's Joan Walsh, in her piece "The real story of the shutdown: 50 years of GOP race-baiting", argues, "It’s the culmination of 50 years of evolving yet consistent Republican strategy to depict government as the enemy, an oppressor that works primarily as the protector of and provider for African-Americans, to the detriment of everyone else." This is not Walsh's idea. She quotes directly from Kevin Phillips, the architect of the infamous "Southern Strategy" - as well as the less-well-known "Northern Strategy" which targeted the likes of Walsh's own working-class Catholic family....

Read the whole piece here.

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