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Herman Cain And The Limits Of Permissible Republican Ideology
In his November 9th New York Times column cleverly entitled The Cain Scrutiny, Ross Douthat calls attention to the arresting spectacle of white conservatives rising up to defend the honor of Herman Cain and black manhood against allegations by blonde tramps that the Republican Presidential candidate's sexual advances were unwanted:
"We should remember this moment, because it’s a perfect encapsulation of how race’s role in American politics has changed over the last 75 years."
But to say that the role of race has changed is not to say that race doesn't matter. The emergence of Herman Cain in the GOP polls has everything to do with race. The Republicans have no shortage of successful CEOs with track records similar to Cain's. But few get to make a credible run for the nomination.
And Cain's appeal to Republican voters is not just in the obvious we-must-prove-we're-not-racist-way. He is a classic genial, loquacious, egotistical black Big Man, the kind (think basketball commentator Charles Barkley) whom American whites find hugely likable.
Perhaps there’s a sociobiological explanation for this The Big Man personality type is hardly restricted to blacks—note how much Italians enjoyed Silvio Berlusconi. Yet black personalities seem to have been selected more for likability than for functionality. If over the millennia, men in, say, Manchuria or Finland hadn't performed at a high enough level for their wives and children to survive the winter, they wouldn't have many living descendants. Not surprisingly, there aren't a lot of Manchurian or Finnish celebrities.
In contrast, in tropical agricultural environments, women did most of the work (basically, hoeing weeds) to keep the children fed. Hence, the reproductive payoff for being a charismatic Big Man who could attract 10 or 100 wives would be quite high. So, there are more fun, amusingly egomaniacal personalities among blacks than among Manchurians or Finns…or, say, Mormons.
Douthat goes on:
“We are nowhere near the post-racial moment that Barack Obama’s election was supposed to usher in; instead, we seem more obsessed with race than ever, and more attuned to identity politics in all its permutations. But Herman Cain’s candidacy has confirmed what the experience of the Obama era has already suggested: In national politics, race matters, but ideology matters much, much more.”
Ross offers a sophisticated view, but is it quite sophisticated enough?
I would argue, to the contrary, that much of what sounds like ideological debate today is actually the flailing about of white Americans trying to come up with acceptable-sounding rationalizations for their more primal loyalties.
For example, consider this Washington Post article, Two Washingtons: Bitterly divided Georgia town reflects discord in nation’s capital, [By Eli Saslow, November 12, 2011] about the recent mayor's race in the small town of Washington, Georgia, near the South Carolina border. The race turned, as it does in every mayor's election, solely upon the race of voters. The black Democratic incumbent:
"had spent millions in city funds as mayor to revive a destitute neighborhood and expand poverty programs. Now, with the unemployment rate stuck at 12 percent, he wanted to increase spending on assistance programs again."
The white Republican challenger:
"wanted to cut property taxes and tighten the budget."
Why this ideological chasm over tax and spend policies?
Let me take a wild guess: It's because whites tend to have more money than blacks.
Granted, in a democracy, you have to argue over something. But the problem with multiracial politics is that race absorbs all the oxygen in the room. It reduces competition over issues, honesty, and competence. When all the people who are related to you are in one party, it puts too much pressure on you to rubberstamp the candidate of your people's race.
You'll notice that most Americans are pretty content that the crucial first two states in the Presidential nominating process are white-dominated Iowa and New Hampshire.
In January 2008, Barack Obama's victory in the quite white Iowa caucuses legitimized his candidacy in a way that an initial victory in, say, the black-dominated South Carolina Democratic primary wouldn't have done. Then, Hillary Clinton's comeback win the next week in white New Hampshire suggested that Democrats were closely divided between the two candidates--as, indeed, they proved to be.
You aren't supposed to notice this, but the Democratic Party as a whole doesn't want a heavily black state, in which blacks would vote as a bloc for their racial champion, to horn in at the beginning of the primary process.
Of course, they can't talk about not wanting diversity either. When Bill Clinton, the "first black President," not unreasonably downplayed the importance of his wife's loss in the 2008 South Carolina primary by pointing out, accurately, that Jesse Jackson had won South Carolina in 1984 and 1988, he was widely denounced as a racist.
That the Main Stream Media was shocked, shocked over Bill Clinton's awareness of 1980s Democratic politics is just another example of how diversity enstupefies democracy. That's one reason most Americans would prefer the politics of non-diverse New Hampshire to the politics of diverse South Carolina, even if we aren't allowed to talk about it.
So, why do we want to import more diversity via mass immigration?
Granted, Hispanics aren't quite as polarizing as blacks, but we have a century of mostly dismal experience with New Mexico politics to suggest that more influx from Old Mexico won't make our democracy better.
