Changing Tides, Social Conservatives, and the Price of Swinging for the Fences in Politics

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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161 Responses

  1. Francis says:

    As a follow-up, it’s worth noting that the same R Dreher is now advocating taking his ball and going home. Well, he calls it the Benedict Option.

    As best I can tell he means to both continue to engage in the public sphere and re-create a private space where orthodox Christians can live more beautifully than everyone else, thereby luring lost souls back to his version of his faith.

    People who call him a sore loser (and/or delusional) don’t retain commenting privileges very long.Report

    • Crprod in reply to Francis says:

      The constant calls for impeachment remind us that the GOP is indeed now the SLP (Sore Loser Party) as a matter of principle. As for Rod Dreher, he used to write occasionally interesting posts on family, hometown, and food, but those are long gone. There are other people there who manage to be interesting even if I don’t always agree with them.Report

  2. Kolohe says:

    After they lost the presidential election of 2008, they — along with the more “moderate” leaders who were riding them — met on Inauguration Night and made a pact to derail the country via opposition to everything and anything simply for the sake of opposition.

    Compare the make-up of the US House of Representatives, the US Senate, the 50 state legislatures and the 50 state governors on January 19, 2009 to today, and tell me that tactic hasn’t worked.Report

    • greginak in reply to Kolohe says:

      It worked in some ways and has failed in others. On social issues the socon R’s are feeling pretty scared at this point. Also not all R’s are socons, so the R strategy worked to increase their power but has left them voting for repeal of the ACA 50+ times and no immigration reform and girding for impending doom on socon social issues. Like most tactics its succeeded and failed. The question is where is that going to lead them.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to greginak says:

        an alliance with the corporate Democrats, who are anti-Bernie and nonplussed by BLM, for low taxes and light regulation.

        But that’s not going to effect Hillary Clinton until her re-election bid.Report

        • Stillwater in reply to Kolohe says:

          Romney won 47% percent of the national vote and I don’t the GOP Machine will allow for yet another clown campaign like his or McCain’s. When you couple that baseline of conservative support with the shift in red rep at the state level across the country and add in a sprinkling of Hillary inability to motivate the base (GOTV! dammit), I don’t think she wins, myself. (Assuming, of course, that one of the lesser clowns wins the GOP primary.)Report

          • Burt Likko in reply to Stillwater says:

            Romney didn’t run a clown campaign. He ran a by-the-book reenactment of 1988. Present an air of inevitability and renewal: the nominee is the coming dawn, preeminently qualified, brilliant, polished, and Brahmin. It would have worked, too, against a latter-day Michael Dukakis.

            Obama didn’t oblige by playing Dukakis The Doofus in the tank with the too-big helmet and ice-for-blood debate-club answer to debate questions and too pure to raise serious cash. That, and the economy was doing well enough to not hamstring the incumbent.Report

              • Burt Likko in reply to Will Truman says:

                A fine callback indeed!

                I recall evaluating him in 2008 as “plastic man,” unappealingly willing to discard ideas and ideals in pursuit of office. Same universe of concern I have about Clinton: cravenness.

                Republicans in presidential primary season seem particularly vulnerable to this sort of thing.Report

              • Plastic Man was a whole lot cooler than Mitt.


              • dragonfrog in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                So that led to a youtube excurstion that ended with a video of a Plastikman show at the Guggenheim. Really weird – deep techno, lights, video, big crowd of middle aged folks in suits holding wine glasses. Noooobody dancing.Report

              • Glyph in reply to dragonfrog says:

                Plastikman rules (though honestly, I don’t find most of his stuff under that moniker to be particularly suited for dancing)Report

              • Sam in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                I once read an article about some of the most invincible characters in fantasy universes and Plastic Man ranked right up there with the strongest, even though he’s usually presented as a carefree and light-hearted character. It was the sort of article that really got my attention, because I like thinking about the idea that within these worlds of might and magic, there are characters beyond even those things, especially ones who seem so indifferent to their strength.

                Also, I went this whole time without saying one nasty thing about SoCons. Look at me Ma! I did it!Report

          • Barry in reply to Stillwater says:

            “Romney won 47% percent of the national vote and I don’t the GOP Machine will allow for yet another clown campaign like his or McCain’s.”

            We are already in the first stage of the 2016 Cavalcade of Clowns. My money is on Trump being just the first in a line of dufuses, morons, loudmouths and general poo-poo heads.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Kolohe says:

      How much of this can be a dying gasp?

      Or people not paying enough attention?Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        The turnout between the 2010 & 14 elections and the 2008 & 12 ones are significant, but at the end of the day, scoreboard. Obama has been a big winner, with coattails in each of his elections, but everyone else except for Terry McAuliffe -edit- and Jerry Brown -edit- has generally taken a beating. (How does an Udall lose an election?)Report

        • Michael Cain in reply to Kolohe says:

          Run a single-subject campaign that is entirely about being afraid of the other side. Not a single positive word about what the Dems had achieved or how to advance Colorado’s interests in the future. In my large suburban county, Udall did seven percentage points worse than Hickenlooper, who ran a campaign that had a solid “here’s what we accomplished” component.Report

          • Stillwater in reply to Michael Cain says:

            Yeah, this. Udall seemed caught in the headlights or something, unable to rise to the political realities and challenges existing at that time, unwilling to actually take the risk of being for something. He came off as an aloof (or worse, fearful) elitist who thought other folks ought to vote for him outa deference to his class or lineage or career. Maybe he believed/was advised that the Republican candidate would self-destruct during the campaign so he didn’t have to try to win the election and could instead just coast, risk-free, thru an election his opponent would lose. Whatever the backstory is, tho, Kolohe is right. On paper Udall shouldn’t have lost that election.Report

  3. CK MacLeod says:

    Good (Tod’s Right!!!), but I hate the following (Tod’s wrong)(emphasis added):

    In that time, SoCons pushed for a Constitutional amendment to disallow gays from ever being married. For all their talks of the importance of religious liberty today, it wasn’t that long ago that they were telling my family’s church — the Episcopal — that their religious beliefs on the subject were immaterial because they were the majority. Worse, they pushed for the freedoms and civil rights guaranteed to Americans be limited to those of Judeo-Christian faith. They not only opposed people other faiths being allowed to build houses of worship on land those people owned, they demanded that the government forbid them by fiat. They argued for people of other religions to be put into internment camps, or failing that, to have their due process rights curtailed. They told the public that, if they were put in charge, they would arrest judges that ruled against them on SoCon litmus issues… After they lost the presidential election of 2008, they — along with the more “moderate” leaders who were riding them — met on Inauguration Night and made a pact to derail the country via opposition to everything and anything simply for the sake of opposition. They shut down the government, and degraded the country’s credit rating.

    And so on, and so on, in this paragraph especially and throughout much of the rest of the post.

    I’m here to report to you that few to no social conservatives supported all or most of those positions as stated. Very, very few of them attended an Election Night meeting in 2008 and plotted a devious SFTF plot to scorch the Earth. Furthermore, few that I have ever had anything to do with consider 2008 “their” loss. Most of the hardcore conservatives I ever heard from, both “social conservatives” and, a different group, “true conservatives,” considered 2008 John McCain‘s loss, and they don’t consider John McCain a conservative of either sub-type. Some never considered him “conservative” at all. I’m now going to risk shocking you by saying that, furthermore, I personally know social conservatives, Bible-believing white hetero Southern or Southernish sons and daughters of evangelical preachers, for example, who voted – you may want to sit down – for Barack Obama, and who didn’t consider Sarah Palin presidential material, even if they deplored the treatment she and her beliefs were sometimes given in the media.

    The more accurate and respectful, can’t-we-all-get-along way of putting the post’s observations would be to say that “some, if not all,” or “a few, without being denounced by all of their allies,” or “one or two cranks, hardly noticed, but self-proclaimed social conservatives,” or “most,” or “many,” believd or supported or tried, but not “they” believed or supported or tried x, y, or z. Unfortunately, minding such distinctions would make for a less dramatic thesis, but it might make for a more realistic one: Not “SoCons have swung for the fences!” but “the social conservative movement overall has arguably overreached, and, as a movement that supposedly stands for a more morally sound politics, under the influence of Christianity especially, some of them should also have tended to the beams in their own eyes before pointing to the splinters in other people’s.”

    The other thing the post leaves out is the third reason for “swinging for the fences” beyond 1) it’s your only chance, and 2) you think it might work. The third reason you might “swing for the fences” is that it’s not a game to you, and you’re not swinging for fences, you’re doing what you believe is the right thing to do, and whether, to use another cliche, it’s the hill you die on or not, you are compelled to fight on it and find out.

    One other thing:

    The bad news for conservatives in general is that Trump currently leads all GOP primary hopefuls, not despite but because of being a non-stop swing-for-the-fences scorched-Earth blow hard[…]

    …but not a social conservative by any reasonable definition of the term.Report

    • greginak in reply to CK MacLeod says:

      That bible believing deeply religious people vote for D’s is not in any way news except to a subset of conservatives who think all D’s and liberals are atheists. It always has been that way religious people vote all over the spectrum. Go tell Pat Robertson and ilk, they are the ones who dont’ understand that.

      Your point about McCain not being a True Conservative is verging on conservatism can never fail, it can only be failed. McCain and Romney are both solidly conservative on most, if not all parts, of the US political spectrum.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to greginak says:

        Your point about McCain not being a True Conservative is verging on conservatism can never fail, it can only be failed. McCain and Romney are both solidly conservative on most, if not all parts, of the US political spectrum.

        That is what Talk Radio actually believes.Report

        • greginak in reply to Kolohe says:

          Yup and explains a lot of the stupefied rage when things don’t go there way as Todd pointed out. Losses are always because of not being pure enough and they are, by definition, Right and True Americans. So any failure is from just not being strident enough or a stab in the back or a conspiracy.Report

      • CK MacLeod in reply to greginak says:

        greginak: McCain and Romney are both solidly conservative on most, if not all parts, of the US political spectrum.

        The topic of the post is social conservatives. Romney took a while to earn the loyalty of social conservatives, but was never fully accepted into the movement, not least because some significant number of Christian conservatives remain uncomfortable with Mormonism. As for “solid” conservatives, John McCain, when it suited him, agreed with you very strongly and wanted everyone to believe it. At other times, for instance when Straight Talk McCain was personally calling out religious conservatives, not so much. That was one reason he picked Palin and why, for a brief period, before what she was became more apparent, it seemed like a great move on his part, shoring up his right flank while reaching out to other constituencies at the same time.

        I think it’s certainly reasonable to say that McCain falls on the conservative side in the simplified binary of American politics, and the OP does end up virtually equating “social conservative” with “Republican,” but that’s not how how real-existing social conservatives, or true conservatives, or even most “solid” conservatives see the matter. “Social conservative” may refer to a grouping within the conservative movement, or it may refer to a larger group of which politically active social conservative Republicans are the politically most significant part, but the terms “social conservative,” “Republican,” and “conservative” are not synonymous.Report

        • greginak in reply to CK MacLeod says:

          You are pretty much at McCain was conservative but not a Real Conservative. That doesn’t really change my point. Was he a socon; no but socons are the final word on conservatism. Romney; yeah that was more about his mormonism, but that also says more about socons, then about Romney.Report

          • CK MacLeod in reply to greginak says:

            All of these terms are contestable and all of the ones we’ve been discussing are also actively being contested, so are subject to change in general usage and connotation – which I think reinforces my original point, which is that RTod is oversimplifying and indulging in caricature.

