Ross Douthat – In Praise of the Dark Side

March 12, 2012   ·   2 Comments

Source: NYTX

Republican Primary Voters

By Marie Burns:

There’s a dark side to American populism.
– Sen. John McCain, attributed in the film “Game Change”

The time has come to praise that most mocked, maligned and misunderstood of Americans: the Republican primary voter.
– Ross Douthat, actually wrote that in the New York Times

In his column this week, Ross Douthat applauds Republican voters who “have acquitted themselves about as sensibly, responsibly and even patriotically as anyone could reasonably expect.” Even as their “dysfunctional” party has let them down, Douthat asserts, ordinary Republican voters have bucked up and done the patriotic thing.

(Note to Readers: if you’re too busy to read this entire column, just skip down to the last paragraph. One short sentence refutes Douthat’s entire argument.)

If you have watched as much as ten minutes of election coverage this season, you probably cannot believe anyone – other than a pandering candidate – would have kind words for the whacked-out body politic who at one time or another would have put the Donald, Pizza Man or the Madwoman of Minnesota in control of the nation’s nuclear arsenal. Put on your track suit and limber up as we follow Brother Ross around a treacherous course broken by deep, wide chasms across which you will have to take broad leaps of faith.

Douthat: “Confronted with a flip-flopping, gaffe-prone front-runner whom almost nobody … finds very appealing,” the voters nonetheless have made “a slow trudge toward the altar with Mr. Good-Enough.” Reality: As Mitt Romney ekes out narrow victories against a field of screams, exit poll after exit poll has found that Romney voters chose him because “He is the one who can beat Obama.”

Thirty-seven percent of Ohio Republican primary voters do not believe Barack Obama was born in the United States.
– Public Policy Polling

These “responsible, patriotic” voters are not voting for Willard; they are voting against the foreign-born, illegitimate, secular/Muslim socialist black guy who conned his way into the White House.

Fifty-two percent of Mississippi Republican primary voters believe Barack Obama is a Muslim; 36 percent aren’t sure, and just 12 percent think he is a Christian.
– Public Policy Polling

Douthat: GOP voters “have methodically sifted through the alternatives, considering and then discarding each in turn.” Reality: By “considered,” Brother Ross means that Donald Trump, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and, currently (or at least last week) Rick Santorum have led in national GOP polls. Yeah, I “considered” voting for Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and Bill Richardson in 2008, but on any given day, I would have told a pollster I was leaning toward Barack Obama. There’s a difference between considering other qualified candidates and declaring your preference for a birther, a creationist or a secessionist.

Douthat: “… the media have overinterpreted this sifting process, treating every polling surge for a not-Romney candidate almost as seriously as an actual primary result.” Reality: “It’s the media’s fault” doesn’t wash. It was GOP voters, not the media, who told pollsters they liked Herman Cain for a White House gig. As for actual primary results, the majority of voters in South Carolina chose Moon Man, and the majority in a number of states have picked Abstinence Man. Moreover, in every state, the Not-Willards get tens of thousands of votes from Douthat’s “sensible” GOP “patriots.”

Douthat revels in the fact that the candidacies of Cain, Bachmann, Perry and Pawlenty bit the dust early and Ron Paul hasn’t won a single primary. The superficial reasons for the failures of these candidates vary – from serial woman abuser to boring – but the underlying cause for their failures is obvious: voters recognized that none could beat Obama. If the Texas Executioner, for instance, had not imploded in the debates, it is safe to say he would still be a factor in the race, if not the front-runner.

Douthat: “Yes, Republican voters probably should have given Jon Huntsman more consideration, and South Carolina voters in particular shouldn’t have rewarded Newt Gingrich’s snarling, preening, media-bashing debate performances with an upset victory. But that irruption of folly came and went….” Reality: Republican voters didn’t give Huntsman more consideration because (a) he served as a crucial ambassador under President Obama, (b) he believes in climate science, (c) he’s a Mormon, and (d) two of his children are Asian. All of these factors (yes, even the last) made him an apostate in Right Wing World. Indeed, some of the antipathy for Romney has nothing to do with his flip-flops and gaffes; it’s all about his not being a “real” Christian.

A recent poll of evangelicals around here showed that 30% would simply not vote for a Mormon – and the number who wouldn’t admit that in a poll is probably a lot higher.
– Richard Fording, University of Alabama political scientist

Douthat never mentions religious and racial bigotry; he pretends these are not even factors. They are.

And let’s do talk about those “snarling, preening, media-bashing debate performances” that so impressed the most dedicated of those sensible, patriotic Republican voters. The Fourth Estate, for all its failings, is the thin black-and-white line that saves the Third Estate (us commoners) from the Second Estate (the rulers). No wonder Speaker Second Estate wants to break that line. So thoroughly have the rulers convinced the commoners in their party that the media are diabolical pawns of a socialist elite media cabal that Newt’s debate audience cheered him on. In one debate, the audience’s antipathy toward the media was clearly racist: the audience repeatedly booed Juan Williams, who is black, when he questioned Gingrich about his claims that the poor had no work ethic and President Obama was the “food stamp president.” Media-bashing is scarcely the only inflammatory rhetoric that enlivens Douthat’s patriotic voters. They cheered Rick Perry for overseeing more executions than any governor in modern times. They yelled out that, yeah, society should let an uninsured sick person die. They booed a soldier serving in Iraq because he was gay. They cheered Mitt Romney when he said undocumented workers should “self-deport.” They booed Rick Perry for his policy of providing college scholarships to young undocumented immigrants.

