Politics

02.11.13

Roger Ailes and the Party of Calhoun

Two interesting New Republic pieces provide the occasion for further reflection on some of our favorite topics around here: the Republicans, the South, and race.

The cover piece by Sam Tanenhaus on the GOP and the legacy of John Calhoun is getting attention because the cover is a very clever riff on the white album cover (lower case because of course the album was called "The Beatles"). Whether you think "An Historical Investigation" (the cover copy) is acceptable American English is between you and your maker. I find it awfully hoity-toity.

It's a good piece. I and others have written plenty about nullification and South Carolina's malignant influence on American politics since this current madness started in 2009, but Tanenhaus does do a nice job of invoking Calhoun's views in such a way as to make their present-day relevance clear:

Calhoun's innovation was to develop a radical theory of minority-interest democracy based on his mastery of the Constitution's quirky arithmetic, which often subordinated the will of the many to the settled prejudices of the few. At the time of the constitutional convention, the total population of the Union, as reported by the most recent census, was just under 3.5 million; yet, Calhoun pointed out, the four smallest states, "with a population of only 241,490, something more than the fourteenth part of the whole, could have defeated the ratification." In other words, "numerical" or "absolute majorities" were severely limited in the actions they could take—or impose on others—especially on questions that put sectional interests at odds with the "General Government."

That's exactly what the Republicans, and the South, do today.

Tanenhaus's piece runs through lots of recent and familiar history, but the takeaway is clear: The Republicans are the white party because it's their historical fate and they make no effort to escape that fate.

Now we move to Eliza Gray's interview with Roger Ailes, in which he tries to talk up a Fox-GOP-Latino alliance in formation. Ailes mouths all the usual blather about Latinos being natural allies and culturally conservative and all the rest of it and says:

 “The president likes to divide people into groups,” he huffs into the phone. “He’s too busy getting the middle class to hate rich people, blacks to hate whites. He is busy trying to get everybody to hate each other.” With that off his chest, Ailes gets back on message. “We need to get along,” he says.

Please. Ailes needs to read Tanenhaus's piece. He can't market his way out of this one, or project what he and Fox have spent 15 years doing onto Obama.

By the way, re the South, I was thinking the other day, for those of you who keep trying to defend it: Name a politically progressive reform or development in this country that originated in the South. Go ahead. One. I think you'd be hard pressed to name more than three or four that the South didn't actively resist.