            As for the larger political calculation, and another point of divergence between Republicans and social conservatives, or even between solid conservatives and social conservatives, is that Republicans and conservatives can win by losing in a way that social conservatives can’t. All of the social progress that is relentlessly celebrated at this site seems to be an advantage in Presidential years, potentially pointing to erosion of the Republican coalition in the longer term – IF Democrats maintain a lock on their current most loyal constituencies – but has resulted in a Republican lock for the foreseeable future in the legislative branch: For a Democratic political agenda to advance, you need an epochal catastrophe like 2006-8, and even then progress was arduous and incomplete.

            The way things are going now, you may have to wait a very long time to be in that position again – or have to pray for another financial meltdown and set of foreign policy setbacks while the other team is in office – except that the same analysis also suggests that the odds favor (not sure how much) the Dems holding the presidency and being identified with those setbacks.

            As for social conservatives as opposed to Republicans, I don’t think social conservatives are likely to remake American culture as a whole in their own image, but cultural tides do also sometimes turn.Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to CK MacLeod says:

      Two quick responses here.

      To your major point:

      I don’t know what to say except that if you are a newly touring musician who doesn’t want the general public to see you big-haired heavy metal guitarist, you probably shouldn’t send out press packets to the media describing yourself as a big-haired heavy metal guitarist, put up posters everywhere with you sporting big hair and playing heavy metal guitar while biting the head off of a bat, and have local radio stations run ads asking everyone who loves big haired heavy metal guitarists to buy tickets to your show. If you do those things and you get to town and set up your piano to play some Chopin, you probably shouldn’t be overly surprised or angry when everyone shows up wanting you to play heavy metal. That’s really not on them so much as it is on you.

      The same is true of a political movement.

      If you don’t want to give the general public the idea that, to take an example from my post, your movement is full of people who want to arrest judges that don’t rule in your favor, then you need to make sure that the media outlets that you allow people to think largely speak for you to trumpet this idea as being a really good one. And if a primary candidate opens his pie hole and says he wold totally arrest judges that didn’t do what your movement wanted, you probably shouldn’t cheer those comments on live television and then give him a boost in your own polls. Because if you do that and afterwards people who aren’t in your movement say, “Man, those guys support jailing judges who don’t rule in their favor,” then those people may or may not be wrong… but to whatever extent they are wrong? That’s not on them. That’s on you.

      As to your minor point:

      Is Trump an evangelic Christian wanting to bring wholesome family values to the world? Absolutely not. But by the same token, John Edwards wasn’t really a guy who ever gave a crap about the poor.

      Trump’s calling out McCain, wondering over Obama’s place of birth, and declaring Mexicans rapists ain’t red meat he’s throwing out for the party moderates.Report

      • CK MacLeod in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Tod Kelly: If you don’t want to give the general public the idea that, to take an example from my post, your movement is full of people who want to arrest judges that don’t rule in your favor, then you need to make sure that the media outlets that you allow people to think largely speak for you to trumpet this idea as being a really good one.

        The evidence you prevent for this view is not backed up by the item you link, which describes Newt Gingrich (btw, not really a SoCon) making a charge in a 2012 speech, referring to a judge threatening to jail believers. Just to make this clear: Gingrich did not threaten to arrest judges or a judge. As the headline of the post you link puts it, “Newt Gingrich says judge said he’d jail Texas superintendent if court order on graduation prayer was violated.” Gingrich and others have argued that judges of a certain type – “dictatorial religious bigot(s)” – should be lawfully removed from their positions.

        Incidentally, the idea of facilitating popular recall of judges and other officials was once a prime Progressive demand, a typical “direct democracy” element in TR’s Progressive Party platform of 1912, for example. Anyway, are you thinking of some other statement or event, or are you willing to withdraw your accusation? Care to pick another example?Report

      • veronica d in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        I’m with @tod-kelly on this. Which is to say, I’m a visibly queer woman who lives in Massachusetts. Just how many so-cons do you expect me to meet? How many would even be willing to speak to me without openly sneering or making shitty comments about my gender?

        These are not theoretical questions, you realize. I frequently encounter sneers and hostility. And while I am aware that people from many walks of life can be terrible and likewise many can be absolute angels, I still gotta walk this walk. You do not.

        In the end what I know about so-cons is what their thought leaders say. It’s what I see on TV. I realize conservatism includes a broad spectrum of people, between a young Mormon man and an old angry guy living in a trailer and a young, suburban evangelical woman playing soccer mom and on and on. I understand that the Mormon fellow and the soccer mom are perhaps not the people making Trump shoot up in the polls. Likewise, they may have some distaste for how nakedly terrible Fox News is.

        Sure. Fine.

        But still!

        Contemporary conservatism has a public face, the one I see. I know what bills they try to pass. I know what games their politicians play.

        I know what energizes them. It’s really freaking obvious. The right-wing media is there for all of us to see. No, I don’t read every article, but we can marvel at the ads. We can see the worldview.

        Those who hate me and actively work to ruin my life, by the media the consume and the leaders they support — how much should I listen while they bellow and moan?

        I mean, it’s a practical question. There are considerations of prudence. Yep. Got it.

        But should I not treat them exactly as they want to treat me? If not, why not?

        Should I be the better person? Well, I already am! By miles!

        So if I slip now and again, let out a small share of my bitterness — who can judge me?Report

        • CK MacLeod in reply to veronica d says:


          I’m with @tod-kelly on this.

          In this context that would mean that you’re in favor of distorting or even manufacturing evidence against your adversaries, or your enemies as you imagine them, in service of your self-righteous generalizing prejudice against them – just like you are accusing them of doing against you.

          Tod has said elsewhere he’s been busy, so maybe he missed my comment above, but I’m frankly a bit surprised that he hasn’t at least acknowledged that he flubbed the supposed evidence justifying his claim, expanded upon at length, about social conservatives wanting to arrest judges. The results suggest to me that Tod formulated a judgment or in fact operates according to a certain generalized prejudice, and that it led him to misread or misremember the Gingrich incident that his evidentiary link describes.

          Tod may have had some other incident in mind, but the evidence he has offered indicates something close to the opposite of his claim. He accuses conservatives of wanting to arrest judges, but the article describes a conservative accusing a judge of wanting to arrest conservatives. Politifact describes that claim as “half-true,” which would be more than can be said for Tod’s claim, which at this point stands as an apparent calumny.Report

          • veronica d in reply to CK MacLeod says:

            In this context that would mean that you’re in favor of distorting or even manufacturing evidence against your adversaries, or your enemies as you imagine them, in service of your self-righteous generalizing prejudice against them – just like you are accusing them of doing against you.

            That would be a very silly reading of what I mean.

            I have enough experience with the American right wing, and what they intend directly for me, that I say Tod’s judgment is correct on the broad facts. Indeed, the right-wing media has demonized me and people like me, and that message sells. It is, for the so-con base, energizing. Selling bogus paranoia about me, and hatred toward me, is indeed a “big deal” in right-wing spaces. Hating me is a great way to get a broad readership among the right. Hating me is likewise a great way to get elected. This sucks.

            I am not imaging this. It’s really happening, in very obvious ways. In addition to what I read coming from the right, I also get the occasional pleasure of a face-to-face encounter on the subway.

            You might wish that conservatives did not behave this way. I also wish that.Report

    • CK MacLeod,

      The Inauguration NIght Pledge example is particularly confusing to me. That was essentially the GOP leaders in Congress getting together to formalize the just-say-no approach to legislative opposition to Obama’s agenda. Obama’s agenda – the country’s agenda – at that time was almost completely omitted by economic concerns. Everyone knew a major stimulus bill would pass: limit how bipartisan it wold be so that Obama would own its (hopefully) failure (but in that case, do some bargaining to try to gets its size down so as to limit its effectiveness). Obama had campaigned on financial reform: just say no. Obama had campaigned on health care reform: just say no.

      The people in that room were essentially bound together by a combination of commitment to small-government principles and to advancing big business interests. These were the economic conservatives, not the SoCons. It’s just not an example of SoCon fence-swinging.

      Was it fence-swinging anyway? Arguably, but I’d say probably not. These people weren’t in power; they were planning a response to power. Generally I’d say that negotiating how you will deal with a power dynamic in which you are disadvantaged takes fence-swing largely off the table.

      For this reason, I broadly disagree that SoCons have swung for the fences, or at least that doing so is broadly the reason for the position in which they find themselves. I more or less buy the Douthatian view that social conservatives are and have for some time been negotiating the terms of their surrender, or in any, are retreating more than tactically. To swing for the fences from such a position, and probably some of Tod’s examples are examples of it. But they are small examples, and exceptions to what is generally going on. Generally, SoCons are just straightforwardly losing at politics. Not because they overreached, but because they’re just losing their grip on people’s moral imagination. Fence-swinging is not broadly the reason SoCons find themselves where they do. SoCons find themselves where they do because they’re just losing the argument.

      Something like Obamacare is probably closer to a fence-swing, though because it is so far from what is probably Obama’s ideal reform, and there was such an involved process of allowing a quest by Democratic lawmakers in search of support from Republicans to shape the law, I would say that the push to pass Obamacare was also not a swing for the fences. It’s a hard, level swing for a line drive to the gap for extra bases.Report

      • Michael Drew,

        See below for my take on a policy that may fit the SFTF profiles better, and more legitimately implicate SoCons in particular than Tod’s examples, but I think you may be getting social conservatives (socially conservative people in general) as well as the Social Conservatives (mainly Christian conservative Republicans) wrong in one respect, and it relates to the point about Douthat and the general misunderstanding – which is almost an eligibility requirement at this site – of Rod Dreher.

        Douthat’s “negotiating the terms of surrender” referred, I believe, specifically to the issue of Same Sex Marriage. I don’t think he is ready at all to surrender on the rest of his cultural critique, and he’s shown vulnerability to the “Christian conservative case for SSM.” He recently linked to a post on just that topic in an approving if not necessarily completely convinced way. It’s not hard to imagine him taking the old Andrew Sullivan position that conservatives should embrace SSM as a way to integrate gay people and strengthen and deepen support for the troubled institution of marriage.

        As I’ve tried to explain elsewhere, this argument is a different argument in key respects than the “total equality” argument that appears to have won the day or at least has provided the basis of the legal-political victory as matters currently stand. Social conservatives will continue to see total equality as an absurdity or a mirage, or an infamy and disgrace, whose acceptance by civil society and government marks an unbridgeable distance between social concepts.

        It is little appreciated or understood that the “Christian Republicanism” which helped make the American Revolution possible, and that dominated American political-intellectual life through most of its first four score and seven, was a peculiar historical phenomenon (if not without precursors). It may always be ready for “revival,” as when Ronald Reagan & co convinced many social conservatives that becoming SoCons would lead to victories and prevent intolerable defeats – that it was their moral responsibility to saddle up and fight.

        What Dreher appears to be calling for is, I think, closer to what you’re attributing to Douthat. Non-Christians and those with a generally more instrumentalist and one-sidedly materialist concept of the meaning and purposes of human life on Earth will remain somewhat mystified and respond in the usual ways to what they do not comprehend and do not really want to comprehend. Tho social conservatives who adopt or re-adopt a more defensive, quietist, and separatist posture toward the political and social mainstream, enduring derision and outright discrimination while pursuing their salvation by other means, while awaiting the completion of prophecy, will find ample resources in the Christian tradition.Report

      • nevermoor in reply to Michael Drew says:

        I’d say that negotiating how you will deal with a power dynamic in which you are disadvantaged takes fence-swing largely off the table.

        Absolutely not true. Think about, for example, the ACA. Obama was willing to bend over backwards to get GOP votes. A single GOP senator could have gotten a lot more concessions in exchange for their vote. None did so, because they hoped to kill the whole thing. They failed. Fence swinging.

