Grandly Nugatory? Hardly

In the TPM Cafe Book Club discussion of Grand New Party the Nation’s Chris Hayes argues that Ross and Reihan are well-meaning guys, with well-meaning proposals for helping the working class, but their recommendations to Republicans are pointless since they forgot to notice that the guys in charge of the GOP are callous bastards who won’t listen unless there’s something in it for their corporate paymasters. Some oversight!

Frank’s point in What’s The Matter With Kansas is half about the false consciousness of white working class Republicans, and half about the nature and essence of the conservative coalition and the Republican party, which is to advance the interests of America’s corporate class. That is, whatever Republican politicians say, whatever ideas are floated in the National Review or Weekly Standard, what’s going on beneath the surface is a decades long project to gut, wreck or subvert the welfare state and redistribute income upwards.

Chris is an extremely smart guy, but I think this is just silly — sort of the left-wing equivalent of right-wing ravings about how liberals at bottom are moved by hate for the essential awesomeness of America and want to destroy it one abortion at time while taking away our guns so we can’t do anything about it. Yes, many Republicans have views on social and economic policy that they would like to enact, and these view are often in opposition to Democratic views on social and economic policy. And these differences do have to do with fiscal policy and the proper scope and shape of the welfare state. And so the natural interpretation of that is… plutocrat conspiracy?

Ross and Reihan completely wasted their efforts because, as Chris continues, “[T]he Republican party is run by very, very wealthy people and interests that aren’t particularly interested in the plight of the working class.”

Has Chris never heard George W. Bush deliver a Michael Gerson speech positively dripping with with urgent moral concern for the least among us? Why not think he believes it? Because he does believe it. He also has something to do with running the Republican party. I think he really believes that programs to promote traditional marriage are good for the poor and working classes, and so do lots of powerful Republican politicians. Unlike Ross & Reihan, I think this sort of thing is a pretty lame and won’t work. But simply dismissing the other team’s claims to moral conviction is way too convenient.

It turns out that the Democratic party is also run by very, very wealthy people and interests. It also strikes me as lazy to assume that because the GOP isn’t beholden to various interest groups that claim to represent the working classes in the way the Democrats are, then the people with real power in the Republican party ipso facto have no sincere moral interest in the welfare of the working class. Yes, politics is a game of interests and coalitions. But coalitions often form around moral values. And people, even politicians, are moral beings and generally conceive of their interests in moralized terms. Some of this is and some of this isn’t convenient self-deception. But Marx 101 class analysis just doesn’t get you far. The world is too complicated for it. To put Andrew Gelman’s findings crudely, rich people on the coasts are Democrats. Rich people in the South and in the heartland are Republicans. So is the idea that T. Boone Pickens is in it for himself but Steve Jobs really just wants to solve global warming? Or what?

I think Ross and Reihan’s book has plenty of problems, but the problem is not that the bigwigs of the Republican party are too irredeemably corrupt to be worth talking to.

Anyway… I can hardly stand “what our team needs to do” sorts of books. Pretty much all democratic partisan politics is irredeemably nationalist, and I really get tired of largely morally bogus debates about whether caring for poor people means we need to bribe people to get married or to move more money from really rich Americans to relatively rich but not-so-rich-for-Americans Americans, or both. America is a big, exclusive, mostly involuntary club. If you want to fight over which club members ought to get what benefits and pay what dues, then fine. Do that. But none of this really has much to do with caring about “the working class,” most members of which speak strange tongues and are not considered clubbable. Speaking of Marxism 101.

Excuse me while I stab myself with a flag pin.