Obamacare, Pajama Boy, and the Historical Paradox of American Masculinity

The longtime prototypical image of American masculinity: a right-wing, pill-popping draft-dodging chicken hawk.

The longtime prototypical image of American masculinity: a right-wing, draft-dodging chicken hawk whose image was built on colonialism and pseudo machismo.

Quick question: what makes a man? Is it, as the Big Lebowski famously quipped, “the ability to do the right thing?” In that context, manhood is defined through deeds and actions, but is that all there is to being a man? After all, the idea of a blanket definition of “masculinity” in the 21st century is patently absurd, resting as it does on the assumption that human identities can be shaped by a singular cultural experience or molded via the reigning social values that are inevitably dictated by those who hold power in any given society. The former sentence is a highfalutin way of saying that men, just like women, are all individuals who develop in a vast number of ways depending on a vast number of experiences. The idea of complexity in gender identity, however, has historically not meshed well with rather simplistic cultural notions of American masculinity.

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On Liberalism: Its Faults and its Historical Necessity

Eugène Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People (1830) has long symbolized both the triumphs and failures of modern liberal thought,

Eugène Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People (1830) has long symbolized both the triumphs and failures of modern liberal thought.

If you’ve read this blog before, you know that I’m a political liberal. I make no apologies for this stance, and have spent plenty of time on this blog critiquing conservatism as a political theory. Simply put, I think that an examination of modern history supplies sufficient evidence to prove that liberalism, despite its many flaws, remains the best hope for individual freedom and small “r” republicanism in the modern world. 

Liberalism, therefore, must be preserved and vigorously defended against the relentless conservative onslaught that, for decades, has sought to delegitimize it in the eyes of the American public. On many fronts, the Right has succeeded in doing just that, often with the unknowing aid of wishy-washy lefties who are quick to descend into hyperbolic pits of despair in moments when their ideas and policies falter. But this doesn’t mean that liberals shouldn’t critique their ideas in order to make them better and to justify why such ideas are superior to those of the Right in terms of extending freedom in America and across the globe.

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Ted Cruz, “Bourbon Dave,” and the Legacy of Border Ruffianism

Ted Cruz, the junior Reublican senator from Texas, likes to smite his political foes by angrily faux-filibustering. Because freedom.

Ted Cruz, the junior Republican senator from Texas, likes to smite his political foes by angrily faux-filibustering. Because freedom.

The two-week long, Tea Party Republican-engineered shutdown of the federal government is finally over. This week the Senate reached a deal that a politically battered House GOP reluctantly endorsed because it kicked the can of U.S. fiscal and political dysfunction down the road until December and February, when they can again wage scorched earth politics against all-things Obama.

Meanwhile, the horse-race junkie American political media has been focusing on the “winners” and “losers” of the shutdown. Most media outlets, save the hand-wringing experts at the Center for American Progress, have declared the Tea Party Republicans the tail between their knees losers: the victims of ideological rot and political miscalculation. Except for Ted Cruz. Indeed, the junior Republican senator from Texas — his term in the Senate barely a year old — was near universally dubbed a political winner even though his party was left with egg on their reactionary white faces.

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Big Government and Race: An American Saga

Tea Party protectors are part of a grand tradition in U.S. history, in which the prviledged complain about stuff.

Tea Party protesters are part of a grand tradition in U.S. history, in which privileged white people complain about stuff.

With the Republican Tea Party-backed congressional orcs continuing to lay siege to the Helm’s Deep of the federal government, there’s been a lot of discussion of late, especially by Salon’s Joan Walsh and Think Progress’ Zack Beauchamp, about how deeply entrenched issues of racial resentment are at the heart of the government shutdown. Both point to the GOP’s “Southern Strategy” that for several decades now has effectively convinced insecure white people that “Big Government,” steered by the Democrats, will redistribute state-supported goodies like tax benefits and welfare from the truly deserving ivory nobles to the allegedly mooching dusky rabble.

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The Cult of Bipartisanship and Henry Clay’s Long Shadow

1852 Painting of Henry Clay by Ambrose Andrews depicting Clay's American System. Clay hoped compromise would solve the slavery issue and make the U.S. a world power. He was wrong about one of those things.

1852 Painting of Henry Clay by Ambrose Andrews. Clay hoped compromise would resolve the slavery issue. It did, until 1860.

In the storied annuals of the history of the great American republic, the U.S. in 2013 finds itself at a distinctively low point. Like a stumbling barfly who breaks his neck after tripping over so many discarded Pabst Blue Ribbon cans, the United States federal government has ground to a halt because the United States federal government decided that it should grind to a halt.

