Alan Wolfe, of the New Republic, sees America’s culture war politics as a sublimation of racial anxiety, and says of Obama’s victory:
The single most disturbing aspect of last night’s election is the transformation of the Republican Party into the party of the Confederacy.
Race has long been our major division, and all our other divisions play off its script. From the culture war’s first manifestation in the guise of a Nixonian emphasis on law and order, through debates about teenage pregnancy and promiscuity, down to affirmative action, the culture war was a replay of earlier conflicts between black and white. Whether tensions were fueled by Southern politicians denouncing welfare or Al Sharpton threatening disruption, those who made race central to their outlook did not mind a little polarization here and there. This is where Obama’s coolness became essential. It took someone whose race was once a symbol of being at the bottom to lift us all over the top.
The debate will now center on how Obama should govern. On that question I would rather follow his lead than give him advice, at least for now. He has not only won an election, he has put us in touch with our history. There will be plenty of time for the criticism later. We are still reeling from an administration that played to our fears, never acknowledged its mistakes, ignored our best traditions, and shredded our moral values. We deserve a moment to feel proud once again. Barack Obama has offered it. What more could one ask for in an election?
It remains to be seen whether America can really transcend this divisive racial political narrative—sublimated or otherwise.
A good deal will depend, presumably, on whether Obama manages:
(a) to avoid assassination, and
(b) has a successful presidency.
Let’s wish him well, and his enemies ill.
I think that Wolfe’s optimistic portrayal of America’s demographic picture below is premature, but it is, nevertheless, one way to look at this election:
Fortunately for Obama, and for the rest of us, the senators and House members elected from these die-hard regions are in the minority, incapable of stopping a Democratic president from pursuing his agenda. In addition, their numbers will continue to shrink as companies move in looking for cheap labor and their kids move out looking for better opportunities. Some holdouts in the Old South may never give up, but it no longer matters. Not long ago, these kinds of people, driven by their parochial obsessions with racial superiority, ran the country. Now they will be a remnant. Perhaps they will be able to control the Republican Party for the next electoral cycle or two, but the white South has finally lost its privileged position in American political life; Jesse Helms’s Senate seat is now held by Kay Hagan. Like all those who lose their privileges, especially those who never earned them in the first place, they are unlikely to show much grace, despite the effort by John McCain, in his concession speech, to point the way. Obama would do well not to try to win them over but to ignore them. They have for too long been a malignant force in American political life, and we should not miss their passing.
We’ll see if this political obituary is premature—or whether the Republican party, over the next decade, morphs into something more benign—or even more virulent.