Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Republican Base or Movement?

Dr Leo Strauss has an interesting article up about the "Movement" which is commonly referred to as the Republican base by the media. He finds this inappropriate.

Because Krugman et al. fail to grasp the fundamental difference between the Movement, the former Republican Party and the Democratic Party, talking heads refer to the Movement as the ‘Republican base’. As if somehow the Movement and its Manichean zero-sum nihilism is the same as the Democratic base. Say the the Sierra Club or unions. How one can be a professional political analyst and assume a base is a base is a base. Well, we live in truly decadent (technically defined) times.

In a political sense of winning elections by appealing to enough people with policies, he is right. To use his word, the Movement is quite willing to sacrifice an election in the spirit of purity. If you see politics as the art of achieving the possible then they are not political, they are nihilist. "All or nothing" is a recipe for getting nothing unless you are willing to step outside the realm of politics into despotism. I am not sold on the idea that the Movement in general terms is that type of entity. The question that occurs to me is one regarding their belief in their numbers, whether they actually believe that sufficient purity will attract enough voters to win or whether they simply don't care. If they are not deluded enough to think they actually have the numbers somehow obscured by outside forces, then they are that dangerous despotism in waiting.

I certainly accept his arguments that ignoring the Constitution and even the Magna Charta are symptomatic of their point of view regarding the over-arching rightness of their cause. That "the ends justify the means" exists is scarcely surprising considering that Machiavelli is accused of codifying it. (not quite accurately) That its adherents have taken over a major national political party is scary. That politicians elected to national office find themselves in the position of kowtowing to them is really unfortunate for our political process.

Now the basis of my objection to scoffing at the media for calling these folks the Republican base is that since they run the party now they are the base, whether they need consistent stroking or not. No, they're not the Sierra Club or anything resembling it, maybe they are ELF, but that doesn't mean they aren't the voters the GOP has if it plays to them. While the left wing of the Democratic Party seems to be able to get along with the scraps it gets, they don't, anymore. They did for a long time, they took empty rhetoric and still voted, those days have passed.

Following the Civil War the Republican Party became the establishment party which carried with it the followers-on interested only in the levers of power in regard to their economic interest. This is the conservative root of Republicanism, economic power desires a steady state with them dominating, an adoption of status quo with only incremental adjustments made to their benefit. Those powers are not in the least interested in ideology, only in controlling it and keeping its arguments in their favor. That has recently led to a blind alley, they made their bed with the Christianistas, the racists, the nativists, and the Luddites who have not only taken control but been rejected. They hadn't recognized who they were playing with, the table scraps didn't satisfy them, only increased their appetite and once the dependency was established it turned to bite the hand.

Drawing congruences between the bases of the two parties is dangerous business due to the very factors Strauss emphasizes in regard to the Movement. It is very much a faith based, tribal and emotional content based ideology. The left is generally more fact driven and need oriented than tribal or faith based, they are not happy with incrementalism but live with it. Time in the political wilderness concentrates their thoughts and pushes them into "reasonable" compromise with the middle. The Movement is quite different so far, they retreat into purity drives and anger. They were always a poor fit with the Party of Business and now are demonstrating why. Business is necessarily adaptive to situations, that or it is broken, it is on that basis pretty pragmatic. There is developing a schism between the plutocratic arm and the business arm, the plutocrats can afford the craziness of the Movement if it will allow them to hold onto or increase their advantages, business can't afford to be associated with "all or nothing."

The plutocrats can afford to subsidize the craziness of "teabagging" because it holds forth the idea that they are victims rather than rapists. They will busily try to find ways to co-opt the Democrats while playing with the Movement, they are such a tiny minority with so many means that they fly under the general radar. Some businesses will default into allegiance with the Movement because they find themselves under assault - health insurance providers for instance. Even while they play in the Movement's arena of fear and anger they are looking for ways to find some edge of advantage within the group they find so basically threatening and they do have traction there.

The Movement is the Republican Party despite some outliers and for the foreseeable future they will run the show. In some places Republicans will necessarily present a more modest face and that will last as long as there is some idea in the voting public that Republican doesn't mean Movement. It will depend on the media how long Republicans can preserve the fiction that there is a difference between Movement and Republican; and in fact it will depend to some extent on how long people like Strauss fight the idea the base is what the Movement is.

I believe Strauss' problem with the term base is that he looks at political parties as parties that practice politics, it doesn't matter that one Party is exercising politics and the other isn't, they both make their offerings to the public - voters and in that context they are political and have bases. In essence the Republicans have become so stupid as to confound political thinkers as accomplished as Strauss. (c'mon you knew I could turn this into an insult)

1 comment:

Zak Johnson said...

The concept of building coalitions by starting with a purge of the impure has never quite made sense. It's not a coalition if you only have one variety. This is a mistake I see in much of the gun rights community--internal sniping taking precedent over getting 'er done. The Republicans are making an art form out of it. The irony of course is that so many of the tea baggers have time to protest because the policies of their leaders over the last three decades have finally crushed our investment culture and put them out of work and on the street, angry and tilting at both windmills and green power turbines alike.