Monday, February 15, 2010

What digby said . . .

digby: American Story
A reader writes in to Talking Points Memo with this observation:
Why do you think Congressional Democrats have had such a hard time dealing with Republican obstructionism? It's been apparent for months that Republicans are unwilling to compromise on legislative initiatives, unless by compromise you mean that they will allow Democrats to agree with their proposals. In such an environment, it is pointless for Democratic lawmakers to ask themselves whether there is a way they can craft legislation so that some Republicans will be willing to vote for their proposal - there is simply no provision that Democrats can add or remove from a bill that will make Republicans want to vote for a Democratic proposal. And yet we keep seeing efforts - like the Baucus jobs bill - in which leading Democrats tinker with or even gut their own proposals in a fruitless effort to get Republicans to sign on to the legislation.
Steve Benen wrote a thoughtful piece this morning on the same theme, saying that it's unprecedented for any party to behave this way in the wake of such a decisive election. And it is. But it's not unprecedented for a political faction to behave this way.

I've posted this many times, but it's more relevant than ever. Here's Lincoln speaking about the South at the Cooper Union in 1860:
It is exceedingly desirable that all parts of this great Confederacy shall be at peace, and in harmony, one with another. Let us Republicans do our part to have it so. Even though much provoked, let us do nothing through passion and ill temper. Even though the southern people will not so much as listen to us, let us calmly consider their demands, and yield to them if, in our deliberate view of our duty, we possibly can. Judging by all they say and do, and by the subject and nature of their controversy with us, let us determine, if we can, what will satisfy them.

Will they be satisfied if the Territories be unconditionally surrendered to them? We know they will not. In all their present complaints against us, the Territories are scarcely mentioned. Invasions and insurrections are the rage now. Will it satisfy them, if, in the future, we have nothing to do with invasions and insurrections? We know it will not. We so know, because we know we never had anything to do with invasions and insurrections; and yet this total abstaining does not exempt us from the charge and the denunciation.

The question recurs, what will satisfy them? Simply this: We must not only let them alone, but we must somehow, convince them that we do let them alone. This, we know by experience, is no easy task. We have been so trying to convince them from the very beginning of our organization, but with no success. In all our platforms and speeches we have constantly protested our purpose to let them alone; but this has had no tendency to convince them. Alike unavailing to convince them, is the fact that they have never detected a man of us in any attempt to disturb them.

These natural, and apparently adequate means all failing, what will convince them? This, and this only: cease to call slavery wrong, and join them in calling it right. And this must be done thoroughly - done in acts as well as in words. Silence will not be tolerated - we must place ourselves avowedly with them.
The civil war didn't really resolve the underlying problem, which wasn't only slavery, but also the inconvenient fact that the country is really two different political cultures, one of which has always believed that the other looks down on them and in return loathes them for it. It's that same stubborn ressentiment which animates the rump Republican party today. They have a chip on their shoulders the size of Mt Rushmore. And they will not be appeased even by capitulation. They demand conversion. At a time when the country is as politically polarized and economically stressed as it is today, this faction becomes very powerful, even if it doesn't represent a majority.

There is not likely to be another bloody civil war, but we are in a cold civil war and have been for quite some time. In fact, except for respites for foreign wars and assorted other catastrophes and recoveries, we always have been. Whatever consensus we achieved was always papering over the differences, not transcending them. And at times like this, when the country desperately needs to solve some problems, the Democrats, representing the rest of the people, need to work past this faction and get the job done. Empowering them in these circumstances is a very bad idea.
digby: Empathic Myopia
Glenn Greenwald points out another example of the ongoing right wing incoherence and hypocrisy, this time over their rending of garments at the treatment of the American Christians detained in Haiti. This case is an unusually striking example of such incoherence and hypocrisy because it features suspects who are sympathetic to the right solely due to the fact that they are white Americans from the midwest who are affiliated with a conservative church.

Setting aside the glaring examples Glenn cites of innocent Muslims caught up in such situations tortured and shipped to Guantanamo for years on end without any due process at all who get absolutely no sympathy from these same people, imagine if these were black Jehovah's Witnesses accused of kidnapping white children under similar circumstances right here in the United States. I don't think you'd see any demands from these newly born international human rights advocates for the ACLU to intervene here either.

There's something about the American right that requires a very specific degree of identification for them to be empathetic and it goes beyond race, although race is certainly a factor. They see these people in that jail in Haiti and see themselves --- nice "normal" Americans --- and they feel their pain at being wrongly accused. They suddenly demand that human rights be universal and stand firmly behind the constitutional tenet that one is innocent until proven guilty. They are aghast that these people could be ill treated in prison or not given all the safeguards we were all promised in their 8th grade history book.

But they are incapable of extending that same identification to "others," people who aren't "like" them, that they couldn't be related to or who don't speak the same language. Those people aren't Real people. And for many of them, that's not just something they apply to non-Americans, but to their fellows as well. They assume that suspects are guilty until proven innocent all the time in America.

The Real American tribe is (mostly) white, socially traditional and politically conservative. People who fit that criteria are, quite literally, the only people they care about. (At the more extreme edge, they are the only people they think are really people.) They simply can't empathize with those who don't fit that mold.

For most of us, this all comes down to what I call the Count of Monte Cristo effect. I read that book as a kid and the horror of a system which would allow an innocent person to be locked up forever so seared itself into my psyche that I automatically understood from that point on what injustice was. I didn't need to be a Frenchman in the Napoleonic era to relate. I'd been inside Edmond Dantès head, I'd been Edmond Dantès, and I'd felt, as a human being, what it was to be falsely accused and imprisoned.

I assume that most people have some sort of similar empathetic epiphany as children --- maybe it's just recognizing the hurt you've felt in the eyes of another. But it's fundamental to human development. Why, for some people, it stops at their own family or group, I don't know. But it's clear that among a great many people it does. I hear it every day among some of our most powerful leaders who blithely assert that terrorist suspects don't deserve the same rights as Americans. And yet, they know, that a large number of those terrorist suspects turned out to be innocent. They simply can't extend the horror they would feel if they found themselves in similar circumstances, to these other people. They simply can't accord them basic common humanity.

Even as a matter of self-preservation, I guess they just rely on the belief that their fellow tribesmen will recognize them and come to their rescue if they should ever find themselves in such circumstances. (Or they are so lacking in imagination that the idea that it could happen to them is unfathomable.) But as these folks down in Haiti are finding, their tribe isn't all powerful and they can't always fix things for them. It turns out that having a rule of law commonly respected the world over really comes in handy at a time like this. And every time the US government chisels away at our system of justice in the name of "protecting ourselves", or some yahoo prattles on about how someone doesn't deserve the same rights as somebody else, that fundamental protection gets weaker and weaker.

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