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The Remnant

In response to my comments about the nature of Bush's mandate, a very conservative friend responded with a comment noting the numerical achievement of Bush's victory -- 60 million votes, an actual majority, and improved his standing in most states. That isn't really related to my point -- which was simply that, numbers aside, you can't really claim a mandate to privatize social security when you accused your opponent of lying when he charged that you intended to privatize Social Security -- but I'm prepared to concede that the numbers are the numbers.

Then I looked at my friend's own blog, and noticed that he is promoting a bumper sticker with the initials "TGWW" -- a special discreet code that stands for, "Thank God W Won," a subtle indicator like the Skull and Bones handshake, so fellow supporters can notice each other without calling undue attention to themselves in hostile environments. ("It's a big 'hell yeah!' that will impress your friends and confound your enemies.") How is it that, if Bush's mandate is so clear, his supporters still feel the need to operate as if they were early Christians in the catacombs? Yes, it's true that my friend lives in a "blue state," but it's not exactly the East Village. He is represented by a reelected Republican member of Congress, his state has a Republican governor, and he lives in a municipality where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats 2:1, the kind of place where Robert Lowell's lines seem fitting: "even the man scavenging filth in the back alley trash cans,/ has two children, a beach wagon, a helpmate,/ and is 'a young Republican.'" So why the secret handshake?

The ability to simultaneously maintain the triumphalism of a mandate, and the sense of being an embattled minority has much to do with the continued political success of the far right. It allows them to maintain the energy and righteousness of opposition even while they claim the most autocratic control of American political institutions since the 1920s. It is also a defensive shield that made it very difficult for Democrats in the past election to treat the Republican right as what it is: the ruling party, and a particularly corrupt one.

The pose of being an embattled minority in a statist and secular culture also helps bring together the economic libertarian and religious right elements of the conservative coalition. Several of the canonical histories of conservatism, such as George Nash's fascinating and sympathetic, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America, begin with the bizarrely compelling figure of Albert Jay Nock, a dour well-read libertarian (actually, closer to an anarchist or anarcho-capitalist), iconoclast and cultural elitist who influenced William F. Buckley and others. Nock's memorable idea is that of "the remnant" -- the handful of people who were enlightened about the true nature of the state and who would be misunderstood by the mass of people manipulated by government. Nock's Remnant was an entirely secular concept, but it has an analogue on the religious right which has its own version of the Remnant, its own mythology that depends on the illusion of being a persecuted minority in a decadent, godless culture. (See, for example, Bob Jones letter to Bush: "In your re-election, God has graciously granted America?though she doesn't deserve it?a reprieve from the agenda of paganism."

Democrats lose elections and comfort ourselves that our views represent a majority and we just have to convey them better. Republicans win elections and comfort themselves that they are still an embattled minority and need to keep fighting like hell -- ends justify the means and all that -- against the entrenched liberal power. We're both a little crazy.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on November 18, 2004 | Permalink

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The ability to simultaneously maintain the triumphalism of a mandate, and the sense of being an embattled minority has much to do with the continued political success of the far right. It allows them to maintain the energy and righteousness of oppositi... [Read More]

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Comments

I’m honored that you would devote an entire posting to me since yours is the smartest blog I know. I’m also a bit flattered to be called “very conservative” since the standards have been rising at a brisk clip recently.

True, my original comment added little to add to your posting about Bush’s mandate to reform Social Security. It was meant to needle more than inform.

Friendly needling is OK but mean-spirited gloating is unacceptable . . . particularly when our country is so deeply divided. That’s the point of the TGWW sticker. It’s a clandestine gloat. It congratulates the victors without alienating the vanquished.

Note that that is quite unlike the spiteful bumper stickers I used to see in DC in early 1993 saying “He Lost. Get Over It.” I like to think my sticker is a bit less crass than that.

But to your larger point, it’s true that the conservative movement is nurtured and energized by the notion that it is an embattled faction fighting against an entrenched establishment. Indeed, every political movement is most powerful when it is ascendant. It’s also a lot more fun.

