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August 31, 2009

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Ideology is such a powerful force right now on the American Right that Cheney's strategy is probably a smart one.

It's not ideology, it's tribalism. There's no ideological or policy content to modern American conservatism. Just chants of "We're #1!" and "One of us! One of us!"

He is scared. He knows full well he broke the law, and the paper trail pointing back to him is so vast it can be seen from space! He's campaigning to stop the investigations before he ends up in jail.

There's an ideological content to conservatism, though it's a bit confused. (The same could be said of liberalism.)

This is somewhat obscured by the fact that at least claiming to be a conservative, whether or not you are one, is politically necessary within the Republican party, through most of the country. While the "liberal" label is sufficiently damaged that in most of the country even Democrats who really are 'liberals' will avoid the label.

Don't go "All true Scotsmen" on me, either. If somebody was from Botswana, and you denied they were really a Scotsman, it wouldn't be a fallacy. It IS possible to falsely claim to be a conservative. Common, even.

Self-identified conservatives (both rank and file and elected officials) loved Bush right to the end, love torture, and think Barack Obama is a socialist-o-Islam-o-Nazi.

Zero intellectual content. 100% tribalism.

Let me third (or fourth) the "tribalism, not idealism" explanation. *Everything* becomes a tribal marker for them, which is why they're only playing well in the white South, the most tribalistic subculture in the US (see Albion's Seed for details). There are no questions of morality (torture), or science (global warming), or common sense (Obama's citizenship) -- there is only Tribe. And the more contrary to morality/fact/sense an assertion is, the better it is as a marker for Tribe.

I have to agree with the tribalism idea. Most of what the Republican party has been doing for the last umpty years is all about winning, more than about any particular ideological agenda. I think the ideological stances the party takes is one calculated to get them the most votes.

Which obviously fails from time to time, until something bad happens that you can blame on your opponents; then it's win, again.

So, the truth is relative to their political commitments?

How cute.

Doctor Science, great book!

I want to add, the The Rise and Fall of Anglo-America: the Decline of Dominant Ethnicity in the United States and The Cousins' Wars: Religion, Politics, Civil Warfare, And The Triumph Of Anglo-America

Unfortunately, I think publius' analysis is right on. There are some people on the right who hate Cheney and what he's done, but it is a long project for them to take over their movement/party.

ooo, book recs. Thanks, someotherdude!

I really realized the tribalism angle in a discussion at Rod Dreher's, where he was horrified to find that conservative Christians were *more* likely to support torture than liberals are. A commenter there said that he was from the South, and that he thought a lot of people around him don't "really" support torture, but they would hear the pollster's question as really being about group identification, not the purported issue, and answer accordingly.

Don't go "All true Scotsmen" on me, either. If somebody was from Botswana, and you denied they were really a Scotsman, it wouldn't be a fallacy. It IS possible to falsely claim to be a conservative. Common, even.

I would have more sympathy for this position had Bush and his administration not been--for that matter, were they not still--enthusiastically embraced by most self-described conservatives.

If somebody from Botswana was the lead speaker at a Scottish family reunion and most of the family cheered and didn't call them out, the inevitable conclusion is that either he was a Scotsman after all, or that the family is flat-out delusional.

"If somebody from Botswana was the lead speaker at a Scottish family reunion and most of the family cheered and didn't call them out, the inevitable conclusion is that either he was a Scotsman after all, or that the family is flat-out delusional."

Can't rule out that last possibility though...

What might also be added, in this running take on the ideological content of the right, is how reactionary it has become. This is part and parcel of how ideology has strangled and warped contemporary conservatism, to the extent that it doesn't resemble so-called classical conservatism; even I know that there was a time when the Republicans actually offered party platforms with positions on things that, while I disagreed with them, I could at least recognize had thought put into them, with actual committees of reps and staff who had researched what they had to form the policy positions. If the results were all calibrated to preserve vested interests in key industries (oil, defense, health insurance and such) and pet ideological and moral issues (abortion, gun owners, etc.) that was only natural; we never expected the major-party right to go all wobbly on these things.

But what I'm seeing, in a broader picture, is a collapse of any coherent sense of policy formation and defense. What I'm seeing is pure reactionary politics that, if they aren't truly careful, will play them into the hands of fascism. I really don't think this is an exaggeration. Is it any wonder that the exemplars of torture their advocates are aping, however incidentally, are regimes where public opinion counts for nothing (Israel, Iran, North Korea, China) or that no longer exist except as, well, exemplars of authoritarianism (Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union)?

The health care debate, to briefly change the subject, is another exemplar of this - the GOP is making no effort at all to craft alternative bills to what the Dems have done or propose partisan reforms of existing policy even where GOP moderates pay lip service to the need for reform, because they've given up all pretense to such policy-making, and apparently are comfortable with having nothing to offer except piss and vinegar. And on Cheney's semantic manoeuverings, should it come as any surprise how Publius' observation is holding up? This is all part of a theme that has been emerging ever since they went into opposition - sore losers who would rather the country go to pot than actually extend a hand on issues that cut across ideological and partisan bounds.

