Monday, August 04, 2008

Comparative sinfulness: The GOP v. the Dems

JH writes this morning with the following inquiry:
Over the course of my politically-aware life... it seems like republican political practices are, by quite some way, both less law-abiding (think of all the reagan officials indicted, ghwb's involvement in iran-contra not to speak of the current administration) and much more racist (reagan's campaign kickoff in philadelphia, mississippi etc) than the democrats. Which raises the following questions:

1. Is this sense right? And if it is, is there any similarly morally-reprehensible behaviour on the side of the dems?
2. And if there isn't, what is it that drives republicans to this kind of behaviour? Is it ideologically based or is it institutionally based? Or is it just a love of power?
3. How come the country (or at least some democratic politician) hasn't risen up to declare republican behaviours evil (or at least on the road to perdition)?
Several things to note. First, if you're only thinking of Presidents and Presidential administrations, then there is a sampling problem on the Dem side, since we've only had one Democratic administration in the last 28 years, and only two since the Civil Rights act was passed in 1965. Second, in terms of moral reprehensibility, I'll note without further comment that a lot of people, not just Republicans, definitely considered Clinton a rather morally compromised character. Whether you consider sexual peccadilloes on par with political or racial ones is, I suppose, a matter of taste. The old joke among reporters in Washington used to be that with the Dems in power, you report on sexual and substance abuse failings, whereas with Republicans you report on corruption. Beyond this, I have several observations:
  1. No question, the Republicans are, by far, the more racist political party, if by racism you mean a dislike for black people and/or race-mixing. Along with evangelicals and small business owners, racists are a central part of the Republican political base. Since out-and-out racists (that is, people who won't vote for a black guy, say, or who are disturbed by miscegenation) make up a pretty big chunk of America, it would be surprising if they didn't have political representation. What's peculiar to our current political period is that only one party competes for that voting bloc. Prior to the 1960s, both parties tried to compete for the "racist values" voters. Prior to the 1960s, in other words, institutionalized racism was a bipartisan affair. Between them, Johnson and Nixon ended that bipartisanship, and committed racists became a pillar of the GOP.
  2. Corruption, on the other hand, seems to me less an ideological matter than a function of entrenched political power. To prevent corruption, you need to throw the bums out on a regular basis. The Republicans may have a slightly greater propensity to corruption, just because the interests groups they represent tend to have more money than Dem interest groups (and may themselves be more more corrupt than Demo interest groups), creating somewhat greater opportunities for corruption. But this strikes me as marginal. For the most part, after all, America legalizes and institutionalizes corruption via lobbying. Personal corruption a la Ted Stevens is the exception not the rule, and you've got that on both sides of the aisle. Cf. Dan Rostenkowki, William Jefferson, etc.
  3. When it comes to crimes d'etat (e.g. Iran-Contra, Scooter Libby, etc) I think there may be a greater propensity among Republicans for such things, if only because in the post-Watergate era the Republicans have tended to be more committed to unfettered executive power, which is the part of government where such activities take place. The Cheney-Addington-Yoo wing of party clearly feels that Watergate led to an unpardonable diminution of executive power. However, it's important to note that they and their many tacit supporters don't look at things like Iran-Contra or NSA wiretaps or extraordinary rendition or torturing terrorists as sins. Quite the contrary, they think these are morally righteous activities that only pansy-ass liberals try to restrain with absurd references to quaint laws passed during the Cold War in conjunction with representatives of the international communist movement. I don't think that's a caricature of their position.
  4. Taken collectively, I think these reasons explain why "the people" haven't "risen up." With that said, the fact that we seem on the verge of electing to the presidency a black man with the middle name Hussein could certainly be seen as a kind of uprising. Certainly, in any other year, without massive popular disgust with what the GOP has produced for this country, Obama would have no chance.
  5. Finally, it should be noted that the greatest sins of the Republican Party are in fact not the ones we've discussed so far, great as those are. Rather, the greatest sin of the GOP is that they have run the empire incompetently on its own terms. Bush and his enablers have brought our country to defeat and ruin, and done so in a fashion that has benefited only a tiny upper crust that may have managed to amass so much money that they will be able to personally insulate themselves from the onrushing deluge ("deluge," as in "Apres moi, le deluge"). Screwing black people is the oldest of American political traditions. Screwing the whole country, on the other hand, is the specialty of today's GOP.

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