Maintaining that attitude of insurgency is an important goal of any political leader. And Bush plays that role extremely well. He also gets a lot of help from people like Michael Moore.

Is the notion of insurgency sustainable when your movement controls all three branches of government? Of course! As long as the Administration is vehemently opposed by villains out of central casting like Jacques Chirac, Kim Jung Il, Romano Prodi, and Hugo Chavez then there will always be proof that the path to hegemony will be a long and scenic one.

Insurgency is particularly necessary in a second Bush term. Bush’s greatest weakness is complacency. He needs to struggle because when things come too easy for him he lapses into mediocrity. When things are bad he’s bold and creative.

Lack of credible opposition is what dooms movements. That’s why the excitement of the New Left quickly dissolved in the warm and fuzzy 1970s – all the earth tones, the fat neckties, the relentless co-option and bastardization of every revolutionary spark by the popular culture processor. Hell, The Eagles! Listen to The Eagles and weep for what could have been.

The same could happen to the conservatives. When you start seeing sitcoms based on a quirky but loveable family of evangelical Baptists, you’ll know when the movement has crescendoed.

I think we’re far from that point and I don’t look forward to it any more than you do.

Posted by: murphy | Nov 18, 2004 10:38:39 AM

Murphy, I think you're wrong about the crecendo. I think your view of popular culture forms (i.e. TV shows and rock bands) as an accurate bellwhether is misleading you. And if you think the "left" comes anywhere near the vitriol of the right in its distaste for the other, you are missing something. Count the ad hominems on GOP radio vs. , oh, Air America.

The central simple lesson that rank and file liberals can take away from this election is that rationality and facts matter far less than they should. It's a hard lesson in politics that usually isn't known to people outside the campaign/operative world. See a recent entry by Digby and the article on undecided voters at the New Republic.

Many voters switch sides more easily than you think. Don't think that everyone who pulled a lever for Bush a couple of weeks ago is a die hard conservative with conservative values who has found a new permanent home. Journalists do love a story like this, though, because it's scary. "Is the ___ party a new majority??"

The Republicans have learned to game these so- called "undecided voters" better through their messaging, and when external conditions are favorable, they're tough to beat in the current environment (incumbency, gerrymandering, war, stagnant but not terrible economy, and the nondemocratic nature of the US Senate state representation).

But don't assume the current environment won't change.

Posted by: Crab Nebula | Nov 18, 2004 11:03:13 AM

While I agree with most of murphy's sentiments above, I will dispute one point as follows:

"That’s the point of the TGWW sticker. It’s a clandestine gloat. It congratulates the victors without alienating the vanquished. Note that that is quite unlike the spiteful bumper stickers I used to see in DC in early 1993 saying 'He Lost. Get Over It.' I like to think my sticker is a bit less crass than that."

Indeed, it is less crass, but it's just as spiteful. Except this time it's not spiteful toward Democrats as much as the public in general. "Thank God W. Won" really means you know it took devine (read: Rovian) intervention to get the rubes to buy it again. (Wink. Wink.) I'm always glad to see a conservative display his disdain for the masses. You've been winning because you've disguised your disdain much, much better than liberal elites do. Elites disdain the masses by definition.

Mr. Schmidt--along with the rest of the comfortable blue-state/metro liberal overclass--is much too forgiving of this sort of thing. But, we middle class, red-state/town liberals are thinking about it. And, we're thinking mean as Hell.

The Remnant is dead! Long live the Remnant!

Posted by: Chris | Nov 18, 2004 11:14:27 AM

Interesting. But "Thank God" is a common expression used without irony among many people in America. I'm not sure God would hoodwink the general public nor that He regards people as "rubes."

If anything, TGWW expresses gratitude that there are enough like-minded people in this country that we can overcome the hate and venom that was excreted against our candidate. A good rule of thumb – when you equate the other side with Nazis, you’re probably over the line.

