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    As a progressive activist I find myself in a curious position.  On one hand, as a progressive I am deeply committed to the values and programs of equality and inclusion that are at the heart of the progressive message.  If we could just implement our program the result would be a huge improvement in the living conditions of nearly everyone in the United States.  Our opponents in the conservative movement are hypocrites, motivated by either ignorance, superstition, or self-interest.  I would earnestly like to see the modern conservative movement (it occurs that modern conservative is an oxymoron) destroyed root and  branch.
      At the same time, as a citizen, it is clear to me that the current levels of political polarization are not good for the long-term health of our society.  What I want to explore in this diary is how we became so intensely polarized.  If this is of interest follow me below the fold!

     In the beginning was the Southern Strategy.  Prior to the civil rights movement ideological conflict was less pronounced because both major parties had conservative wings.  Thus party loyalty implied a certain tolerance of more conservative (liberal/progressive) tendencies within each party.
      After the Democratic Party embraced civil rights in the 1960s, the complexion of conservatism changed in some highly significant ways.  Southern Conservatives were Democrats because the Republican party was the Party of Lincoln and therefore impossible to embrace.  Their chief concern was maintaining the structure of racial oppression.  However, they were open to the use of government as a mechanism for social advancement and populist themes were often expressed.  The other distinctive feature of southern conservatism was an aggressive and militaristic nationalism.  This can be traced as far back as the era of Andrew Jackson where Democrats of the period saw the expansion of the "white race" at the expense of "lesser breeds" as America's historical imperative.
     In contrast, conservative Republican's in the Middle West were largely conservatives in the truest sense of the word.  That is to say, interested in conserving institutions for the sake of conserving institutions.  They were intensely skeptical of any role for government.  This included government as an agent in International/Military Affairs.  The home of Isolationism was the Middle West.
    Conservatives in the Far West were aggressively pro-development, interested chiefly in converting the public domain into private profit.  Of the pre-civil rights conservatives, these were the closest to modern libertarians.
    Finally, the Eastern establishment conservatives usually controlled the machinery of the Republican party as a consequence of their wealth.  They were internationalist in outlook, anti-Communist, and averse to government interference with their affairs.
    Once the Civil Rights revolution took hold under Democratic sponsorship, the Democratic party in the South became suspect.  Richard Nixon's embrace of the Southern Strategy of implicitly (sometimes not so implicitly) encouraging racists to join the Republican party had the effect of gathering all the different strands of conservatism into a single place.  This encouraged the development of a revised standard version of conservatism.
     The racism and aggressive and militaristic nationalism of the South, was added to the libertarian disdain for government from the West.  The Eastern Establishment conservatives retained control of the party machinery for a while because of their control over the purse strings.
     This set the stage for the next step in polarization.  The villain is small dollar fund-raising.  Those with long memories will recall this technique was invented by Richard Vigurie and was a source of conservative advantage throughout the 1980s.
    The thing about such fundraising is that it HAS TO encourage extremism.  When you are writing a letter to encourage people to send you some of their hard earned money which appeal is more likely to motivate you to donate.  1) Please send us money so that we can elect representatives who will  bargain with liberals to achieve a sensible, bipartisan consensus solution or 2) Send us money because otherwise liberals will eat your babies and force all women to have compulsory abortions.
    All of us, I would imagine have received similar appeals from progressive groups.  (I average about six such appeals per day.)  This tactic generates a feedback loop.  Because more extreme appeals are more likely to be successful, the appeals get more extreme.  At the same time, all of the appeals that a person receives highlighting the knavery or outright evil of the opposition, makes it increasingly difficult to discern actual humans from the images of the ENEMY!  
   In justice to progressives and progressivism, I think members of the left are more likely to rationally analyze fundraising appeals than swallow the Koolaid.  Certainly, there aren't many members here at DKos who are kneejerk supporters of every aspect of the Obama administration's policies.
     I could go on, but I'm really interested to see what y'all have to say, so I'm going to post and take my lumps.

Originally posted to DrJohnB on Mon May 20, 2013 at 02:10 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  You said: (9+ / 0-)

    "(it occurs that modern conservative is an oxymoron)".

    Actually I think it is more accurately described as an oxymoran.