        Similarly, the House passed cap/trade at the same time but there the GOP’s fence swinging paid off (and oil companies remain safe from the externalities of their conduct). Also fence swinging, but with the desired outcome.

        In past congresses, the minority party would have been far more likely to negotiate concessions proportionate to their ability to obstruct, in exchange for releasing some votes.Report

        • Michael Drew in reply to nevermoor says:

          The GOP wanted to either a) kill the bill, or at worst b) deny it any whiff of bipartisanship. These are standard goals of a party in opposition under normal circumstances, not fence-swinging.

          As much as I was of the belief that after an election like 2008 (not normal circumstances), an opposition is under a certain amount of obligation in our system to, to the extent they can consistent with their principles, work with the new maority on the new majority’s agenda, espcially under crisis conditions on the agenda for dealing with the crisis. So, in my view, the Republicans should have been willing to largely go along with some version of the ARRA (though in fact, by the logic of the that particular public policy argument behind it, Obama should have, and to some extent did, prioritize the stimulus being big enough over getting bipartisan support. That makes that example kind of an indeterminate case for this discussion.)

          But that is itself a contested view – that any opposition is under any obligation to work with a a majority ever – and it is in any case one of the weaker governance norms in our system. Generally, oppositions oppose – that’s what they do. Choosing obstruction over cooperation is a standard decision of political opposition, depending on circumstance. It’s not fence-swinging.

          I feel like people are missing a basic idea about fence-winging here. Choosing whether to obstruct or cooperate is like choosing whether to swing or take a pitch. It’s not choosing whether to swing for the fences. That’s why it’s hard to come up with way you can fence -swing in the minority. There aren’t a lot of ways to come up with ideas to overreach in the minority, at least not in the area of legislation, like there is when you are in the majority, and you can literally try to do whatever your creativity will allow you to come up with.

          As I said, though (actually, I think I misedited the previous comment, so I may have failed to say it), there are a few ways. Here are some possibilities for what might count as minority fence-swinging: 1) denying various government bodies the personnel necessary to function because you don’t substantively support the function they have been duly created to perform (i.e. CFPB, NLRB); 2) bringing into question the government’s intention to meet its legal payment obligations in order to gain spending concessions you couldn’t gain 3) arguably, shutting down the government for the same reason.

          (The last I include not because I see it that wya: to me the diffrence between threatening a payment default of any kind versus choosing not to fund (parts of) the government is the key distinction between fence-swinging and the use of the basic leverage point that is provided to the legislature over spending. But I include it in view of the way the public tends to receive the news of government shutdowns – it seemed to me that the outcry was actually greater over the shutdown than over the threats of payment default, probably because we have such a Protestant moral bug up our butts about the concept of debt in this country. And to some extent this has to be governed by actually public response, not my own view. So maybe government shutdowns over spending disputes are also fence-swinging, but I’d argue they shouldn’t be.)

          In any case, an opposition trying to scuttle the agenda of a majority-Executive lawmaking coalition is certainly no fence-swinging, even under unusual circumstances where the minority may have some obligation to work with the majority due to crisis or political mandate. If such an obligation exists, not living up to it is just not lving up to it, not fence-swinging.Report

        • Michael Drew in reply to nevermoor says:

          …In any case, whether you’re right or I am largely depends on how comprehensive my claim remains after the qualifier “largely” is considered.

          I didn’t really think through all the exceptions to what I said, though I was aware they existed (hence my using “largely.”) Maybe in your view “largely” doesn’t allow for many exceptions, but I would say that it does. I think I’m largely right that being in the majority largely takes fence-swinging off the table, but I also think there are ways, as I’ve enumerated. There are still some extraordinary, over-the-top things you can do as a minority, but the majority of things you can do to fence-swing as a majority are taken away when you go into the minority. So fence-swinging is largely taken off the table.

          So I think I’m right.Report

          • nevermoor in reply to Michael Drew says:

            The GOP wanted to either a) kill the bill, or at worst b) deny it any whiff of bipartisanship. These are standard goals of a party in opposition under normal circumstances, not fence-swinging.

            Oh? (note: source obviously biased towards bipartisanship, but still). I think, in fact, the 2008-era GOP’s decision to engage in blanket objection and denial of bipartisanship is a historically-unique development (though, quite likely, the correct game theory). The prior model was to extract concessions (or, in too many cases, pork) in order to pass a compromise bill. And, as many have noted, even in hotly contested party v. party battles, the filibuster was simply not used.

            I suspect the fact that the minority party in our system now has both (1) the proven incentive to engage in complete obstruction; and (2) the ability to do so with 41 senators creates an untenable position that the GOP will see all to easily if that is the only thing stopping them from implementing policies.Report

            • Michael Drew in reply to nevermoor says:

              It’s a change (or just a breakdown) in norms, to be sure, but that doesn’t make it fence-swinging.

              Also, a list of bipartisan actions isn’t proof that periods of gridlock/broad obstruction aren’t commonplace through U.S. history as well.

              I just have a hard time seeing straightforward obstructionism as fence-swinging. The expansion of the filibuster gets it a little closer, but it doesn’t move the effect any closer to a swing for the fences. It’s still just preventing bills from passing. I just don’t see that as fence-swinging.Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to Michael Drew says:

                Is it just preventing bills from passing?Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                There may have been some historic precedence for this, but it certainly hasn’t been in my lifetime.Report

              • greginak in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                fwiw, the R’s in the Senate had another vote on repealing the ACA yesterday.Report

              • Kolohe in reply to greginak says:

                It was only their third or fourth one since 2010, though.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                Yes, @tod-kelly , I think what Nevermoor is focusing on – extraordinary commitment to legislative obstruction – is essentially only preventing bills from passing. It certainly seemed to be what he was talking about.

                Some of the obstruction has been of confirmation of appointments, and I did allow that in some cases that might amount to fence-swinging. But Nevermoor didn’t mention that in particular; I did.Report

              • …But if we want to agree that the practice of refusing to confirm appointments to entities whose mission one disagrees with to deny it the ability to function, and threatening not to pay all the bills in order to get policy concessions are among those examples of fence-swinging that aren’t taken off the table for minorities while everything else a majority can do largely is, then we certainly can, since that’s what I’ve been saying.Report

              • nevermoor in reply to Michael Drew says:

                Yes, it is. Going full obstruction instead of going for a compromise bill.

                The ACA seems like the perfect example of it since it started as a GOP alternative so there was no requirement that the party decide it was going to be a nuclear-winter-holocaust-end-of-democracy. They could instead have gotten some concessions to lower the budget score and spun themselves as the true protectors of America from the forces of over-exuberant spending.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to nevermoor says:

                I definitely agree that they had those options. And Tod brought up fence-swinging, so I guess if he wants to say that’s it, for his purposes he certainly can. (Though, as has been extensively noted, he was talking about SoCon fence swinging, and my initial point was that, whatever the kind of stuff you’re talking about is, it;s not SoCon fence-swngong, because it wasn’t really led by SoCons.)

                I just don’t see obstruction rather than cooperation in that situation as fence-swinging. They didn’t want essentially any part of ACA; not 50% or 60%. They wanted 0% of Obamacare. So it’s not a win in an absolute sense at all to allow a good part of it to pass, and give it bipartisan approval to boot. Your argument is that’s still better than 100% of it passing, and I agree. But I still don’t going for full obstruction as fence-swinging because at best you get no movement at all. I just don’t see that as a home-run.

                This is unlike had Obama gone for single-payer and then been unwilling to take something like ACA as a compromise. There, under certain assumptions about how he’d feel about enacting single payer being part of his legacy, Obama would have been guilty of fence-swinging that backfired – because had he gotten single-payer, that would have been a true home run. Likewise, if Scott Walker were to try to implement a flat income tax and then fail to get any tax cut, that would be fence-swinging. But if the Democratic opposition tried to obstruct not only the flat tax but also any tax cut at all, and as a result the flat tax passed, they would not be guilty of fence-swinging. Because they’d rather see no tax cut at all, or one completely different from the one Republicans would seek.

                To me, you have to be trying to advance the ball (significantly) down the field (to mix sports metaphors) in your direction in order to be fence-swinging, not just trying to limit how much the ball gets moved in the direction you don’t want it to move.Report

              • nevermoor in reply to Michael Drew says:

                I don’t have any dog in the hunt about whether it was So-Cons or a broader group leading the opposition, happy to concede that point to those who know the distinctions better.

                They didn’t want essentially any part of ACA; not 50% or 60%. They wanted 0% of Obamacare.

                That’s certainly the position they took, despite being in a historically powerless position in both branches of government. So I’d argue that getting that 0% is absolutely a home run. But I think that that point we are quibbling about terminology. I’m happy on the Sabermetrics side arguing that a run scored = a run prevented (I wanted to introduce a third sport, but failed).

                Similarly, your single-payer point makes sense (and unfortunately Lieberman / Nelson killed the public option so that was off the table too). That said, I shudder to think what compromises early-Obama would have accepted for so much as a single GOP vote. I bet they’d have been substantial.Report

              • nevermoor in reply to Michael Drew says:

                I see it as fence swinging to take a ~100% of the other side getting, say, 60% of what they want and switching it for a ~50% chance at all or nothing.Report

      • Barry in reply to Michael Drew says:

        “The Inauguration NIght Pledge example is particularly confusing to me. That was essentially the GOP leaders in Congress getting together to formalize the just-say-no approach to legislative opposition to Obama’s agenda. ”

        As I understand it, that’s not the case – the whole point was that they were deciding on a standard negotiating and compromise situation, and the Godfather’s offer: ‘nothing’.

        And note that the GOP opposition in the Senate broke records.Report

    • Barry in reply to CK MacLeod says:

      [Trump] “…but not a social conservative by any reasonable definition of the term.”

      He’s leading the pack. Personally, I think only until he gets bored, or is paid off, or screws up *sooooooo* much and *soooooooo* often that even the Base is sick of him. And the later might take a while.Report

  4. Saul Degraw says:

    John Chait wrote a pretty amazing description of a Fox News anchor person:

    “Everything you need to know about Fox News is captured in this screenshot: the American flags, the fear-mongering image in the upper-right corner, the blond anchor with a facial expression that somehow combines sneering with absolute terror.”

    I am especially into the part that says “somehow combines sneering with absolute terror.”

    This is what social conservatives are doing now. They are in absolute terror because the United States is transforming (in their mind) and it is transforming into something that they don’t recognize from childhood and don’t like. America is no longer Mayberry. It is now more cosmpolitan, more secular, more urban, more diverse, etc. There are no longer maiden aunts and confirmed bachelors but openly gay couples singing it dirty and loud. Minorities aren’t being quite when subject to discrimination, bigotry, and dumb jokes, etc.

    I think the divide on the same-sex marriage issue is that many liberals are either secular, some variety of cultural religion X, or they belong to the liberal branches of their respective religions. People like Ross Dreher and other theological conservatives are as Orthodox as Orthodox can be. They really believe in hell and they really think that SSM is going to encourage the wrath of God or some such. A trillion liberal cartoons denying anything will happen because of SSM is not going to change this.

    The questions are: 1. What percentage of the American population thinks along the Dreher lines?, 2. What percentage of this group is old and gray and what percentage is relatively young?, and 3. What percentage are they of the GOP base?

    I think the big issue for the GOP is that they have a base that is very slowly dying but is still hardcore socially conservative. They can’t quite jettison these foot soldiers. These foot soldiers have no where to go.

    I suppose they could form a third party but that would just hurt the GOP more and help the Democratic Party a lot. It might make the Democratic Party more viable in very red states.

