Posted by: Morgan Hubbard | July 13, 2010

All of this has happened before…

Fair warning—this post is about Sarah Palin.
I’m currently reading Lisa McGirr’s Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right (2001). The book basically goes like this: beginning in the early 1960s vocal, disenfranchised republicans in California’s Orange County began a political movement that eventually culminated in the election of Ronald Reagan to the presidency. They started out as mostly anticommunist, but then shifted focus to issues like taxation, civil rights, and “law and order” (a phrase that stood both for worries about growing minority militancy and the student protest movement.) This movement shifted the center of American politics rightward. Its champions—first Goldwater, then Reagan—essentially reversed the New Deal liberal doctrine that centralized government helped more than it hurt.
The profile of these 1960s insurgent republicans looked like this:
-white
-middle class, many with some experience of social mobility
-large % of women
-mostly protestant, some Catholic; almost all religious
-many employed by Cold War-related defense industries
-extremely literate
-suburban
Their list of conerns looked like this:
-fiscally libertarian, morally authoritarian
-antistatist, antiregulatory, disliked “Washington elitism” and “eastern decadence”
-staunchly anti-communist
-intensely individualistic: pioneer, DIY ethos
This should look familiar. The current GOP is tapping this very same vein of anxiety in the American political character. Looks like they learned a potent lesson from their forbears. The issues up for debate haven’t even changed that much—taxation and the deficit, the role of god in American political life, gay people—this has all been done before. Even anticommunism, the core issue that initially drew Orange Countians into the fray in the early 60s, is back: Obama’s policies are kind of like socialism! And socialism is sometimes like communism, which is terrible!
I’m sure you’ve seen SarahPAC’s new “mama grizzlies” ad.
As other commenters have pointed out, it’s devoid of actual ideas. But it’s not ineffective because of that. What’s remarkable is the way it laments the passing of an imaginary America, a consensual America in which everybody believed pretty much the same things. That America is organic, “harmonious, beneficent and self-regulating,” see, and it would still be around if not for the meddling of liberals and “these policies coming out of Washington.” (McGirr 151, h/t Joel Himmelstein) In the world of the ad, republicans are the architects of Norman Rockwell’s America, and democrats have been busy giving NEA grants to Jackson Pollock.
So now, on to the discussion. Do you guys think this list accounts for the current populism of the GOP? And WHAT DOES IT MEAN that all of this has happened before?

-morgan

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