    The world is a den of thieves and night is falling. -Ingmar Bergman

    by Pirogue on Mon May 20, 2013 at 02:26:30 PM PDT

  •  Goldwater Created the Southern Strategy (8+ / 0-)

    although his candidacy was so bad it didn't go anywhere till Nixon.

    Vigurie gave us not merely small dollar fundraising but database driven fundraising and messaging. I don't know that fundraising per se would need to be any more polarizing than other political activity; but if you're targeting narrow demographics then yes the door opens wide to extreme messaging that would appeal to certain groups.

    But it was those around Goldwater who basically launched today's rightwing revolution, all the way back in the 60's. Their philosophy is extreme --after all they oppose a foundational purpose of the Constitution, government promotion of the general welfare among other things-- and so they were always going to be promoting extremism.

    When they recruited evangelicalism to be their populist base, there too they were incorporating an extremist religion that is by its very name committed to dominating society, and believes in literal realtime interaction and certain personal knowledge of God. Like all forms of fundamentalism it has extremist views about women, sex and rationality among other things.

    Neocons who go back into the 70's, militaristic extremists. "I don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."

    So I see the fundraising as mostly the effect of the extremist foundations of the rightwing revolution and its constituent elements, not much of a cause.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Mon May 20, 2013 at 02:26:47 PM PDT

  •  I have a book to recommend to you if you (14+ / 0-)

    haven't already read it.  "American Nations - a History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America" by Colin Woodard.  As you were describing the types of conservatives it followed much of the cultural geography of our country as described by this author.

    I am someone from "Yankeedom" (as the author labels my roots) but reside in a border zone for "Midlands" and "Greater Appalachia" by the book's description.

    In my organizing work the two biggest factors (from the book) that rang true in this area  were; "Midlands" culture highly values being left alone to get on with their own lives (isolationism) and "Greater Appalachia" culture values clans or tribes above all else (oh and they are a warrior culture).

    It was very interesting to me how the "Far West" culture developed its disdain for government (libertarianism) as described in the book.  The land was only able to be settled if there were government programs to bring and maintain resources.  Thus developed a resentment of dependency.  Also so much of the land is actually owned by the US government.

  •  If you aren't polarized at this point... (10+ / 0-)

    If you aren't polarized at this point, you aren't paying attention. But the key is to keep in mind that the people who are responsible for the crimes of conservatism are very wealthy/powerful people. Their followers may be venal, selfish, and stupid, but they aren't generally evil. The leaders are.

    Consider healthcare reform. The United States has been--pardon the expression--murdering somewhere in the vicinity of 40,000 people per year for the crime of lacking health insurance. If it were just the insurance industry driving the 60-year campaign to demonize national health insurance, it would have failed. Insurance company profits, after all, are expenses to other companies. Having worked at fairly high levels in corporations, it's my belief that health insurance is a club that employers hold over employees. People might be willing to lose a job rather than engage in sleaze, but lose one's health insurance? For many families, where one member has a serious illness, it's not really an option.

    Once one comes to the conclusion that corporate heads are using health insurance to control their employees, and that this is a factor in causing corporate corruption and the unnecessary deaths of perhaps a million Americans over the 60 years since universal health insurance was proposed, it's very hard to feel anything except that the people with the power to make it happen are evil.

    Their followers may be tricked by the ideological arguments (it's socialism! it will bankrupt the nation!), but they're tricked because they're stupid. And perhaps also because they have health insurance, so screw their neighbor.

    One shouldn't hate stupid people, or even selfish, stupid people. But if one cannot recognize that we have to draw a line against what is evil, and declare that one pole is right and the other wrong, then one really doesn't understand the issue. So, don't hate: teach. The fewer non-rich, non-powerful people that the wealthy can recruit to their side, the weaker they are.

  •  We need an all out reason and science blitz. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    commonmass, scott5js, edbb, figbash

    We need the university community to step up. They know the facts. We should DEMAND that every Sunday news program include a representative from the science community. Richard Dawkins would be a great start.

    When Bachmann is rambling about anything, have a representitive FROM her university to debate HER. If they went to a crap university, even better.

    We need science reporters asking tough questions at GOP "press conferences, as well as every debate. When GOP ignoramus makes bogus claims on TV about climate science, we need an expert right there to confront him.

    Why aren't we nailing Palin and Bachmann and the parasites from Georgia for their bronze age beliefs. It would be so easy. They are wrong, make them pay. Hold the press accountable.