Douthat concedes that the GOP presidential candidates this year are “retreads, mediocrities and cable-news candidates.” But there’s a reason for that! The Republican party, he claims, is “between generations.” There just aren’t any good candidates this time around. But just you wait. There’s a “promising crop of future stars” who will be ready for prime-time in 2016. Reality: That’s funny. Like most Americans, I first heard Barack Obama’s name in 2004. Four years later, he was elected president by a wide majority. There are dozens of Republican who are – on paper – better qualified to be president than was Barack Obama in 2008. In fact, there are dozens who are better-qualifed – again, on paper – than was Hillary Clinton in 2008.

Why, Douthat names ones of them: Jeb Bush, two-term governor of Florida, and a legacy! Douthat also names former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Ohio Gov. Mitch Daniels, now in his second term. “But,” Douthat writes, “those three men all found reasons not to run.” Reality: Actually, those three men found the same reason not to run: they thought they couldn’t win.

Douthat then makes a pretty hilarious assertion: “If [the primary] were being held two years hence, and featured Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio, the excitement on the Republican side would rival what the Democrats enjoyed in 2008.” Reality: Unlike Douthat, I cannot predict the future, but good luck to Chris Christie – who has spoken forcefully for Muslim-Americans, and Bobby Jindal – an Indian-American, and even Marco Rubio – a Cuban-American, with those patriotic voters who booed Perry’s immigration policy. As for Paul Ryan, lots o’luck when Tea Partiers figure out that the Ayn Rand acolyte has pushed often and hard to end Social Security and Medicare. I expect those guys will have about as much chance of getting the presidential nomination as they would of climbing over Herman Cain’s popular alligator-infested, electrocuting border fence.

The real reason this year’s crop of GOP presidential contenders is so terrible is that they are all catering to the very voters whose praises Douthat sings. The candidates are bad because the voters are bad. And vice versa. John Heilmann of New York magazine sees a symbiotic relationship. A great and unstoppable demographic shift is making the coalition of conservative heartland and Southern white voters a smaller and smaller proportion of the voting population. As the base goes, so goes the party. Rather than moving to accommodate the changing demographics, the GOP has become nothing more than a “party of anti-government fundamentalism powered by sublimated white Christian identity politics.” Heilmann paints this affecting picture of Republican voters’ window on the world:

Portents of this future were surely rendered all the more vivid by the startling reality that the man presiding over the new majority just happened to be, himself, young, urban, hip, and black. When jubilant supporters of Obama gathered in Grant Park on Election Night in 2008, Republicans saw a glimpse of their own political mortality. And a galvanizing picture of just what their new rulers would look like.

The party bound for extinction – and its fearful voters – are fighting to their last dying gasp. They have been remarkably effective. The Congress is dysfunctional because the Republican party has made it so. The party’s shift to the far right, with its no-tax oaths and no-compromise vows, has been deliberate. It may not be what Jeb Bush and Karl Rove, or even John Boehner, want, but right-wing purity is what Republican voters demand. In 2010, the Tea Party purged even reliably conservative Republicans like Utah’s Senator Bob Bennett and Alaska’s popular Senator Lisa Murkowski (she won re-election as a write-in candidate). This year there are efforts underway to dump long-serving conservative Republican Senators Orrin Hatch (Utah) and Dick Lugar (Indiana) in favor of far-right candidates. Maine’s relatively moderate Republican Senator Olympia Snowe opted not to run again rather than face a run-off election with a Tea Party opponent. In an Ohio Congressional primary election last week, right-wing stalwart Rep. Jean Schmidt lost her bid to a Tea Partier who claimed she wasn’t sufficiently conservative; one proof her challenger cited – Schmidt had kissed President Obama on the cheek before his State of the Union address. (Conversely, infamous Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina raised campaign money off his 2009 “You lie!” shout-out to President Obama.) Whatever the demographic apocalypse, however loudly the death knells ring – when a party’s voters consider it heresy to even be polite to a sitting president of the opposing party, their party ceases to be a political party. It has become a cult.

One last note on Republican “voters”: a huge number of them haven’t bothered to vote in this year’s primaries. As USA Today reported a few days ago,

Voter turnout in eight of the 13 states to hold GOP presidential primaries so far is lower than in 2008…. Overall, voter turnout so far is 11.5% of the 68.1 million citizens eligible to vote in the 13 states. That’s a drop from a 13.2% voter turnout rate in the same states four years ago. Five states — New Hampshire, South Carolina, Ohio, Michigan and Vermont — have had higher voter turnout in their GOP primaries than in 2008. In all of those states, independents or independent and Democratic voters were allowed to participate.

In other words, perhaps as many as 90 percent of Republican “voters” failed to perform their most fundamental civic duty – they did not vote. Not exactly “sensible, responsible and patriotic.”

Marie Burns blogs at RealityChex.com


Readers Comments (2)

  1. alphonsegaston says:

    This Douthat column wins the prize for rationalization. I read it with growing respect for Douthat’s PR abilities. He could be working for BP.

  2. marieburns says:

    @alphonsegaston. Yes, that’s the problem, isn’t it? Douthat and I view his job differently — Douthat thinks his task is to obfuscate; I think it is to illuminate. I imagine when he got his gig at the Times, Douthat figured, “Oh boy, I’m going over to secular liberalland and teach those loons a thing or two about religion & conservatism.” That would have been fine, except he added a caveat: “… even if I have to shade and shave the truth to do it.”

    That’s where I think he goes wrong — and where modern conservatives usually go wrong. They implicitly understand they don’t have a good case, so part of their charter is to misdirect and mislead. If you think your job is to lie, then you are not making a mistake when you do so; you’re just doing your job. It’s the “I was just following orders” school of rhetorical arts. The practitioner may be successful — he may get the desired result — but he almost always must rely on deception to achieve his result.




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