Monday, February 11, 2013

Is the GOP the Party of White People?

Sam Tanenhaus thinks that it isAccording to his recent piece at the New Republic it all goes back to John Calhoun.  I have included a taste of the essay below, but my post does not come close to capturing all of Tenenhaus's argument.  I encourage you to read the entire thing.

...The true problem, as yet unaddressed by any Republican standard-bearer, originates in the ideology of modern conservatism. When the intellectual authors of the modern right created its doctrines in the 1950s, they drew on nineteenth-century political thought, borrowing explicitly from the great apologists for slavery, above all, the intellectually fierce South Carolinian John C. Calhoun. This is not to say conservatives today share Calhoun's ideas about race. It is to say instead that the Calhoun revival, based on his complex theories of constitutional democracy, became the justification for conservative politicians to resist, ignore, or even overturn the will of the electoral majority.

This is the politics of nullification, the doctrine, nearly as old as the republic itself, which holds that the states, singly or in concert, can defy federal actions by declaring them invalid or simply ignoring them. We hear the echoes of nullification in the venting of anti-government passions and also in campaigns to "starve government," curtail voter registration, repeal legislation, delegitimize presidents. There is a strong sectionalist bias in these efforts. They flourish in just the places Kevin Phillips identified as Republican strongholds—Plains, Mountain, but mainly Southern states, where change invites suspicion, especially when it seems invasive, and government is seen as an intrusive force. Yet those same resisters—most glaringly, Tea Partiers—cherish the entitlements and benefits provided by "Big Government." Their objections come when outsider groups ask for consideration, too. Even recent immigrants to this country sense the "hidden hand" of Calhoun's style of dissent, the extended lineage of rearguard politics, with its aggrieved call, heard so often today, "to take back America"—that is, to take America back to the "better" place it used to be. Today's conservatives have fully embraced this tradition, enshrining it as their own "Lost cause," redolent with the moral consolations of noble defeat.

And a bit more:

Today, Calhoun is often described as a kind of crank—and with some reason. He called slavery "a positive good" and ridiculed the Declaration's "all men are created equal." ("Taking the proposition literally ... there is not a word of truth in it.") But in the early cold war years, when so many intellectuals, left and right, rebelled against the numbing dictates of consensus and conformism, there was a Calhoun revival. He became "the philosophic darling of students of American political thought," Louis Hartz wrote in The Liberal Tradition in America, published in 1955. A liberal like the historian Richard Hofstadter was stimulated by his bold theories on class and labor ("the Marx of the master class"), and conservatives were drawn to his protest against encroaching big government. Calhoun, Russell Kirk wrote in The Conservative Mind (1953), was "the most resolute enemy of national consolidation and of omnicompetent democratic majorities" and had valiantly uncovered "the forbidding problem of the rights of individuals and groups menaced by the will of overbearing majorities." The Calhoun apostle James J. Kilpatrick, the editor of The Richmond News Leader, wrote a defense of segregation, The Sovereign States (1957), that had an epigraph from the Fort Hill Address and exhaustively catalogued examples of "interposition" dating back to the origins of the Republic. Kilpatrick repeated the exercise in an attack on the Little Rock intervention, published in The New Republic.