Douthat's contention that ideology matters more than blood relations is a lot like saying that Chicago Bears fans root for the Bears because they believe intellectually in the Bears' Tampa-2 defensive alignment, while Green Bay Packer rooters have chosen their team out of their faith in the merits of the Packers' 3-4 defensive set.
Well, maybe, in a few cases. But most Chicago Bears fans are either Chicagoans or have family-and-friend ties to Chicagoans. Intellectual debates over the merits of various defensive and offensive philosophies don't have much to do with their loyalties.
And why should they? Fans want their teams to adopt the best strategies so they can win. There's nothing wrong with wanting your team to win. That's why they play the game.
But that's not a popular view these days.
The recent boom in the Ayn Rand ideology among Republicans, for example, has less to do with the rightness or wrongness of the late Ms. Rand's analysis of the world, and more to do with aroused citizens searching for some permissible ideological justification for their perfectly reasonable emotions.
Or consider Glenn Beck's truncated career on Fox News in which the autodidact rummaged around for an ideology to justify opposing the Democratic President (and was eventually fired for being a potential loose cannon).
"Permissible" is the key word here. Douthat asks:
"When was the last time you heard a national Republican politician attack affirmative action...?"
Good question. And I have a better answer: The summer of 2009, when the Ricci case, the Sonia Sotomayor Supreme Court nomination, and the humiliating Beer Summit ended Obama's honeymoon, as his approval ratings with whites dropped sharply.
That summer, Republican politicians took advantage of Obama's racial gaffes, such as nominating the Wise Latina who had ruled against Frank Ricci with little explanation.
But since then, GOP leaders have fecklessly failed to go on the offensive on these wedge issues. After all, what would the MSM think?
In contrast, Democrats feel little need for complex ideologies to excuse their loyalties. That Obama is attempting, for example, to reignite black turnout by implying that his defeat in 2012 would be a racial insult is uncontroversial.
An October 26, 2011 NYT article by Helene Cooper, Black Support for Obama Is Steady and Strong, makes clear that Democrats are unmotivated to ideologically rationalize their appeals to tribal loyalties:
"Democratic campaign strategists ... are already building staffs in swing states with significant black populations, like Florida, North Carolina and Virginia, for an intensive effort called Operation Vote, which will focus on African-Americans, women and Hispanics."
At least among blacks, Obama's strategy of rallying his base appears to be working:
"Mr. Obama’s support among African-Americans appears strikingly strong, even among many who are out of work, who might be expected to complain the loudest. ... In a recent Pew Research Center poll, black voters preferred Mr. Obama 95 percent to 3 percent over Mitt Romney, 'which is at least the margin he got in 2008,' said Michael Dimock, associate director for research at Pew. 'There’s no erosion at all.'" ...
What complex ideological policy analysis motivates this loyalty? Eh, just racialism:
"Beyond issues, many African-Americans feel an emotional connection to Mr. Obama that seems unshakable, saying that nothing can compare with seeing someone who looks like them in the White House."
And why not? Mr. Obama might not be terribly representative of the average African-American. But, then, few Green Bay Packers had any connection to Green Bay before the vicissitudes of a pro football career happened to land them there for a few seasons. They wear jerseys that read "Green Bay," which is good enough for Wisconsinites.
For Republicans, the range of permissible domestic ideologies covers two issues: tax rates and regulation of business. That's about it.
Not surprisingly, this narrow trough of the allowable dumbs down discourse. For example, what caused the mortgage meltdown? You would think we would want to have a sophisticated understanding by now. But Democrats go with Greed, while Republicans, with their Obama Era libertarian ideological purity, blame Government Regulation of the Free Market.
Thus, public debates wind up being between competing strawmen. For example, Michael Bloomberg, centrist billionaire mayor of New York, recently blamed the mortgage meltdown on Congress:
"It was not the banks that created the mortgage crisis. It was, plain and simple, Congress who forced everybody to go and give mortgages to people who were on the cusp."
In response, financial blowhard Barry Ritholtz leapt in with a long op-ed in the Washington Post poking easy holes in this simplistic view. [What caused the financial crisis? The Big Lie goes viral , November 5, 2011]
What's interesting, however, is that way back in 2009, Ritholtz came to my blog's comments to challenge me to a high-stakes debate. I explained to him how diversity, in manifold ways, had exacerbated the catastrophe. For instance, George W. Bush had used fighting racial inequality to justify undermining time-tested regulations of mortgages, such as requiring downpayments and documentation.
Now Ritholtz has apparently forgotten all he learned so painfully a couple of years ago. And why bother remembering: How much of a market is there for a non-ideological analysis of diversity that is skeptical of both diversity and Wall Street?
[Steve Sailer (email him) is movie critic for The American Conservative. His website www.iSteve.blogspot.com features his daily blog. His book, AMERICA’S HALF-BLOOD PRINCE: BARACK OBAMA’S "STORY OF RACE AND INHERITANCE", is available here.]