Thursday, August 23, 2012

Joan Walsh on GOP Strategy of "Doubling Down on Whiteness"

I have a satchel full of articles I've been bookmarking and saving up of late, almost all of which attract my notice because they seem to carry on conversations about which I've blogged here.  I want to link to some of these articles today, noting their significance to me in light of ongoing Bilgrimage conversations or preoccupations.

A number of days ago, Andrew O'Hehir interviewed Joan Walsh at Salon about her new book What's the Matter with White People.  As Walsh explains, she's fascinated with the movement--in her own lifetime--of many working-class folks who used to vote Democratic to the Republican party.  In particular, she wonders what motivated not a few members of her own Irish Catholic family to move to the GOP in the latter part of the 20th century.

Part of the puzzle, she proposes, is that the Democratic party has, in key respects, turned its back on working-class folks.  But this still doesn't explain how the other party, whose economic policies are the antithesis of good for working-class Americans, has succeeded in getting so many working-class people to cut off their economic noses to spite their economic faces by voting Republican.

At least part of the explanation for this counterintuitive move has to be, she notes, race.  The GOP has adroitly played to deep racial fears among many Americans for decades now, and has successfully forged a coalition between two formerly antithetical blocs as a result: white evangelical Southerners and white Catholics with working-class roots outside the South.  

But (and here's the link to what I posted yesterday) the price at which this coalition was bought has been steep and is increasingly disastrously costly, due to dramatic demographic shifts in the American political landscape.  Walsh:

I think the Republicans doubled down on whiteness, and I think they have a problem. It could be a winning strategy, temporarily. They are making decisions that, well, it’s not great that Latinos and Asians don’t like us, but we have to double down on that base. This could get us through 2012, and we’ll worry about 2016 later. I would think that, as a Republican, you would think it’s a problem that nine out of 10 self-identified Republicans are white, in a country that’s about 60 to 62 percent white right now. One of our two major parties is a white party! It’s not named the white party, and I’m not going to call it a white supremacist party. But it’s the white party, and they don’t seem to give a damn about that. I think that’s a demographic and political and social disaster.

And so where does all this leave Walsh in her own political journey?  One wildly imperfect party that once appeared to be attuned to the needs of poor and laboring folks, which now seems tone-deaf to those needs; another that overtly pitches itself exclusively and unapologetically to the 1%?

Walsh characterizes herself as a "lesser of two evils" person when it comes to making a choice between the two parties and their platforms.  She's also an "institutionalist" rather than an "insurrectionist."  She's determined not to be driven from her own party any more than she's going to let the strongly rising right wing in her Catholic church drive her from her church.  She intends to work with the imperfect, knowing it's radically imperfect, while recognizing that, among several evils, some are lesser evils and others downright maleficent.

And that pretty much sums up where I find myself, too.  (I'm also strongly convinced, as someone who grew up in the American South and still lives there, but who moved to the Catholic church in his formative years, that most American Catholics--who are concentrated outside the American South--are oblivious to the depths of racism in my part of the country and ignorant of the history of my section of the nation.  To their peril: American Catholics who have chosen the GOP ostensibly for "values" reasons in the latter half of the 20th century have been playing with fire as they've allied themselves with rabid Southern evangelical racists, and it's with ill grace that working-class Catholic whites in the North who have made the shift to the GOP pretend they're not aiding and abetting racism through that shift.

And all of this has very direct pertinence now that an announcment comes down  that the president of the U.S. Catholic Bishops' Conference, His Eminence Timothy Cardinal Dolan [an Irish name, perhaps?], will be orating and blessing and prayer-delivering at the GOP convention.  Though Himself a partisan?  All my eye and Betty Martin that that lovely man might be playing partisan politics and blessing a particular party!  [See also here and here.])

As the opening link above indicates, credit for the photo of Joan Walsh goes to Susan Walsh.

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