While Mark posits that Bush won only by attacking Kerry, the Democrats truly had no other position to offer voters than "not Bush." Those pesky polls show that a large number of Democrats were voting against Bush not for Kerry. For Bush voters, Kerry really didn't matter. We supported our candidate.

My fear is that the Democrats are now voicing in polite conversation a profoundly anti-democratic line of thought. Rather than acknowledge that tens of millions of your fellow Americans actually support less punitive taxation, more strenuous projection of power abroad, higher standards of public discourse and more local input on issues of moral values, the Democrats are talking about mindless rubes, manipulated voters, and secession.

This is unhealthy. It’s bad for the republic and it throttles what should be a lively debate.

Republicans are not idiots. They are Americans like you are. They have provocative ideas just like you do. Their ideas are no more evil than your own.

Keep an open mind. And if you want to win votes, don’t call those who disagree with you stupid.

Posted by: murphy | Nov 18, 2004 12:27:44 PM

Murphy, I appreciate your interest in debate even though our views are different. But you seem to be saying or expressing a fear that only Dems call the other side names. Implicit with that charge is the assertion that the more tonally extreme segment of the Dem party is comparable in size and influence to the same segment of the Rep party. It is not, not by a longshot.

The part about Democrats being "anti Democratic" seems to ignore certain facts. Which party's Senate seats represent states with a solid majority of the U.S. population? Which party is contemplating changing rules on judicial because it doesn't believe that a minority of the Senate representing a majority of the US population (and whose party got a mere 48% of the national vote) should be allowed to represent the view of its constituents?

Posted by: Crab Nebula | Nov 18, 2004 2:17:09 PM

Murphy, well said. To the rest of you I ask that you try to make a distinction between empassioned discourse and violence. You may be "hearing" a lot of "vitriolic" things said about the left, just as I may hear mean things said about the right, but that's discourse. Let's seperate discourse from what we have "seen" done by the left during the course of this election. Shot's fired into republican party offices, republican party offices vandalized and burglarized, Bush yard signs burned, swastika's burned in to yards with bush yard signs, swastika's painted on Bush yard signs, cars vandalized because of Bush bumper stickers, tires slashed because of Bush bumper stickers, etc. There is no way in hell I would put a Bush bumper sticker on my car. If my car didn't get keyed - which it would in Uptown -(a section of Minneapolis) I could at least guarantee that I would be getting the finger twice a week. That's just not something I'm willing to expose my family to.

So yes, conservatives are in the majority in this country, and yes they may say mean things sometimes, but that still doesn't necessarily make it safe to leave your Bush emblazened car in a parking lot nor does it make the vandalism of the car the equivalent of vitriolic things said on the radio.

So quietly and secretly I will close with TGWW.

Posted by: Lloyd | Nov 18, 2004 3:36:51 PM

"Villains out of central casting..."

Kim Jong Il - Surely
Hugo Chavez - Probably
Jacques Chirac - Maybe

Romano Prodi - ?!?!

Posted by: Patience | Nov 18, 2004 6:31:35 PM

Lloyd, thanks for your anecdote. Are you aware that there's plenty of that to go around on your side this past election season? And from my experience working in politics, sign stealing has always been employed much more by Republicans. The dirtier more violent stuff is much more rare. But plenty of Dems got keyed, windows broken, etc....mostly in red states.

Posted by: Buford P. Stinkleberry | Nov 18, 2004 7:45:21 PM

So, Murphy, the Republicans are all about a "higher standards of public discourse"?

Led, I presume, by Mr Richard "Go fuck yourself" Cheney? Or maybe Mr George W. "I'll be real positive while I keep my foot on John Kerry's throat" Bush? Masterminded by Karl "We will fuck him. Do you hear me? We will fuck him. We will ruin him. Like no one has ever fucked him!" Rove?

What a pleasant bunch Republicans have picked as their leaders. What high standards they hold themselves to.

