Sunday, January 22, 2012

South Carolina Votes, and the Race Heads into the Gutter

The New York Times judges that Mr. Gingrich "pulled the [Republican presidential] race into the gutter" in South Carolina.  And it worked for him.  Big-time.

It worked in a state 24% of whose voters described themselves as "very conservative" in 2000, but 37% of whom now say (after the election of the first African-American president in U.S. history) they're "very conservative," and two-thirds of whom are tea partiers.  It is, always has been, and continues to be about race for a huge percentage of the Republican base--for the large majority of white Southern evangelical voters who shifted to the Republican party in the wake of Lyndon B. Johnson's (D.) Civil Rights act and Nixon's (R.) Southern strategy, and who now form the Republican base. 

It's also about a quite specific, highly refracted and politicized, notion of religion as a vehicle of social discontent--a notion of religion deliberately cultivated by economic elites to keep the nation divided, confused, and unable to understand the economic sources from which its misery arises.  That these themes would continue to dominate the thinking of South Carolinians is hardly surprising, since, as Thomas Schaller notes in his book Whistling Past Dixie, if there's a lost cause anywhere to be found--one that would bring the entire nation backwards rather than forwards--we can expect South Carolina to be at the very front of the troops battling for that cause.

And, in particular, for undying racism.  It's about race.  It is, always has been and continues to be about race for the Republican base.  And about using a certain form of religion to control and demean those considered inferior, other, different in a stigmatizing way.  And about keeping the very rich in control of the social and economic process, as we imagine that we're serving God by doing so.

Why the U.S. Catholic bishops and their media mouthpieces like Michael Sean Winters would ever have thought any of this misapplied religiosity and sham morality represents the future of a viable, humane society is beyond me to understand.  Why they--and so many American Catholics of the intellectual center, who should know better and see better--have spent so many years now legitimating and arguing for this hot mess of racially tinged religiosity that is, at base, all about protecting and serving the very rich--is impossible for me to fathom.

This I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt: it has nothing at all to do with authentic Catholic values.  Slapping the label "Catholic" on a hot mess like Newt Gingrich doesn't turn the mess into anything other than what it has always been.  One big old hot mess.

No comments: