The Silent Plurality

A reader writes:

You asked "Is this a politics?"

Yes, it is! I started my working life (in the early 90s) on the Hill but now, despite being stuck living in DC, I find politics as currently practiced almost entirely intolerable. A glance at the Sunday papers "reveals" President Obama to be, among other things, humorless, self-regarding, elitist, arrogant, out-of-touch, and a totally crap communicator. Also: responsible for pretty much everything that ails the world right now.

Why people think "now" is so much worse than two years ago, I cannot imagine, and why people think that putting John Boehner in charge of the House and booting Mike Castle out of Congress--I am stupefied. I only hope that, whatever happens tomorrow, it lances the boil, and that we collectively get over our precious "anger" and begin process of growing/waking up.

Another writes:

I'm a Niebuhr/Stewart pragmatist, not any less engaged for being ironical about any given political passion. (I also happen to believe in God and love my country and believe it has been uniquely blessed -- though I don't think those beliefs have much of an explicit role to play in my politics, literalism being the antithesis of God and static ideology being poison to civility and practical reason.) I believe in limited government and personal responsibility, but also believe that 10%+ unemployment and 35%+ without any health insurance in the wealthiest country in human history is simply unacceptable (reasonable people can disagree on cause and solution). I believe in the great engine of free enterprise, but also believe that lack of proper regulation of the financial industry and monopolies will erode the commonwealth just as quickly as over-regulation will.

I believe torture and indefinite detention without trial are inhumane, immoral, and simply ill-advised, even as I recognize that there exist people nearly irredeemable in their bad intentions toward the free world. I believe human life is incomprehensibly, irreducibly complex; that each of us is both lovable and flawed; that no one -- not scientists, not artists, not intellectuals, not saints -- has any sort of monopoly on truth . I believe civility is a necessity in democracy. I believe there is usually more truth in laughter than in the feeling of self-righteousness.

I feel less alone today in my politics than I did Friday.


You wrote:
"But it is an identity politics: proud of being educated, sick of being stereotyped, interested in facts and reality, fed up with being condescended to ... and deeeply worried about the direction in this country."

This is right; but it's funny you don't name the identity, which is white cultural liberals. Every last one of them, if they were to run for office in all their reasonableness, would be carpetbombed by Republican ads calling them "Pelosi liberals." But this is who they have always been, at least in my political lifetime, which begins roughly with the Carter administration. The key fact to understand in assessing them is that white cultural liberals are not a cultural plurality. Not close.

If voting in this country were restricted to white people, white cultural conservatives would trounce them endlessly. You doubt that? Take a look at Oklahoma. (Not that only white people vote there, but you know what I'm saying.) And then take a look at the historical success of cultural liberalism in this country generally. White cultural liberals, of which I am one, only come anywhere near power because they make common cause through the Democratic party with blacks and Hispanics.

The significance of Obama's election was not the elevation of some quietly dominant class of the ironically reasonable. It was, rather, a question of mathematics. It marked the first time in history that a coalition of "others": white liberals, blacks, Hispanics, etc., was bigger than the coalition of Real Americans. That coalition is new and fragile in the short-term; hence what's likely about to happen. But the ethnic math is enduring. Without that math, the crowd in D.C., with which you and I feel kinship, is nothing more than Karl Rove's "Fifth Column" bait. Believe me, conservatives don't fear them, they depend on them. There's a reason why conservatives continually use liberal as an epithet.

Now I adore I think Jon Stewart, and I think he understands all this. I think it was a hugely political rally in that it sought to normalize white cultural liberals and rescue them from the punchlines of attack ads. And look at how successful it was: he's got you, scourge of liberals, pretending that the crowd with which you so identified, wasn't liberal at all -- but something new. Go ahead and keep telling yourself that. But trust me, we've always trafficked in irony, and, in general, we've always been pretty reasonable.

I'm not sure I buy the idea that cultural or social liberalism is so isolated in this country. A majority of Americans support marriage equality, a near-majority supports legalization of marijuana, abortion remains legal after decades of conservative nominees to the Supreme Court, the Tea Party is claiming the mantle of feminism, there is a racially miscegenated president, most Republicans have had at least two wives, and Adam Lambert was an American Idol star. If we're talking culture, the live-and-let-live crowd have won, while the religious right has screamed the loudest.

I think there is a socially liberal, fiscally conservative plurality in this country, which was supplemented by a big minority/liberal revulsion against the GOP in 2008. Since I don't believe the GOP is on the verge of running back to the middle, and because their only viable candidate in 2012 is called "Bush", I don't think this coalition is dead.

Just resting.