Posted by: Doug | Nov 19, 2004 6:05:12 AM

This whole thread is notable for nothing more than the fact that it has completely managed to ignore the brilliant money sentence of the Decembrist's original article:

"You can't really claim a mandate to privatize social security when you accused your opponent of lying when he charged that you intended to privatize Social Security."

Deal with that.

Posted by: Steve Cohen | Nov 19, 2004 8:31:25 AM

Ok, you're not stupid Murphy.
You just voted for a big fat liar. I mean, wow: megaton liar, with whackball [but not at all stupid] cronies and yes-men. Not to mention their remarkably fascistic mentalities (cf. Doug's note above)--but, of course, they're not stupid. (Nor are they Nazis! I didn't say that! They just have fascistic mentalities. And aren't stupid.)

And the people who voted for him-- The ones who think that Saddam engineered 9/11 (an example). Perhaps we call them, ummmm, ill-informed. But not stupid.

You know, I could try to be all smart, use all my hard earned graduate education, and talk about all sorts of intellectual perspectives one could use to shed light on the crescendo of the right-wing culture whatnot. But really, let's face it--the issue is that smart people like yourself, and no doubt people of good will and fine intentions voted for a President and Administration so mendacious as to boggle even my cynical imagination.

But you Murphy, you're not stupid at all.
Really.

Posted by: Diodotus | Nov 19, 2004 1:07:12 PM

Actually, I was being pretty snarky in the post just above, and I'd like to retract the "fascistic mentalities" thing. Too blanket and too, well, nasty. (A bit unfair, also, since I can't see into say, Rumsfeld's soul.)
Apologies.

Posted by: Diodotus | Nov 19, 2004 1:14:23 PM

Murphy:
"Note that that is quite unlike the spiteful bumper stickers I used to see in DC in early 1993 saying “He Lost. Get Over It.” I like to think my sticker is a bit less crass than that."

Is it less crass and spiteful than the 'Sore Loserman' signs I used to see in 2000 - present?

Posted by: The Navigator | Nov 19, 2004 2:16:06 PM

Murphy:
"Republicans are not idiots. They are Americans like you are. They have provocative ideas just like you do. Their ideas are no more evil than your own."

I see. So, when Trent Lott says that homosexuality is a disease just like kleptomania, and Rick Santorum says that gay sex is indistinguishable from, and leads directly to, man on dog sex, and that allowing consensual adult sex in private undermines the fabric of our society, and when Tom Coburn says that doctors who perform abortions should be executed, and when Jim DeMint says that lesbians and single pregnant women shouldn't be allowed to teach in public schools - which of my ideas are as evil as that?

Posted by: The Navigator | Nov 19, 2004 2:38:27 PM

I'd like to remind commentors that "Murphy" is my friend, and while he needs no defense from me, he is not stupid, believe me. I brought up his bumper sticker because I thought it illustrated a paradox/tactic of conservatives, and not as an invitation to denounce him. I find it extremely gratifying when the comment section here brings some real debate among people who hold different views, rather than just a liberal echo-chamber, and hope that will continue in a reasonably respectful tone. Thanks. /Mark

Posted by: Mark Schmitt | Nov 19, 2004 2:40:48 PM

If Murphy wants to live up to the standard of argument set by our host and most of the commenters, he's going to have to do way better than the clutch of straw men he presents here: "Rather than acknowledge that tens of millions of your fellow Americans actually support less punitive taxation, more strenuous projection of power abroad, higher standards of public discourse and more local input on issues of moral values,"

These are Democratic positions as presented by Ed Gillespie. Gross caricatures. As such, they're worth what Cactus Jack Garner said about the vice presidency. If empty sloganeering is what passes for argument among Republicans, no wonder they're making such a hash of running the country.

He needs to bring facts. Last I checked, this was a reality-based blog.

Posted by: Doug | Nov 19, 2004 3:30:00 PM

He can and will claim a mandate for anything he wants. I think we should stop using phrases like "they can't really--" when we mean "It is dishonest of them to--".

