In a meditation on reactions to the Boston bombings and the apparent identification of the perpetrators, TAP’s Paul Waldman says something profound:
Let’s be honest and admit that everyone had a hope about who the Boston bomber would out to be. Conservatives hoped it would be some swarthy Middle Easterner, which would validate their belief that the existential threat from Islam is ongoing and that their preferred policies are the best way to deal with that threat. Liberals hoped it would be a Timothy McVeigh-like character, some radical right-winger or white supremacist, which would perhaps make us all think more broadly about terrorism and what the threats really are. The truth turned out to be … well, we don’t really know yet. Assuming these two brothers are indeed the bombers, they’re literally Caucasian, but they’re also Muslim. Most importantly, as of yet we know absolutely nothing about what motivated them. Nothing. Keep that in mind.
But for many people, their motivations are of no concern; all that matters is their identity.
He goes on to talk about the tendency of U.S. conservatives to reduce large proportions of the human race–including many Americans–to an identity-imputed barbarism that makes them perfect enemies and thus not worth understanding. But it’s sometimes a problem for liberals as well–certainly those who assume that being a white Christian male from the South is an identity that connotes an incorrigible cultural and political enemy (you can see why that might bother me).
But there are two other reasons liberals ought to be especially careful about identity politics–it abolishes the restraining power, real if sometimes attenuated, of universalistic liberal values on those who would otherwise run amok with greed and other forms of tribal and individual self-interest, and it sets up a power contest between identity groups in which those who already have power–typically wealthy white men–are probably going to win. Even if you buy a “fundamentals” analysis of politics as mainly about who we are and what we are statistically likely to believe or vote for, there is a zone, sometimes small but critical, of shared values and rational persuasion that matters on the margins all of the time and in the center of political discourse at least some of the time. That narrow zone is sometimes what separates democratic politics from the ethos of the Thirty Years War.
Look, we all make judgments about groups of people who are antagonistic to our point of view. I routinely say highly disparaging things about the conservative movement and the Republican Party, as they exist today. But I do try to pay attention to what they actually say and their justifications for saying it, which is why, to the anger of some of my political allies, I tend to take conservatives at their word that they believe zygotes are human beings or that the weight of history militates in changes in family structure or that capitalism is the only successful model for wealth creation. I could just dismiss them all as depraved crypto-fascists or as puppets for various puppet-masters, but if that’s the case, what’s the point of writing or contending over politics?
There are real and obvious meta-forces in political life that transcend reason or empirical data or any effort at persuasion, and they are often associated with “politicized identities.”But if we don’t constantly try to understand the motivations beneath these identities and pry them loose into that free air where sweet reason and cooperation can take hold, then we surrender to tribal instincts and a politics of pure power in which not one of us truly ever matter.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, April 19, 2013
The surge of generational change continues in this country, altering the cultural landscape with a speed and intensity that has rarely — if ever — been seen before.
The latest remarkable change concerns the decriminalization of the use of marijuana. A poll released Thursday by the Pew Research Center found that for the first time more Americans support legalizing marijuana use than oppose it.
It was rather unsurprising that more young people would support the move, but it was striking how quickly they adopted a more liberal position. About seven years ago, millennials (defined by Pew as people born in 1981 or later), Generation Xers (those born between 1965 and 1980) and baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) shared the same view on marijuana: Only about a third thought it should be legalized. Since then, the share of millennials supporting its legalization has risen more than 90 percent. Meanwhile, the number of legalization supporters in Generation X and among the baby boomers has risen by no more than 60 percent.
The millennial generation is the generation of change. Millennials’ views on a broad range of policy issues are so different from older Americans’ perspectives that they are likely to reshape the political dialogue faster than the political class can catch up.
I surveyed the past six months of Pew and Gallup polls, to better understand the portrait of a generation bent on rapid change — even if that means standing alone.
ON GAY MARRIAGE Much has been made of the growing acceptance of same-sex marriage in this country, but a Pew poll last month found that that the change is driven mainly by millennials. Theirs was the only generation in which a majority (70 percent) supported same-sex marriage; theirs was also the only generation even more likely to be in favor of it in 2013 than in 2012, as support in the other generations ticked down. The longer-term picture is even more telling. Support for same sex-marriage among Generation X is the same in 2013 as it was in 2001 (49 percent). But among millennials, support is up 40 percent since 2003, the first year they were included in the survey.
