September 5, 2008

The Politics of Resentment

Krugman drives home a critical point about what drives the partisan divide that separates Republicans and Democrats - The politics of resentment

Don't be fooled either by Mr. McCain's long-ago reputation as a maverick or by Ms. Palin's appealing persona: the Republican Party, now more than ever, is firmly in the hands of the angry right, which has always been much bigger, much more influential and much angrier than its counterpart on the other side.

What's the source of all that anger?

Some of it, of course, is driven by cultural and religious conflict: fundamentalist Christians are sincerely dismayed by Roe v. Wade and evolution in the curriculum. What struck me as I watched the convention speeches, however, is how much of the anger on the right is based not on the claim that Democrats have done bad things, but on the perception — generally based on no evidence whatsoever — that Democrats look down their noses at regular people.

Thus Mr. Giuliani asserted that Wasilla, Alaska, isn't "flashy enough" for Mr. Obama, who never said any such thing. And Ms. Palin asserted that Democrats "look down" on small-town mayors — again, without any evidence.

What the G.O.P. is selling, in other words, is the pure politics of resentment; you're supposed to vote Republican to stick it to an elite that thinks it's better than you. Or to put it another way, the G.O.P. is still the party of Nixon.

Like I realized this week, Krugman opines that there is a definite chance that despite the nation's frustrations with 8 years of Republican administration, McCain-Palin have a good chance of winning this election!

Can Mr. McCain and Ms. Palin really ride Nixonian resentment into an upset election victory in what should be an overwhelmingly Democratic year? The answer is a definite maybe.

By selecting Barack Obama as their nominee, the Democrats may have given Republicans an opening: the very qualities that inspire many fervent Obama supporters — the candidate’s high-flown eloquence, his coolness factor — have also laid him open to a Nixonian backlash. Unlike many observers, I wasn’t surprised at the effectiveness of the McCain “celebrity” ad. It didn’t make much sense intellectually, but it skillfully exploited the resentment some voters feel toward Mr. Obama’s star quality.

And contrast people's fascination with Obama's personality, that has been tainted by the Republican spin of him as an elite, with the past week's endless fascination with all-things-Palin. She benefits from lowered expectations or rather the tendency by some to support her because she is "average" and "not an elite". She has

...the peculiar cult of personality that not long ago surrounded George W. Bush — a cult that celebrated his anti-intellectualism and made much of the supposed fact that the "misunderestimated" C-average student had proved himself smarter than all the fancy-pants experts.

The faster the Democrats move away from this week's obsession with finding out more about Palin and their compulsive fixation over her background and inadequacies, the better. Time to focus on real issues - the economy being the main one for this election.

That said, the experience of the years since 2000 — the memory of what happened to working Americans when faux-populist Republicans controlled the government — is still fairly fresh in voters’ minds. Furthermore, while Democrats’ supposed contempt for ordinary people is mainly a figment of Republican imagination, the G.O.P. really is the Gramm Old Party — it really does believe that the economy is just fine, and the fact that most Americans disagree just shows that we’re a nation of whiners.

But the Democrats can’t afford to be complacent. Resentment, no matter how contrived, is a powerful force, and it’s one that Republicans are very, very good at exploiting.

I think the Democrats should stop focusing on attacking her and focus instead on the issues at hand. The Palin family soap opera is a big distraction from the actual issues at hand like the economy, the mess in Iraq, energy and the environment, and so on. Like Bob Herbert wrote in the NYT over the weekend:

...the Democrats should not push this stuff too far. Ms. Palin is a lot more appealing personally than the often testy guy at the top of her ticket. And the inescapable reality is that there are millions of voters who identify with her, and may be quick to resent attacks that they perceive as bullying or overkill.


Respectful criticism of Sarah Palin is fine. But the great issues of this campaign loom like giant redwoods over the pathetic weeds of politics as usual and the myriad distractions that have turned one presidential election after another into a national embarrassment.

P.S. If nothing else, Krugman's article is worth reading just to get to this interest phraseology: "nattering nabobs of negativism", which Spiro Agnew apparently said while refering to the media, whom he also deemed "an effete corps of impudent snobs." (Seems that though these phrases are often credited to Agnew himself, it was actually written by William Safire, the NYT columnist fwho was a speechwriter for Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew.)

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