This, like most of the so-called “analysis” perpetrated in three-second soundbytes by the corporate media, is on a cartoon level of understanding. I would like to delve a little bit deeper into the (say it with me) nuances of what identity really means with regard to political parties.
President Bush famously said, “You’re either with us, or against us.” Not only was this statement symptomatic of his general addiction to faux cowboy-ism, but I believe that it was also, in a larger sense, the way Republicans think about the members of their Party.
As we know from reading John Dean’s “Conservatives Without Conscience,” (ohfuhgodssake just read the darn book) today’s Republicans, aka “movement conservatives,” are monolithic and authoritarian in their thinking. In other words, they look for a figure of absolute authority to follow, a strong Daddy to relieve them of the burdens of thinking for themselves. (This explains the appeal of movement conservatism to evangelical Christians, and their creepy identification of Bush as a religious, instead of a political, leader.) A rare few, such as Bush and Cheney, are double-high authoritarians, who wish to be the authority figures themselves. (Remember Bush’s statement that it would be a lot easier if the U.S. were a dictatorship, as long as he’s the dictator?) Movement conservatives also espouse a platform that is negative in nature; against taxes, against abortion, against evolution, against anything with the “liberal” label stamped on it.
All these factors converge into one large lump of identity for Republicans. If you pass the test – if you believe what they believe – then you’re with them. If not, you’re against them. Show allegiance to the leader, and you can be any color, any religion, any income level and even (gasp!) female. Your identity is subsumed into that of the authority figure. You know how to vote on every issue, and you believe whatever the authority figure believes. It’s a Fascist, but efficient, way to run a political party.
More on the Republicans in a little while.
Now, for us pesky Democrats. In my experience, we are exactly the opposite of the Republicans on the subject of identity. Our loyalty is to the principles of the Party rather than to any individual. Thus, it makes it much, much harder to identify “friend” from “foe.” Getting a bunch of Democrats to all vote the same way is “herding cats.” We are currently experiencing a massive split in the Party between those who support Senator Obama and those who don’t. Why? Because we PUMAs believe that Hillary represents the principles of the Democratic Party and that Barack Obama does not. That’s your identity politics right there, bub.
Were we Republicans, this would never have happened. The base of the Party doesn’t like John McCain, because he has not shown enough loyalty to President Bush. Doesn’t matter – they’ll vote for him anyway, because President Bush has endorsed him and has raised money for him. That’s good enough for them. As for us, the base of the Democratic Party? We’ve had everyone from Al Gore, to Jimmy Carter, to John Edwards endorse Obama. We’ve even had Senator Clinton urging us to support him. No sale. We feel the love for you, Hillary, but our loyalty isn’t transferable.
What got me thinking about this in the first place was the shocking article I linked to yesterday. How is it possible that Senator McCain, a man who consistently espouses policies that would harm women in general, treats the women in his Senate office with so much more respect than Senator Obama, a man who supports policies like equal pay for equal work?
Then I realized: For Republicans, it’s all about individual loyalty. If those women are loyal to McCain, they’re not women, they’re team members. They’re With Him, and no bigotry applies to those who are members of the Republican team. That’s how President Bush was able to appoint two African-American Secretaries of State, and not one Republican blinked. Incredibly ironic for a man who, due to his lack of interest in the African-American community in general, consistently has an approval rating of single digits among AAs.
For Democrats, it’s all about loyalty to Party principles. If those women work for Obama, they are women who work for the principles of the Democratic Party, of whom Senator Obama is a representative. (See how complicated it is already?) Thus, they are seen as individuals, not nameless, faceless cogs in a wheel, and all bigotry, including misogyny, applies.
I know that we Democrats should not adopt the Fascist tendencies of the Republicans, but something has got to change within our identity mechanism. In a year when we should be looking forward to a giant sweep of the legislative and executive branches, I and my fellow PUMAs believe that we are likely to either lose the executive, or win the executive at the expense of the principles of the Party.
May I suggest, Breaking Down the Big Tent?