Some of this no doubt is the result of younger adults’ having more exposure to people who openly identify as LGBT. According to an October Gallup poll, young adults between 18 and 30 were at least twice as likely to identify as LGBT as any other age group.
But this doesn’t necessarily mean that millennials overwhelmingly agree, on a moral level, with same-sex relationships. In fact, a survey released last year by the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University in conjunction with the Public Religion Research Institute found that they “are nearly evenly divided over whether sex between two adults of the same gender is morally acceptable.”
ON GUN CONTROL According to a February Gallup report, Americans ages 18 to 29 are the least likely to own guns, with just 20 percent saying that they do. That is well under the national average of 30 percent of Americans who own guns.
And in a Pew poll taken shortly after the Newtown, Conn., shootings, younger Americans were the most likely to say that gun control was a bigger concern in this country than protecting the right to own a gun. (Younger respondents barely edged out seniors with this sentiment.)
In fact, a Gallup poll found that the percentage of those 18 to 34 years old saying they want the nation’s gun laws and policies to be stricter doubled from January 2012 to 2013. No other age group saw such a large increase.
It is remarkable that young people’s opinions shifted so dramatically, especially since a December Pew poll found that young adults under 30 were the least likely to believe that the shootings in Newtown reflect broader problems in American society. This age group was, in fact, the most likely to believe that such shootings are simply the isolated acts of troubled individuals.
Young people also are the least religious (more than a quarter specify no religion when asked), and they are an increasingly diverse group of voters. Fifty-eight percent of voters under 30 were white non-Hispanic in 2012, down from 74 percent in 2000. Like it or not, younger Americans are thirsty for change that lines up with their more liberal cultural worldview.
By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, April 5, 2013
With all this talk of gay people marrying one another, some people on the right are starting to bleat about how they’re being oppressed for their Christian beliefs—so oppressed, in fact, that they’re starting to feel like “second-class citizens.” Here’s CBN’s David Brody lamenting the sorrows of Kirk Cameron and Tim Tebow. Here’s Red State’s Erik Erikson predicting the coming pogrom (“Within a year or two we will see Christian schools attacked for refusing to admit students whose parents are gay. We will see churches suffer the loss of their tax exempt status for refusing to hold gay weddings. We will see private businesses shut down because they refuse to treat as legitimate that which perverts God’s own established plan.”). Here’s Fox News commentator Todd Starnes on the oppression that has already begun (“it’s as if we’re second-class citizens now because we support the traditional, Biblical definition of marriage”). And how is this second-class citizenship being thrust upon them back in the real world? Well, people are … strongly disagreeing with their position on an issue of public concern! It’s awful, I tell ya.
The impulse to jam that crown of thorns down on your head is a powerful one in politics. It means you’ve achieved the moral superiority of the victim, and the other side must be the victimizer. The problem is that these folks don’t seem to have much of a grasp on what second-class citizenship actually looks like. Last time I checked, nobody was forbidden to vote because they’re a Christian, or not allowed to eat in their choice of restaurants, or forced to use separate water fountains, or even be forbidden by the state to marry the person of their choice. That’s what second-class citizenship is. Having somebody on television call your views retrograde may not be fun, but it doesn’t make you a second-class citizen.
Of course, they say, “Just you wait.” But these fantasies of oppression are just that, fantasies. One of their favorite scare stories is that before you know it, Christian ministers are going to be hauled off to jail or have their churches lose their tax-exempt status if they refuse to marry gay people. Right, just like at the moment a Jewish synagogue will lose its tax-exempt status if the rabbi won’t preside over a Pentecostal wedding. And as for the florist who refuses to sell flowers to a gay couple, what he’s asking for is not a right but a privilege, the privilege to discriminate based on sexual orientation. It’s no different than if he refused to sell flowers to an interracial couple. But somehow, if he finds justification for that discriminatory practice in his faith, that’s supposed to make it a fundamental right.