Unfortunately, I think Publius is correct, and the right will eat it up.

There's an ideological content to conservatism, though it's a bit confused.

Perhaps you'd care to describe it. And then explain how so-called conservatives are voting for the GOP and not for the genuinely conservative party - the Democratic Party.

Don't go "All true Scotsmen" on me, either. If somebody was from Botswana, and you denied they were really a Scotsman, it wouldn't be a fallacy. It IS possible to falsely claim to be a conservative. Common, even.

Catsy beat me to it. It is possible, but Occam's Razor suggests that a lot of such claims are not true, in some cases due to right-wingers disingenuously trying to disassociate themselves from unpopular figures but in other cases just due to being in denial. It's hard to admit that one voted for Bush and that he turned out to be such a disaster. Some, like my father, deny the first, and probably others deny the second.

Is GWB a conservative, and/or the Republican Congress during his terms? He grew government and the debt, but so did Reagan. If Brett's definition of "conservative" would disqualify Reagan, then Brett is making up his own definitions of words but they're meaningless to the rest of us. GWB definitely was socially conservative. GWB launched a reckless and disastrous war, which definitely isn't conservative in the small-c, non-political sense, but in the political sense conservatives seem at least as belligerent as anyone else.

If GWB and Reagan aren't conservative by Brett's definition, then he's being so free with words that he'd make Humpty Dumpty Jonah Goldberg blush. If they are, then I don't care if he dismisses almost every other Republican as unprincipled and non-ideological. (I'd laugh if he called them liberal, though.)

"A commenter there said that he was from the South, and that he thought a lot of people around him don't "really" support torture, but they would hear the pollster's question as really being about group identification, not the purported issue, and answer accordingly."

I think it is important to recognize that ideological conflict and tribalism are not mutually exclusive here, in fact given that the tribes in question are as much cultural as they are ethnic, some set of markers are required just to keep track of who belongs to which tribe, and ideology serves that purpose admirably. It doesn't matter if the ideology is incoherant or contains contradictions, so long as it is different from what the other tribe thinks.

Another point is that we are now exiting from a period in which ideology assumed central importance in US politics because between roughly 1912 and 2000 the two major parties were in the midst of exchanging regional and cultural bases with each other - swapping possession of the Southern Confederacy and its cultural diaspora as a consequence of first the Democratic party breaking out of its regional base in the SE using the ideology of class warfare during the 1st half of that period and then the GOP returning the favor with the "Southern Strategy" in the 2nd half. IIRC somebody described early 19th Cen. US politics as being like "two men exchanging overcoats while having a fistfight" and something very similar happened in the 20th Cen.

During this period of flux and turmoil in the state of regional identity politics ideology assumed a greater importance in keeping track of who belonged to which side, and now that the regional identity of the two parties has returned to something like a stable equilibrium, I expect to see coming up in the future a period of ideological incoherence in both major parties (witness the Dems being pulled into the gravitational orbit of big business for example). I also expect that at some point the GOP will break out of their regional southern base to attract more voters in other regions using class warface from below as an ideological lever, just as the Dems did in FDR's time. That is one reason why I'm keeping an eye on Mike Huckabee for example - I think that is the direction from which we will see a revitalized GOP - a southern Christian left-populist movement hostile to big business and especially the FIRE sector of the economy. Dems have to be very careful how they handle TARP and the Wall St. bailouts if they don't wish to accelerate this process.

And ditto on the recommendations for Albion's Seed and The Cousin's War.

Yet it is instructive to note how different things were not so long ago. In the 1920s, the United States consolidated its Anglo-Protestant ethnic character in a series of legislative actions: the Volstead Act of 1920 prohibited the consumption of alcohol; the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924 shaped immigration flows around a quota system designed to preserve WASP dominance; and Al Smith, a Roman Catholic of part-Irish extraction, was defeated in his bid for the presidency in 1928. Nativist commentators glowed with praise for a U.S. Congress whose ethnic composition matched that of the Continental Congress of 1787. In communities large and small, powerful Protestant voluntary associations like the Ku Klux Klan, Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), Masons, and American Protective Association (APA) nurtured the bonds of white Protestant ethnicity and enforced Anglo-American hegemony. Even as late as the 1960s, 90 percent of white Protestants, Catholics, and Jews married members of their own faith.

By the 1960s, as if by magic, the centuries-old machinery of WASP America began to stall like the spacecraft of Martian invaders in the contemporary hit film, War of the Worlds. In 1960, the first non-Protestant president was elected. In 1965, the national origins quota regime for immigration was replaced by a “color-blind” system. Meanwhile, Anglo-Protestants faded from the class photos of the economic, political, and cultural elite—their numbers declining rapidly, year upon year, in the universities, boardrooms, cabinets, courts, and legislatures. At the mass level, the cords holding Anglo-Protestant Americans together began to unwind as secular associations and mainline churches lost millions of members while the first truly national, non-WASP cultural icons appeared. Not only were barriers to non-WASP ethnic groups virtually eliminated at all levels of American life, but national institutions appeared to be reapplying the idea of communalism in an inverse manner. Namely, minority ethnic communities were now replacing the old Anglo-Protestant ethnie (or ethnic group) as the recipient of collective privilege.