    The issue I have is why do so many professed libertarians seem to have a strong tendency to the R-hat. There is something about a lot of guys especially white, heterosexual, and nominally Christian guys in this country that have a very big “Leave Me Alone!!!” kind of politics. They don’t want to hear about structural issues because it might mean doing something or thinking actively, I don’t know.Report

    • Kolohe in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      Megyn Kelly has carved out a unique niche for herself, so Chait’s demonstrably wrong about her being emblematic.Report

    • CK MacLeod in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      This is what social conservatives are doing now. They are in absolute terror because the United States is transforming (in their mind) and it is transforming into something that they don’t recognize from childhood and don’t like.

      Trust me: A lot of them don’t like the way things are going in this country, but very, very few of them (or none I’ve ever met) are in “absolute terror.” Much of the rest of your comment, Saul, is a caricature based apparently on little personal contact with the people you’re caricaturing. I think the same is largely true of Jonathan Chait, even if he’s managed to get around a bit over the course of his long career on the liberal left. And I guess a former “New Dealer” just doesn’t get why libertarians and social conservatives, despite their differences, would join together against the “party of government.”Report

      • greginak in reply to CK MacLeod says:

        Socons are most R’s are just fine with government in general. They seem to want to use it to further things they believe in. They also tend to want Gov to do a lot of public functions just like D’s and liberals do. The mixture of libertarians and socons is more about some libertarians being more conservatives who are embarrassed to call themselves R’s.Report

        • Saul Degraw in reply to greginak says:


          What astonishes me is that so many conservatives and partisan Republicans seem shocked, shocked by the existence of true believing liberals and partisan Democrats who are willing to fight for the cause. Did they think they were alone? Do they expect liberals to be meek?Report

          • greginak in reply to Saul Degraw says:

            @saul-degraw Remember the caricatures of D’s in the most hostile conservative places. D’s and liberals are weak or cowardly or just talking about race to win, as a card to play, or only say they care about poor or black people to keep them as “slaves on the dem plantation” or only want more gov just because we LUUUURRRVE gov for its own sake because we all get so much power.Report

          • aarondavid in reply to Saul Degraw says:

            “What astonishes me is that so many conservatives and partisan Republicans seem shocked, shocked by the existence of true believing liberals and partisan Democrats who are willing to fight for the cause. Did they think they were alone? Do they expect liberals to be meek?”

            Flip the parties around, and you just rewrote @tod-kelly s post.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to CK MacLeod says:

        What greg said. A lot of people starting calling themselves libertarians around 2008-2009 because of embarrassment of Bush II and the wrecked economy. They didn’t get more interested in social liberty. They just didn’t want to be associated with a damaged brand.

        Anyway I don’t buy notions of libertarian liberty which seems rather rooted in notions of a pre-Industrial rural economy. The right of minorities to free and full participation in economic and civil life trumps the right to be left alone. Positive liberty over negative liberty, most of the time.Report

        • InMD in reply to Saul Degraw says:

          You make a solid point about parts of the Republican base attempting to re-brand itself as “libertarian” after 2008 but the rest of this is arguing against a “libertarianism” that only exists in your mind. It’s a heterodox view, and maybe more accurately is understood as a critique of state power masquerading as a political ideology. It has its merits and its weaknesses and its more and less credible proponents.

          Generally speaking, do you include the libertarians (or people with libertarian views) who have been arguing against police militarization, prohibition, the erosion of civil liberties in the justice system, and the war on terrorism, all policies that disproportionately harm minorities, as not believing in the full participation of those minorities in economic and civil life? I know its in fashion to pretend that the whole Clinton-New Democrat wing that’s controlled the Democratic party for the last 25 years doesn’t exist and/or has somehow not been involved in the creation of numerous policies that have harmed minorities but come on.Report

          • LWA in reply to InMD says:

            There is such a thing as “collateral damage”- those who are harmed while the main target lies elsewhere;
            There is also such a thing as “collateral beneficiaries”- those who benefit while the main target lies elsewhere.

            People like Radley Balko do a wonderful job of shining a spotlight on the overly aggressive state, and should be applauded for their efforts.

            But when he critiques the state, improving the lives of minorities is a collateral benefit- the real goal is the creation and preservation of the individual sphere, individual liberties. That’s the whole logic of his criticisms, that the state is intruding on areas where it oughtn’t.

            Which is not the way minorities themselves voice it- they (in the words of their most prominent activists) don’t champion individual liberty, they champion human dignity and equality.

            Combine an emphasis on individual liberty with strong property rights, and you have something that is generally opposed to the things that minorities themselves are asking for.

            An example of this is Rand Paul advocating legal marijuana, while, with an equal force and conviction, asserting that Lester Maddox should have had the liberty to refuse to seat blacks.Report

            • Saul Degraw in reply to LWA says:

              This is a very good way of putting it. Though I think Balko is generally good at leaving his libertarian a priors out of his writing. Conor certainly puts his libertarian a priors in.Report

            • InMD in reply to LWA says:

              I think this is wrongheaded for a couple reasons. First, you’ve made the assumption that we can generalize about what minorities want and that all of them want the same things. Yes, we could probably look at some polls and get a sense of what the majority of a given minority group want from a policy perspective but these groups are comprised of individuals with their own beliefs and needs. I would submit that the view you just expressed is patronizing, and while it sounds a lot nicer, it isn’t much different than conservatives blaming problems in minority communities on some type of generalized cultural or moral failing shared by the group. After all, they’re all the same, right? Are we just erasing individuals who don’t meet a certain stereotype from existence?

              Second, it implies that when we give members of minority groups the reigns of state power that they are then not capable of implementing policy that is disproportionately bad for their own group. The war on drugs (mainly crack cocaine) was strongly endorsed by black politicians who ran DC in the 1980’s to disastrous results for the predominantly black citizenry. Hell, even now black people are well represented in the government in Baltimore, including on its police force (take a look at the officers accused in the Freddy Grey murder). Are the black individuals whose lives and families are being ruined by state power taking some type of solace in solidarity with their local political class? I’m white so I can’t really say, but I somehow doubt it.

              Like it or not libertarians (at least in theory) are on the right side of these issues when it comes to the protection of minority rights in a manner that your average Democrat in office is not. The better argument against most forms of libertarianism is that it fails to acknowledge that extreme inequality and entrenched poverty can be just as destructive to individual liberty as an arbitrary and violent state apparatus. This is an argument I happen to agree with.

              As a side note, there was some libertarian push-back on Paul’s view on the Civil Rights Act. An example if you’re interested:


          • Saul Degraw in reply to InMD says:


            You absolutely have people like Randy Balko who are doing good work on this.

            Then you have people like Conor F* and maybe the odd Federalist who can write a good piece but honestly seem to be confused by the social conservatives in ways that I find kind of precious but that is because a large part of my disdain for the Republican Party

            You also have the kind of libertarian that likes to troll liberals and says that a welfare state leads to police brutality. These types look the other way or stick their hands in their ears when liberals point out that lots of countries have welfare states without having police brutality.

            As to the leave me alone factor, a lot of Americans (especially white and nominally Christian Americans) seem to like atomization. Is it because this is relatively easy in the U.S. without vast amount of space? Maybe I am an odd duck but I would rather have a small but comfy place near a city with lots cultural and artistic options. I can’t tell you how many times I have been in conversations where I say “I like going to movie theatres” and the response I get is “Really? Why would you want to go to a theatre when you can watch a movie from the comfort of your home and on a big screen TV?” I like the social nature of seeing a movie or a play with a group and feeling the reaction of the crowd. Yet it conversations about what it means to live like kings, I seem to be an outlier. Many Americans seem to think that it means a large house. If you were to give me the option between a large house in rural areas or a one bedroom in NYC, I’d pick the one bedroom and the theatre scene of NYC. Second choice would be a one bedroom in SF. In NYC, I get BAM.

            Of course many minorities were excluded from this large and open space by official and unofficial policies for a long time and are more urban in nature.

            *Conor F is a bit interesting/fascinating to me because we seem to be antipodes. He grew up in Orange County. I grew up in a well-to-do suburb of NYC. His family had a right-wing Republican bent with “grandfathers who read the National Review.” My family is solidly Democratic with grandparents who were Democratic enough that they hated that Salisbury Park was renamed Eisenhower Park, who remembered the Great Depression and were lifelong New Dealers, and who hated that Adlai Stevenson lost twice. So I am as much a born and bred Donkey as Conor is a born and bred Elephant. Yet we probably agree a lot on civil liberty but I find him kind of naive when he writes “I don’t understand why Republicans aren’t up in arms about this.”Report

            • InMD in reply to Saul Degraw says:

              I don’t really disagree with any of this. I’d never argue that there aren’t plenty of stupid libertarians out there or stupid libertarian ideas. Indeed there are a number of issues on which I find libertarian thought frustratingly myopic. However, I do also get annoyed by liberals/progressives/Democrats who smugly see themselves as enlightened on all things regarding race but seem to have a blind spot for the state pushing people around as long as it’s their guy(s) pulling the trigger, or at least their guys nominally in charge of the guy(s) pulling the trigger.

              There are of course conservatives who are similarly hypocritical. However, I like you have a strong preference for urban living so I don’t run into as many of those types to debate. That’s more of a family gathering thing for me.Report

        • Notme in reply to Saul Degraw says:

          Sounds like the reason liberals started calling themselves progressives, so they could avoid the association with liberals and their failures.Report

          • Glyph in reply to Notme says:

            As branding, this is not a bad strategy, and one that conservatives should perhaps consider emulating.

            I suggest “NotConservatives”.Report

            • Stillwater in reply to Glyph says:

              That’d be confusing Glyph. They’ve already defined themselves in practice as ~liberal (Cleek’s Law!). If they were to include ~conservative they’d be left umoored from reality.

              Oh, wait. (Heh!)Report

            • Mike Schilling in reply to Glyph says:

              And the other other guys could be the NeitherRandNorPaulians. Though as other mainstream figures are revealed as not true Scotsmen, the name would keep getting longer.Report

              • Glyph in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                There’s no real need for Libertarians to distance themselves from policy failures yet, since they’ve never really been in power to enact any policies. It’s like saying I’ve failed at heavyweight boxing when I’ve never even been in the ring.Report

          • nevermoor in reply to Notme says:

            Yep. I think the two parties have flipped on this. In the 90s, liberals were apologetic/terrified whiners. And conservatives berated them constantly for it, making many abandon even the word liberal.

            That seems to have flipped (and, I’m sure, will someday flip again).Report

    • Patrick in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      This is what social conservatives are doing now. They are in absolute terror because the United States is transforming (in their mind) and it is transforming into something that they don’t recognize from childhood and don’t like. America is no longer Mayberry. It is now more cosmpolitan, more secular, more urban, more diverse, etc. There are no longer maiden aunts and confirmed bachelors but openly gay couples singing it dirty and loud. Minorities aren’t being quite when subject to discrimination, bigotry, and dumb jokes, etc.

      I’m with CK in that I don’t think “absolute terror” is the right phrase, but there’s a lot to be said for the rest of the description.

      What is really odd, to me, is that I hear these things the *loudest* from people who are not urban, still live in overwhelmingly religious communities that are staggeringly monolithic. So they’re bemoaning the downfall of an America they don’t see, don’t experience directly, and largely don’t give a damn about except for their tongue-clucking.

      On the flip side, the urban, diverse, increasingly secular part of America that complains about *them* largely doesn’t give a damn about them, either, except for their disdain for the hicks.


      • Saul Degraw in reply to Patrick says:

        Good point. Rod Dreher lives in small-town Louisiana and admits he lives in deep-red territory.

        There are of course gay couples everywhere even if they mainly congregate in urban areas. And SSM anywhere threatens Christianity everywhere so…..*

        *Yes this was a sarcastic inversion and meant on purpose.Report

    • This is what social conservatives are doing now. They are in absolute terror because the United States is transforming (in their mind) and it is transforming into something that they don’t recognize from childhood and don’t like. America is no longer Mayberry. It is now more cosmpolitan, more secular, more urban, more diverse, etc.

