Monday, November 11, 2013

Paying attention to continuity on the Radical Right

Rick Perlstein is an actual expert on the history of the Radical Right, just as Dave Neiwert is a journalistic expert on some of the more violent and virulent aspects of its more current manifestations and on their success at "mainstreaming" their themes into the Republican Party.

Rick makes an important point in The Nation (The Grand Old Tea Party 11/05/2013; 11/25/2013 issue) about race and Radical Right/Republican Party politics:

This time, liberals are also making a new mistake. Call it “racial defeatism.” Folks throw their hands up and say, “Of course reactionary rage is going to flow like mighty waters against an African-American president! What can we possibly do about that?” But it’s crucial to realize that the vituperation directed at Obama is little different from that aimed at John F. Kennedy, who was so hated by the right that his assassination was initially assumed by most observers to have been done by a conservative; or Bill Clinton, who was warned by Helms in 1994 that if he visited a military base in North Carolina, he’d “better have a bodyguard.”

All right-wing antigovernment rage in America bears a racial component, because liberalism is understood, consciously or unconsciously, as the ideology that steals from hard-working, taxpaying whites and gives the spoils to indolent, grasping blacks. Racial rhetoric has been entwined with government from the start, all the way back to when the enemy was not Obamacare but the Grand Army of the Republic (and further in the past than that: Thomas Jefferson, after all, was derided as “the Negro President”). When former IRS Commissioner T. Coleman Andrews ran for president in 1956 on a platform of abolishing the income tax, it was no accident that his war cry—he was fighting against the “degeneration of the union of states into an all-powerful central government!”—was indistinguishable from that of the Southern governors enacting a policy of massive resistance against Brown v. Board of Education. Every time the government acts to expand the prerogatives of citizenship and economic opportunity to formerly disenfranchised groups, a racism-soaked backlash ensues. Defeatism—or ideological accommodation—only makes it worse.

Ironically, liberals of previous generations understood this better than we do now, despite decades more experience watching how the right’s game is played. For a Partisan Review symposium in 1962, Harvard sociologist David Riesman advised that the Kennedy administration "can gain the leeway on the domestic front…only by combatting the radical right rather than seeking itself to move onto rightist ground—an illusory operation since the right can always go still further right and will."

Well, we’re on rightist ground now. [my emphasis]
In this sense, the defenders of white supremacist politics are unintentionally correct when they voice the whiny-white-people's protest that, "it's not just about race" or "more often, it's not about race." Rightwing politics is about race but not just about race. In fact, we could say that white supremacy in the US has never been just about race. White slaveowners in the antebellum South and the white nonslaveowners did make money off their African slaves, after all. The white nonslaveowners who were required to serve on slave patrols did get the sadistic satisfaction of pushing around unarmed blacks and the psychological satisfaction of feeling themselves part of a master race for doing so.

The slavery system in the South was heavily bound up with the agricultural economy. Sexual power and privilege was an integral part of the system. The second- or third-class citizenship of white women were also an integral part of the slavery system and the "honor code" that went along with it, as historian Bertram Wyatt-Brown has demonstrated at some length in his work.

The same is true in later institutions and practices of white supremacy in the US. They are never only about race. But in dealing with the Radical Right, which today effectively includes all of the Republican Party, it's silly to pretend that white racism and white supremacy aren't major factors, integrated closely with their other obsessions.

Rick's piece emphasizes the continuity in far-right ideology and reminds us that it has been for decades a critical element of Republican Party politics. Lazy Beltway journalistic practice insists on treating every new round of radicalization of the Republican Party as something new and unusual. As he puts it, "the temptation has been to depict the Tea Party’s brand of reactionary extremism as a new thing, too. Their radicalism this fall has indeed been breathtaking. But understanding today’s right-wing insurgency as a new phenomenon only weakens our attempts to defeat it."

Also particularly notable in Rick's piece:

The reactionary percentage of the electorate in these United States has been relatively constant since McCarthy’s day; I’d estimate it as hovering around 30 percent. ... Now, however, the bottlenecks against right-wing minoritarian power are weaker than ever; America's structural democracy deficit has never been greater. And that's the biggest difference of all. [my emphasis]
"Never" is a big word, of course. Presumably by "structural" he's referring to features like the filibuster rule, not to factual restrictions on the franchise.

He notes that "after decades of trying, the reactionary tail finally wags the establishment dog. The recklessness of the goals, however, have always been the same."

Liberals and progressives have not been as alert as they should have been to the real threat of the Radical Right, he observes: "Democratic professionals in Washington, on the other hand, should have seen it coming. Perhaps, though, their vision is too occluded by the example set by President Obama, who continues to see Republicans as responsible negotiating partners despite all evidence to the contrary."

While we on the subject, the Tea Party and the Christian Right represent overlapping but mutually sympathetic factions of the Republican Party and the Radical Right. Talk to Action remains one of several excellent sources on the Christian Right. So are Religion Dispatches and AlterNet. The latter also deals regularly with the secular manifestations, as well.

Here's Ted Cruz' daddy speaking on themes showing continuities with favorite rightwing obsessions going back decades, Rafael Cruz On Homosexuals, Evolution 11/07/2013:

See commentary by DarkSyde, The faces of creationism: Rafael Cruz Daily Kos 11/10/2013. This piece also touches on how hostility to public school is also partially "about" race and class.


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