‘The Boston Review’ ran an article last Fall; it’s a review of a book entitled “Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream”. The paper’s editors assigned a header: ‘The Party’s Over’.
As fate (or something) would have it, I came across the article yesterday, trying to catch up on my reading. This morning ‘The Boston Globe’ reports that its parent paper, ‘The New York Times’, is threatening to close it down in 30 days if, on top of all the layoffs and buyouts that have decimated its news staff, it does not shed 20 million dollars worth of employee costs in the next month.
The hell-hot ironies!
I can recall 35 years ago, when the ‘Globe’ put its full weight behind the school-busing plan. To watch working-class South Boston pitted against the Democratic Party was to realize that the New Deal political arrangement had come to an end; was – indeed – being purposely ripped up. To realize now that the plan – imposed by a well-intentioned judge who lived secure in the knowledge that he ‘got it’ – has yielded lethally damaging consequences – to the black community and generations of its young even more than to the white – for any good it has done … is to realize that the Democratic Party has lethally, perhaps fatally, undermined itself. Just think: in 1936 the Democratic Party platform was “protection of the American family and home”.
“Grand New Party” actually acknowledges what the Democrats have never been able to enunciate: that the Party’s politics have pretty much failed, causing great grief and harm to the nation in the process. Admitting you have a problem, as the Twelve-Step folks intone …
Alas, the authors of the book – Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam – are trying to figure out what the Republicans can do to help the country while helping themselves. Which – let me repeat myself – seems very much like trying to solve the Titanic’s first problem by turning around, increasing to ramming speed, and having another go at the berg.
But in the process, they provide the astute reviewer – Lew Daly – with the opportunity to share some interesting observations.
He perceives that the book’s point is ‘crafty’ in its simplicity: that the Republicans gave shelter to the orphaned working class, taking advantage of the Democrats abandonment of them for more promising ‘demographics’, but then “failed to deliver on bread-and-butter issues like wage growth and affordable health care”. But of course; how could the Republicans – of all people – help the working class as a voluntary project while having as a matter of political life or death to retain the indispensable goodwill (not to say allegiance) of the corporate honchos and the wealthy? At least the Democratic Party pols had to prostitute themselves (a challenge which they met with remarkably efficacious joie-de-vivre); the Republicans were pretty much a bespoke bunch to begin with.
On his first day on the job, Reagan took Harry Truman’s portrait down and put up Calvin Coolidge’s. Coolidge who figured that the American economy would do very well by itself, thank you, and didn’t need him getting up early or staying up late to interfere. Of course, Coolidge was in office when American industry was churning out newly invented machines and wonders at a rate never seen in the history of the world. That’s all gone now.
In fact, Reagan’s ominous give-away line was “It’s morning in America” when really, it was mid-afternoon and heading south toward evening; and looking back to what a nice ‘morning’ it had been wasn’t going to solve anything. But in that approach to ‘reality’ Reagan actually had a great deal in common with ‘deconstructionists’ and ‘social constructionists’, such as the radical core feminists, who claimed that nothing was ‘real’ and it was all a matter of just ‘getting it’ and if you just changed your ‘mind’ then you would be changing ‘reality’ at the same time – as if it were all that simple.
But Daly will not permit the authors to take credit on the Republicans’ behalf. And this is where things get interesting indeed.
The Republicans would like to crow and bray about their success in reducing ‘crime’. But as Daly notes, the sources of the decline in crime “are not well understood”. And the rise in crime that took place during LBJ’s era continued for 30 years, most of them under Republican presidents. Of course, the case could be made that the anti-authoritarian and deconstructionist and generally ‘revolutionary’ surges that swelled up forty years ago required the efforts of years’ worth of Republican effort to quell. But that doesn’t seem to cover it.
Daly enticingly proposes that it was actually a product of the Great Society liberalism – the Clean Air Act, passed in 1963 and enhanced subsequently – that reduced the lead content “significantly” in young children. Lead in the human system “can cause aggressive behavior and various mental impairments” associated with deviant activity and crime”.
It is humbling to think that beneath all the high-frequency chatter of politics, deep, silent, powerful low-frequency waves such as ‘lead content’ and chemical consequences in general roll inexorably along, invisible to a distracted or purely politically-focused national discourse. Nor would chemicals and their consequences be the only, or the deepest, of such waves. And such elements seem even to beggar the concept of ‘structural’ factors as the driving forces beneath societal changes. (Which is not to say that individual character and behavior is “irrelevant” to the life of a culture, a society, a civilization.)
But it is angry-making to think that as the wave of ‘crime’ began to subside in the late-1980s and early 1990s, that it was precisely then that some of the most outrageous, Constitution-twisting legislation was passed on the basis of this or that purported ‘emergency’ created by spiraling ‘crimes’, committed by persons increasingly characterized as incorrigible and ‘evil’.
Almost all of whom, it has to be said, were – not to put too fine a point on it – ‘men’.
Daly identifies approvingly the authors’ argument (which, however, he notes they treat with insufficient depth and breadth) that the main cultural battleground of the last thirty years has been: “family and community stability in a violent, greed-filled, permissive age”.