      Speaking as a Dem from well outside of the Northeast urban corridor and the narrow West Coast, remarks like this terrify me. And they’re fairly common from the people who run the Democratic Party at the national level. With a relatively small number of exceptions, the rural and urban areas in individual states offset each other. As Will Truman regularly points out, the political battle is won or lost in the suburbs. Which have been nothing like Mayberry for a long time, and most people there of all political stripes take exception to being described that way. The suburbs are white-collar, educated, and well-to-do. They’ve been the driving force for job growth in the US for decades. And lots of those white-collar, educated, well-to-do people are socially conservative to one degree or another.

      Colorado’s a medium-sized swing state. It didn’t swing blue from 2004-2008 because of the urban areas; it swung because the Dems won in the suburbs. It didn’t start swinging back more purple from 2010-2014 because of the rural areas; it swung because the Republicans won back some of the suburbs. Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Colorado… states where a swing of one or two percent of the voters, or blue voters staying home, can still cost the Dems the Presidency. And those swings, if they happen, will happen in the suburbs. Insulting the ‘burbs with a “Mayberry” tag isn’t going to help.Report

      • @michael-cain What’s so cool is the way that trivializing, ignorant, and altogether offensive caricatures sprinkled with factual distortions and outright falsehoods tend to confirm the truly motivating fears about self-righteous left-liberal hypocrites in power.Report

        • Saul Degraw in reply to CK MacLeod says:

          Now you know how it feels.Report

          • CK MacLeod in reply to Saul Degraw says:

            So, it’s not “both sides do it.” It’s “both sides are terrifying.” However, “both sides are terrifying” tends to support the Madisonian system that left-liberals and progressives, who want a government that can do things especially domestically, find so frustrating. Even social conservatives do some winning by losing in this framework, once they distance themselves from the Moral Majority temptation, stop trying to build New Jerusalem, and revert to the alternative, politically disengaged evangelism.Report

        • Sam in reply to CK MacLeod says:

          @ck-macleod This whine never stops being absolutely silly. Social conservatives have spent generations backing up their caricatures with truly vindictive policies designed specifically to make the lives of those on the receiving end difficult, painful, miserable. And now, those on the receiving end are winning a few battles, and these same culture warriors who had no problem stabbing as deeply as possible when they were the ones wielding the spears are incensed that they might endure even so much as the slightest scratch. An offensive caricature is a high crime that must be avoided now for example, but not so much when gays are being described as a threat to all children and when laws are written to address the alleged threat.

          The current social conservative position amounts to nothing more than demanding in outright terms the ability to continue bullying those that they don’t like while simultaneously demanding legal protection from their victims thinking – even for a moment – about hitting back.Report

          • veronica d in reply to Sam says:

            @sam — This isn’t even history. The so-cons have not backed away even slightly from demonizing me. Stuff such as this and this are commonplace.

            They don’t want peace. They want immunity from any consequences when they hurt me.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Michael Cain says:


        I concur actually. I met Mayberry as a small town kind of place.

        But you are right that both parties need to be competitive in the suburbs to win many states.Report

        • Which does leave us, though, with the unpleasant question, “When was the last time the national Democratic organization said anything nice about the suburbs?”Report

          • Saul Degraw in reply to Michael Cain says:


            I disagree. I don’t think the national Democratic organization says anything bad about the suburbs. Can you give some examples?

            The big issue with the Democratic Party is that a large chunk of their base is urban and this urban base is growing. A large part of the urban base has been excluded from suburban life for decades by official and unofficial policies. These policies have come from government and banking officials and represent a lot of structural racism. Example, high-income African-American families were still more likely to receive subprime mortgages than lower-income white families. There was also redlining.

            And I know Will disputes it but I still think that a lot of people born after-1975 are
            moving back to urban areas and staying on even as they start families.

            These are areas that need a lot of money for public transportation especially because the systems have faced decades of neglect. The U.S. seems to be the only country where public transport is expected to be profit-making. There was a fight earlier this year where Andrew Cuomo called the plan to fix and update the subways “bloated” but was willing to spend hundreds of millions on a small connection to LaGaurdia airport.

            I think suburbanites have a lot of disdain for the urban.Report

            • Stillwater in reply to Saul Degraw says:

              I disagree. I don’t think the national Democratic organization says anything bad about the suburbs.

              That’s not disagreeing with anything Michael Cain said, Saul. He said the national Democrats don’t say anything nice about the suburbs and not that they say mean stuff. An example of that would be your last sentence.Report

          • LWA in reply to Michael Cain says:


            What would it look like for the Democratic Party to say nice things about the suburbs?

            I don’t disagree with your premise, if only because in common political vocabulary, “Urban” translates to “Black/Poor” and “Suburban” translates to “White/Affluent”, so in this sense, it is true that much of the platform and agenda of the Democrats concerns minorities and the poor.

            Or so it would seem, if we accept that the status quo agenda of What Issues Americans Talk About is that set by the cable news talk shows, NYT, NPR and magazines like The Atlantic.

            I mean, the national agenda of important issues is set by mostly suburban affluent white journalists, who write about what they know.

            I thought of this after Ferguson, when it came to light that the mostly black citizens there were being crushed by the bootheel of a predatory government intentionally robbing them of money.

            Did you know about this? I didn’t. Did anyone here know about that before Michael Brown’s death?

            Suppose it were David Gregory or Megyn Kelly who were on the receiving end of this treatment- am I wrong to assume we would be hearing about this outrage 24/7?

            Or even the discussion about traffic- how freeways linking the suburbs to the city core are the subject of much discussion and newpaper inches and cable news minutes, while urban bus service is ignored. Newpaper column inches/ cable news minutes translates into political funding.

            So if the Democratic Party were to make a big deal about improving urban bus service, it would seem strange to white suburbanites, as if a foreign issue unrelated to any of their concerns somehow found its way into our discourse.

            If it seems like the liberal organizations fixate on “Urban/Poor” issues to the exclusion of the “Suburban/White” issues, maybe its because it is so anomalous, so strange to even hear these issues in the first place, when we are so accustomed to hearing about how hard it is to get kids into the right preschool.Report

            • Michael Cain in reply to LWA says:

              Just hypothetically, let me try this thought.

              On the one hand there are conservatives who are fighting the demise of small town America, where the fundamental problems boil down to an inability to generate enough jobs for coming generations and an insufficient tax base to support contemporary levels of government service. On the other hand there are liberals who are fighting the demise of urban core America, whose fundamental problems come down to… an inability to generate enough jobs for coming generations and an insufficient tax base to support contemporary levels of government service. On the gripping hand [1], as they say in the sci-fi world, there are the suburbs, where an absolute majority of Americans choose to live, which have done the vast majority of the heavy lifting on job creation for decades, and which are routinely asked to subsidize government services in both rural and urban-core areas. There’s a growing body of evidence that given unconstrained choice, something over half of the population globally would choose suburban individual family dwellings and private transportation. Why isn’t the discussion, “What can the urban cores and the rural towns learn from the suburbs?” rather than “How can we preserve models that have largely failed in contemporary society?”

              [1] A description of two sides arguing about a three-state philosophical problem, with both sides ignoring the 800-pound gorilla that ought to be dominating the thinking.Report

              • The suburbs are something that the political left puts up with because politics demands it and the Democratic Party at least is smart enough to know it and act accordingly. But I think a big part of the whole “things are shifting back to the cores” myth was wishful thinking that they wouldn’t have to keep putting up with it indefinitely.

                I think suburban voters are the weakest link in the chain of the Emerging Democratic Majority. I think the HUD ruling may be a policy victory but may be a political liability.Report

              • I have no idea what this means. I’ve lived in suburbs pretty much my whole life, and I’ve never felt rejected by liberalism (the Far Left, sure, but that’s quite a different thing), or that the GOP would be a more congenial home for me.Report

              • The Democratic Party (mostly) doesn’t. The broad left, though? Housing is one of my areas of interest, and the vast majority of stuff I read from the left involve LWA’s comments here about sustainability, the general superiority of the urban over suburban, and the belief that public policy should reflect these things.

                (I don’t particularly think that’s wrong – at least, not all of it. I think as far as public policies go the HUD thing is a policy positive… but in terms of politics it may prove to be a liability.)Report

              • It’s all regional, I suppose. Here, the broad left wants people like me out of The City, where we’re apparently the cause of high rents.Report

              • Saul Degraw in reply to Will Truman says:


                I don’t think so. The HUD ruling preserved disparate impact housing discrimination law suits, it did not create them. IIRC each circuit court of appeal allowed for disparate impact housing discrimination lawsuits until the Supreme Court case as well.

                As I pointed to above, there are decades worth of policies which intentionally blocked many minorities especially African-Americans and Hispanics from suburban housing. So @michael-cain might say that this is where all the job growth is but can’t you see why this might make minorities angry? First they get excluded from the burbs via red-lining and being denied mortgages and then all the jobs move to suburban office parks? And they should not get suburbanites angry?Report

              • Even if true, that doesn’t matter any more than it mattered that Kelo didnt take anybody’s land. Nor does it matter how righteous the policy is or isn’t*. What matters is that using government housing to integrate is really, really unpopular along suburbanites and that may (and will, in my opinion, if pursued with sufficient vigor) create some serious problems for the coalition, which relies on suburban voters.

                * – And I am rabidly against single-family zoning restrictions, and the vast majority of restrictions of this sort. It ain’t about that, though.Report

              • Saul Degraw in reply to Michael Cain says:


                “On the other hand there are liberals who are fighting the demise of urban core America, whose fundamental problems come down to… an inability to generate enough jobs for coming generations and an insufficient tax base to support contemporary levels of government service.”

                This does not seem to mesh with the reality of cities currently going through population booms and affordability crisis. San Francisco, NYC, and other cities would not be building the housing they are (and they need more) if this statement was true.

                “There’s a growing body of evidence that given unconstrained choice, something over half of the population globally would choose suburban individual family dwellings and private transportation. Why isn’t the discussion,”

                Cites please. The issue with private transport is that it might not be environmentally sustainable. Public transport can be unpleasant for a variety of reasons at times but it can easily be made to be pleasant. We just don’t do that in the States for who knows what reasons.Report

              • Kolohe in reply to Saul Degraw says:

                Saul Degraw: This does not seem to mesh with the reality of cities currently going through population booms and affordability crisis. San Francisco, NYC, and other cities would not be building the housing they are (and they need more) if this statement was true.

                Sweet Adlai Stevenson Saul, Detroit. And for that matter Ferguson – which was going to be my answer to Will; not all suburbs are alike.

                Plus, the status of private transportation being unsustainable is besides the point of a stated or revealed preference for it.Report

              • San Francisco has managed to continue to grow, but not nearly so well as the state as a whole; just staying around the Bay, all of Santa Clara, Alameda, and Contra Costa Counties have done spectacularly better over the last 40 years. Denver is a similar story — the city’s doing fine, but not on the same scale as the explosive growth in the suburbs. But for every San Francisco and Denver, there’s a Cincinnati which has shrunk steadily even as the metro area it anchors has grown (that is, the suburbs have more than offset the Cincy losses). Or look at the medium-sized city numbers at places like Newgeography; the fast growing ones are, except for a relatively small downtown, indistinguishable from the suburbs around major cities.

                Global suburbs. You could start with this Economist piece, or Herzog’s Global Suburbs on Mexico, Central, and South America.Report

              • Saul Degraw in reply to Michael Cain says:


                Fair points. That does not change the long and discriminatory nature of American suburbs. I don’t think red-lining is in effect like it used to be but we are still dealing with the after effects of decades worth of systematic racism and official and unofficial policies to keep suburbs white.

