It’s hard to overestimate the importance of this Slate article, “Divide and Conquer,” by Jamelle Bouie. He has done the GOP a favor by revealing the Democratic party’s strategic plan for defeating Scott Walker in 2016: smearing him as a “divisive” candidate who will send dog whistles to his white supporters and seek to run the table with the still-majority white voters to win the White House.
This article is the 2015 equivalent to the Zimmerman Telegram, and the GOP deserves to lose the White House if it ignores it. Governor Walker and the RNC will repeat Mitt Romney’s fatal mistake if they let this become the national narrative. Romney failed to respond to Obama’s early attacks on his wealth, and was painted into a corner as an out-of-touch plutocrat who tied his dog to the roof of his car. Romney never recovered from the populist suspicion.
Now, after eight years of what objective observers must describe as the most divisive presidency in American history — a presidency marked by IRS targeting of conservatives, by explicit appeals to minority groups, by a chief executive telling those who oppose law enforcement that he is “their” president, by the tarring of financiers as “fat cats,” by the smearing of religious folk as “bitter clingers” — the Democrats seek to pull an act of political legerdemain and paint Scott Walker as the divisive danger to America’s future.
And they will win, if Republicans and Walker don’t fight back.
Scott Walker has a long way to go before winning the GOP nomination, but Democrats have rightly identified him as a threat. His impressive early start, his proven record of accomplishment in Wisconsin, and his electoral prowess show he is serious. He is no popular media sideshow like Sarah Palin or Donald Trump. Nor does he have the electoral or familial baggage of Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush. He is the real deal, a Midwestern conservative who has successfully taken on public unions and governed a center-left state.
Psychologists might well say that the article’s author, Bouie, is engaging in a classic case of transference. Take these lines, for example, referring to Walker’s speech to the Iowa Freedom Summit last week: “His message, in short, was that he was effective, unwavering, and uncompromising. There was no need for outreach or a ‘big tent.’”
This must be an unconscious parody by Bouie of Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, whereby the author applied the president’s own flight from reality to Walker, a governor repeatedly elected by hundreds of thousands of liberal constituents. Or maybe Bouie understands exactly what Barack Obama has done twice to get elected and realizes it’s so effective a tool that of course any credible GOP candidate must adopt the same polarizing approach.
Here lies revealed the pathology at the core of modern progressivism. Progressives believe that winning can come only from dividing, from alienating and isolating non-mainstream groups. There is no “America” in this view, just racial categories, special interests, and economic classes, all of which are interchangeable levers to be plugged in when necessary for electoral victory. It’s Marxian in its spirit, less about an American people than narrowly self-interested splinters that can be manipulated by a ruling elite.
Sadly, this is a view that can only feed on itself. It has no room to grow, no ability to see beyond its self-imposed limits. It cannot provide an optimistic view of the future, because it cannot see how to transcend the divisions it reifies (and celebrates) to engender something larger.
Ultimately, this is because the progressive vision does not embrace freedom at its core, but rather the technocratic imposition of expertise. There is no real role for the American citizen, other than as the bill payer for socially transformative programs (all of which must be defended without question) and the electoral source of legitimacy for the elites, to whom he turns over the keys to society.
Conservatives, however, ignore the genius of the progressive strategy at their peril. Progressives pretend to defend a united American society while portraying anyone truly interested in empowering citizens as a threat to the larger community as well as to minorities, the working class, pro-choicers, etc.
The GOP regularly falls into the trap of letting the progressive Democrats define the national conversation and then trying to claw its way back to parity. Scott Walker should not make the same mistake.
— Michael Auslin is a frequent contributor to National Review Online.