2008 The Ultimate Obama Irony. In a Good Way.
posted by January 10 at 11:52 AMon
The GOP has been successfully hitting the Democrats from the same corner for 30 years: Tapping the reservoir of populist anger about the cultural revolution of the 1960s. Everyone from backlash Reagan to anti-govenment Gingrich to warmongering Bush II has relied on attacking and ridiculing the Democratic Party for its anti-war, bleeding heart elitism—all stereotypes that come from the fact that the Democrats were aligned with and driven by the liberal causes of the 1960s and early ’70s, most notably the civil rights movement.
Bill Clinton tried to clean up the Democrats’ image with his DLC centrism (and homespun charm), and he won two presidential elections doing just that. But, tellingly, the most lasting political moment from the Clinton era is actually Republican Newt Gingrich’s populist revolution against “big government.” Even when Clinton was president, his administration was plagued by its association with ’60s/’70s social engineering. Indeed, Gingrich’s revolution was sold as a “Contract with America.” Get it? The liberals in power weren’t Americans, they were those anti-American hippies (still).
In steps Barack Obama, who actually seems capable of redefining the Democratic Party. Whether his rhetoric is substantive or not doesn’t matter. (Judging from the guy’s record, he’s a flaming SDS liberal.) But no worry, his “We shall transcend” frame has voters believing that the ’60s are dead. Check this quote Sarah Mirk got from Alec Schierenbeck, head of the Iowa College Democrats, after Obama’s caucus victory.
Schierenbeck says. “When Obama talks about politics, it doesn’t sound like politics is a fight between people who did and did not burn their draft cards in the ’60s.”
Obama has found the answer to the GOP’s endlessly effective battle plan. Rather than trying to defend the liberal frame or do defensive somersaults to explain why liberal policies are actually better for America, Obama speaks in sweeping rhetoric that makes all that irrelevant. The GOP will be left snarling at an old foe, while the rest of the country has moved on with Barack Obama. Nicely played, if he can pull it off.
The irony: The whole root of the GOP’s “liberal bogeyman” frame that has dogged the Democrats for 30 years is the civil rights movement. The civil rights movement, with its elitist court rulings and enforced desegregation and forced busing and bratty northern college kids (who would grow up to be the Bill Clinton administration), was about equal opportunity for blacks.
There isn’t a bigger symbol of equal opportunity for blacks than a mainstream, black frontrunner for president.
In a way, it would be the ultimate fucking burn on the GOP if they got caught (still) fighting their coded battle against the fallout from the 1960s, while the practical result of the great gains of the 1960s—a successful black man—became president.
Barack Obama was born in 1961. 1961 was the turning point in the civil rights movement. It was the year of the Freedom Rides—when hundreds of white kids joined forces with black kids to challenge the segregated South by riding Grayhound and Trailways buses into Jim Crow turf. The Freedom Ride movement kicked off everything that was to come in the ’60s.