                So maybe most people do prefer suburban living and maybe you are somewhat to very right that the real job growth has been in suburban areas. This doesn’t change the fact that minorities have been excluded from these economic growth for a long time and something needs to be done to get them up to speed and it might not make suburban voters happy.Report

              • LWA in reply to Michael Cain says:

                Individual private houses and individual private cars are very popular, so your question would be…what, exactly?

                The paradox of suburbia is that the more popular it gets, the less desirable it becomes. San Francisco can accommodate growth by becoming more like Hong Kong, but if the suburbs of SF become denser, they stop being suburbs and just become cities.

                So getting back to your original point of what the liberal party should say to the suburban voters, what can they possibly say?

                “We demand MOAR suburbs, and we demand them NOW!”

                There really is no way to create more suburbs without some radical reconfiguring of transportation as happened with streetcars or freeways.

                Which, ironically, would require the same sort of massive governmental intervention and taxation that created the suburbs and that conservatives now decry.

                Your point is well taken, though, in that [generally speaking] the individual identity that suburbs tout as their main draw does align nicely with the conservative ideology.

                Its no coincidence that real estate agents like to call single family homes “estates”- the notion that the homeowner was achieving the sort of country estate lordship- where the individual could reign supreme as the master of his domain- fits neatly into Corey Robin’s thesis that conservatives want to maintain the privilege of hierarchy.

                But of course, none of this is, or ever was, sustainable financially or ecologically. Single family homes, single passenger vehicles, individual pools and theaters and tennis courts can only either be the province of the upper percentile, or supported by massive wealth transfers.

                Asking the liberal party to turn its focus to benefitting the suburbs is really just asking them to embrace the ethos underlying their political opponents.Report

              • Lyle in reply to LWA says:

                Actually much of suburbia harkens back to Jefferson’s yeoman farmer idea, along with Franklin Roosevelt and his scheme to squelch the “Workers of the world unite you have nothing to loose but your chains” with home ownership making the last part of the phrase no longer accurate. Of course also at the beginning of the country unless you owned property to a certain value you could not vote also.Report

              • Saul Degraw in reply to LWA says:


                Good point. My parents own a single-family detatched house in a country looking section of Contra Costa County. However, most of the new development in the town is not single-family detached housing but apartment buildings and condos.Report

              • And that kind of development is happening in lots of places. Denver redevelopment of former light industrial areas is largely townhouses and apartments. While there’s still detached home development going on in my suburb west of Denver, the big action over the next few years is clearly going to be condo/apartments along the new light rail line. My favorite burger joint from the 1960s is closing next month because it’s four blocks from the train station and a developer waved an ungodly amount of money at the owner of the land. A lot of our population growth over the next decade will be people for whom light rail means cheaper-than-Denver housing with 18-minute access to LoDo — which is much faster and easier than trying to get to LoDo from most parts of Denver proper.Report

              • Michael Cain in reply to LWA says:

                But of course, none of this is, or ever was, sustainable financially or ecologically.

                I’ll push back on this somewhat, from a particular direction. Consider a dense urban city like San Francisco (just to pick an example). That city is dependent on an incredibly complex network to provide it with energy, water, food, manufactured goods big and small, warehousing, places to put the trash out, plus a whole lot more. Transportation systems of various sorts to connect those functions to the city. At decreasing density as the functions are farther from the city. The people providing those capabilities have their own need for local services: medical care, education, entertainment, etc. Pretty soon you’ve got small cities and/or suburbs that are never going to support the level of density that San Francisco can. Additionally, like most dense cities that have remained vibrant over the last 50 years, San Francisco businesses were more than eager to move low-productivity work out of the core (eg, banking back office work) because doing it in the city was hideously expensive. San Francisco is sustainable only to the extent that the huge lower-density network that enables it is sustainable. LA is even worse than San Francisco in the sense that its supply network stretches even farther (electricity from Utah; natural gas from West Texas; water from Wyoming).

                My own opinion is admittedly parochial, but I think the problems are manageable for California supported by the other 10 western states. I’m less sure about the Texas Triangle and its support network. I suspect that BosWash is in serious trouble before much longer.Report

              • I thought The Gripping Hand was a description of incredibly disappointing sequels.Report

        • Kolohe in reply to Saul Degraw says:

          “I concur actually. I met Mayberry as a small town kind of place.”

          “But then she got on TV, hooked up with Coke Encrusted Hollywood Exec, and now she’s just another porn location in the Valley”Report

    • Brandon Berg in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      They are in absolute terror because the United States is transforming

      I read that as “transitioning.” Floridians would have a right to be terrified.Report

  5. zic says:

    Well, you may be right, but I’m pretty sure where my SoCon concerns are most aroused, they’re actually making progress in fits and starts. Treating ladies like children runs so deep that when we push back against immigrants and gay marriage and what not, that’s where the balloon bulges out, where the pressure releases, and the HL decision made this particular valve all the more popular.Report

  6. aarondavid says:

    Well, I am unsure of how our “engagement” led to this, but I would have to start looking at this piece by and the other death of conservatism pieces with the same metric that Kolohe above uses. Namely the one one poll that maters, elections. Since Obama has taken office, the D’s have had the pants beat off of them down ticket. Deep Blue Massachusetts and Maryland are now led by R’s, the Senate and House are no longer in Democrat hands, etc. So, no, the R’s aren’t doing especially badly. They may never win the WH again, but if they keep holding the pattern they are on, well, no D pres will get to pass to many laws.

    Now, I am not conservative, but I do think CK has a very strong point about swinging for the fences. And I would say the same thing about groups like Black Lives Matter. Both groups are true believers, and both feel that the actions that they take are absolutely the right actions. Damn the torpedoes. For them it is the morally correct thing to do.

    You might be right, in that the rest of the nation will get so tired of them on the SSM issue that they get taken to the woodshed. But as you said, the same thing happened to the left at one point, and they have seemed to come back. But as far as “derailing” the country, again, they have won elections and they are playing by the rules of the game, not by the gentleman’s agreement that their opposition would like them to play by.Report

    • InMD in reply to aarondavid says:

      This is a smart comment. Our system of government is rigged against permanent majorities. It was only 10 years ago that the Republicans were making similar claims. The Republican party does have a demographic problem but I suspect they’ll always evolve just enough or learn to move the fences on certain promises in a manner allowing them to hold substantial power.

      The only place I’d disagree with you is your implications about Maryland. The state legislature remains solidly in Democrat hands. Larry Hogan won primarily because Martin O’Malley spent his last years in office prepping a presidential run in a manner that alienated a lot of people and his would be successor failed to contest the election.Report

      • aarondavid in reply to InMD says:

        Thank you @inmd , and same back at you!

        I take you point about Maryland’s legislature, and @saul-degraw s too. But, I will come back with @kolohe s point above, which is Scorecard! Also, an R gov can veto a lot of D laws, as I am sure you know.

        As far as the two teams always pulling it back enough to win elections, yeah. But if you look at politics as an arrow, with progressives at the tip and conservatives as the fletchings, it makes more sense. Most people aren’t either, they are the shaft (yes, you could say they get the shaft…) Where they are depends on how much drag there is (conservatives) or how badly they are going to hit the wrong target (progressives.) I really depends on what is going on for most people.Report

        • InMD in reply to aarondavid says:

          Well I do agree on the scorecard point (that was the intent of my original comment but I can see how it looked like I was saying the opposite).

          I’m not sure if I agree on the shaft theory though (can we call it that?). Two examples come to mind. The first is the debate over the size and shape of the welfare state, with most Democrats fighting to maintain the status quo and, at least a vocal portion of Republicans, arguing for substantially shrinking it or tearing it down altogether. There also wasn’t anything conservative, in the colloquial sense of the term, about the George W. Bush administration and executive power.Report

        • Saul Degraw in reply to aarondavid says:


          I think in the MA case, they have enough of a majority to be veto-proof.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to aarondavid says:

      The Massachusetts General Court also remains overwhelmingly Democratic. The Mass Senate has 40 seats, 34 are controlled by Ds. Their lower house has 160 seats, 125 are controlled by Ds.

      Everyone went crazy when Scott Brown one his term but he was quickly displaced by Elizabeth Warren in 2012. He didn’t even get a full term.

      The Deval Patrick was the first Democratic Governor since Michael Dukakis.

      In short, I think you are reading too much into the tea leaves.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Remember, that when Republicans win any election in a Democratic state it is a sign of the death of the Democratic Party. When a Democratic politician wins an election in a Republican state, it is just a fluke that will be corrected shortly.Report

        • Kolohe in reply to LeeEsq says:

          Nobody has ever said that Hogan’s victory in Maryland is a sign of the death of the Democratic party. Lots have said that it should be a warning to Hillary Clinton about complacency and it was the first mortal blow to O’Malley’s political aspirations.Report

  7. J.L. Wall says:

    I’m going to be the guy who hasn’t (yet) read the full post but chimes in because he approves of your use of Adam Dunn, Original King of The Three True Outcomes, as main image.

    Now I have to read the post in order to find out if it says what Adam Dunn tells me it will (should?) say.Report

  8. The SocCons who are swinging for the fences, scorching the earth, and putting all their money on double-zero are going to get everything they deserve unless they can pick one metaphor and stick with it.Report

  9. Guy says:

    If I could waive a magic wand right now, and have the result be that SoCons reconsider their no-compromise-scorched-Earth-all-the-time tactics and make that pendulum stop in some fair and compromised middle, I would waive it without hesitation. But that wand doesn’t exist, and if we are going to ever live in a country where everything isn’t no-compromise-scorched-Earth-all-the-time, then — like my old bosses at the previous employer I mentioned up top — they are going to need to feel the force of their punches land on their own nose, and they are going to have to spend some time in the wilderness. It is, after all, what happened with the liberals of my early adulthood in the 1980s, and that punishment ended up being largely what they needed to get back on track with a sellable agenda.

    So, ok.

    You have this awesome metaphor about politics as this enormous, unstoppable and impersonal pendulum that the SoCons (or whoever) have pushed too far, and now it’s coming back towards them with all the grand thoughtless fury of the mechanistic universe, and your thesis, as I read it, is that the SoCons are getting what’s coming to them, not in any moralistic sense, but in a metaphorically Newtonian sense, and so the best course of action is to simply get out of the way and let them be smashed by this hammer they raised over their own heads, that we should simply left them stand as an example to future generations: this is what happens when you push too hard. And I think this metaphor fails, and fails badly, to capture what’s really going on.

    Politics is not a grand impersonal pendulum swinging back and forth in the void. It is and ever shall be a huge, messy pile of people, all pulling and pushing and trying to wrestle the pile towards the goals they think are right. And sometimes, when they think they can get away with it, a group of people starts breaking the rules: they start biting and scratching and spitting on their foes, they get mean. There’s two ways we, the other people in the pile, can respond: we can see that the rules are being broken, and break them ourselves, biting and scratching and spitting on the people who started it, hoping our side is bigger than theirs (and that no one on our side makes a mistake and thinks we’re one of them), or we can say, “No. These things are against the rules for a reason. We who follow them are many; those who break them are few. We can win, and when we win they will no longer be able to break these rules.”

