Conservative Stockholm Syndrome
Since the election, we have witnessed among Republicans much teeth-gnashing, soul-searching, and blame. Much of the blame-throwing, unfortunately, is directed at the base.
Among the scapegoats are members of the Tea Party. Michael Barone -- one of the many Washington pundits who grossly miscalculated the presidential election outcome -- blamed Tea Party “wackos, weirdos, and witches” for Senate losses while speaking at Hillsdale College.
Since exit polls showed that non-whites and young people overwhelmingly voted Democratic, the reaction has been that Republicans need to work harder to attract those demographics, specifically very broad categories of blacks, Hispanics, and Asian-Americans as well as young people aged 18-29.
While a Pew Poll last December revealed that many more Americans identify themselves as conservative than liberal, the breakdown according to the demographic groups shows a divergence among these demographics in opinions about socialism. While only 24 percent of whites viewed socialism favorably, 55 percent of blacks did and 44 percent of Hispanics did. Favorable opinions of socialism have an inverse relationship to age: the most support comes from those aged 18 to 29. Forty-nine percent of young respondents gave a favorable rating to socialism, while only 34 percent of the 30 to 49 age group did, only 25 percent of the 50 to 64 age group did, and a mere 13 percent of those above 65 did.
Liberal pundits like Jay Bookman herald such trends and predict “the future of capitalism will not look like the past.”
What will this capitalism be like?
I think the repackaged former Obama Special Advisor Van Jones sums it up in his new book, Rebuild the American Dream. Jones, who was responsible for allocating $80 billion in “stimulus” funds for “green energy,” quietly left his position after Glenn Beck exposed his communist roots, his support for cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, and his signature on a 9/11 “truther” petition.
In his book, Jones repositions himself as a basically conservative family man (before he makes scurrilous, unsubstantiated charges against Tea Party members and revises history). He highlights his parents’ conservative ethic of hard work, and his Southern and Christian roots. He emphasizes his father’s advice about uplifting the black community through jobs. He downplays his youthful radicalism and tags onto the idea of the American Dream.
The American Dream for Jones, however, is rebuilt with government assistance. While he sidesteps the question of why the free market itself has not produced “green jobs,” he nonetheless rhetorically puts the emphasis on skill training, jobs, opportunities, and revitalization of blighted neighborhoods -- with which most conservatives would agree. Again, the primary difference is that Jones sees the government as being the entity that creates the jobs, an idea which we know will result in failure and massive waste of tax dollars.
Jones’ vision is one that appeals to naïve young people, who increasingly seek careers that combine financial success with “social justice.” Even those majoring in business show a growing desire to work for the government.
Jay Bookman attributes such a change in attitude to the different “historical experience” of the 18-29 demographic who do not even remember the fall of the Berlin Wall. Those under age 40 have lived their adult lives “in a world in which communism was no longer a grave threat to capitalism.”
According to Bookman, the capitalism they have seen is a more ruthless capitalism than that of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations:
After 1989, with its competitor [communism] vanquished, capitalism in effect began to exert its monopoly power. It became rougher, less paternal and more aggressive. If income for the already wealthy soared while the pay of working class Americans stagnated or even declined, well, too bad. It was justified as Darwinian justice, a form of justice much different from the concept of economic justice that had been in effect prior to 1989.
With the decline in family cohesion, religious faith, and community, today’s young conservatives are likely to adhere to a Darwinian style of capitalism. They reveal a resentment of Baby Boomers, and even blame them for “ruining their lives” with overspending. College sophomore Sarah Westwood, in the Wall Street Journal, recently lectured her Republican elders about updating “Grandpa’s adage of tax less, spend less” and breaking with the “gay-bashing and Bible-thumping fringe.”
While Ayn Rand-style fiscal conservatism may appeal to some young adults, others educated in a system that emphasizes emotional empathy for the “oppressed” are likely to reject it as mean-spirited and hateful.
Going back to the reflective and reflexive responses to the election loss, it seems that such analysts are putting the cart before the horse. There might be some truth to their assertions that race, ethnicity, and age determined election outcomes and that these groups need to be courted to win future elections.
But are demographics political destiny?