(For a more detailed definition of ethnie, see Chapter 2.)

From The Rise and Fall of Anglo-America

In the mean time, remnants of the previous elite classes, as well as folks who were taught that their tribal heritage has been stolen from them by outsiders will not go without a fight. At the same time, many of the grandchildren of the Southern European Jews and Roman Catholics forget they had to fight to get the same rights white men were promised, by the Constitution, and have assumed the language and posture of the old nativists. These books detail the process by which they become “white” and “American.”

Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race and The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class

Tribal formations are fun to read about,...but deadly in their material outcomes.

You folks don't really know any Scottish people, do you? Their attitude is, if you're a member of the tribe, you're a member of the tribe. Race mattereth not. Elijah McCoy, famous American inventor of numerous devices known, and demanded, as "the Real McCoy", was the black son of a Scot. He could not be educated in America, so he was sent by his father to Scotland, where they had no trouble accepting him. So don't think "no true Scotsman" necessarily excludes that Botswanian.

And President Obama's mother is of Scottish heritage.

I saw a good movie about tribalism of an extreme sort this weekend -- Quentin Tarentino's "Inglorious Basterds".

It is also, at the moment, my favorite
baseball movie.

Can baseball counter incipient fascism, if applied early enough, methinks to myself?

Lord have mercy, I went way off topic, sorry.

I'm not exactly blaming them for this -- he is the former Vice President, and you have to quote him.

Brings me back to 1981--you couldn't turn on the TV or radio without Walter Mondale popping up. I mean he was everywhere.

I'm thinking its not so much tribalism as cultism. Now, if we could just get them to swallow the koolade.

I'm not exactly blaming them for this -- he is the former Vice President, and you have to quote him.

I would appreciate it if they would refer to him as the "former" Vice President, rather than The Vice President, as they still so often do.

I agree with Publius's post, and think that the tribalism theme is fascinating. If ThatLeftTurnInABQ is correct about the left-populist Christian anti-corporation movement, I'm not sure that would be a bad thing.

Older: You folks don't really know any Scottish people, do you?

The Scottish National Party's definition of a Scot is anyone who was born or who is living in Scotland, who wants to be a Scot. This handily differentiates the SNP from the British equivalent of the Republican Party, the BNP, who routinely have the same kind of racist conniptions about Britishness that conservative "birthers" have about Americanness.

Successful political parties in the UK (Conservative, Labour, LibDem, SNP) are ideological, not tribalist. The BNP is the champion of the tribalist parties - but even so, it wins only a minority vote.

My former neighbors the Husseins are Scottish (assuming that they wanted to be) and can eat haggis pakora, deep-fried pizza, and ravioli tikka masala with the rest of us. (The Scots are well known for two things*: we'd lose a war rather than concede a fight to our mortal enemies the Scots (never trouble yourself hating a foreign enemy when the real thing is just across the road), and a passion for deep-fried food.) And we all get to grin at the Americans "of Scottish heritage" who show up at tourist-time and want to know what their clan tartan is**.

*Well, and the excellence of our education system, the mercy of our justice system, and the drinking of our whisky - no system required.)

**The answer is: "Whatever's the most expensive one we can sell you."

the mere fact that we are having this debate at all sickens me.

i've seen torture up close. close enough to get shit on me.

it doesn't work. it does nothing but satisfy very sick, very twisted needs of some cowardly bastards.

the image that keeps coming to mind with me is one of having to explain to a truckload of teenagers that the proper way to dispose of unwanted puppies does not involve throwing them at highway signs from a speeding vehicle.

the fact that the conversation needed to be held indicates a very high level of social failure in, an of itself.

Unfortunately I see the evidence of this in my own family. People who before 9/11 were traditional conservatives now believe that only Fox News and Rush are telling the truth.

For some reason, to be a conservative in this sense now, you have to believe in torture (even if you are a Christian) and you have to believe that global warming is a liberal hoax.

However, now that Bush is out of office, you can denounce anything about him that you did not like as him not being a "true Conservative". Cheney is the quintessential "true conservative", and Bush went wrong when he stopped listening to Cheney.

It's pretty scary that these people no longer think for themselves, and yet they believe that those of us who are liberals are the ones who are brainwashed.

It's pretty scary that these people no longer think for themselves, and yet they believe that those of us who are liberals are the ones who are brainwashed.

it's a nice little racket Fox/Rush have going. no lie is too big; the liberals are pure evil, and any evidence to the contrary is just another example of liberal perfidy. it's a self-sustaining reactionary reaction.

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