Heading into Election Day 2010, we know that the GOP will gain a lot of seats: if Nate Silver is to be believed, the damage will come to around 53 House seats and 8 or so Senate seats. Assuming that there is no systemic undercounting of Democrats in the polls, this is extensive damage that far outpaces the usual losses for a political party in power in a midterm election.
Many legions of pixels and barrels of ink have been spilled about why this is likely to be. Most cogent analysis focuses simply on the bad economy, and a messaging or policy failure on the part of the Democrats. There certainly have been many things that one could have wished Dems had done differently over the last two years, and that will be the subject of a later post.
But there's obviously more to it than that. There's a strong sense of grievance out there in the conservative base that goes far beyond generic upset with Democratic policies, or ignorance of the benefits Democrats have provided; it's been discussed at length in generic terms by Thomas Frank, Matt Taibbi and many others. Many simply write it off as racism, the natural byproduct of the shock of having elected an African-American president named Barack Hussein Obama. Perhaps. But few have captured the essence of the backlash as succinctly as does Tom Junod at Esquire:
Republicans, who once decried the rise of identity politics, now practice it so relentlessly, so ruthlessly, and above all so successfully that they've created a beleaguered minority where only a cosseted majority stood before. It is a kind of super minority, its material well-being encroached upon by the swelling ranks of the shiftless poor and its spiritual well-being encroached upon by shadowy "elites" whose figurehead is in the White House. And the odd hallmark of the new identity politics is that it requires a denial of identity: because of who you are, you can't even say who you are. You can't say you're a Republican; you have to say what my friend says, which is that he's "more Libertarian these days." You can't say that or say that you're wealthy or, God forbid, rich; you have to say that you "do all right," and "make good money," but that's only because you work hard. And you can't ever say that you're white, because, as my friend insists, "skin color is irrelevant. C'mon, you know me. You know I'm no racist."
Now, my friend is right: I know who he is, and I know what he's not. But I also know that an identity politics that requires a denial of identity also requires a response to the denial of identity — and the response is rage. Because of who they are, you can't say who you are, and it is by this dynamic that yesterday's Silent Majority becomes today's Tea Party, gaudy and loud in its discontent, and that my friend becomes part of a privileged majority that perceives itself as an underprivileged minority — one of the Sore Winners.
This rings very true. I know several people who I know aren't really racists in the proper sense--or at least not as racist as most of the people around them. But they feel themselves to be culturally part of the underprivileged, even though most of the them are fairly well-off. These aren't people disaffected by the economy, nor are they the super-rich. They call themselves moderates or independents. But they have heavy a chip on their shoulder, and speak as if they want to express a political viewpoint that they can't really put into words.
That's not because they're inarticulate; it's because they're either embarrassed to do so, or don't want to admit the source of their animus--even to themselves. It has to do with a sort of ineffable wounded pride, a deep-seated loss of sense of privilege that Junod calls Sore Winnerdom.
This is what you hear again and again from the Sore Winners, whether you hear it from the professional Sore Winners or the Sore Winners who happen to be your friends: the conviction that no amount of financial success, political domination, religious hegemony or cultural currency is sufficient to take away the sting of being looked down upon....
It is one of the biggest dividing lines between liberals and conservatives: sensitivity. Liberals are supposed to be the sensitive ones, but even the liberals who worked themselves into a froth over George W. Bush never really cared very much about what he thought of them. But conservatives care what President Obama thinks. They care to the point of imagining what he thinks...
This is an excellent point that I haven't seen made before. Seriously--if you believe that President Obama is an enemy of freedom, Mom, and Apple Pie, who cares what he thinks of you? I never spent one second worrying about what George Bush and Dick Cheney thought about people like me. I just wanted them out of office, and away from the power to do any more damage.
Worrying about what someone who doesn't think about you thinks about you: this is the essence of Sore Winnerdom, and it is no accident that it also the essence of the Republican animus. The Republican party was small and hidebound — the party of country-club corporatists, and the range-war West — until, with the Reagan Revolution, it began grafting unto itself the legions of the disaffected: the Christianists, the Southerners, the blue-collar workers displaced by the collapse of America's industrial base and estranged from the unions that failed them. The Tea Party, in this sense, is not a new development so much as it is part of an ongoing migration of the perpetually petulant...
Yes, I know: There have been countless articles and blog posts that attempt to puzzle out the inexplicable anger of the American electorate, when an even cursory scan of the unemployment numbers provides all the explanation you'll ever need. But, as has been pointed out and proven elsewhere, Tea Partiers tend to be quite well-off (how else would they afford all those trips to DC in their RVs?), and much of the populist rage at Obama has been fomented by the captains of American finance and industry: the Sore Winners. And once you've spent time with a Sore Winner, or entered into a debate with one, you feel that there's something afoot in America — something that's reflected in debates about policy but is never quite stated in them, and is still unnamed.
This is ultimately what it's all about. In the end, the sense of grievance boils down to anger that their worldview is no longer considered acceptable in polite society.
Ayn Rand's "ideas" aren't OK in polite society anymore. It's not acceptable anymore to think that it's OK to have debtor's prisons and soup lines even as some people smoke cigars at Versailles-like estates. It's not OK in polite society anymore to think of those of a differing race as literally another breed of human. It's not OK in polite society anymore to make sexist or racist jokes, or to hold women to a sexual double-standard anymore. Homophobia and religious wackoism aren't acceptable in most open polite society anymore either.
It's not that these evil "ideas" have gone away. It's that those who hold them are forced to hide their views under the radar, even as more and more of their unacceptable BS is forced under the table.
So now there is this huge sense of grievance, this resentment that the traditionally overprivileged feel that they aren't really allowed to say what they really think, and to elect a government that will act on how they really feel. They feel like they're living in Orwell's 1984, where Newspeak has taken over, but today it goes by the name "political correctness", the curse of older white men everywhere. Bizarre, but true.
That's what the "Tea Party" is, and that's what this conservative backlash is all about. And they're terrified that the next generation won't even remember that they're supposed to feel outraged. They're right to be terrified. Because if there's one solace we can take from all this, it's that their worldview is quite literally physically dying, one year at a time.
And you know what? I guess I'm supposed to try to understand these people. I know a lot of them. Some of them are close relatives. But I really don't care to. I don't care about their wounded pride, I don't care about their precious gated communities, and I don't care about their hurt sense of entitlement. Frankly, my dear, I don't give a d***. I just want to laugh in their faces and mock them.