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Posted by Thomas Shevory at 8:38PM   |  7 comments

Thomas Shevory, Ithaca College

In Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland, he  proposes that Richard Nixon, as a young man,  based on his own personal sense of exclusion, had an insight that would help to define American politics for the latter half of the 20th century and beyond.

Nixon first marshaled a politics of resentment when he ran for Congress against Helen Gahagan Douglas, who he labeled the “pink lady,” and criticized as a celebrity.  He deployed the same principle in his crusade against Alger Hiss, who he accused of being an effete intellectual and a traitor.

Nixon rode a wave of resentment to the presidency in 1968, when he realized that many northern, white members of the middle and working classes resented anti-war protestors and civil rights activists.  He fostered the concept of a “silent majority,” and encouraged Republicans to integrate a politics of resentment into their political DNA. 

Ronald Reagan expertly learned this lesson, turning his sights on the supposed privileges of public assistance and affirmative action.  The definition of a Reagan Democratic was a member of the white working class, formerly a Democrat, who had moved to the Republican Party, largely driven by a sense of cultural exclusion.

The trends continued through both Bushes, as the cultural field expanded to include gays, feminists, and others who were deemed to be demanding “special rights,” and thus threatening an increasingly economically insecure white middle class. The strategy was remarkably resilient and successful.

So Republicans then turned their attention to public union employees.  According to the New York Times, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, for example, consciously has striven to represent public employees as the new welfare queens.  And such rhetoric seems central to Republican attempts to frame the issue.

But it’s not working. One clear problem is that those now offered as the targets of resentment are some of the same as those that were previously being mobilized.  Members of the white middle and working classes, some of whom were peeled away from the Democratic Party via Nixonian strategies, are now being themselves cast as lazy, privileged, and selfish.  So then who is left to mobilize?

Do Republicans believe that they can turn even more disenfranchised citizens--minimum wage workers, the unemployed, and  mortgage refugees-- against teachers and firefighters, using their time-honored strategy?

Last Saturday, according to some estimates, 100,000 people turned up in Madison to protest Republican labor policies, including farmers, cops, private union members, firefighters, teachers, custodians, medical workers, and more.

The Republican politics of  resentment may have played itself out, and the Republican Revolution is now in the process of  unsuccessfully attempting to eat its own children.



The major thing have noticed about the Republican Party since the 2008 elections is the fracturing of the "Big Tent." Until recently, business, social and "resentment" Republicans, while always having ideological differences or priorities, have been able to stick together and rally around one candidate. We began to see a fracturing after 2008 and especially in the primaries for the Mid-terms in 2010, with insurgent Tea Party candidates.

It will be interesting to see how 2012 elections plays out given the resent conflicts in Republican party politics. Sarah Palin won't do well with moderate or business crowds and Mitt Romney won't do well with Tea part and social conservatives. The most viable candidate to unity around seems to be Newt Gingrich, he appeals to the business and social conservatives. He could probably even gain back some support from resentment republicans.

It will be interesting to see how the 2012 elections end up. Our country is so divided right now. The strain the state of economy is under is putting politicians and citizens in a difficult situation. On one hand, it is in the politicians' best interest to be reelected by whatever means necessary, but once they are elected their isn't much they can do that won't upset the public when funding for programs needs to be cut and there is a deficit. Meanwhile, citizens want to benefit their best interests, which means increasing funding for many of the public programs that are currently impossible to financially support. I feel that whoever is successful in winning election will have to meet some sort of middle ground between what the citizens want and what is feasible to allocate money towards.

Tricky Dick's campaign tactics highlight some of the psychological ailments plaguing the U.S. history of aggression and dominance. Our nation's cultural deterioration, political oppression, and socieconomic enslavement are the physical manifestations of the mental and emotional illness and suffering present in all of us.

The Nixon era is an interesting period of time to look at when considering the sadistic and almost abusive aggression our leaders impose on social targets. These members of the public are the usual suspects present in all groups of marginalized underdogs; the consequences of this aggression--which is cause of one group's suffering, and a symptom of another's--helps perpetuate an endless cycle of steady destruction and restricted access to power.

I love the line "The Republican Revolution is now in the process of unsuccessfully attempting to eat its own children".
It is brilliant not only because it highlights the absurdity of the Republican's reification of the individual, but also because it highlights one of the structural deficiencies of Democracy as a political system (especially when it is coupled with the coprophagous tendencies of capitalism. The flaw I am referring to is the antagonism that is inherent in the democratic process between different individuals, individuals and their communities, majority and minority, etc. etc. etc. As such, Democracy always functions as a kind of reification of particularity, which in turn becomes the letter of the law (to be followed by a multitude of other no less particular individuals) until it is overturned by another brand of particularity. Therefore, what the Republicans are doing is not necessarily sneaky or dishonest as many liberals would have us believe. Instead, they are merely demonstrating their thorough understanding of the Liberal Democratic Capitalist System in which we live, which emphasizes the eminence of the individual, competition between individuals, and an insurmountable divide between public and private interests. As such, it may be important for us to direct our criticisms away from Republicans and their selfishly unethical policies (which, on paper and to many American's who struggle in isolation to make ends meet, make a lot of sense) and onto the larger economic and political structures which make such unethical policies appealing.

The Republicans will do anything to get people on their side. They make people who are die-hard Democrats think that they should be Republicans. And how do they do this? By telling us that our money, our livelihood is at stake. I find it interesting that Tom asked "Who is left to mobilize?" since much of the middle class is now being labeled and privileged and selfish. Are they going to turn to the unemployed to fight against public employees? This idea seems ridiculous yet I wouldn't underestimate the power of the Republican party. As for 2012, I severely hope that Sarah Palin is cast out early. Or else, what hope can we have for this country?

Very good

GreaT post

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