What Martin Luther King, Jr. Taught Today’s Movement Conservatism


Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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54 Responses

  1. Avatar David Ryan says:

    David Brock was a closeted gay man who worked as a GOP operative during the Nineties.

    I read his book “Blinded by the Right” in 2003.

    Part of it was a big boo hoo about how we wanted to be accepted and he was gay he did things he’s not proud of and finally he just couldn’t do it anymore and boo hoo hoo. Cry me a fucking river.

    But much of it was an insider’s view of how the GOP of the Nineties modeled there strategy and tactics after the left-wing of the sixties.

    Probably still on my bookshelf somewhere. If you lived nearby I’d lend it to you.


  2. Avatar Plinko says:

    I’m just going to comment that I’ve always wondered why so many of movement conservatives find the victim-hood rhetoric so compelling, it’s one thing about that particular segment of Conservatism that I really cannot fathom.

    But mostly I want to sign up now so the comment stream goes right to my e-mail.Report

    • Avatar David Ryan in reply to Plinko says:

      For the same reason that many people would rather talk about the $5000 windvane they can’t afford than buy and use the $500 windvane they can afford.Report

  3. Avatar Loviatar says:

    Great post. One quibble.

    Somewhere in the 90s movement conservatives discovered that they could have their cake and eat it too.

    The date you’re looking for is actually quite well known.   August 3, 1980Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Loviatar says:

      Intriguing!  Say more?Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        He’s referring to Reagan’s Philadelphia speech.Report

        • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Will Truman says:

          This is a fair point, come to think of it.  But I’d still argue that in the GoGo 80’s the GOP loved to bill itself as the party for the Successful.Report

        • Avatar LarryM in reply to Will Truman says:

          I think that at that time and for quite a long time after, the Republican establishment was content to throw out the occasional dog whistle, without either believing it or feeling the need to justify it through the reserves racism victimology narrative. That narrative didn’t start taking hold till the 90s, gathering steam in the past 10 years, until even the establishment started buying their own rhetoric.

          The analogy with the drug dealer using his own product applies, though. moderates and independents, especially of the low information variety, can ignore the dog whistles. But when the Republican establishment begin to believe their own Line of Bull, you get what you have seen from Newt lately. And that as we know plays to the base, but will NOT help in the general election. He could still win if the economy is bad enough, but he’ll make a pretty horrible candidate.Report

          • Avatar LarryM in reply to LarryM says:

            I think one reason for the change was welfare reform. Before that, it was possible to say, “no, no, we are making racially charged statements, no siree. You see, we’re just talking about people of all colors who abuse the welfare system.” Thin stuff, but plausible to some and hard to disprove.

            That argument become harder to make after welfare reform, so another narrative was needed – and so we got the victimology narrative.

            That’s with regard to the racial stuff.  As for the christian stuff, what happened there IMO is that, as the broader culture moved further away from where the christian right wanted it to be, a victim narrative beats the alternative of simply acknowledging that the culture is moving in the other direction.Report

          • Avatar Kim in reply to LarryM says:

            I’ll elaborate on the point I made below. Reagan’s run for president was openly, blatantly racist. In the south. This has been well documented by his speechwriters. Just because it didn’t get out of the south doesn’t mean he was using dogwhistles.Report

        • Here’s an interesting counter-argument about that speech.

          I’m neutral.Report

          • Avatar Loviatar in reply to James Hanley says:

            There is no neutral when it comes to racism.

            To refuse to acknowledge racism is in effect racism. Either Reagan was pandering to racists with his “States Rights” speech or he wasn’t. Your choice on which side of the argument to comedown on and society’s choice to judge you on whether you’re a racist or not.Report

          • Avatar LarryM in reply to James Hanley says:

            I don’t buy it, but it’s plausible. And I think it ties in very closely with my welfare reform point, if you read the linked post and the quotes from the Reagan speech. It’s just hard to make that sort of argument post welfare reform – people do, but not very plausibly.Report

            • Avatar LarryM in reply to LarryM says:

              On the substance, it’s pretty obvious that we can’t know Reagan’s mind for certain. Combine a fairly banal ostensible point with a term that converys different meanings to a certain audience …. I mean, that’s the definition of a dog whistle, and certainly it happens. Was that part of Reagan’s message by intent? Who knows; I expect yes. But more and more the Republican party is not content with the dog whistle. One can be charitable about Reagan, and perhaps if one REALLY wants to be charitable, about the good faith of the current crowd of conservative victimologists (and as I said elsewhere, I do think they have to a large extent bought into their own narrative). But now you have people like Newt dispensing with the dog whistle entirely, and just arguing that “it isn’t racism if it’s true.” Which of course has been the racists’ “argument” since they have felt the need to defend their noxious beliefs.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Is that Reagan’s kickoff speech?Report

      • Avatar Loviatar in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Reagan in this like so many other things was and is the trendsetter for the modern Republican party.