    The rules of discourse (and society more generally) function a lot like an eternal game of iterated multiplayer prisoner’s dilemma.* The winning strategy for prisoner’s dilemma is Tit-for-Tat, where you cooperate once, then do what your opponent did on the previous round for ever after. That initial cooperation is hard, but if you get good enough at it you eventually build a pretty strong community that always cooperates. But there are big gains available on a single round to any defectors in such a community. Somewhere in the past, some group of SoCons realized they could win big by defecting and violating our norms of discourse (don’t fire people for opinions, don’t punish expressions of opinion orthogonal to the job you expect them to do, etc). Everyone else, being sane, switched to defect mode. But that means our community is slowly filling with defectors. Because everyone’s approximately on tit-for-tat, these defectors are self-multiplying and, if left unchecked, will fill the community eventually. The rise can be checked, if someone starts cooperating. That needs to happen spontaneously, though, or the community will fill with defectors and fail. So, to bring things back to the real(ly metaphorical) world: the SoCons have pursued a policy of scorched earth social discourse. We can force them to live on that scorched earth, and hope no one on our side makes the mistake of burning our lands (and no one on any third side manages to destroy our homes either), or we can say: no, we do not want this land burned, and restore it to its prior condition.

    In less obtuse terms: if it’s acceptable to force people out of society for holding disfavored views, people will keep being forced out by whatever group happens to be dominant. The only way for this to stop is for a dominant group to not do it. I don’t trust that my group will remain dominant, so I don’t want us forcing people out of society while we are, even if they tried to do it to us when they were dominant. And it looks like you’re condoning this exile as a necessary response to their attempts to exile other people.

    *A full description of the PD environment that is social convention: in the broader universe, there exist many communities playing the game. Each round, each agent in one community is paired with another agent in the same community. Every now and then, new agents move into the community of interest, sometimes from other communities and sometimes from nowhere. The community wants to show these new agents that cooperation is encouraged and defection is punished, and so prefers that, whenever possible, matches are coop-coop and defect-defect. A modified version of tit-for-tat is probably a very good idea for a given agent in this situation, but I don’t have time for a full analysis. Point is, such a strategy has the nasty (for the community) failure mode described above.Report

  10. CK MacLeod says:

    Great comments by @michael-drew and @guy , IMO, though they overstep into Tod’s-wrong territory. So, I’ll defend Tod’s “Newtonian” framework to some extent.

    If there was one major policy initiative shaping the current period, from either side, that might qualify as swinging for the fences, it was the invasion of Iraq or the prosecution of the Global War on Terror as defined by the Bush Administration, which was as close to an authentically Social Conservative as well as socially conservative administration as the SoCons have ever had. That doesn’t mean that I think that the war strategy was a socially conservative war strategy, if there is such a thing, but SoCons remained and probably still remain Bush’s most loyal mass constituency, and the notion that his administration’s mistake was not fighting to win (swinging hard enough) is more likely to be found in or among them, especially the ones who view Islam as a whole as, not to put too fine a point on it, evil.

    However, I think the hubris or overreaching was as much or more embodied in the NeoCon contribution and strengthened by post-Cold War triumphalism. SoCons might have thought we were in a war for spiritual survival – entering on a Holy Crusade – but NeoCon Neo-Imperialists believed that it was the American hyperpower’s moral responsibility and in America’s and the world’s highest interest at least to try to Americanize the Middle East, using shockingly awesome military force to do so at relatively little loss of life, and much less of it than under alternatives.

    I’m tempted to overextend the SFTF metaphor even further, and try to relate the Iraq hubris to the domestic pseudo-supply-side hubris, but I’ll rest here and just suggest that the “Newtonian pendulum” critique might apply in broad strokes to the Republican coalition as whole and that the SoCons as important members of it clearly would deserve some of the blame.Report

    • Francis in reply to CK MacLeod says:

      “If there was one major policy initiative shaping the current period, from either side, that might qualify as swinging for the fences, it was” … gay marriage.

      Prop 8. The state laws and constitutional amendments defining marriage as between a man and a woman. The unending stream of frankly theocratic and frequently grossly bigoted claims about the institution of marriage and its relationship to homosexuality.

      And then, suddenly [not really], corporate America and regular Americans switched sides. The Indiana RFRA issue appears to have been a major awakening for many SoCons that their presumed political power has dramatically waned.Report

      • CK MacLeod in reply to Francis says:

        Now that’s truly re-writing history, @francis , in my opinion – while implicitly suggesting that a majority of California voters were “Social Conservatives” in the sense Tod is using the term – i.e., movement conservatives, not just people with socially conservative inclinations. From the vantage point of, say, the year 2000 or maybe 2004, at a time when polling majorities consistently were against SSM and the vast majority of office-holders were against, it was SSM advocates who were “swinging for the fences.” The characterization of anti-Prop 8 arguments is the usual circular reasoning on this issue: Once you’ve decided that opposing SSM is bigoted, any opposition to it by definition qualifies as bigotry, even retroactively, meaning that Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Joe Biden, Christopher Dodd, Tom Harkin, Bill Bradley, Harry Reid, Paul Wellstone, Carl Levin, Barbara Mikulski, Tom Daschle, Patrick Leahy, Patty Murray, for example, were all “bigots.”Report

        • Francis in reply to CK MacLeod says:

          Both sides swung for the fences, CK. There were plenty of opportunities for politically-active SoCons to seriously offer civil unions as a compromise going back to Hawaii and Massachusetts. But against a major effort to normalize and legalize gay relationships, many SoCons took a very aggressive approach in the press, in the legislature and in the courts. And won, for a while. And crowed about their victories.

          And (in some interpretations of recent history), were so loud and self-righteous, while the people that were seeking change did a heroic job of recasting themselves as ordinary Americans, that the great fuzzy middle took a closer look at their beliefs and changed.

          How many people in your list would characterize themselves as SoCons? Also, I never accused anyone of being a bigot; I simply stated that bigoted claims were made about gay marriage.

          (Definitional query: if someone tells you that they believe that miscegenation is an abomination in the eyes of the Lord and all interracial couples are going to hell, are they bigots? Did they say something bigoted? How about if this individual works hard to change the definition of marriage to deny it to an interracial couple seeking a marriage license?)

          (The nice thing about distinguishing being bigoted claims and bigoted people is that the former recognizes that people can be complex and can change.)Report

          • CK MacLeod in reply to Francis says:

            Re the definitional query: To my way of thinking there is no such thing, strictly speaking, as a “bigoted position” or “bigoted claim.” There may be positions commonly held by bigots of a certain type, and there is a bigoted way of holding a position. So, I think your last parenthetical statement is untenable. A bigot is a person who holds a certain claim (presumably of public significance) in a bigoted way. If he or she ceases engaging in bigotry – shows openness to reasonable discussion in good faith and without prejudice – then he or she no longer deserves to be called a bigot. The requirement would hold in both directions, regardless of topic, though the inability to talk things out indefinitely does point to the limitations of any real existing liberal order or the impossibility of an ideal liberal political praxis.

            As for the prior point, I don’t see much purpose in over-stressing the metaphor. We could as validly say that the SoCons mis-played their hand, or counted their chickens before they hatched, or put all their eggs in the wrong basket, or were born in interesting times. What the great fuzzy middle will think about the matter five of fifty years from now, if it thinks about it at all, is unknowable, and that SSM in particular has been or will ever be politically useful for Democrats or in the advancement of a broader left-liberal agenda, rather than counterproductive, has not yet been demonstrated.Report

            • Francis in reply to CK MacLeod says:

              The “broader left-liberal agenda” includes among other things the advancement of civil rights and civil liberties. In that context the Obergefell decision and the concurrent huge swing in public perception of homosexuality is a major advancement of that agenda. Some things are worth having even if a political price is paid.

              I remain saddened that the opponents of the extension of marriage to gay couples feel the way that they do. I had hoped that they would have been able to distinguish between civil marriage and religious ceremonies. That has not been the case for some SoCons, but (to me fortunately) that group appears to be shrinking quickly.

              On the discussion of definitions: are there bad people in the world or are there just some people who do bad things? To expand, are there some people whose points of view on certain issues is both so central to who they are and so irredeemably held that you call that person a ‘bad person’? Hitler, for example. Or Charles Manson. Or Bin Laden. By contrast, are there some people who do bad things in life, but some good things as well, leaving a more complicated history? Laura Bush killed a boy in a car accident, but was a loving wife and a stalwart supporter of a President.

              Personally, I think that there are plenty of flat-out racists and bigots in this country. I also think that there are far more people who don’t think much about why they believe the way that they do, and who are therefore capable of changing their points of view. With respect, I think my last parenthetical is just fine.Report

            • Lurker in reply to CK MacLeod says:

              “there is no such thing, strictly speaking, as a “bigoted position” or “bigoted claim.”

              Ummm…. no.

              How about this claim: “All blacks should be enslaved because they are lesser beings.” Asserting that claim is bigotry, period.Report

              • CK MacLeod in reply to Lurker says:

                Thanks! That’s darn near perfect.Report

              • How about:

                I’ve never bought into that, ‘Baseball’s just too complex.’ Really? A third of the sport is from the Dominican Republic.”

                Which was said just a few days ago by an ESPN broadcaster. (He’s leaving ESPN soon for Fox Sports, but that’s just a bit of trivia. He’s been saying this kind of thing on ESPN for years with no repercussions.)Report

              • I wasn’t attributing darn-near-perfection to the statement that Lurker provided as a sample of a supposedly in the strict sense “bigoted statement,” but to Lurker’s comment as a whole, as an example of… what it’s an example of.

                Again, strictly speaking, the statement from this ESPN broadcaster would be a statement typical of a certain type of bigot. Its basis, one would suspect, is probably some kind of racism or similar form of retrograde prejudice, but “racism” and “bigotry” are not the same thing, even if they often go together and are often presumed to do so.Report

              • Lurker in reply to CK MacLeod says:

                I wasn’t attributing darn-near-perfection to the statement that Lurker provided as a sample of a supposedly in the strict sense “bigoted statement,” but to Lurker’s comment as a whole, as an example of… what it’s an example of.

                I’m glad you cleared that up.

                CM: The clear counterexample you gave was…. hey look there’s a bee over here.Report

              • CK MacLeod in reply to Lurker says:

                @lurker To the extent that a “counterexample” might have been germane, your darn near perfect comment already provided it.

                In my reply to Francis’ “definitional query” above, I had replied that “to my way of thinking, there is no such thing, strictly speaking, as a ‘bigoted position’ or ‘bigoted claim.’”

                You quoted the main clause of my statement, then wrote the following:

                Ummm…. no.

                How about this claim: “All blacks should be enslaved because they are lesser beings.” Asserting that claim is bigotry, period.

                In attributing to darn-near perfection to your comment, I was thinking in part about the “period,” and more subtly the missing question mark – how they emphasize an insistent denial, a curiously mutually reinforcing obstinate refusal and achieved inability, regarding the distinction being drawn. The comment as a whole, which merely reiterates Francis’ original “query” with a more compact version of a supposed “bigoted statement,” itself exemplifies the typical results of such denial. It underlines the likely pointlessness of pursuing the matter further with the particular interlocutor – you.

                The comment is itself, in short, darn-near perfectly representative of a bigoted attitude, even if the statement itself cannot, according to my never-addressed premise, be called “bigoted,” and even if the problem of bigotry against careful thinking or careful thinkers is not widely held to be among our leading social problems. (Perhaps it should be.)

                Someone says, “purple people are inferior.” We don’t know if this someone is a bigot – has a bigotedly prejudicial attitude toward purple people – until after we say to this someone, “but, Someone, if we understand correctly whatever it is that you mean by ‘purple people,’ there are no or very, very few of them, and we have no reason to believe that they are superior or inferior to people of other hues.” Someone can reply in several different ways. Someone can say, “Purple people are inferior, period.” That would be example of bigotry – or, to apply the likeliest etymology of the word “bigot” – “By God-ry.” Something, a voice in Someone’s heart – God in the possible originating case * – tells Someone that purple people are inferior, and that’s the end of the discussion: “By God I hate purple, so therefore I hate purple people, and there is nothing you can say that will remove this feeling of hatred toward purple people and for that matter their defenders – period.”

