The Democrats had the best marketing strategy.
Consider their general approach for the half-century ending in Clintonism.
Their basic pitch was a Weberian value proposition, that simply by caring, by making a commitment (however transient), by having some emotional investment in an issue, one entered a realm theretofore known as virtue.
If the good, then, resided in simply caring, in extending oneself into matters well removed from oneself (at least in one’s own mind), politics became quite simple. On the one side were people who care. On the other were a**holes.
So, for at least the duration of the TV age, this formula explained almost everything. Except for the time Nixon won, a time when folks were concerned with more than simple likability, the most likable candidate always won.
Kennedy, LBJ, Nixon*, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, other Bush, and Obama — the likable guy, the one who seemed to care, always won the election.
The story of television-age American politics was a simple one. Kennedy set out the proposition: ask not what your country can do for you, you selfish pig, ask what you, you magnificent bastard, can do for your country.
How should we consider the old question of man vs. world? Easy. Either the world’s not my problem or it is my problem.
Is that an easy question? Well, as Sage Francis answered it, “I know I was supposed to change the world and all/ Looks like the world got to me first.”
On a personal level, the level where you’re on your third beer before lunchtime, or lying to your wife again, or just clock-watching on the job, the truth is plenty accessible. You suck. And that that suckiness, very much of this world, will prevent you from ever doing much about fixing the world.
But the government is not so sucky. It can be heroic, as long as we write down the right words. This superhero mythology was the essence of Democratic politics, for many, many years after it should have been obvious that the general weight of suckiness couldn’t be overcome by decree.
Still, the proposition remained. Either the world is your problem, or it’s not. Should we bear the weight of these issues — African famine, Bostonian single moms, equatorial water supplies — or decide that they do not pertain?
The answer depends on how easy it is to shrug off the answer. As long as we agree that I’m not actually, personally, responsible for anything, so long as government is the intermediary, then I’ll be happy to pretend that I am shouldering this burden. And I shall positively rejoice in denouncing my countrymen who shirk this theoretical load.
This easy personal shrugability went to the heart of the Democrat’s insistence that if you were willing to do the noble thing, to accept some responsibility for some matter that almost by definition did not pertain to you, then you were in the right. The only thing that will be required of you personally is perhaps some sorting in your waste products or a guide to ethical consumption; morality ought to be something you can put on the card, too.
This was at least half of what it meant to be a Democrat — you supported the liberalizing zeitgeist and you took some theoretical responsibility for this worldwide story of emancipation. If you were the sort of person who cared, then you should also care about this cause and that. You should be the sort of person to write a check to this cause and that.
At some level, on the right, we accepted this dichotomy, that we were the sort of people who didn’t care. We didn’t get involved, we didn’t take an interest in local politics, we didn’t subscribe, we didn’t donate (and if you disagree, do try to look up your local conservative newspaper or your local conservative political committee).
Fortunately for us, commitment wasn’t the deciding factor for anything much. The zeitgeist would not be constrained and moved into some weird territory. Actually, you could better say that a new ghost moved in. We scarcely recognized it at first, as it slipped in to haunt the same terrain — relativism, multiculturalism, emancipation, commitment.
But this ghost has no direction. The left took emancipation to mean the tearing down of any old structure. But it convinced itself that any random vandalism represented the very working out of History. Anything that represented the simultaneous advancement of liberty and equality, and the tearing down of something old, was an irrevocable metaphysical verdict.
Now, there are some old structures, of course, which tended to support white folks — and that’s before you get into the wholesale reification the left engages in. By reification, I mean the sort of abstraction where, when you get done with it, even your channel changer is an institution of the patriarchy. If you have just categories — whiteness and everything that is — it becomes awfully easy to convict whiteness for a multitude of sins.
When one’s diction comprises nothing but ellipses, one will find no distance at all between the “white” and whatever it is one means to indict. The villain, then, the one on the opposite side of emancipation, must need be the white man. Democrats convinced themselves that there existed such a thing as the wrong side of history, and that if you looked over at that side, you’d see something like a white man trying to stuff somebody else into a box.
This, in short order, made Democrats almost unelectable. The new Democrats left the old Democrats behind. The old Democrats cared about the average working man. The new Democrats despise him and blame him for everything.
The old Democrats pitched, “You’re the solution.” The new Democrats pitch, “You’re the problem.”
If one’s target market, in elective politics, is the average voter, and this average voter is white, there’s no sense at all in blaming the white man for the evils of the world. Yet Democrats have convinced themselves that white men are to blame for the sins of all mankind.
This nonsense might doom them for another decade; it was surely one of the driving factors in President Trump’s election.
The challenge for our side is not to allow the left to define us, to reduce the right to some subset that cares nothing for the humanity of his fellows.
The left cries wolf and calls us wolf-deniers. We’re best to ignore both.
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