Blame Americans First Republicans

by digby

Glenn has a must read post up today about the extremely irritating MSM habit of illustrating rightwing talking points with anecdotes (usually helpfully supplied by some wingnut operative with a juicy angle.)

At the end of the post he highlights a Michael Barone column in which Barone makes all kinds of blanket assertions about a group of people whom he never names but which he implies are vast in number and, naturally, are liberals. Barone says:

"They always blame America first." That was Jeane Kirkpatrick, describing the "San Francisco Democrats" in 1984. But it could be said about a lot of Americans, especially highly educated Americans, today.

In their assessment of what is going on in the world, they seem to start off with a default assumption that we are in the wrong. The "we" can take different forms: the United States government, the vast mass of middle-class Americans, white people, affluent people, churchgoing people or the advanced English-speaking countries. Such people are seen as privileged and selfish, greedy and bigoted, rash and violent. If something bad happens, the default assumption is that it's their fault. They always blame America -- or the parts of America they don't like -- first

Let's think about that. That old trope has been flogged now for 23 years, since Reagan was still playing to the so-called "Reagan Democrats" (the remaining southern racists and those who refused to accept the fact that America had lost a war.) Kirkpatrick was one of those "Democrats." (If I'm not mistaken I think even Richard Perle may have still been labeling himself a Dem at that time.) So she was seen as having some special credibility in further driving the wedge into the Democratic Party. She coined the phrase "San Francisco Democrats" which was a loaded term in so many different ways --- in those days, it probably referred more to the DFH's than gays, but it's all the same, right? It was a very successful campaign and one that Democrats should look at closely as we see the pendulum finally swinging our way.

"Blame America First" is an excellent slogan. It takes the old right isolationism, marries it to the left and adds on the "blame" which in 1984 was still a very sore point for many Americans who had felt traumatized by all the social changes in the previous two decades and the ignominious end to the Vietnam war. You have to hand it to them. They are good

But it doesn't really make sense in the current political situation, does it? There are an infinitesimal number of liberals who think that the US deserved 9/11. Indeed, until 9/11, the most vociferous objections to the ultra-conservative islamic regimes came from liberals (mostly feminists and gays, as it happens --- hardly the base of the Republican party.) It makes no sense to throw godless liberals in with Islamic fundamentalists, as conservative writers like Dinesh D'Souza finally realized when he wrote his book in which he basically --- you guessed it --- blames America first, for its godless liberalism. And let's not forget that the high priests of the religious right, Falwell and Dobson, blamed America first after 9/11, or as Barone puts it, "the parts of America they don't like."

The incoherence goes further than that, as when the authoritarian right argues intensely that "the constitution is not a suicide pact" as an excuse for undermining and usurping it. (Perhaps they should be known as "Trash the Constitution, Texas Republicans.") Their cries of "treason" and "unamerican" and "blame America first" are no longer salient as the people see that they were lied to and spun and manipulated into Iraq and the Republicans have betrayed every principle they supposedly held dear to rape the treasury, reward their friends and fail at the most basic functions of government.

Most importantly, the Bush administration and the Republican congress have made the citizens of this country embarrassed and ashamed and that is a big no-no. Everything the Republicans have done since 1994, with their witchhunts and ugly partisan politics, is a denigration of that "Morning In America" feeling that Reagan was so successful at turning into politics. Bush went even further and took that ugliness global, presenting a face to the world that is both hideous and feckless in its self-serving machismo and its disregard of all commonly understood methods of communication, diplomacy and respect for the rule of law.

Americans do want to believe that they live in a great nation that strives to do the right thing, that stands for transcendent ideals, that operates as a real democracy and not some sort of hidden aristocracy. They like to think that our system works and they expect people at the highest reaches of government to respect the constitution and be accountable to the people. They know it isn't always the case, but we're talking about ideals here, and when someone flouts those ideals they had better be damned successful in everything they do and further the reputation of American goodness in the process, not sully it with failure and loathing.

Those "ideals" are subject to interpretation, of course, and form the basis of almost all of our political arguments over the years. But the fundamental belief that America is a nation that respects the rule of law, not men, is one that the vast majority of Americans truly like to believe in. When someone comes along, like Nixon and now Bush, who completely disregards their idealized view of what an American leader is supposed to uphold, it shakes the firmament and makes people feel insecure and cynical.

But Democrats had also better beware of that other side of America's psyche --- the need to be "winners." If Dems don't find a way to show the people that they have "won" where the Republicans "lost," they will once again be vulnerable to being smeared as "Blame America Firsters" down the road even though they were tasked with cleaning up the wreckage left behind by Republican governance. (That's where the "accountability" comes in.)

It's a problem that cannot be solved by simple being hawkish on the Iraq occupation or talking tough about Iran or the GWOT. If hawkishness didn't work for Republicans it certainly won't work for Democrats. A little creativity and fresh thinking is required. The point to keep in mind is that the fundamental difference between the two parties is that Democrats believe America can be decent and strong at the same time and Republicans believe that those are mutually exclusive concepts. In fact, whenever anyone speaks out in defense of our American ideals and the constitution, Republicans immediately attack Americans first.