Political Animal


February 10, 2013 9:45 AM “The Party of Calhoun”

By Elon Green

As expected, The New Republic has under its new owner, ex-Facebooker Chris Hughes, developed a keener grasp of the web. Several days ago the magazine leaked the cover of the forthcoming issue — entirely white, in a nod to the Republican Party — and conservatives flipped out.

Well, the story’s up and it’s a good one. With the subhed “Why the GOP is and will continue to be the party of white people,” the piece covers much familiar ground (the Republican shift on civil rights from pro to con and the National Review’s ugly role in that devolution) but the guts of Sam Tanenhaus’s argument — and the piece’s real value — concerns the state of the Grand Old Party. (Not incidentally, Tanenhaus is no liberal and is, in fact, William Buckley’s biographer.)

Conservatives, he posits, have “fully embraced” the politics of nullification fetishist John C. Calhoun, whose theories have become “the justification for conservative politicians to resist, ignore, or even overturn the will of the electoral majority.”

Tanenhaus concludes:

Race will always be a complex issue in America. There is no total cleansing of an original sin. But the old polarizing politics is a spent force. The image of the “angry black man” still purveyed by sensationalists such as Ann Coulter and Dinesh D’Souza is anachronistic today, when blacks and even Muslims, the most conspicuous of “outsider” groups, profess optimism about America and their place in it. A politics of frustration and rage remains, but it is most evident within the GOP’s dwindling base—its insurgents and anti-government crusaders, its “middle-aged white guys.” They now form the party’s one solid bloc, its agitated concurrent voice, struggling not only against the facts of demography, but also with the country’s developing ideas of democracy and governance. We are left with the profound historical irony that the party of Lincoln—of the Gettysburg Address, with its reiteration of the Declaration’s assertion of equality and its vision of a “new birth of freedom”—has found sustenance in Lincoln’s principal intellectual and moral antagonist.

Pour yourself a mug of coffee — I’m on my third — and read the whole thing.


  • aimai on February 10, 2013 10:07 AM:

    I read most of the article. Its pretty good, in a Nixon goes to China sort of way. What bothers me most is that in the middle part he tries to get Buckley off the hook for stone racism by accepting the assertion that he was for "state's rights" in an abstract sense and for "the individual" in all kinds of ways, really a "libertarian" when, of course, Buckley's own history reveals that liberty, libertarian, and race were highly intertwined. States rights, or locality rights and the right of the (armed, politically mature, voting, male) individual were always bound up with repression of younger males, women, and non whites. There was never a time in Buckley's world where "libertarian" didn't mean "pro the status quo and fearful of integration and minority rights.

    As for nullification--they never stopped trying to nullify democratic actions that they didn't like, neither before the civil war nor after. That doesnt mean that the right wing can't be comfortably authoritarian when it controls the federal government. It just means they will/would turn on a dime and repudiate "libertarian" principles in a second. You have only to look at the inherent "libertarian" approach the GOP takes to big government when it involves women's rights to abortion, and conversely how they deny local control over issues like euthanasia, desegregation, and gun control.

  • eg on February 10, 2013 10:17 AM:

    aimai, that middle section bothers me as well. ST paints a too-rosy picture of Buckley but I think the rest is on the money.

  • c u n d gulag on February 10, 2013 10:23 AM:

    Oh, the poor, poor, Conservatives dears - freaking out when one of their own holds their albino poop to their pearly-white noses.

    Tanenhaus, though not as entrenched in Conservatism as, say, David Frum was, can look to get much the same treatment that he got.

    As for me, I don't like Tanenhaus for another reason - that man has pretty much single-handedly ruined the Sunday NY Times Book Review.

    Jayzoos H. Keerist, that thing sucks nowdays, compared to what it once was.
    Tanenhaus has been almost as bad as Fred Hiat in his efforts to publish the most incompetent hacks, who now disgrace some formerly valuable real estate.

  • c u n d gulag on February 10, 2013 10:25 AM:


    Fred Hiatt, not Fred Hiat.

  • captain dan on February 10, 2013 10:29 AM:

    I am annoyed by the refusal to recognize "White intellectual males" as a minority group separate from White males.

  • captain dan on February 10, 2013 10:30 AM:

    I am annoyed by the refusal to recognize "White intellectual males" as a minority group separate from White males.

  • MikeBoyScout on February 10, 2013 11:08 AM:

    The article is a good read, and the cover is a master stroke of marketing, but Tanenhaus doesn't spend enough time questioning or explaining why today's Republican party is in a political death spiral of racist constrained thought and policy.

    Quite frankly a plurality, if not a majority, of today's active Republicans are racists who hold no truck with equality and who will not allow its politicians to advance a principal of equality without a knock down fight.

    Until a Republican politician comes around who is willing to vociferously and persistently fight (and lose) the racism which animates today's Republican party it will continue to spiral into obscurity.

  • c u n d gulag on February 10, 2013 11:40 AM:

    Yes, Republicans are NOW the party of racists.

    After Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, and the South lost the Civil War, the Democrats were the racists's party of choice.

    Then, after Truman, one of their own, integrated the military, those Democrats who were racists, went over to Strom Thrumond and his Dixiecrats.
    Ike was of no help to the racists, especially after the Chief Justice he nominated, and the SCOTUS the CJ led, decided Brown v. BOE, and the President faced down the backlash.

    It was after LBJ sided with Martin Luther King Jr, and got the CRA's passed, that the racists started leaving the Democratic Party in droves.

    And Nixon, in a politically smart move with disasterous consequences, used his "Southern Strategy" to lure them into the Republican Party

    And Reagan, announcing his candidacy in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where 3 Civil Rights advocates were brutally murdered, and in that speech talked about "State's Rights," won over the hearts of the last racists who were still a part of the Democratic Party. Those racists, imo, comprised a vast majority of "Reagan Democrats."
    And Reagan's welcoming in the Dominionist Christian Evangelicals, with their Manichean world views, into the Republican Party and the political process, now allowed a patina of Jesusy-goodness to provide a thin coat of cover to the inherent racists in that party.