Posted by: duus | Nov 20, 2004 5:26:25 AM

Mark, Murphy your friend is clearly not stupid......but he has a very selective mind.

The 'Sore Loserman" point is exemplary. The unawareness of the exent that the Rush-o-sphere exaggerated "lefitst violence" against honest everyday Bush supporters is another example, as is the long history of dirty tricks, push polliing, and voter suppression perpetrated by Republicans - and there's ample hard evidence of this.

Not searching for or acknowledging facts that contradict your own opinions is a serious intellectual failure.

Your friend could learn much from your humility and openmindedness.

Posted by: Buford P. Stinkleberry | Nov 20, 2004 11:17:03 PM

C'mon, Sore Loserman was pretty clever don't you think.

American politics has always been a blood sport . . . literally in some cases. And 21st century American politics is pretty tame by historical standards.

Look, you can get bent out of shape about Rush preaching to his choir, or you can take it as what comes with the territory. If you're really concerned about the tone of political discourse you have a great opportunity right now to break the cycle of violence. Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with you.

I'm willing to be civil and open minded. I'm also willing to be honest. Both political parties play any card they hold in order to win votes.

For example, for decades the Dems had a superior GOTV capability. In 2004 the Republicans matched them on the ground and raised them 3.5 million. That's not a dirty trick. That's a political operation.

As for a mandate to reform Social Security, Bush indeed has one. When he spoke of SS during the campaign he was consistent. He would like to give younger workers the option of investing a portion of their withheld SS. If you call that "privatization" then any reform that extends beyond raising taxes or limiting benefits is "privatization." The government can't "invest" SS funds in T-Bills any more than I can lend myself money.

Kerry used the loaded but vague term "privatize" and Bush used the loaded but vague term "reform."

Kerry used "privatize" to mean "undermine." Bush used "reform" to mean "give people greater control of their money."

Kerry accused Bush of wanting undermining Social Security. Bush said he did not want to undermine SS but did want to give people greater control of their money. "Greater control" won by several million votes. Hence: mandate.

Now you can say that greater control will undermine SS or that it isn't their money to begin with but Kerry failed to explain that when he had the opportunity.

Again, not a dirty trick . . . just politics.

Sure, things would be so much easier if we were governed by an enlightened elite . . . but that wouldn't be democratic would it?

Posted by: murphy | Nov 21, 2004 11:06:23 AM

Well, you just walked away from your earlier errors about insisting on the tonal superiority of Republicans (as exemplified by bumper stickers and campaign stories) and made a new set of assertions.

Do you really think anywhere near a majority of Bush voters nationwide know what the SS plan is? You have a tremendous amount of faith in their wonkishness. (Off topic - did you see the survey about the differences between what Bush voters thought Bush stood for and what his policies actually do? You'd be disappointed in your brethren.)

I highly doubt a majority of people, constituting a "mandate," would support Bush's "Reform" if they know it means a serious exposure to risk in their private accounts, that they won't be able to access their accounts early, that the deficit will have to explode in the near term to finance the transistion, that taxpayers would have to foot the bill for those seniors who get duped by Wall Street or just happen to retire during a bear market (which historically can sometimes last 5-15 years) and wind up indigent. (Hey! Is that why we created SS in the first place?) But maybe you think all of the above wouldn't happen and that everything will turn out great.

I think you're way off base on this one, but there's no way to prove anything.

Posted by: Buford P. Stinkleberry | Nov 22, 2004 12:54:42 AM

also: I suppose you don't think the long history of push polling and voter suppression tactics practiced (like having cops tell people that if they vote and haven't paid their parking tickets, they'll be arrested, or like having mail or flyers or door hangers sent to people telling them that Democrats vote on Wed, Republicans on Tue) etc. etc. etc.

The history is so, so long. You really need to actually get out into the world of politics to see how dirty it really is. And how much more dirty Republican hands are.....and how tied to race these practices are. It's nothing to be proud of.