                Alternatively, Someone could say, “My Mama told me that purple people are inferior, I have always heard that purple people are inferior, and a voice in my heart confirms that purples are inferior. Why should I believe that my my mama and those other people saying negative things about purple people, and my heart are wrong?” If, over the course of an examination of the question of the supposed inferiority of purple people, Someone exhibited an open mind on the question, considered that Mama Someone may have been misled, that Someone may have been misinterpreting comments made by those other people, who were in fact unqualified to offer opinions on the subject in any case, and so on, then we would have no reason to conclude that Someone was in fact bigoted on the question of Purple People or conducted someself as a bigot.


                *”The typical use in Old French seems to have been as a derogatory nickname for Normans, the old theory (not universally accepted) being that it springs from their frequent use of the Germanic oath bi God. But…”Report

              • nevermoor in reply to CK MacLeod says:

                You’ve just defined “bigotry” into something that isn’t interesting or relevant in the context of, to pick an example at random, political leaders.

                If “bigotry” means “an unrepentant internal belief in someone’s inferiority based on unrelated physical characteristics” then it’s irrelevant in a politician. I don’t care whether Reagan secretly loved black people. I just care that he ran a race designed to win votes of (and give political cover to) people who acted with the intent to terrorize/devalue black people.

                If you don’t want to use the word bigotry for that, fine. What word would you prefer?Report

              • CK MacLeod in reply to nevermoor says:

                If “bigotry” means “an unrepentant internal belief in someone’s inferiority based on unrelated physical characteristics” then it’s irrelevant in a politician.

                That would be a definition for racial supremacism or some such, not a definition of bigotry that I have at any point sought to advance. I think, if you had been reading with attention, you would have noticed that I have been arguing against this definition (or re-definition).

                In my view, as I have stated, bigotry strictly speaking has nothing intrinsically or inherently to do with any particular belief or type of belief, but with a manner of maintaining and usually of expressing and acting upon such belief, most typically in regard to discussion itself (lending the “bi Got” origin story special poignancy).

                There has been, however, a very typical and common illiberal attempt to attach a judgment of “bigotry” to particular positions as such. We have seen examples of this effort – which invariably not only amounts to anti-bigotry bigotry but expressly aims to do so under new terms – frequently and proudly put forward at this site, especially in the assertion that any opposition to pro-Same Sex Marriage legislation and jurisprudence, no matter how explained or uttered, justifies the charge of bigotry.

                That a re-definition of bigotry in this manner implicitly devalues the same charge within a liberal democratic political culture or framework for public discussion will be immaterial to the proponents of the re-definition to the extent that maintenance of such a framework or of the presumptions underlying it is immaterial to them. They do not believe in bourgeois liberalism, but are willing to ally with liberals or make use of them. This difference is a central and defining contradiction within the left-liberal coalition in America, and has had parallels in other historical epochs wherever “progressive” coalitions have existed.

                The “illiberal vs liberal left” problem has special salience for us, but in more general terms coalition formation of this type is a normal feature of politics on all sides. Seeking an alliance with leftists does not make one a leftist, though the right may make that charge, and though in another sense it may expose one as objectively more favorable to the left. Seeking an alliance with communists does not make one a communist + see previous. Seeking an alliance with liberals does not make one a liberal + see previous.

                In the same way seeking or utilizing an alliance with bigots does not make one a bigot, though see previous. If one’s alliance with bigots, or liberals, or communists, or leftists, or anyone else, significantly advances their interests, even to the point of potentially eclipsing one’s own, then that is a normal risk of political life. Its existence may provide your adversaries both from within your own movement or on the other side with an argument against your – the word might be – opportunism, or possibly your hypocrisy, or possibly your treachery, or possibly your error… and so on.


              • Lurker in reply to CK MacLeod says:

                Wow that is a lot of nonsense.

                You’re not defining “bigotry” as it is used in the world. You’re redefining it to split some hair that you think is interesting and shows your erudition.Report

              • CK MacLeod in reply to Lurker says:

                As Saul would say, “Vox populi, vox dei.” Vanquished and humiliated, I retire from the field.Report

              • kenB in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                I’d suspect his train of thought was more “third-world” than “dark skin”. Still a stupid thing to say, though.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to kenB says:

                I suspect you’re right. But it’s bigotry either way.Report

              • No – prejudice is not the same as bigotry either, though obstinate prejudice is typical of bigots, and the statement from someone who should know better can be taken as likely indicative of bigoted tendencies.Report

              • CK MacLeod in reply to CK MacLeod says:


                To be clear, the statement can probably be considered “typical bigotry,” but to say “this statement is bigotry” is to offer a judgment about an existing discourse as a whole: It says, “This statement is a member of the set ‘typical statements by anti-Latino bigots.'” To call it a “bigoted statement” is a conventional contraction. It is “loose speaking.” As such, the expression may prove serviceable in everyday conversation, but, as a definitional matter, as per Francis’ original question, and for any rigorous inquiry into the nature of bigotry or serious discussion of the charge of bigotry in political life, it will be inadequate.Report

              • Chris in reply to CK MacLeod says:

                Is there a context in which we could say, “This statement is bigotry” that wouldn’t mean, “This statement is a member of the set ‘typical statements by anti-_____ bigots?” Are there other, different statements, that “This statement is bigotry” would stand in for? I ask, because if it always stands in for a statement of that sort, then it’s true that fleshing it out a bit if we want to really delve into the deep waters of the meaning of bigotry is important, but once you’ve done that, it shouldn’t need to be done again. However, if it can refer to a bunch of other, completely different statements, then perhaps you would do well to flesh out the more abstract meaning of “bigotry” for us, so that we can at least have a sense of the breadth of the space within which we’re operating.Report

              • CK MacLeod in reply to Chris says:

                Chris: Is there a context in which we could say, “This statement is bigotry” that wouldn’t mean, “This statement is a member of the set ‘typical statements by anti-_____ bigots?” Are there other, different statements, that “This statement is bigotry” would stand in for?

                Do you have some other possibilities in mind?

                once you’ve done that, it shouldn’t need to be done again

                What about the nature of public discourse in general or discussion at this site in particular leads you to believe that an argument successfully made or a valid conclusion reached need be stated only once rather than repeated over and over again?

                [P]erhaps you would do well to flesh out the more abstract meaning of “bigotry” for us, so that we can at least have a sense of the breadth of the space within which we’re operating.

                I’m going to treat that statement as offered in good faith, but without knowing what the “other completely different statements” might be, I don’t know where to begin. I also don’t quite understand the purpose to be served by the exercise you describe, or why the terms I’ve been using – as in the distinction between “strict” and “loose” expression – are insufficient.Report

              • Chris in reply to CK MacLeod says:

                I can’t think of other completely different statements, which is why I’m somewhat confused by your approach. If the statement you use is typical of the statements denoted by the word “bigotry,” then the word is not in fact a “contraction” of that statement, but denotes it. This is an important distinction, because again, once we’ve established what the word denotes, perhaps with some quibbling (though I think your gloss is accurate), we don’t need to deal with it for deep discussion. This is, of course, what words are for.

                This is why I ask if there are some other, sufficiently different statements that the word “bigotry” might stand in for. In which case we will not have gotten enough of the meaning of “bigotry” with the statement you gave, and would need to flesh it out further. I took this to be implied by your approach, which is why I asked. Again, if this is not the case, I’m confused by your approach. At the very least, it seems unnecessary.

                And since this entire thread has been about what bigotry means, it seems that we could avoid much unnecessary confusion by just saying, “This is a typical proposition denoted by the word ‘bigotry,'” and move on to establishing what sorts of conditions need to be present for that sort of proposition to be true of a particular statement.Report

              • CK MacLeod in reply to Chris says:

                I think I understand your point better now, Chris, but the original distinction I made referred to the characterization of a statement as “bigoted,” and the implication that anyone who would ever say such a thing must be a bigot. This distinction is akin to the one that prevents us from describing an idea as though it were a substance – as “yellow,” or, except metaphorically, as “big.” The idea as such has no color or physical size, of course.

                Now I could write a very long comment on the “bigotry” question, which is a larger question, but maintaining the focus on the kinds of questions and examples produced above by Francis, Lurker, and Mike Schilling, but I also wonder if carrying this discussion further would be worth the effort, and, if so, whether it might be better under a new post rather than at a level 10 comment thread in relation to a post on a different topic.Report

              • Chris in reply to CK MacLeod says:

                Ah, I think I see what you were getting at better now, specifically the implications of referring to a statement as bigoted for our judgment of the speaker of that statement.Report

        • Mike Schilling in reply to CK MacLeod says:

          The Rove-driven initiatives in some states went well beyond Prop 8 — they outlawed civil unions and in some cases even benefits for domestic partners. There’s no reason to think that would have passes in California, and none of the people you list favored that. Can we agree that going that far was swinging for the fences?Report

          • I’d need more specifics to be able to determine whether a given initiative qualified as swinging for the fences rather than trying to drive the ball rather than trying to move the runners over rather than trying to make contact… and whether it represented Social Conservatives as a whole or as a movement swinging for the fences (or sowing the wind) or whether it represented one or another group of fellow traveling swingers or sub-swingers.Report

  11. Lyle says:

    Looking back in history the slave power swung for the fences in the 1850s with the Kansas Nebraska bill, and the Dred Scott decision, and look what it got them. They wanted to have slavery in all states which if fully enforced Dred Scott would have done. Of course Kansas Nebraska led to bleeding Kansas.Report

  12. Will H. says:

    There is something that’s been on my mind lately, and this taps into that dynamic:

    The debate, however, will be almost entirely academic. Because the truth is that SoCons — and to a certain lesser extent, the non-SoCon conservatives who happily rode their tiger into power — have spent the past decade doing nothing but swinging for the fences and they have lost, and when you lose swinging for the fences you lose big. Whether it is morally right or wrong that this be so is irrelevant. It just is.

    I think the dynamic can be well-assessed by the fast friendship struck up between myself and the former Blaise P.– I the conservative former-Democrat, and he the liberal former-Republican.
    The fact is, though I am undeniably conservative (and we can go back to Hanley’s graph quiz to verify), I sure seem to hold a lot in common with the Democratic Party still. Saul Degraw has a way of finding that space.
    I have been reading a bit about how so many who were Republicans for so long feel like their party slipped away from them– very much as Blaise described it– people like Sandra Day O’Connor (a Goldwater Republican), Lincoln Chaffee and David Souter (both of that particular New England-0style Republican of by-gone days), etc.
    It seems to me that there are certainly many more who are affected by the current divisions; a broad group of moderates who maintain certain concerns who are no longer represented by the contemporary parties.
    Far from being a “mushy middle,” that group doggedly holds certain principles above party platform positions.

    Really, I think that’s why lobbying appeals to me far more than party politics.
    It is fairly easy to view political parties as aberrant and abhorrent.

    More to the content of the article:
    I believe this overlooks the importance of the SCOTUS nominations.
    I don’t see Alito moderating the way that Kennedy did.
    Also, J. Scalia’s comment regarding J. Thomas:
    “I’m an originalist, but I’m not a nut.”
    I don’t see either of those two changing much either.

    I’m not down on originalism per se. It has something to offer.
    I just don’t think we ought to jump right to leeches whenever the Founders mention “medicine,” and limit the inquiry to creepy-crawlies.

    While I’m at it, I want to throw this out there:
    I’m of the mind that “small government” implies efficiency as a precondition to justification.
    That is, if the brake pads are worn in the back, taking the pads off the front doesn’t seem like a good idea somehow.Report