    It's there for the taking. Keep repeating the same talking points, regardless of the questions. Make them pay for their WILLFUL ignorance. Equate the GOP with Santa Clause. They can't lie their way out. The facts are facts.  Even Fox can't lie about science. If they do, they're through.

    They are the party of ignorance. That's why they are wrong about science. They are wrong about the wars. They are wrong about polls. They deny math. They deny evolution. They were wrong about the economy. Use it. Make them pay for prayer strategy towards government. The world is ready.

    Once we can make that association, the battle is over. Nobody wants stupid. Not in the long run.

    And best of all? It's honest. It's truth. It's wonderful.

    Reason and science vs fear and ignorance.

    What is so unnerving about the candidacy of Sarah Palin is the degree to which she represents—and her supporters celebrate—the joyful marriage of confidence and ignorance. SAM HARRIS

    by Cpqemp on Mon May 20, 2013 at 11:01:00 PM PDT

  •  More or less correct, IMO (7+ / 0-)

    . . . but it's a longer & more complicated story. It does start with the post-1964 backlash against civil rights. One by-product of the defection of the Southern whites was the alignment of the Democrats & Republicans into discretely "liberal" and "conservative" parties. Though it's been 2 generations in the making, it can no longer really be said that the Republicans have a liberal wing & the Democrats have a conservative wing.

    Also, a generation ago, many Southern whites were willing to split their tickets - e.g., vote for Reagan for president & then vote for a Democrat for Congress. And even into the '70s & '80s there were still plenty of "yellow dogs" who couldn't bring themselves to vote Republican even in spite of their essential conservatism & sense of betrayal at the national Democratic Party. (Arkansas & West Virginia stayed reliably Democratic through the 1990s.) But as the old-timers have died off, they have been replaced by voters who came of age during the Reagan & Gingrich eras, who are much stronger in their partisan identification & much less willing to vote for any Democrat ever.

    It's also important to note the decline of unions, the rise of conservative media & the emergence of social issues as partisan touchstone. After the 1960s the Democrats moved so much to the right on economic issues as to be practically indistinguishable from the Republicans in the minds of many voters; thus, differences on social issues were thrown into high relief. Reaction against legalized abortion & the gay rights movement (& the Democrats' embrace of these & other causes, even as slow & half-hearted as it was) drove millions of working-class whites into the Republican fold. Today they get their information from conservative radio & Fox News, rather than labor unions or network news as did previous generations.

    One overlooked factor too was the racial redistricting of the South circa 1992. This was ordered upon Southern state legislatures by the Justice Department of George H.W. Bush & agreed to by the NAACP & other black political organizations. The latter realized their goal of more black faces in Congress, but the flip side was that non-black-majority districts became much more conservative. After this scheme was implemented, the position of most Southern Democrat office-holders became untenable. Now practically extinct, these politicians of the post-Civil Rights period usually combined support for social spending with strong support for the military & moderate-to-conservative positions on social issues to build a solid base of support from black voters & enough support from white voters to win election. After the ground shifted under them, most either chose retirement or were defeated in the Republican wave of 1994. (Those few who managed to hold on were knocked off in the Republican wave of 2010.) Almost invariably, they were replaced by hard-right conservatives. In the end, this arrangement has been a huge net gain for the Republicans & especially the most conservative ones. In fact, gerrymandering is the single biggest reason why the Democrats face such an uphill climb to win back the House of Representatives.

    •  So the 'Solid South' went from solid D to R (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      "..The political class cannot solve the problems it created. " - Jay Rosen

      by New Rule on Tue May 21, 2013 at 11:04:06 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  In a sense, yes. (0+ / 0-)

        But at least now black people can vote. Southern society & people HAVE changed. These days most Southern whites have enough sense to avoid using the n-word in public. Most of the politicians who represent them are careful to avoid overt race-baiting. Back then the South had a truly one-party system. Today it has a dominant-party system - not exactly the same thing, though it may look the same from outside.

        But this much hasn't changed. In the South, all politics is racial. If the Democrats will be the party of minorities, then the Republicans will be the party of white people. All white people, from the top to the bottom of the economic ladder (except, of course, for the anarchists & the unbelievers & the wicked homosexuals). While next to nobody anymore openly advocates segregation & the denial of basic rights of citizenship to black people, the broad consensus among Southern whites remains unchanged: this is a white man's country, & we will do what we must do to keep it that way. This explains why the loudest opposition to immigration reform will come from Southern Republican representatives. This explains the push for "voter ID" laws & other efforts to suppress minority voting. This explains also the critical loss of support for the social safety net among working-class whites - rather than seeing such programs as intended to help them in their times of need, they see said programs as taking money out of their hard-working hands & giving it to those lazy, shiftless you-know-who.

