Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Roots of Modern Conservatism

Ding dong, Jesse Helms is dead. You already knew that, right?

hilzoy raises an obvious but important question: Why should conservatives expect people to regard them as anything but bigots when they exhibit adulation for an extraordinarily mean-spirited, ignorant hate-monger? Brad deLong opts for formal logic in making the same point.

While hilzoy compares the encomiums of conservatives with the statements and behaviors of the object of their affection, Tom S at rustbeltintellectual shows that GOP domestic politics has been driven primarily by racism since the end of the 1960s.

Given all of the above, why on earth should we not regard the GOP as the party of racism? The party of Lincoln long ago mutated into something our 16th president would not have recognized, much less chosen to join. And given that obvious reality plus the hideous record of the current occupant of the White House (with the GOP controlling all 3 branches of government), shouldn’t the Democrats be campaigning against the entire GOP as a party, rather than just John McCain? After all, does anyone seriously believe that if McCain is elected we won’t be saddled with the party he represents?

I’m not arguing, by the way, that John McCain is a bigot or that everyone in the GOP is such. Nor am I claiming that the Democratic Party (think of the West Virginia and Kentucky primaries) is free of the disease. In fact, I’m not even saying that all conservatives are racists (Ross Douthat has made a point of objecting to the current Jesse Helms lovefest, for example.) I am saying that the GOP as currently configured is dominated by people and groups that condone racism. How do I know they condone it? Because if they didn’t, it would not persist in their policies, statements and campaign appeals (whether overt or implied). It is true that the GOP has some non-white officials in prominent positions, but let’s face it—regardless who has visibility, the thrust of the party’s policies and oft-stated attitudes has been and continues to be particularly inimical to most people of color. While John McCain’s campaign has not engaged in the kinds of appeals popularized by Lee Atwater and Jesse Helms, there are many in his party who argue that he should. The prevalence of such attitudes is once again made clear by the fact that movement conservatives, who dominate the GOP, have made a point of extolling the alleged virtues of Jesse Helms to the skies. That the GOP consciously built its electoral coalition by appealing to such attitudes is a crime for which they should pay by banishment to permanent marginality.

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