Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Are Conservatives More Implicit in the Egregious Sins of America?

Most conservative bloggers are familiar with the left's standards of moral relativism.

But how about comparative guilt? Should conservatives feel more historically guilty than leftists? Can we measure comparative culpabilities - for injustices like gender oppression, Japanese internment, or slavery most of all - between the two major ideological traditions in American history?

The folks at
Daily Kos think so:

White guilt is the natural - and correct - emotion to feel when as a white person - hell as an American - one is confronted by America's original sin. For I, and all my white brethren, are the recipients, the beneficiaries of hegemonic system. My privilege - America's privilege - has been paid for through the blood and oppression of other peoples. This doesn't mean I ought to go flogging myself all the time (shame). It does mean that I ought to be aware and work to change the system as it is now. It means I ought to try to solve the problems that still haunt those on whose backs this country was made great.

When I call myself an American, I don't get to cherry-pick which parts of America's identity I bring along. For slavery is as much a part of America as The Emancipation Proclamation. Japanese Internment as much as the Bill of Rights. Guantanamo Bay as much as The Berlin Airlifts. So, by calling myself American, I give myself to a country that both enables some of the best opportunities for social change and justice in the world and requires deep guilt.

Rosenbaum points out that Conservatives are just as implicit - if not more so (their movement, historically) - in the egregious sins of America, yet they are the ones who reject guilt, and, thus reject awareness of America's sometimes dark past. The modern conservative incarnation has embraced the narrative of American Exceptionalism - America is always right. And, in so doing, have absolved themselves of guilt. In doing so, they have washed away any chance of seeing America for what it is. Great. Imperfect...

Ignoring guilt is only cause for more of the same. Perhaps, Conservatives glorify America, not solely out of patriotism (however warped it may be), but out of a desire to easily absolve themselves of the guilt that liberals must recognize. Guilt isn't a comfortable thing, after all. It's the easy way out, sticking one's head in the sand.
The reference is to Ron Rosembaum, "In Praise of Liberal Guilt: It's Not Wrong to Favor Obama Because of Race," who asks:
Since when has guilt become shameful? Since when is shame shameful when it's shame about a four-centuries-long historical crime? Not one of us is a slave owner today, segregation is no longer enshrined in law, and there are fewer overt racists than before, but if we want to praise America's virtues, we have to concede—and feel guilty about—America's sins, else we praise a false god, a golden calf, a whited sepulcher, a Potemkin village of virtue. (I've run out of metaphors, but you get the picture.)
What to make of all this talk of guilt and complicity?

Rosenbaum wants to make this a partisan question, so it's no surprise the Kos folks take up the banner. Considering how
Markos Moulitsas claims his community's the mainstream future of progressive politics and the Democratic Party, I'm not surprised that this meme of liberal superiority on comparative complicity is taking root.

The problem? It's a scam.

When we talk about conservatives today compared to those of earlier era, we're not talking about static categories: We can't just hop in Michael J. Fox's DeLorean and zip back to 1619, to the dockside at the harbor in Virginia, waiting to off-load our fresh human cargo from West Africa. Who was conservative back then?
Abolitionism was not a formal movement in the United States until the 18th and 19th centuries, and even those who had moral qualms about racial hierarchies in the 17th century certainly were outliers in a system of cultural acceptance of racial difference.

We can quibble with it, but the folks we venerate today, like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, were slaveowners. Yes, it's been our original sin, but Americans realized at that time - at the time of the founding, in 1787 - the contradictions of the American creed. We cannot have a country established on the principle that all men are created equal while simultaneously maintaining an economic and social system of human chattel bondage. We've sought to overcome this stain throughout the length of our history, and if we want to label one side more guilty than the other, let's be fair: President Lincoln was no abolitionist, but his movement for a national greatness Republican Party did more to restore equality under the law than anything the Democrats did for 100 years following the assassination of the 16th president.

We did see, though, through the late-19th and 20th centuries, the building of a high tide of liberal guilt. Let me count the ways: the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, Guinn v. United States (1915),
Executive Order 9981, Brown v. Board of Education, Little Rock, Arkansas (Eishenhower's Executive Order 10730, Desegregation of Central High School, 1957), the 24th Amendment, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Executive Order 10925, Executive Order 11246, the War on Poverty, the Fair Housing Act of 1968, the Philadelpha Plan, Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education ...

I imagine I could go on, but my enumeration of actions toward equality and justice goes back, right there, over a full century in marking the agonizing, fitfull, and violent efforts at actualizing the promise of the American dream for all citizens - and that's the result of the EXPLICIT recognition of our moral failures as a people. And folks want to talk about guilt?

We no longer have slavery, Jim Crow, and the stigma of an American apartheid because we have worked so long and so hard to overcome.

But it's frankly never enough. That's why we have race hustlers arguing that we were all wrong about Martin Luther King: The slain civil rights leader disabused himself of the vision that one day we'd be able to live where all of God's children might realize conditions of mutual equality, love, and respect. Nope, we have to dig down, root out King's insecurities and doubts, the frustrations of a slowing of change, to the impatience of adjusting to the very revolution he, Dr. King, had brought about by his irrepressible reminder that we hadn't live up to our moral requirement. Nope, according the race grievance masters like
Michael Eric Dyson, Dr. King became "darker and angrier; he grew more skeptical about the willingness of America to change without great social coercion."

So this is what we get? Instead of standing in awe at the edge of the great racial chasm, where the dawn is about to break on a new era of racial equality, with an eloquent young politician who has lived America's promise of diversity, inclusion, and opportunity, we get racial recrimination?

In response to
Rosenbaum we see white conservatives pundits wringing their hands, trying to get out from the sting of opprobruim, by admitting - God help us! - shame for our past injustices.
Well, damn, you'd think a few conservative folks had just murderously beat the teeth out of
some black youth whistling at a leggy Southern white housewife!

So, what to think? Are the
Kos guilt mongerers right?

Well, no. We can reverse the arrows of discrimination nowadays. The "hegemonic" system that's oppressing society today is the Democratic Party's racial recrimination program, and the conservatives are down home on the plantation, serving remorseful penance for the "accumulated disadvantages" of 400 years of complicity in oppression.

This is not going away either, I'll note, this system of racial recrimination. It's not going away because the president
we're very likely to elect does not repudiate the callous, egregious politics of racial resentment.

Despite spurious calls to "end identity politics" (including at
Daily Kos, of all places) today's Democratic Party maintains power on the back of that guilt-ridden ideology.

It's time to put that nastiness to bed, and get on with the real job of strengthening traditional values of hard work and strong families, of educational achievement and professional accomplishment. Rather than play the comparative guilt game, let's restore the power of American individualism and pull out of
this funk we're having, getting back to the nation's business of living out our dream up on that hill one of of which one of our more optimisitic presidents spoke.