We can look at the case of Allen West, a black Tea Party member of Congress, who lost the election to a younger white man. While the media is quick to vilify on the basis of perceived racism or sexism, no such discussion has entered debates about Republicans. In my own state house district in Georgia, a black female Republican candidate was able to win only 25 percent of the vote against the entrenched white female Democrat, who did everything to shut her out from community debates where she has a virtual monopoly. It is said she is courting a young white male Democrat to be her replacement when she soon retires. Or consider the case of Mia Love, who attempted to become the first black Republican woman elected to Congress. Her opponent, Jim Matheson, is white and male, and supported by liberals who otherwise raise the flag for racial and gender “diversity.”
Among the statements that have made Allen West a pariah among liberals, both black and white, are his charges about communism against progressive members of Congress -- who are in fact members of communist and socialist parties. West is charged with “Red-baiting” in insulting profiles, like the one by Tim Murphy in Mother Jones last summer.
The societal shift allowed President Obama, in the third debate, to ridicule Mitt Romney’s fears about Russia: “The Cold War’s been over for twenty years.” Such implied charges of paranoia about communism obscure the very real threats now coming from Putin’s resurgent dictatorial regime. But Obama’s ridicule is typical, and it is intended to cut off discussion.
The Pew Poll reflects my anecdotal observations in the college classroom over the past twenty years. Students automatically associate communism with the “red scare” and “McCarthyism.” Any charges of communist sympathies are likely to be seen as “red-baiting.” Their knowledge about communism, if they have any, is sketchy and slanted.
This is because their history lessons focus on the movements of the 1960s, namely the civil rights movement, which is presented as a triumphal victory of good over evil. The leader is Martin Luther King, Jr., whose method of taking to the streets is now seen as the preferred method of political change. In this morality play of history, those who did not wholeheartedly take up the cause and “march” are presented as evil bigots. Those who did, the same radicals who have shaped our education system, are presented as avatars of good.
Left out of this history, however, are those like George Schuyler and Reverend Joseph H. Jackson, who promoted a patriotic and economic method for overcoming discrimination. Black advocates for civil rights such as Homer Smith, who wrote a book about his experiences in the Soviet Union, are simply ignored.
Instead, lessons about civil rights are combined with lessons about contemporary “social justice.” Students are told that living conditions were so bad that the rioting and other acts of violence that came with the public demonstrations were justified. (Schuyler’s recital of rising living standards among blacks during the 1960s go ignored, as does the fact that rioting increased after passage of civil rights bills and increased funding for government assistance.) Radical groups like the Black Panthers, SNCC, SDS, and CORE that caused controversy and strife among their contemporaries are unambiguously presented in a favorable light. Almost universally, students attribute rioting of the 1960s to the deplorable living conditions of an unfair (capitalist) economic system. The federal government in these lessons is presented as the savior. Federal troops had to desegregate schools, protect black children from ruthless white Southern police, and provide assistance to starving minorities. President Johnson’s massive federal anti-poverty program is presented as an unmitigated good; not mentioned are its failures and break-up of families and communities.
Blacks and Hispanics are told they need the assistance of the federal government as they are courted by activists with socialist agendas.
Contrary to Bookman’s assertion, one does not need personal experience to have historical knowledge. Today’s young adult has been inundated with lessons about the civil rights movement that took place decades before he was born. To him, the civil rights movement is very real. Conversely, he will learn almost nothing in school about how his grandparents saw starvation and executions in the Soviet bloc countries.
Republican outreach to minorities and young people will likely be met with suspicion. Given their lessons in school, they will likely view rich white men as insincere (though not rich black men, like Obama and Jesse Jackson). They will see those like Allen West as pawns of rich white men, and paranoid about communism to boot.
Conversely, they will see those like Bill Ayers and members of SNCC, SDS, and even the Black Panthers as heroes from the civil rights era. They will see Van Jones as taking up the mantle.
Republicans will never win this contest. They may play the game and grant amnesty to illegal aliens. But progressives will always give such groups more goodies while they indoctrinate them in anti-Americanism and anti-conservatism in the schools. Republicans may initiate entrepreneurship programs for black youth, especially for those with criminal records, but government programs never do as well as the free market in creating permanent jobs. Republicans may try to put out a message of hipness, as Marco Rubio did with his discussion of his favorite rap artist Eminem, but their opponents will always have something more hip and radical. And as Rubio is already discovering, being a Hispanic candidate does not protect one from being trapped by leading questions on creationism (or abortion, or even reading material).
It has been only weeks since the election. What Republicans and conservatives need to do is to shake off the false guilt and false reality that they have been imprisoned by. They need to begin educating now about a proud history of opportunity, freedom, and respect for the law, tradition, and culture. That transcends all demographic categories.