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Sam Tanenhaus’s ‘Original Sin’

March 5th, 2013 - 9:09 am

This month in The New Criterion, I have a short note about “Original Sin: Why the GOP Is and Will Continue to Be the Party of White People,” Sam Tanenhaus’s tendentious and interminable article in a recent New Republic about how awful and racist the GOP is and why they will never, ever be able to redeem themselves until they give up on being nasty conservatives and start thinking just like — well, just like Sam Tanenhaus, editor of The New York Times Book Review and therefore a man who has the right (i.e., the approved left-wing) opinions about everything.

As I observe in my note, what makes “Original Sin” so odd is what I call its “historical legerdemain.”

When it comes to racism, the elephant in the room for Democrats is the unhappy historical fact that the Democratic Party was the party of slavery in the nineteenth century, the party of segregation for much of the twentieth century, and the party of multicultural neo-segregation today. Tanenhaus does not put it quite like that, but his essay slyly acknowledges the first two items. When it comes to contemporary realities, however, he argues that conservatives, by opposing identity politics and supporting the ideal of limited government, have slid under the wheels of history. The changing demographic complexion of America, he says, has consigned the GOP to bitter irrelevance. Searching for an intellectual paterfamilias for this drama, he settles on Lincoln’s great antagonist John C. Calhoun. The reasoning goes something like this: Calhoun supported states’ rights and limited government. He worried about the tyranny of the majority. He also supported slavery. Conservatives support states’ rights and limited government, they worry about the tyranny of the majority, ergo they are racists.

Not much of an argument, is it? In many ways, Tanenhaus’s piece is reminiscent of  his earlier exercise in ill-informed polemical logorrhea, The Death of Conservatism, which, like “Original Sin,” started life as a bloated article in The New Republic before darkening a few acres of wood pulp in its appearance between covers and on remainder shelves across the country. James Piereson treated that opuscule to at least some of the withering criticism it deserved in The New Criterion. That book disappeared without trace since the 2010 mid-term election did for his thesis what Cato’s denunciation helped do for Carthage.

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Republicans do have two interrelated problems. They do discriminate, picking ideas that numerically favor whites, but only coincidentallly so. It looks like racism to the mere blind when in fact it is a behavior selecting for personal success. The other problem is how difficult it is to seperate the plain to see advantages whites enjoy by embracing those ideas from the outward appearance that those ideas disfavor non-whites. An argument could be made that non-whites disdain those ideas because they would upset the minority cultural paradigm. IOW, race would lose its place in our political and cultural narrative if Republican ideas were given free reign. Upon a realization of that, the only defense is to keep the charge of racism alive, even if the polar opposite is true. The challenge is to find Republicans brave enough to say that.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
....and now I know those ancient tags don't work anymore.

How about these?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The reasoning goes something like this: Calhoun supported states’ rights and limited government. He worried about the tyranny of the majority. He also supported slavery. Conservatives support states’ rights and limited government, they worry about the tyranny of the majority, ergo they are racists.

Cum hoc ergo propter hoc, in other words. Correlation is not causation.

Of course, don't try asking Tanenhaus to establish such causation. Ideological causation, really? He'll just blink dumbly at you. Unfortunately, so will pretty much anyone these days with pretenses to being qualified to handle ideas.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
In the 90's, Michael Ramirez noted the resegregation of America in one of his cartoons called IIRC "The Dis-United States of America".
It is a classic of his work in the way it not only slams the Multi-Culti Cult, but notes some good old-fashioned American regional differences.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
that happened to my comment?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It is so true that multiculturalism is the strategy for false antiracism, but is a form of resegregation. I should have added it to my blog on the fashion for "mean" that pervades our political culture. See http://clarespark.com/2013/03/04/romney-v-the-cultural-politics-of-mean/.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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