Who is to blame for this epic display of stupidity-laced chutzpah? Look no further than the “people’s chamber” (pot). Its been over a week now since the pit of witless, but highly agitated Rancors known as the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress decided to throw one of the biggest collective tantrums in American history and shut down the federal government over the president’s shockingly anticipated refusal to defund his signature health care reform law.

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Government Shutdown and the Return of the Fire-Eaters

Virginia's Edmund Ruffin, a fire eater who, early in the Civil War, vowed that he would would go down with the Confederate ship. And the son-of-gun did it, too.

Virginia’s Edmund Ruffin, a Fire-Eater who, early in the Civil War, vowed that he would go down with the Confederate ship rather than submit to Yankee rule. And the son-of-gun did it, too, with a gun.

History is sort of important. We as humans consistently look back on the dunderheaded actions our species took in the past and often vow that we’ll never again jump onto the bad idea train even when it passes by at a slow pace with open side cars. Some folks, however, can’t resist: they don’t just want to ride the bad idea train, they want to run it full speed into the gaping, boulder-strewn gorge of failed historical trends. We describe these people as being on the wrong side of history.

Such is the case with the radically conservative Republican caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives, who are gleefully doing all that they can to turn the governmental train into a smouldering heap of wreckage. The current GOP-led House may validate the Greek philosopher Plato’s claim that all democracies must fall prey to the whims of society’s loudest, most dim-witted, authoritarian-minded nematodes, eventually collapsing into anarchic chaos before a tyrannical ruler reasserts control. The U.S. isn’t there yet, but the Tea Party caucus is sticking up the conductor, and it may just be a matter of time.

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The Republican Party, Race-Baiting, and Reconstruction’s Legacy

A campaign button worn by so-called "Reagan Democrats:" blue collar white northerners worried that Democrats had caved to black interests.

A 1984 Reagan-Bush campaign button worn by so-called “Reagan Democrats:” blue-collar white northerners worried that Democrats had caved to black interests.

Its become a truism in modern American politics that the Republican Party traffics in coded racial resentment. Dog-whistle phrases like “taxes,” “welfare,” “food stamps,” “dependency,” “entitlement reform,” or, if you’re the non-too-subtle former Pennsylvania senator Rick “Frothy Mix” Santorum, “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money,” have helped relay the message to status-anxiety ridden working and middle class whites that the GOP will protect them from the welfare scrounging black hordes.

With good reason, the GOP’s use of racial resentment to win votes is considered a twentieth-century century phenomenon, but it also has deep roots in the nineteenth century Reconstruction era, when the intersection of race and class planted the seeds of racial resentment that show a clear link between the party of Abraham Lincoln and the party of, well, the Tea Party.

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The GOP, the Debt Ceiling, and the History of Killing Political Legitimacy

Poster advertising a "Save the Union" meeting, Frederick, Maryland, September, 1860.

Poster advertising a “Save the Union” meeting, Frederick, Maryland, September, 1860.

The situation was unprecedented in scope. The conservative party in America, its hardcore base mostly relegated to the South, had just suffered a devastating electoral defeat in which a lawyer and political progressive from Illinois won the U.S. presidency along mostly sectional lines, carrying primarily northern and west coast states. In response to the stinging rebuke of their policies by the majority of the American people, the conservative party decided that rather than accept the outcome of the presidential election, they would instead try to prevent the victorious party from governing by denying their very political legitimacy. In so doing, the conservative party in America waged war against democracy itself.

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A Race Against Time: The South and the Fight Against Social Welfare

1930s poster advertising the benefits of Social Security. The South accpeted this program on condition that African Americans be excluded from its benefits.

1930s poster advertising the benefits of Social Security. The South accepted this program on condition that African-Americans be excluded from its benefits.

This October, some of the major benefits of President Obama’s signature health care reform bill will start being implemented across the U.S. Of course, ever since the bill’s passage back in 2010, the Republican Party has stood in strident opposition to a supposedly Stanliesque health reform law that was inspired by… the Heritage Foundation: a Republican think tank that over a decade ago proposed the idea of mandated individual health insurance. Among the GOP’s most vociferous opponents of Obamacare has been Ted Cruz, the junior senator from Texas who is aiming for the title of senate Wingnut Royale. Cruz has made headlines of late by defiantly claiming that he’ll find a way to destroy Obamacare even in the face of procedural impossibilities in the Senate.

Cruz’s Quixotic quest to defund the health care law is, in large part, a rhetorical attempt to regurgitate just enough political innards into the gaping maws of his nested Tea Party backers in exchange for their continued support. But Cruz’s anti-Obamacare stance is also standard politics for a conservative politician from the South: Cruz, as did many southerners in the past, opposes social welfare programs. Historically, however, conservative southerners’ opposition to welfare has been far from total; rather, as scholars like Lisa Disch and many others have observed, it has been selective along lines of class and, especially, race.

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