I’m more than happy to admit that in certain circles, it’s more acceptable to be gay than to be an evangelical Christian. That’s what Chief Justice Roberts was getting at when he noted during the oral arguments about DOMA that “political figures are falling all over themselves” to endorse gay marriage, and thus gay people don’t qualify as a disfavored minority. But what we’re talking about here isn’t attendance at fashionable Upper West Side parties, it’s discrimination under the law. That’s what makes you a second-class citizen. It’s what gay people live with now, and it’s something that is never, ever going to happen to Christians, no matter how bad some of them may feel when people tell them they’re wrong.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, March 27, 2013
The Republican National Committee is out with what is being billed as an introspective look at what went wrong for the party in 2012. Maggie Haberman reports at POLITICO:
The Republican National Committee concedes in a sprawling report Monday that the GOP is seen as the party of “stuffy old men” and needs to change its ways.
Among the RNC’s proposed fixes: enacting comprehensive immigration reform, addressing middle-class economic anxieties head on and condensing a presidential primary process that saw Mitt Romney get battered for months ahead of the general election.
The committee also proposes major improvements to the party’s voter database and digital technology, which paled next to that of the Democrats and contributed to the party’s losses last year.
The suggestions are among dozens the committee makes in what RNC Chairman Reince Priebus has dubbed an “autopsy” of the party’s 2012 failures and a roadmap forward. Priebus is scheduled to unveil the 98-page report at a news conference Monday morning at The National Press Club.
“There’s no one reason we lost,” Priebus plans to say, according to prepared remarks. “Our message was weak; our ground game was insufficient; we weren’t inclusive; we were behind in both data and digital; our primary and debate process needed improvement. … So, there’s no one solution: There’s a long list of them.”
I took a quick look at the report this morning, with an eye towards what it might say about the party’s intertwined relationship with the religious right. And six words, so central to the religious right’s messaging and mobilization, and thus imperative to a Republican presidential hopeful’s lexicon, do do not appear at all in the report. Those words are Christian, religion, abortion, marriage, Jesus, and God. No Christian nation, no crucial role of faith in American public life, no shining city on the hill, no scourge of abortion, no need for prayer to save an unrepentant America from sin, no downfall of western civilization caused by the erosion of “traditional” marriage. No mention of infringements of religious freedom.
In fact, on matters of religion, the report sounds remarkably like an effort at Democratic faith outreach. “We need to campaign among Hispanic, Black, Asian, and gay Americans and demonstrate that we care about them, too.” And “the RNC should consider hiring a faith-based outreach director to focus on engaging faith-based organizations and communities with the Republican Party.” Wait, doesn’t Ralph Reed already do that?
It becomes clear which faith communities those might be, just a page later:
President George W. Bush used to say, “Family values don’t stop at the Rio Grande … and a hungry mother is going to try to feed her child.” This tone, coupled with the longstanding relationship with Hispanics he built as governor, demonstrated to the Hispanic community that Republicans cared equally about all Americans. . . .
In addition, the RNC must improve how it markets its core principles and message in Hispanic communities (especially in Hispanic faith-based communities).
Several times the report recommends engaging Hispanic faith-based organizations and communities — but it doesn’t mention such faith outreach in connection with other demographic groups, such as Asian and Pacific Islanders and African-Americans. Or women! The section on women is particularly — what’s the right word? — amazing? “Too often, female voters feel like no one listens to them.” (Really?) “They feel like they are smart, engaged and strong decision makers but that their opinions are often ignored.” (Do you wonder why?)
The report, of course, is just spin, a carefully crafted campaign outside a campaign to try to tell voters the sky is green and the grass is blue, or that the Republican Party is different from the one on display during the 2012 campaign. The pitch for religious Latino voters, though, hints at what’s really at work on the religion front: that the party is trying to figure out a way to keep conservative, religious white voters energized without alienating a pluralistic electorate. Saying that they’re going to reach out to religious Latinos is the party’s way of saying that it hasn’t given up on the religious right’s issues, it just needs to emphasize them in a different way. This might ring true for religious conservatives who have long heard from leaders like the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez that Latinos’ views on social issues line up with theirs (although in reality they’re hardly a monolith). But with or without a new “faith-based outreach director” at the RNC, I suspect that the old lexicon will be back in fairly short order.
