Monday, January 30, 2012

The Politics of Grievance

A week ago, I rhetorically asked about what the point of supporting the Newt Gingrich candidacy was. Well, ask and ye shall receive, as Talking Points Memo has just published a piece profiling the "Gingrich Base".

I want to be honest in that I try to be reasonably equanimous on people's political partisanship. Different people believe different things for different reasons. I think a lot of conservative policy choices are wrongheaded, but I understand the extent that reasonable people can disagree. That being said, some truly abominable opinions have been coming out of the woodwork since the Tea Party began dominating mainstream political discourse. Gingrich's appeal, it seems, is his nakedly appeal to this kind of constituency. Specifically, Gingrich is "[...] more willing to name-check many of the anti-Obama arguments favored by the Tea Party that are too politically incorrect for the frontrunner to touch." For example
Gingrich frequently warns of creeping Sharia law, calls Obama a “food stamp president,” and credits the president’s decision-making to his “Kenyan anti-colonial” ideology. Even for a Republican candidate, Gingrich’s voters skew elderly, the wing of the party most susceptible this kind of language.
Examples of this include Tina Skipper, a retired school teacher from Jacksonville, FL who said that
“When Obama knelt with the Muslims of New York City, I knew we had something bad going on — he really scares me”
Not to be outdone, an accountant named Eileen Loney claimed that
The threat from Muslims — I think the others shy around it
If all TPM could find was voters attuned to the anti-Muslim dog-whistling that has been going off for the past decade, that would be one thing. But then there is an unnamed retired manufacturing entrepreneur in Cocoa, FL who complains that
Everybody’s becoming dependent. Are the blacks going to vote for Newt or Romney? The Hispanics? The unions? The teachers? The only way to win is to get someone articulate who can turn out conservatives while the others stay home. But if everyone ends up being subsidized voters, we’re dead.” (emphasis mine - JMG)
There's a certain point where I'm at a loss for words as to how people can hold these types of views, let alone be proud of them enough to articulate them to a reporter with their name attached. Specifically, the contention that traditionally Democratic-supporting constituencies are nothing more than "subsidized voters" is doubly galling in the sense that it a) denies the validity of claims the poor might have for social assistance with the actual challenges of poverty, but b) it casts those that receive assistance for said poverty as nothing more than naked rent seekers who vote Democratic.

I understand it is easy to have glib views about "the Blacks" or "the Unions." It's something else entirely, I think, to openly appeal to such a segment of America's voters. In some ways, the success of the politics of grievance in recent years is an indictment against the political opportunists that court such sentiments; in other ways, it's commentary on the state of our electorate.


  1. Everybody’s becoming dependent. Are the blacks going to vote for Newt or Romney? The Hispanics? The unions? The teachers? The only way to win is to get someone articulate who can turn out conservatives while the others stay home. But if everyone ends up being subsidized voters, we’re dead.”

    An Interesting statement here. I would like to assume this is coming from a region and social environment much different than New England, specifically Western Mass.

    To discredit this statement as bull-headed or ignorant is nearly as stubborn as the labeling. When people vote, they vote for what will affect them. When items don't affect someone else, they see that as non-sense to vote for. This causes the appearance of wrongheadedness and or abominable statements.

    I'm not really informed enough to defend any candidates, but I would point out that it is possible you may not have experienced first hand the issues they promise to fix.

    Working my previous blue collar job I had first hand experience with what many conservatives refer to as "Mexicans stealing my job". I have 2 personal contacts of Hispanics who do a DAMN good job at work. Their skill set is top notch, customer relations are great, and they work their ass off. That is great. There were also times when my job was jeopardized because another group (happened to be Hispanics) sent a much lower bid that we just couldn't touch. No big deal. We didn't take it personally and worked beside them on another project. After getting to know these guys it turns out they don't spend the money here. They don't stimulate our economy. Some don't even pay tax (cash in hand).

    They send their money home, live off as little as possible here and spend their time off with a stockpile that I could label as stolen from an American citizen. This money could have potentially landed on my paycheck. Payed for my rent, my car note, my food. Instead somebody from another country received it, without tax and sent it home to their country.

    This is direct experience with it. Though I still don't agree that immigrants shouldn't be entitled to work. I'm simply stating the view that could be perceived as "ignorant", but presenting it from the other side.

    In Louisiana I have first hand observed. a lady; stereotypically called "a gangster from the ghetto" or simply "black". The following can also be attached to other obvservations from whites, men, and others abusing a service.

    I've witnessed purchasing energy drinks, candy, cigarettes, and alcohol. All using a Louisiana Purchase card (EBT Card). This is abuse. I've witnessed purchasing any of the following and then requesting cash back. This is abuse. What could you possibly need cash for that you didn't find in a store?

    While this hit closer to home for me.. after all, I'm paying for their alcohol or cig addiction. I'm still not completely biased or against this program. I know families who depend on this program and use it as intended. I'm once again simply stating this "from the other side".

    As far as the Muslim remarks, well... that's ignorant.. not much I can do for them. It's a completely different argument that has no place in government.

    All of this to say, we can't just write these "extreme" statements off as outlandish. These issue are very real and very prevalent in some peoples life. They need addressing as does any other persons issues.

  2. Jonathan,

    The quote is from Cocoa, FL which, yes, I imagine is quite unlike our little valley here.

    I want thank you again for sharing your perspective. I think it's important that we stay honest in hearing other sides, and keeping that side human.

    In my reading, you've brought up two points; 1) the competition created by Hispanic (immigrants?) willing to enjoy very very low standards of living, which creates a kind of competitive race to the bottom. 2) The issue of fraud in the SNAP program (e.g. people buying un-allowed luxuries with tax dollars). I'm not unsympathetic to these issues. But the on the data I've seen on the prevalence of the problem, I'm not really sure how we can make them out to be major issues.

    For example: here's a working paper from Yale's econ dept examining remittances to Mexico ( Their conclusions are that "Despite being much smaller in amount we find that internal remittances often have a larger impact on poverty than remittances from abroad due to their higher prevalence across families." I understand that "This money could have potentially landed on my paycheck," but I'm not sure how Americans as a whole can lay claim to all income earned by non-natives that is remitted back to their families. If we're going to have capitalistic markets with competition, we need to understand that people are going to come here and compete.

    As for your experiences with EBT fraud, I think that the fraud is wrong, and as I understand there is a clear legal definition of what is and is not allowed to be purchased with SNAP EBT's. I don't see how the existence of small proportions of fraud is an indictment against the program itself. Merrill Lynch committed some absolutely jaw-dropping security exchange fraud, yet conservative candidates and constituents aren't up in arms about ending the banking system (nor should they).

    The basic point I’m trying to make here as the deeper you dig into issues, the hard and harder it gets to maintain glib grievances about “the Mexicans.” I just don’t think it’s good conscience, nor good politics, to uniformly demonize entire classes of people with gaining a better understanding of their perspective.