In making their argument they are seeking to counter Thomas Frank’s “basically Marxian analysis of the culture war as an electoral diversion strategy to mobilize the working class against its own economic interest”. While Frank had an interesting thought, he – like all ‘liberal’ commentators who would like to keep their union card and their place on A-list dinner party and speaking lists, and generally remain ‘clubbable’ inside the Correct universe of liberal power and discourse – has to ignore the miserable, indeed treacherous, record of economic and legal skullduggery perpetrated in the Clinton years. What Reagan began, Clinton and his triangulating DLC neoliberal posse honed to a filthy perfection.
Daly notes that neither Douthat nor Salam sufficiently grasp “the deep interdependence of social liberalism and market rationality – the former working to erode the legal and political standing of families and communities as the latter drives business to commodify and wring a profit from every last vestige and function of traditional life and from every last productive person”.
Bang. From the Left and from the Right family and community have been taking heavy fire, and the damage has been heavy. Perhaps fatal. Consumerism and corporate coddling from the Right, and something else from the Left.
And precisely at this point, I’d like to propose something beyond what either the authors or the reviewer bring up. In their second book of a three-book series*, Paul Nathanson and Katherine K. Young propose that the “ideological feminists”, that radical fringe (or core, take your pick) of ‘mainstream feminism’, have been successfully waging a war against “men” for decades, with the full complicity of the now-indistinguishable political Parties (though I continue to maintain that the Democrats initially let the vampire into the house in their vote-desperate frenzy of the late 1960s; see my recent Posts).
In a profoundly acute insight – and it would take profound professional courage for university intellectuals to say it in writing – Nathanson and Young note that the “ideological feminists”, in their Puritan and revolutionary quest to bring about their version of the Millennium, reveal “the lesbianism at the core of feminism”: that a world where males are reduced to inferior creatures and mostly eliminated, except for those required for the harvesting of sperm, is essentially a ‘lesbian’ vision.
And while ‘mainstream’ feminists would distance themselves from that (and many, honestly so) yet the entire ‘feminist’ movement as a calculated and sustained political Drang Nach der Weltmacht has benefited from the demonization of males, and especially from the insinuation of that ‘vision’ into law and jurisprudence, legal education as well as legal practice, and administrative regulation.
Surely, I would say, the literal explosion of male violence suppression initiatives immediately upon the accession of Bill and Hillary, in the early and mid-1990s, precisely at a time when ‘crime’ was declining, with such damaging consequences to the fabric of national unity and the foundations of constitutional law and government, cannot be a coincidence.
Nor, pace Thomas Frank, were such ‘cultural’ issues as the attack on ‘family’ and on males meant merely as a ‘distraction’ to the working classes. Rather, the feminist political agenda – governed by the ideological feminist ‘vision’ – was a very real political initiative in its own right.
And in its ‘valorization of victimization’ and the consequent frenzy (at least you get that idea from the media coverage) for ‘protection of the community’ at all costs and ‘no matter what it takes’ has played right into the hands not only of those who would enhance the police power of the government at the expense of civil liberties and even mature civic political deliberation, but also into the hands of those who would then apply the same principles to aggressive foreign military adventures (as Bush, Cheney, and their posse of darkness adroitly took advantage of).
No wonder this country now imprisons more of its citizens (almost all males) than any other nation, including China and the former Soviet Union. No wonder 1 out of every 220 American males are somehow caught in the toils of sex-offender nets (and then there are the ‘domestic violence’ nets). No wonder the civic unity of the nation has been fractured, perhaps shattered, and cannot unite in any positive way; but instead, can be ‘united’ only around ‘fear’ and ‘outrage’, which requires a demonized class, which – in the feminist twist on Marxism-Leninism – is not a ‘class’ but a gender: the male.
Oh yeah – it’s been a ‘revolutionary’ forty years alright.
And you’d think that if the Democratic bosses 35 years ago (and especially later in Clinton’s era) were confronted with a theory that assumed that “patriarchy” has been a major element in the history of the nation, and that the theory fueled a demand to eradicate “patriarchy”, then to allow an all-out assault on “patriarchy” might actually start messing with the fundaments of national life and even the Constitutional and economic bases whose dynamics built the nation. And that maybe that consequence, hardly improbable, would not be such a good thing at all. But no.
And do you think the chances of the ‘revolution’ going on for another forty years are good? I don’t think the vessel of the Republic will be able to take such a beating.
And now We have no more cash. And almost no more of that smelly old ‘male’ industry that generated goods to sell and trade to the world.
But maybe that’s the good news: as Capone and Siegel and old Joe Kennedy knew – no cash, no racket.
And perhaps that ‘iron law’ applies to ‘revolutions’ as well.
We can only hope. And pray.
And do something.**
*The first book was “Spreading Misandry”, 2001. The second and even more telling is “Legalizing Misandry” (2006) that exhaustively follows the legal institutionalization of anti-male bias. The third book is projected with the title “Transcending Misandry”.
**I'm wondering if, like the Soviet State, the rot is now so deep that nothing short of a major change in governing Party will work. Perhaps a third Party in 2012, bringing in an almost entirely fresh crew of legislators, since the bunch that We have now, safely immune from 'the public' through gerrymandered districts and huge (and dubiously-gotten) campaign chests, are too far gone and too deeply enmeshed to ever be able to change enough to fix the mess they've made. Obama, I think, could still stay, but as the Presidential candidate of this new Party. That would free him from his almost-unavoidable alliance with the old Beltway Gang. I'm just sayin'.