Monday, January 23, 2012

Michelle Goldberg on the Presidential race

Michelle Goldberg has a good understanding for the patterns of Christian Right thinking. Which means she also has a good insight into Republican base voter thinking, because they are basically identical with the Christian Right, which is largely the same as the Tea Party. So her commentary on the President election could be particularly interesting this year.

She looks at the Newt's culture-war campaign in South Carolina in Newt’s Winning Formula: He Does Scorn and Disgust Better Than Anyone Daily Beast 01/210/2012. She writes:

Last night was a resounding victory for disdain. Gingrich may be a sexual hypocrite, an erratic leader, and a cosseted lobbyist masquerading as a scrappy insurgent, but he is an absolute maestro of contempt, and that is what South Carolina wanted.

Look at what turned his electoral fortunes around. It had little to do with his attack on Mitt Romney's record at Bain Capital. I didn't meet anyone in South Carolina, including Gingrich supporters, who had anything negative to say about Romney's business record. Instead, the race turned in Gingrich’s favor during the debate on Monday, when Juan Williams asked him whether it might be "insulting" to black Americans to say they should demand jobs and not food stamps, and that poor kids should be put to work as janitors. Gingrich, puffed up with righteousness, went on the offensive. To the crowd, he seemed to be putting Williams in his place. No doubt their hearts pulsed as they imagined him doing the same to Obama. [my emphasis]
Reporting on her encounters with staff and supporters in South Carolina is anecdotal, of course. But Michelle actually knows what to listen for, as she showed in her book Kingdom Comin: The Rise of Christian Nationalism (2006). She's not like Tom Friedman running into cab drivers all over the world who happen to agree with exactly what Tommy Friedman is thinking about a particular subject at the moment.

I haven't seen any polling that gets at the subject. But I suspect that the attack on Willard's business practices may reinforce Newt's segregationist culture-war message more than Michelle's interviews are indicating. Because to make the white victimization theme work in connection with economic policies that are intended to give one-percenters like Willard even more wealth and more latitude to do what they do, no matter how damaging it is to the community at large, the Republicans need to cast the enemy of the moment as a wealthy, out-of-touch elitist. One of the services neoconservatives provided to building the current Republican coalition was to articulate and create images that substituted academics, gubment "bureaucrats" and liberal politicians for the image of the fat-and-happy plutocrat feeding on the misery of the people.

But since Newt has an actual plutocrat like Willard to run against, his campaign is using some of the same political imagery the plutocrat George W. Bush, part of one of the richest and most influential families in the United States, used in 2004 against John Kerry.

In other words, it difficult to disentangle negative class images of the wealthy from the culture-war appeals. After all, the entire Republican political project is about getting large number of working people to vote for economic policies that damage their own interests. And to exploit the opportunity the depression and Obama's relatively tepid response to it, the Republicans need to find a way to exploit class frustrations to win votes for an agenda that is entirely directed at comforting the already very comfortable.

Here's a video she did recently, basically warning against third-party illusions on the part of progressives. It's slickly produced, although the way they have her looking off to the side is unfortunately a bit reminiscent of Michele Bachmann's notorious response to last year's State of the Union address - though definitely without the Faraway Eyes:

This appeared at the Daily Beast's controversial Andrew Sullivan article How Obama's Long Game Will Outsmart His Critics 01/16/2012. The first minute and a half has a bit too much blame-the-hippies outlook for my taste. But then she goes into a useful reflection about how the Christian Right got the power within the Republican Party that they came to enjoy.

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