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Monday, July 7, 2008

You're Either With Us, or Against Us?

Since we Democrats decided to run a woman, a Latino, an African-American and a hobbit (sorry, Dennis, I just couldn't resist! Mwah!) for president this year, there has been a lot of discussion about identity politics. The discussions mostly run like this: Is it okay to vote for Obama mainly because he's African-American? What about voting for Hillary mainly because she is a woman?

This, like most of the so-called "analysis" perpetrated in three-second soundbytes by the corporate media, is on a cartoon level of understanding. I would like to delve a little bit deeper into the (say it with me) nuances of what identity really means with regard to political parties.

President Bush famously said, "You're either with us, or against us." Not only was this statement symptomatic of his general addiction to faux cowboy-ism, but I believe that it was also, in a larger sense, the way Republicans think about the members of their Party.

As we know from reading John Dean's "Conservatives Without Conscience," (ohfuhgodssake just read the darn book) today's Republicans, aka "movement conservatives," are monolithic and authoritarian in their thinking. In other words, they look for a figure of absolute authority to follow, a strong Daddy to relieve them of the burdens of thinking for themselves. (This explains the appeal of movement conservatism to evangelical Christians, and their creepy identification of Bush as a religious, instead of a political, leader.) A rare few, such as Bush and Cheney, are double-high authoritarians, who wish to be the authority figures themselves. (Remember Bush's statement that it would be a lot easier if the U.S. were a dictatorship, as long as he's the dictator?) Movement conservatives also espouse a platform that is negative in nature; against taxes, against abortion, against evolution, against anything with the "liberal" label stamped on it.

All these factors converge into one large lump of identity for Republicans. If you pass the test - if you believe what they believe - then you're with them. If not, you're against them. Show allegiance to the leader, and you can be any color, any religion, any income level and even (gasp!) female. Your identity is subsumed into that of the authority figure. You know how to vote on every issue, and you believe whatever the authority figure believes. It's a Fascist, but efficient, way to run a political party.

More on the Republicans in a little while.

Now, for us pesky Democrats. In my experience, we are exactly the opposite of the Republicans on the subject of identity. Our loyalty is to the principles of the Party rather than to any individual. Thus, it makes it much, much harder to identify "friend" from "foe." Getting a bunch of Democrats to all vote the same way is "herding cats." We are currently experiencing a massive split in the Party between those who support Senator Obama and those who don't. Why? Because we PUMAs believe that Hillary represents the principles of the Democratic Party and that Barack Obama does not. That's your identity politics right there, bub.

Were we Republicans, this would never have happened. The base of the Party doesn't like John McCain, because he has not shown enough loyalty to President Bush. Doesn't matter - they'll vote for him anyway, because President Bush has endorsed him and has raised money for him. That's good enough for them. As for us, the base of the Democratic Party? We've had everyone from Al Gore, to Jimmy Carter, to John Edwards endorse Obama. We've even had Senator Clinton urging us to support him. No sale. We feel the love for you, Hillary, but our loyalty isn't transferable.

What got me thinking about this in the first place was the shocking article I linked to yesterday. How is it possible that Senator McCain, a man who consistently espouses policies that would harm women in general, treats the women in his Senate office with so much more respect than Senator Obama, a man who supports policies like equal pay for equal work?

Then I realized: For Republicans, it's all about individual loyalty. If those women are loyal to McCain, they're not women, they're team members. They're With Him, and no bigotry applies to those who are members of the Republican team. That's how President Bush was able to appoint two African-American Secretaries of State, and not one Republican blinked. Incredibly ironic for a man who, due to his lack of interest in the African-American community in general, consistently has an approval rating of single digits among AAs.

For Democrats, it's all about loyalty to Party principles. If those women work for Obama, they are women who work for the principles of the Democratic Party, of whom Senator Obama is a representative. (See how complicated it is already?) Thus, they are seen as individuals, not nameless, faceless cogs in a wheel, and all bigotry, including misogyny, applies.

I know that we Democrats should not adopt the Fascist tendencies of the Republicans, but something has got to change within our identity mechanism. In a year when we should be looking forward to a giant sweep of the legislative and executive branches, I and my fellow PUMAs believe that we are likely to either lose the executive, or win the executive at the expense of the principles of the Party.

May I suggest, Breaking Down the Big Tent?
Cross-posted at The Confluence


madamab said...

Ted - Your comment was rejected because your only purpose appears to be to use my blog to promote someone else's site. Further, I have already stated I will not vote for John McCain.

If you can't comment on the content of this site, then please do not comment at all. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Great post, madamab. I have also been extremely disturbed about the Obama wing of the party trying to force democrats into lockstep, emulating the republican party.

On the wingnut side of the aisle, I think part of this has to do with the abortion issue. Both parties have been getting a certain number of votes for many years based on nothing but their stance on this issue. My mother is a good example. If it weren't for the fact that most democrats are pro choice, she would almost certainly be a democrat because she agrees with us on every other issue. But to her, that is a religious issue she would have a hard time compromising on. (Even so, she was ready to vote for Hillary in November because Hillary actually spoke with a group of Pro Lifers and told them she would work with them to reduce the number of abortions).

I know this isn't exactly the point of your post, but just wanted to point out that some of the "lockstep" occurs because of the polarizing issue of abortion. I've long believed that the Republican party would be reduced by half if we were to ever get beyond that issue as a society. The Roe v. Wade issue is what keeps evangelicals in the Republican Party. I have a feeling that this is what is behind Obama's pandering - trying to pick them off and get them into his column. But it isn't going to work. The first thing these people think of when they put Obama and religion together is Rev. Wright ranting and raving from the pulpit.

sister of ye said...

No offense meant to you or your mother, cognitive dissonance, but religious "pro-lifers" strike me as extremely shallow and dishonest.

I have yet to see religious picketers at the fertility clinics that toss uncounted numbers of embryos each year. Yes, the Catholic Church is nominally against them, but it has never cranked up its supporters to action as it has against abortion clinics, even reproductive health clinics for whom abortion is only part of their services.

I have also yet to see these churches seriously push for programs like universal health care that would guarantee medical care for pregnant mothers and children. I have yet to see them pushing for social service programs that could help unprepared mothers in raising unexpected children.

Most of all, I don't see them lining up to volunteer to be there for 18 years and more to love those babies they insist be born. And that includes Barack Obama.

madamab said...

CD and sister of ye - you both make excellent points.

CD - Abortion is such a false issue for the Republicans. They will never overturn Roe v. Wade, since it is their number one recruitment tool. You are right, their numbers would be halved if we could get beyond the sexism and misogyny that allows women to be penalized for deciding to control their own bodies.

Sister of ye - That is my main problem with the pro-lifers in general. If they want to force women to have unwanted babies, then they should support the societal safety net that is necessary to care for those babies. Yet they don't. Again, this is deep misogyny disguised as religiosity.

I don't believe that all pro-lifers are cruel and judgmental, for some truly believe abortion is murder. They just need to follow up on what they're advocating and think of the consequences of their actions from a legislative standpoint.