Posted by: Buford P. Stinkleberry | Nov 22, 2004 1:03:53 AM

Murphy, you sure know how to bring out the open-mindedness of people. I now see that the republicans truly are devisive and full of hatred.

I've been a fool for so long.

Posted by: Lloyd | Nov 22, 2004 6:25:53 AM

So Lloyd, in the spirit of debate, how about a specific assertion or argument? Or would you rather just resort to ad hominems?

I'm willing to converse with you. Are you willing to converse with me? You start with not taking things personally. I did not attack you. I merely pointed out that there are facts which contradict the assertions made by you and Murphy - which in my reading are to the effect of, Republicans don't do anything dirty, they just play hard and fair, and Democrats play do play dirty and dishonestly.

Posted by: Buford P. Stinkleberry | Nov 22, 2004 2:06:25 PM

I've made specific assertions and stated that it isn't a matter of who plays dirty and who doesn't but to the degree in which they are willing to go. The very fact that you took my posts as ad hominem attacks shows the great disconnect in the debate today. Read through the posts and see where the the vitriol lay. In my posts? In Murphy's. While I was sarcastic I singled no one out. Contrast that with yours or Diodotus's (sp?) posts.

But, if you would like, here's an assertion for you: If a republican organization organized groups of people with bull horns to storm into democratic campain offices all over the country and people who displayed Kerry/Edwards signs had hammer and sickle's burnt into their yards, you would be pushing for hate crime legislation right now.
Don't tell me these acts were isolated because I know people whose signs were vandalized with swastikas and one of the offices that was taken over by the unions was here in St. Paul. Now you (and this is the first time I'm actually directing a pointed question at you) can put your head in the sand and think that this is all being exagerated by the "Rush-o-sphere" but much of this stuff went unreported. Neither the acts of vandalism at my co-worker's house nor my cousins house made the news and they sure as hell didn't make it on to Rush Limbaugh's show, but they happened.

Further, you'll remember how this post all started: "How can a majority claim to be an embattled minority" or "why do Republicans need a secret code?" The answer is because there are way too many liberals that have no problem getting right into your face. I suppose you'll discount this article as well but read this and tell me it's false: http://slate.msn.com/id/2108561/ ?

I'm not saying there aren't some jack ass republicans because there are and I'm not even saying that all liberals act in the manner I describe above. But Trent Lott holding the opinion that homo-sexuality is a disease is far different from him running accross the street to call someone a queer. And if you want to come back and say that Trent Lott's opinions will lead people to do more gay bashing (and it could - which is one of the many reasons I think he's an asshole) you better explain who on the left is responsible for the swastikas and bull horns and you damn well better denounce them.

But you wont. Trent Lott was removed from his position and is considered a pariah to the republicans after the Strom Thurmond episode, yet Michael Moore gets a box seat at the democratic convention. Don't tell me the Republican's don't take the high road more often cuz you don't have a leg to stand on.

Posted by: Lloyd | Nov 22, 2004 3:37:06 PM

Thanks for writing back. Michael Moore has far, far less influence, power and money than Rush Limbaugh, who is no less divisive and bellicose in his style. Moore is not indicative of the mainstream to nearly the extent Limbaugh is. I don't really like Moore, though occasionally I find him funny. I don't agree with his thesis in F9-11, that it's all about money (though I agree that some people are profiting unfairly)......I'd say a large majority of Democrats don't agree with Moore. This may surprise you. Again, Right wing media is constantly saying that "all Dems are the illegitimate offspring of Barbra Streisand and Dennis Kucinich!"

I think you and I agree that anyone who does the bullhorn stuff and the vandalism should be prosecuted. And maybe seek therapy. Really, that's not a productive ground for discussion -- "Which side has the most nasty extremists?"

Sorry if I prolonged it, but my point was that there's no way Republicans can claim to be clearly ahead of the Democrats in fair and civilized discourse and behavior both in campaigns and in legislative chambers. Probably a near wash. So we should move on to other things.

Posted by: Buford P. Stinkleberry | Nov 22, 2004 10:41:49 PM

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