Noel Ignatiev's Blog

Sandal-Wearers and Gun-Toters

I recently picked up the summer 2010 issue of The Defenestrator, published in Philadelphia. Its masthead describes it as “a newspaper for hope and refusal.” My eye fell on an article by Robert Saleem Holbrook, “’Proud to Be an American!’ When Ignorance is Virtue.” The article attacks what it calls “the political and cultural right.” “Every day we’re bombarded with shouts that a radical left-wing government has seized power and have to suffer the protests of a Tea Party movement composed of grumpy old white people pissed off that an intelligent ‘socialist’ African American was elected president of the United States.”

This is ridiculous, says Holbrook, since “Obama is neither radical nor socialist.”

 “So what is it that has the extreme right in an uproar,” he asks. His answer: “perception.” “The extreme right, in particular cultural purists, perceive Obama’s election as a shift in the racial/ethnic demographics of the country…. The idea that an intelligent minority [Holbrook probably means “member of a racial minority”] has ascended to the presidency of the United States is a difficult reality for many to accept and contend with, therefore they have fallen back on the bankability of racial animosity to galvanize their base and opposition. This racial animosity explicitly equates being an ‘American’ with being white, particularly white male, and conservative.”

“Perhaps nowhere is the animosity more expressed than by the so-called Barbie doll of the extreme right, Sarah Palin [whose] racial animosity towards Obama is at its most obvious when she mocks Obama as the ‘professor in chief’ and makes derogatory references to his intelligence and elite schooling.”

According to Holbrook, the problem is ignorance. “Many cultural conservatives like to say that the left views middle America as stupid and uneducated. Well here’s a confession: that is true.” He continues, “To cultural conservatives ignorance has become a virtue…” As examples he cites recent moves in Texas and Virginia to restore a right-wing version of U.S. history to the school curriculum.

“How do you deal with these people? How do you contend with deliberate ignorance? Do you ignore it? Shout it down? Debate with it? Treat it with detestable contempt? [I doubt that Holbrook detests the contempt rather than its target, but that is what he wrote.]

“I think the only way you deal with this mentality is to confront it because at its root it is the lynch mob mentality…. One does not have to be pigeonholed into being labeled a liberal or a defender of Obama for challenging this racist conservative opposition.”

The people Holbrook calls “racist” and “conservative” oppose Obama’s giveaways to the banks and insurance companies; so do I, so do the readers of The Defenestrator, and so does Holbrook; many of them oppose the wars in central Asia; so do I, and so do the readers of The Defenestrator, and so does Holbrook; they oppose Obama’s misnamed Healthcare plan, they oppose centralized control of the schools, they oppose gun control, etc.; so do I, and so do the readers of The Defenestrator, and so (probably) does Holbrook.

Many of the people Holbrook calls “the political and cultural right” have difficulty distinguishing among political categories. That is no small problem, but their view of Obama as a socialist has an element of truth: for most of the twentieth century “socialism” has meant bureaucracy and the centralized state, and has indeed been the highest form of capitalism.

So who is it that needs confronting?

I spend a good deal of my time in central Massachusetts, far from the “pwogwessives” of Cambridge and Brookline. A few years ago I attended the Garlic Festival in Orange, which featured organically-grown vegetables and folksinging. Most of those present wore Birkenstocks and arrived in Toyotas and Hondas. I enjoyed myself. A few weeks later I went to the Game Feed sponsored by the local gun club. The menu included wild turkey, moose and bear meat, the music was country, and the guests drove pickup trucks and motorcycles. I enjoyed myself there, too.

At both events the crowd was made up almost entirely of white people.

I may have been the only person who attended both events. I do not claim that my attendance had any political effect; but I do say that the alienation of the sandal-wearers from the gun-toters is symptomatic of a general problem on the “left” (an obsolete and useless category).

Lastly, I ask readers to think about what it means that the most prominent spokesman for “white male conservatives” is female.

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