By: Sarah Posner, Religion Dispatches, March 18, 2013
For as long as I’ve lived in Arkansas — most of my adult life — people like the now-famous state senator Jason Rapert have made most of the noise and lost most of the elections. Now they’ve come to power, courtesy of Southern Republicans’ cult-like rejection of President Obama and large infusions of corporate campaign cash. And with the state legislature in session, the tragi-comedy is under way.
It’s happening all across the South. Sample news story: “Representatives approved a bill titled ‘The Church Protection Act of 2013′…85-8, to permit concealed handguns in churches and other houses of worship.”
Because Jesus, of course, was all about smiting them dead before thou art smitten.
Anyway, “famous” may be an exaggeration with regard to Sen. Rapert. But a YouTube clip of the man haranguing a 2011 Tea Party gathering about his anger at “minorities” running the country has gotten Arkansas lots of unfavorable national attention. Meanwhile, his indignant, if not particularly honest, denials have succeeded only in generating more ill will and bad feeling.
Full disclosure: this same Jason Rapert is also my neighbor in rural Perry County, AR. He invited us to a Memorial Day Picnic three years ago, where his bluegrass band provided the entertainment. He’s a genial host and a terrific country fiddler and guitarist. A few days later, his wife graciously dropped off a CD the band had recorded. She pretended not to mind when my horse left deep hoofprints in their yard. The couple has two lovely young daughters.
However, the same fellow is also a stone religious crank who’s absolutely certain that God agrees with every one of his opinions; also that everybody who disagrees with God and him is going straight to hell. Jason’s not shy about telling you about it, either. He once advised me to leave the U.S. on account of supporting Obamacare. I reminded him that my side had won the 2008 election. (And good luck finding a country without “socialist” health care and with indoor plumbing.)
But I’d never have suspected him capable of the kind of insidious rhetoric he displayed for the Tea Partiers. The video, first unearthed by Lee Fang in The Nation, captures Rapert in full revivalist mode. No, his speech wasn’t “racist” in the simplistic way liberals often charge. I’m confident he’d vote for Condoleezza Rice, for example.
It’s not President Obama’s color that offends Rapert’s sensibilities—although I’m less sure about his audience’s. It’s everything else about the man that makes him suspect from a paranoid, neo-nativist perspective.
Delivered in a countrified drawl that’s more his preacher’s voice than the one he uses in his daytime job as an investment advisor, Rapert’s speech hits all the conspiratorial high spots: Obama’s supposedly missing birth certificate; his sympathy with gay rights; also, most ominously, his secret belief in the wrong God.
Anyway, here’s the business end of Rapert’s speech:
“You’ve got to change the hearts and minds of the people that live around you. You’ve gotta pray. It says ‘Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.’ And I wonder sometimes when they invited all the Muslims to come into the White House and have them a little Ramadan supper, when our president could not take the time to go attend a National Prayer Breakfast — I wonder what he stands for.
“You know what, what they told us is …what you do speaks so loudly that what you say I cannot hear. I hear you loud and clear, Barack Obama. You don’t represent the country that I grew up with. And your values is not goin’ to save us. We’re gonna try to take this country back for the Lord. We’re gonna try to take this country back for conservatism. And we’re not going to allow minorities to run roughshod over what you people believe in.”
Does it help to know that President George W. Bush never missed a Ramadan dinner? Nor has President Obama skipped a National Prayer Breakfast. New York magazine posted photos of him presiding at every single one.
What’s most alarming isn’t Rapert’s racial views, but his continuing indifference to the truth and his disdain for religious liberty. His views are scarcely distinguishable from those of the Know-Nothing party of the 1850s. Then it was German and Irish Catholics who were suspect; today, it’s Muslims.
Over time, it’s a losing strategy. Eventually, Americans come around to supporting the First Amendment and rejecting religious bigotry.
How things will play out in the shorter term is harder to say. It’s one thing to dislike Obama, quite another to embarrass an entire state, region and political party. Arkansans in particular have been touchy about their image dating back to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and beyond.
If politicians like Rapert don’t learn to moderate their tone, even in the South their ascendancy could be a short one.
By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, February 6, 2013