Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality
The Redneck Club
By David G. Young
Washington, DC, October 3, 2006 --
The Republican Party has devolved into an anti-intellectual club of redneck populists. America's right wing is in dire need of a cerebral renaissance.
It's easy to dismiss the election-season foibles of Virginia Senator George Allen as a series of ridiculous personal gaffes. First, the Republican senator used his southern drawl to call a dark-skinned South Asian campaign worker "Macaca." Weeks later, when it was revealed that his maternal grandfather was a Jew, a defensive Allen used the same accent to brag about regularly eating pork products during his formative years. And after he was accused by acquaintances of regularly using "the N word" as a young man, his denials were not helped by the fact that he once kept a confederate flag and a noose in his office during his early years as a politician.1
Of course, the whole reason that Allen's ugly redneck transgressions are under scrutiny, is because he has been considered a credible candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. Democrats and left-leaning journalists have seized upon the up-and-coming candidate as an easy and juicy target.
And herein lays the problem. What on earth is going on with the Republican Party when such an idiot is considered one of its rising stars? Allen launched his political career in Virginia based largely on his father's fame as the coach of the nearby Washington Redskins football team. He successfully used this popularity to get a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives within a few years of his father's retirement, and later managed to win races as Virginia Governor before going on to the Senate.
In many ways, Allen's background is like a blueprint for the modern Republican politician. He is a white man from a southern state, has a "regular guy" image, and his apple pie credentials are unsullied by any hint of intellectual-orientation.
This populist anti-intellectualism is led by the president, a self-described C student who infamously cuddled up to the authoritarian leader of Russia after declaring he got a sense of his soul.2 This focus on faith, emotions, and feelings over intellect is pervasive in today's Republican banter. On Sunday's televised debate between congressman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Republican challenger Mike DeWine, for example, the Republican challenger said "I feel in my heart" that we cannot pull troops out of Iraq.3
That's the trouble with today's Republican leaders -- they are so busy feeling with their hearts that they never, ever think with their heads.4 Thinking, apparently, is something that only liberal elitists do.
It hasn't always been that way. About 50 years ago, William F. Buckley, Jr. founded the National Review to serve as a forum for conservative intellectual thought. By the 1960s, Barry Goldwater's indominatable intellect had seized the leadership of the cause. Even as late as 1994, the Republican revolution was led by Newt Gingrich, a former history professor and widely published author.
Compare this to today, where leading Republicans are backward-thinking bumpkins from the bible-belt: President George W. Bush; Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist; and until recently, House Majority Leader Tom Delay. These thick-headed Republicans demonize anyone who dares to think as being part of the left-wing. Appropriate inspirations for policy include religious faith, patriotism, and emotion, but never intellectual consideration.
But Gingrich, an intellectual who hails from Georgia, shows that being a redneck isn't entirely a regional issue -- Yankees have no monopoly on being brainy. Many of those who have embraced thick-headed American values aren't even southern. Geroge Allen, for all his drawl, grew up in California. And born-again president Dubya is a native of Connecticut, descending from a family that is about as blue-blooded as you can get. In short, being a redneck populist has nothing to do with where you are from -- it's an identity that you choose.
Die-hard cynics claim that these politicians take on redneck identities in order to get elected. Building a wall on the border with Mexico to block illegal immigrants from competing with constituents' jobs at Wal-Mart is now a Republican issue. Compare this with a generation ago. Back then, it was left-wing Democrats who decried the loss of union jobs to immigrant labor, criticizing Republican "fat cats" who wanted to exploit illegal immigrants by paying them less than the minimum wage.
Back then, free-market-oriented Republicans defended migrant labor, and favored opening borders. Ronald Regan signed an amnesty for illegal Mexican immigrants, and fought increases in the minimum wage. George H.W. Bush fought for the North American Free Trade Agreement, much to the chagrin of protectionist lefties who wanted to save American jobs.
But high-falutin' concepts of free markets and economic liberty are too intellectual for the born-again redneck Republicans that dominate in the party's primary elections. So long as the religious right holds the party captive, brainy Northeastern Republicans like Rudolph Giuliani, William Weld, and Mitt Romney literally don't have a prayer.
Related Web Columns:
He's No Gipper, April 27, 2004
1. Richmond Times Dispatch, Allen: 'Heal Some of the Wounds', June 14, 2005
2. CNN, Another Look Into Putin's Soul? February 24, 2005
3. NBC Meet the Press, Mike DeWine, Sherrod Brown, Pervez Muscharraf Transcript, October 1, 2006
4. Kerry D. Young, Paraphrased on October 1, 2006