The Corner

Tribalism And All That

I’ve gotten a large number of emails along these lines:

I think you underestimate the degree to which cultural and ethnic identity plays a role on GOP politics. At the macro-level, the GOP is the white peoples party. It loses dismally among blacks, Hispanics, and Asians.

You even see identity politics at play within the party. Evengelicals vote for Huckabee, Mormons for Romney, ex-military people for McCain. And let’s face it – “neocons” in the shape of pro-war liberals tend to be heavily Jewish. So I think you underestimate somewhat the role of identity in Republican politics. Tribalism is deeply rooted in human nature. That used to be a conservative insight.

It is entirely possible that I’m underestimating the degree to which cultural and ethnic identity plays a role on GOP politics. I don’t believe it has no role, which conceded in the column for the record. But I think this complaint from many reader underestimates the extent to which I’m right!

I have no doubt that racial identity plays its part for some white Republicans. But I must say I neither meet, nor hear from, very many of them. Almost every conservative I know loves the idea of having more black people in the party. The buzz on the right about Colin Powell and  Condoleeza Rice was  sincere. A great many conservatives — including many immigration restrictionists like VDH — have very kind and flattering things to say about Mexican-Americans, particularly those who’ve lived in America for many generations. President Bush himself certainly hasn’t led the GOP as if it were a “white peoples party.” I’ve never quite understood what his point about family values not ending at the Rio Grande means, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t mean “thumbs up for whitey and nobody else.”

Where most conservatives draw the line is the proposition whereby the GOP should become so accommodating of blacks and Hispanics that it simply adopt leftwing positions on affirmative action, bilingualism, quotas, unrestricted immigration etc.  In other words, the Republicans and/or the conservatives are eager to have blacks and others join them, but only if they abandon to some extent their identity politics dogmas and their ideological position that the state should pick winners and losers based on race, gender etc. The objections to Colin Powell on the right were always ideological or political, not racial. Michael Steele is a rising star in the GOP in part because people hope he can persuade more blacks that Republican policies are in black America’s interests and explain to Republicans that there are ways to reach out to blacks without compromising conservative principles. Meanwhile, on the Democratic side the rhetoric about race very, very, rarely rises above straight up pandering to identity politics constituencies. And as I’ve noted, it’s not just identity politics groups, but unions and other interest groups. Popular front solidarity has always been one of the driving passions of the left while the “leave me alone coalition” has for most of the last half century, been the primary dynamic of the right. Frankly, I don’t see why this should very controversial. 

Indeed, one of the reasons why conservatives like Obama is that  to a reasonable, though hardly perfect, extent Obama has been taking the advice of the Shelby Steeles, Tom Sowells, Ward Connerlys and others who’ve suggested that black politicians try to transcend race and speak to the whole nation. Obama is certainly a very liberal candidate, but compared to Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton, he is a very classy one and the manner in which he is campaigning is a big step in the right direction (though that may change if he’s the nominee, but I hope not). 

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