        Of course, the phenomenon of political polarization in America is much broader than Southern racial politics. But that's obviously where it starts.

        The bad news is that there's not much that Democrats can do in the short term to change this dynamic. The good news is that nationally, it appears that Democrats can win without the South.  

  •  I don't know about the premise of this diary. (5+ / 0-)

     I am in my middle 80’s and a Roosevelt Democrat.   I correspond with a friend, one of my high school class mates, who is a radical Wingnut.   We both had a very similar social background.  We both had somewhat dysfunction families.  We both grew up during the Great Depression.   We were both very poor.  I have a tendency to believe there is a difference in our brain.                  

    •  I think that there is a difference in the way (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      This old man

      liberal and conservative brains are  wired, too. There's even scientific evidence for it. Even if there weren't, I'd take your word for it!

      Inspiration is hard to come by. You have to take it where you find it. --- Bob Dylan.

      by figbash on Tue May 21, 2013 at 12:56:53 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  The difference boils down to this (5+ / 0-)
    Most liberal think the majority of conservatives are wrong, although within this wrong are sprinkled people who are just evil.

    The majority of conservatives think liberals are evil, although within this evil group are sprinkled people who are just wrong.

    You can bargain with a person you think is just wrong, it's much harder to bargain with a person who is evil.

    On marriage equality I think people who are against it are mostly just wrong, conservatives think people supporting it are evil people leading America to Sodom and the devil.  I think lowering taxes to the point of starving public investment won't create economic growth, conservatives think raising taxes is stealing money from those smart enough or blessed by God and stealing is against the 10 commandments.

    The problem is that  my description is becoming less of a charactuer of conservatives and more of a description.

    -1.63/ -1.49 "Speaking truth to power" (with snark of course)!

    by dopper0189 on Tue May 21, 2013 at 02:39:03 AM PDT

    •  But polarization begets polarization, to an ... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      scott5js, DrJohnB

      ... increasing extent.

      I want to be - as once I was - "moderate." Effective government depends on bringing people with differing views together to get something done. Something that by definition is not what any of the contenders view as ideal for them, but a result that is good enough for now - to see how it goes, to improve it later if it's working or do something different (or even refrain!) if it isn't.

      This is not today's political environment. There is the Tea Party, obdurately conservative on economic and social issues across the board, eager to deny voters in states it controls. There is us, eager to criticize a President for trying to compromise to get things moving, even if just as an example of what might be achievable.

      In the House, Austerity Writ Large to foil government and pass nothing that has a taint of what the President wants. In the Senate, the Minority leader's declaration that his principle goal is to deny the President another term and the overwhelming use of rules and procedures not unknown to Democrats but not used by them to stopper up legislative action generally.

      Yes, we are becoming extreme because they are very extreme, and were first. But neither extreme is an effective one in a representative democracy.

      2014 IS COMING. Build up the Senate. Win back the House : 17 seats. Plus!

      by TRPChicago on Tue May 21, 2013 at 05:25:03 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  So let's be NICER and things will get BETTER ? (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        quill, New Rule, Bisbonian

        The tragedy of the Obama Administration is that everyone has adopted the "ignore the bully and he will soon get bored and leave you alone" tactic.

        Such civility!  Such dignity !  Such a clear command of the Moral High Ground !

        It didn't work in the schoolyard.  It doesn't work in the House.  But it SOUNDS like something that ought to work, somewhere, somehow. It really, really ought to.

        Meanwhile the "center" follows the path of false equivalency inexorably to the Right.

  •  The internet and media have also played a role (5+ / 0-)

    Everyone has an opinion and absent the face-to-face discourse of a normal conversation and the pause to think that requires, people tend to vent without reservation and become instant pundits.

    Ironically, the internet also engenders some of the best discussions because it brings together people and ideas that would not otherwise meet.

    Likewise, the mass media has developed a compulsion to over dramatize and offer opinions more than fact because it's a faster, cheaper way to fill the time 24/7.

