Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The GOP must become less bitter

It seems clear to me that the first thing that the conservative movement needs to do if it wants to ever hold power again is to move out of Nixonland and forget all the perceived slights and insults at the hands of liberals. Ever since Nixon conservatism has been driven by anger and bitterness, usually directed at minorities and the liberals who champion their interests. As minorities become a bigger slice of the electoral pie, and as a new generation that disdains such tactics comes into its own, it becomes clear that this strategy will have limited returns in the future.

In a greater sense, there is another element to this equation: anger is a weakness, not a strength. And this is something that the right simply doesn't understand. When people are angry, they draw inside. They don't listen to advice, even if it's good. They make mistakes. And this is exactly what is happening on the right at this moment. Anger can be a good tool to spur social change, but being angry for forty years simply doesn't work. It becomes bitterness, and that is of no help to anyone. And then that bitterness has the effect of deranging the rank-and-file, to the extent that they are taking every negative rumor about Barack Obama as fact.

Ultimately, the GOP's "Forty Years of Bitterness" strategy worked for a while, but it ignores the basic fact that people like to feel good. They like to feel good about themselves and about the country. This is what Barack Obama has been offering, and it has not been surprising that it has resonated. Now the GOP needs someone who can purge these toxins and create a new Republican Party that is optimistic and positive. It seems like a Herculean task, though, because the only conservative that really managed to do that was Ronald Reagan, and I think he was an outlier, as he maintained some elements of his earlier liberal mindset even after he went right wing. (Bush had a bit of success at the optimism, future-oriented thing too, to be fair.) More common, though, are folks like Tom DeLay and Newt Gingrich.

One can view the decline of American conservatism in recent years as a narrative of people getting over the 1960s because they are losing their houses. Of course, there will be holdouts, but it's more than just political style: bitterness is a cancer that makes people doubt their own abilities and demonize people who are successful for that reason alone. Of course, this is a variant of what Barack Obama said, and the GOP has been complaining about it since. It's going to take a while for them to get the point. I suspect it will come after a few more presidential election losses, and after blaming the "liberal media," ACORN and Saul Alinsky ceases to be comforting to American politics' version of the New York Mets.

The Man, The Myth, The Bio

East Bay, California, United States
Problem: I have lots of opinions on politics and culture that I need to vent. If I do not do this I will wind up muttering to myself, and that's only like one or two steps away from being a hobo. Solution: I write two blogs. A political blog that has some evident sympathies (pro-Obama, mostly liberal though I dissent on some issues, like guns and trade) and a culture blog that does, well, cultural essays in a more long-form manner. My particular thing is taking overrated things (movies, mostly, but other things too) down a peg and putting underrated things up a peg. I'm sort of the court of last resort, and I tend to focus on more obscure cultural phenomena.