    Today, while not every Republican is a racist, or a misogynist, or a xenophobe, and/or a homophobe - but pretty much, if they identify with a political party, every racist, misogynist, xenophobe, and/or homophobe, is a Republican.

    And so, here we sit - the Republican Party is in deep doo-doo because the racist and xenophobic parts of their base, are dying off, and less and less young people identify with the Republican Parties racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and/or homophobia.

    The rats have painted themselves into a demographic corner, and have nothing to do but to lash out.

    And in some welcome news for the sane people in this country, the rats are lashing out at one another in their growing Republican Civil War.

    And I say, "Good! It couldn't happen to a worse bunch of feckin' assholes."

  • jcricket on February 10, 2013 12:33 PM:

    I love the smell of Republicans cannibalizing each other in the morning.

  • pangea on February 10, 2013 2:21 PM:

    As was pointed out in the past week or so - anticipate the death of the GOP at your own peril.
    To rational people it sounds comforting to say (and think) that Republicans are in a death spiral, to think that as the old middle class angry racist bastards die off... well, I guess I'm not sure what the next part is. Song will break out as America becomes whole again?
    Don't bet on it. The country is pretty evenly split now and the younger generation of Republicans are just as stupid as their parents, just as angry and just as mean. The white ones are just as racist, too.
    Demographics are against the racists (though I fear it's going to be a long time before that matters in elections) but the GOP is good at framing issues and sloganeering and put their many think tanks and Madison Avenue firms to good use convincing (deliberately) undereducated people to vote against their own interests.
    And while GOP politicians are typically very stupid people, I think the behind the scenes people are much smarter. I think they realize the racists can only take them so far. It's like the oil and gas industry... cleary this is a finite resource, clearly we need to develop alternate energy sources but the Koch brothers are going to suck every penny from the earth before they let the industry die.
    In politics, the driving force behind the GOP is just riding the racist pony 'til it dies. Once it does, they'll have no hesitation changing horses - and you can bet the next horse will be just as ugly and stupid and, to the surprise of those who anticipated the death of the Republican party, all the power and wealth will remain in the hands of the 1%.

  • schtick on February 10, 2013 3:11 PM:


    Yes, the power and wealth will remain in the hands of the 1% because the dems help them keep it there, too.

  • MikeBoyScout on February 10, 2013 3:14 PM:

    @ pangea,

    I take neither comfort nor solace in saying the Republican party is in a death spiral. When the branch of American politics which relies upon racism to animate its followers is dead and buried I'll be happy. But spirals take a long time to run their course, and this one is far from its last turn.

    But, the fact is that the Republican party is in a death spiral. That's not good. It is one of only two viable political parties we allow ourselves to have. Cornered rats do crazy things.

  • Michael Robinson on February 10, 2013 5:31 PM:

    The Party of Falling Down:


  • buddy66 on February 10, 2013 5:51 PM:

    I am an angry old white man and I am with captain dan in demanding sub-minority status (although whether I am an intellectual is always open to debate). Furthermore, I am long on memory and rich with experience concerning the civil rights movement in America. And it is my opinion that the only reason the GOP came as close as it did in capturing the White House the past two elections is because a black man was running against their candidates. If it had otherwise been any white man, or woman, they would have been engulfed. The GOP is morally and politically bankrupt. That famous dustbin of history awaits them.

    I predict a Tea Party presidential slate in 2016, under one re-branded name or another. It's time the nativists had their own clearly-defined racist party.

  • Rick B on February 10, 2013 5:55 PM:


    I agree with you and with @schtick and @MikeBoyScout.

    Right now it is only three months after the election and the Republicans are still trying to determine how their perfect message failed to give Romney the White House. The conservative leadership still has about three to six months left in which they can fight to determine the pecking order. Nothing that is said or done during this period up to maybe next summer is going to seriously limit their ability to run another typically nasty campaign in 2014.

    The worst they have to fear is YouTube videos being picked up and used by Democrats against their candidates in the next election and they have already discounted that. It's the likely losers of the pecking-order battles who are in desperation currently going public anyway.

    The electoral strengths of the conservatives remain pretty much in place and are only slightly weakened by the election. The conservatives generally remain scared to death of the massive social changes that are occurring in America and they see all of those changes as represented by Obama and the Democrats. They aren't going to back off the panicky craziness since they have nothing else. The Tea Baggers have proven how effective insanity is at the polls when close to half the electorate is running scared. (Scared people are also susceptible to rigid evangelical religions, too. The Islamists prove that in the Middle East just as the evangelicals do here. Both fear modernism and are trying to retreat to Biblical/Koranical certainties.)

    If the Democrats make major mistakes or get over confident and can't counter the Citizen's United money again this country will go conservative in the next two elections.

    The long term is a different story, but we need to get there first.

  • Rick B on February 10, 2013 6:03 PM:


    I'd love to see a tea bagger party run up front. But Cantor is already trying out the language to conceal that under a draping of bullsh*t.

    Once the pecking order is arranged (and it will be tea bagger - see Ted Cruz), the conservatives will roll out a massive load of codswallop that will bury (they hope) all memory of the idiots of 2010 and 2012. That is a place where the massive amounts of money they have available really can have an impact.

  • Michael on February 14, 2013 5:28 PM:

    "Not incidentally, Tanenhaus is no liberal and is, in fact, William Buckley’s biographer."

    Not actually true. Tanenhaus was friendly with Buckley and agreed with him about the Hiss case, but he was never recognized by conservatives as one of their own.