        No wonder they revere him.Report

  4. This articulates a point I’ve been trying to make since my guest stint at Upturned Earth just before this blog was founded, except much better and more directly than I have ever been able to do it. Bravo.Report

  5. Avatar Will Truman says:

    I… don’t believe I will be participating in the ensuing discussion. I did want to say: great post. I wish I could disagree with it a whole lot more than I do (which is to say, not much).Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Will Truman says:

      I… don’t believe I will be participating in the ensuing discussion.

      That’s because you’re going on vacation, right?  Not that it might get ugly.  Right?Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Let’s put it this way: I had a post that I was prepping to write this weekend and post next week that is tangentially related (very tangentially). I will probably be holding on it a little while longer (or spike it altogether) because I don’t want the heat from this to touch that.

        I do mean it, though: Good post!Report

  6. Avatar LarryM says:

    I’m probably overly optimistic here, but I’m wondering if the failure of the usual suspects to show up and defend Newt so far represents a realization on at least some conservatives’ parts that Newt went a step too far. An audience of simpletons and racists in South Carolina is one thing, but even the troglodytes around here know enough to keep up at least a veneer of anti-racism, even if it is a mighty thin one.

    The idea of Newt as nominee really saddens me. Of course even a Romney Obama contrast is depresing in it’s own way, both of them pretty much lacking amoral center, but they are towering paragons of integrity and wisdom compared to Newt, who manages to combine nastiness, ignorance and explicit racism with an astonishing smallness of character. And he could even win – maybe – if the economy goes in the tank again.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to LarryM says:

      I don’t know how far Newt went, because I’ve seen like ten different accounts of this, and not one has seen fit to quote or link to Gringrich’s original comments. I have no idea what it is that Williams was objecting to.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to LarryM says:

      What I think is funny haha but also funny interesting is that the GOP faithful appear willing to do anything to make sure Romney isn’t their man. They tore him down from the get-go, and fluffed a succession of lolclown losers along the way. Now they’re pinning their hopes on Newt. I think he’s just the next in line – nothing more than that – since they’ve managed to run everyone other loser out of the race simply by actually supporting him (or her).

      The Grand Old Party has been laid bare. It’s just a disastrously comical mess of grifters, posers and losers.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Stillwater says:

        What I think is funny haha but also funny interesting is that the GOP faithful appear willing to do anything to make sure Romney isn’t their man.”

        What’s even funnier is I’d have to say the same thing about the GOP establishment and Gingrich.  If he’s able to pull out SC and another state or two quickly, it could be a fun Spring to be writing about politics.Report

  7. Avatar sonmi451 says:

    It’s funny, I’ve read some stuff saying that the whole exchange with Juan Williams about the food stamp things ended up as Williams providing an unintentional assist to Gingrich, allowing him to throw red meat to the base. And even better since the guy giving Gingrich a hard time about it is a black man, providing a way for Newt to firmly put him in his place.  (Who knows, maybe that’s part of what the applause is about).Report

  8. Avatar James Hanley says:

    Next to the election of a black president, we’d say that Gingrich’s standing O was the most compelling dramatization of racial progress so far this century.

    White people cheering a white person who criticized black persons is…racial progress?

    Even if they were cheering Rachel Maddow for criticizing a black pedophile, it still wouldn’t qualify as an indicator of racial progress.Report

    • Avatar LarryM in reply to James Hanley says:

      Responding seriously to ANY WSJ editorial is the very definition of “feeding the troll.”Report

    • Avatar sonmi451 in reply to James Hanley says:

      White people cheering a white person who criticized black persons is…racial progress?

      It’s progress against the forces of political correctness and evil liberals who cry Racism! every time a white person dares to criticize black people. Too long have they lived with this injustice! Now that a black guy is President and black people is obviously not a victim of anything anymore, racism is a moot point. At least that’s what some of my relatives told me.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to sonmi451 says:

        Oddly, I think there may some there there to what your relatives say.  I really think that it could be any D sitting in that office right now, and they’d find a reason just as squishy as the birth certificate to freak out about.

        I think it’s just what they’re doing these days.  I’m not so sure Obama wash;t just that guy that showed up to be the brunt of it.Report

        • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Tod Kelly says:

          Oh, look, I actually remember the Clinton Presidency. In the mind of a certain segment of the Republican base, any Democratic President is illegitimate and they’ve thought that since Nixon was run out of office by a bunch of RINO’s and evil liberls. So yeah, if Hillary won, it wouldn’t be a birth certificate, it’d be all-out misogyny from the Right.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to James Hanley says:

      “White people cheering a white person who criticized black persons is…racial progress?”