    400ppm : what about my daughter's future?

    by koNko on Tue May 21, 2013 at 05:33:28 AM PDT

  •  Two things (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    The eastern Republicans were often moderate "Rockefeller" Republicans.  These have been purged.   The Southern strategy didn't really take hold until the 1994 election.  Up until that time there were mostly (old) Democartic representatives with one to three urban Republicans in most Southern states.  Since '94 most southern states have been solid Republican except for one or two gerrymandered Black representatves.  Without gerrymandering I think there could still be a two party system in the South.

  •  Getting there (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DrJohnB, New Rule, figbash

    This is an excellent post, and I encourage you to continue to develop this thinking.

    A couple of things to think about while you are:

    I have been saying for some time that the term "Tea Party Republican" should not be used.  The extreme wing you describe should be called "Southern Republicans" in order to emphasize the link you make to "Southern Democrats."  These are the same people, dedicated to a racist agenda, only more so.

    One source of the conservative agenda is left out of your analysis.  That is corporate interests.  The service to corporate interests pervades all motivations for what we call the conservative movement today (which is not really conservative, but let's set that aside for now).

    The fact that Republican talking points are simply accepted as a given by all media outlets reflects the fact that media is owned and controlled by corporations.  (Even NPR does it, for crying out loud.)

    In fact, if we look at their actual policies, Republicans:

    --  Don't want to cut taxes (and haven't) for average Americans, just for corporations and the wealthy.

    --  Don't care about government intrusion on the rights and freedoms of average Americans (see:  Patriot Act), just on the license to make as much profit as possible, not matter how many people they kill doing so, of corporations.

    And so forth.  I'm sure readers of this blog/site can think of many other examples.

    Another post brought up health care.  The system we have is not designed to actually treat sick people or keep people healthy.  It is designed to generate corporate profits.

    'nuff said.  Or this comment will be bigger than the original post.  :)

    In Washington, whenever anyone does something wrong, everyone else gets punished.

    by Noziglia on Tue May 21, 2013 at 07:50:56 AM PDT

  •  Thanks! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I appreciate all the thoughtful comments.  No time to reply individually now, duty calls with a shrill unpleasant voice.

    P.S. Really pumped about making the front page!

    Reporting from Tea Bagger occupied America

    by DrJohnB on Tue May 21, 2013 at 09:07:18 AM PDT

  •  Well, I'm reading a history of (0+ / 0-)

    Populism right now.

    Apparently partisan demagoguery took off after the Civil War.

    Maybe polarization is an old American tradition.

  •  current levels of political polarization (0+ / 0-)

    I view things completely differently.  I think past levels of LOWER political polarization were temporary events outside the norm and that it's the more typical and natural course of events for society to be more polarized, especially along economic lines.  The Republicans have become crazy, and that can't be justified, but by fighting hard for their side, testing the edges of what's allowable, they are doing what they are supposed to be doing.  And when we fail to do the same, we're being elitist losers.

  •  Hate sells. Both sides sell lots of it. (0+ / 0-)

    Fear, too.  

    I think they sell so well because Americans are becoming more self absorbed, due to social media and the Internet, and could be bothered to look past their keypads at their fellow human beings, when they can be fed their hate and fear on channels that reinforce whatever crap they've already been fed by their parents and teachers.  

    The Luddites and survivalists will own the world some day, when everyone else, who is so connected that they are completely disconnected from the person right next to them, dies in a fiery apocalypse.  

    Have a nice day.  

    The patellar reflex is a deep tendon reflex which allows one to keep one's balance with little effort or conscious thought.

    by SpamNunn on Tue May 21, 2013 at 12:04:49 PM PDT

  •  When I saw the title, I thought. . . (0+ / 0-)

    "Hmmm, I wonder how deep into the thread before the polarizing rhetoric begins."

    Fourth sentence:

    "Our opponents in the conservative movement are hypocrites, motivated by either ignorance, superstition, or self-interest."

    I think the tootsie pop owl got to three licks before biting it.

    So compared to that you're doing great!

    Look, I know. I get it. I read this site daily.

    But, we all have to acknowledge that the material presented here fits a certain narrative of progressives = sanity/ conservatives = insanity, which is fun, but (come on!?) is also polarizing.

    "Jersey_Boy" was taken.

    by New Jersey Boy on Tue May 21, 2013 at 05:49:10 PM PDT

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