Sunday, July 30, 2017

Does Ross Douthat read this page?

Used in publicity for a performance ("An Evening of S.I. Witkiewicz") by the Theatre of the Two-Headed Calf, New York City, November 2004.
Just wondering, after noticing an odd metaphor creeping into today's column ("The Empty Majority"):

It has the tics of an opposition party, the raw wounds of a beaten coalition, the dated ideas of a bankrupt force. Its attempts to pass a health care bill aren’t just painful to watch; they have the same unheimlich quality as a calf born with two heads, the feeling of watching something that the laws of politics or nature should not permit to exist.
Not quite English yet, Monsignor: "they" (the attempts to pass a health care bill) do not have the feeling of watching anything. Attempts don't have any feelings at all. You're the one with the feelings. But anyway, I wrote, two days ago,
McCain's vote should be regarded as a kind of mercy killing of a freakish creature that just was not viable, a two-headed calf with a blocked intestine.
What are the odds he got that calf from me?

Of course I take the pro-choice position that it's kinder to put the monster out of its misery than force it to live, helpless and in pain, for another few weeks, and Ross takes the anti-choice position that nothing is to be done. He sees the whole episode, with some justice, as a synecdoche for the current state of the Republican party as misbegotten and impotent, elected but unable to govern, but not his problem. He seems to wish the Democrats would come and kill the GOP for him (the way Thailand has Muslim butchers who absorb the karma of killing lambs and cows and chickens so that Buddhists can eat meat without feeling very sinful):

a party that’s terrible at governing can still win elections if the other party is even worse at politics.
Which the Democrats, amazingly, have been. Or to be less judgmental, let’s say that there’s been a strange cycle at work, where Republican incompetence helps liberalism consolidate its hold on highly educated America … but that consolidation, in turn, breeds liberal insularity and overconfidence (in big data and election science, in demographic inevitability, in the wisdom of declaring certain policy debates closed) and helps Republican support persist as a kind of protest vote, an attempt to limit liberalism’s hegemony by keeping legislative power in the other party’s hands.
"Certain policy debates" are immigration, and "demographic inevitability" is the belief that Democrats' higher fertility rates will make us a definitive majority party in a few years; Ross is dogwhistling the idea that Democrats need to speak more sympathetically to white racists and stop depending on the votes of dark-skinned people, not just so the Republicans will feel less put upon, but so the Democrats will win, which he really seriously would like us to do, today,

the Democrats as the only people with the power to put an end to the current spectacle of Republican incompetence and folly.
Well, no doubt! We can't count on the Libertarians or Socialist Workers or Prohibition. And we can't count on academia and journalism to tell us all what we need to do and expect us to do it without any political organization at all.

Ross is strangely limited to top-down kinds of thinking here, especially to thinking about presidents and presidential candidates (and Steven Skowronek's theory of presidents embodying the politics of "reconstructiontion", "articulation", "preemption", and "disjunction"), instead of bottom up from the members and nonmembers of parties, at a time when the president is literally the least significant (in the sense of meaning-having) actor on the stage, standing only for "winning winning winning" and punishing those who fail to make him feel good about himself. It's not Trump, but Trump's base voters who are important, uncomfortable with being Republicans (no matter how much the GOP hierarchy kowtows to them) and scandalized by Democrats (no matter how much Democratic policies can change their lives for the better).

But I'd say in the widest context it is people, including some Republicans and likely some Democrats too, who will find their way through to whatever realignment is going on, more than particular führers and sages and tribunes and would-be emperors. The party coalitions will change as the voters redistribute themselves, I hope, not as the party managements chase after them; it will be best for Democrats to continue standing for the things we've tended to stand for since the 1920s at least, very imperfectly but always striving to do better,  a governmental "fair deal" in Truman's expression for people of every different kind in this complex country, holding up a clear and consistent light (we want everybody to have these rights and protections, and yes, this means you, even if you're a hillbilly). As the Republicans continue to scatter into ever smaller mutually hostile factions of greed, hatred, and silly theories.

I'm not saying Democrats have been very good at politics lately, and I don't have any technical advice to offer right here, but I think I'm not looking for advice from Ross.

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