      Not just process, James.  The most amazing proof of racial progress we have, next to electing a secret Kenyan infiltrator.Report

  9. Avatar North says:

    I think I speak for all Democrats everywhere when I say…  This can’t be possible? Surely this isn’t possible? Newt? Newt Gingrich? Could he still capture the nomination? Surely this is some clever joke. Surely plastic man will pull it out in the end and nail the nomination down. Surely there’ll be some kind of brokered convention and they’ll draft some more impressive figure than their current slate? Surely not Newt? No one is that lucky. No party can be that lucky, no President could be so lucky as to have Newt Gingrich as an opponent in a Presidential race. NEWT?!?Report

    • Avatar sonmi451 in reply to North says:

      You’ll regret this when Newt and Calista are dancing the night away at the Inauguration Ball! Seriously though, the economy is sucky enough, some liberals are merrily flirting with freaking Ron Paul, I don’t think Democrats should feel over-confident, no matter who the Republican nominee is.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to sonmi451 says:

        Would we be able to even see this dancing, with all the pigs flying out of our butts?Report

      • Avatar North in reply to sonmi451 says:

        Last I heard the economic indicators are positive and there’re green shoots popping up all over the place on the unemployment indicators. Obviously Europe could swoon at any time so there is that 800 lb gorilla but I don’t know that the GOP can count on the economy to rescue them and if ever you had to campaign against someone on a bad economy Newt would be the guy to go against, well other than Santorum.Report

        • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to North says:

          I’d be more worried about China’s real estate bubble popping, actually…if Europe is the 800lb gorilla in the room, China’s nascent bubble economy is the great gigantic whale lurking in your pool.Report

          • Avatar North in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

            I’m vaguely aware of the Chinese issue but to my mind it’s a considerably less significant issue as far as its impact on the rest of the world goes. China is very important, yes, but not so much as a driver of the economies, they manufacture stuff but don’t buy very much. Europe is a massive consumer of other nations exports, if they go tits up then all hell is gonna break loose globally.Report

        • Avatar Kim in reply to North says:

          conjurecast says crash and burn. due to europe, naturally. they haven’t fixed anything, and they aren’t going to.Report

  10. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    <i>And so for the past 15 or so years, movement conservative has gone out of its way to transform branding itself as The Party of the Successful, to The Party of the Downtrodden.</i>

    Well…no. The branding is more like the Party of the Plucky Underdog. If you’re the Downtrodden, you’re just a bunch of losers, and no one likes that. If you’re the Plucky Underdog, you’re holding ground against all odds, and getting ready to go on the offense. The enemy has gotten the upper hand through underhanded means, but if we stick together and do our best, we can win this thing. Or something like that.

    And if you think the left doesn’t do this, too, you aren’t paying attention. Corporate America. The 1%. They’re trying to take away Medicare. The primary difference, it seems to me, is that right-wing rhetoric is oriented around how the left is going to prevent you from earning an honest living, and left-wing rhetoric is oriented around how the right is going to take away your handouts.

    <i>Ron Paul’s campaign has brought to light that a pleading, focused message that stated “those nice people from the Cosby Show are really The Man – and they’re keeping whitey down!” could bring in major coin.</i>

    Citation needed.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      Damn you, wysiwyg editor!Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      “And if you think the left doesn’t do this, too, you aren’t paying attention. “

      Oh, I know they do.  They brand themselves as being those guys.

      Citation needed.

      Even though there were quotes, I thought that was fairly obvious paraphrasing.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      well, maybe your leftwing propaganda talks about taking away “handouts.”

      Mine don’t. Mine talks about corporations stealing your property rights (see SOPA thread), mine talks “death by spreadsheet”, mine mentions the time and earning power stolen by corporations in their “death by a thousand cuts” phone centers.

      And mine mentions monopolies.Report

    • Avatar LarryM in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      I think this is right, to an extent. But I Republicans are not shy at all at bragging about their defense of the rich and ultra rich, and demagoging even the most mild critique of that position. Romney’s “envy” quote was a misstep, but with a context – it’s not far from the Republican party line. And there is a, or should be, a tension there, I would think. But it’s lost on the base, and on many moderates also.  And I’m not even talking so much about the “what’s the matter about Kansas” narrative. I GET that it is far from self evident to some people that Democratic policies are better for the middle class (and on some issues, they are even right! Or would be if the Republicans were an even halfway sane alternatives).

      But tax cuts which massively give a disproportionate benefit to the wealthy … you would think that that would to some extent impact the plucky underdog narrative, at least among the middle class and even upper middle class base. I guess ultimately it’s about cultural solidarity – though even there, I think that the average member of the Republican base is kidding themselves if they think that the culture of rich Republican is significantly closer to theirs than those bad old sinning liberals. Newt, of course, a case in point.

      Though in fairness occasionally we see some cracks in the facade – the complaints about the bailout (though even there, many (most?) tea partiers seem convinced that that was a Democratic initiative), the Romney/Bain Capital stuff.Report

  11. Avatar BSK says:

    This seems grounded firmly in privilege. The assumption that how things were is how they ought to be, and any movement away from how they were is a moral wrong. It is similar to that nostalgia we see for the 1950s. There are many people who look at systems of male or white or Christian privilege not as unearned, but at there hard-earned right. How dare you take from me whatis rightfully mine?!?! How dare you challenge my privieged status?!?! It is not necessarily explicitly racist or sexist or religiousist, but it is grounded in an assumption of an inherent and well-earned superiority of those on certain sides of those dynamics.Report