by: Ted Frier
(I just printed the whole thing - important it is, yes.)Yellow Dog has a good get in flagging T-Nehisi Coates' thoughts on the NAACP challenge to Tea Party Nation to repudiate the obvious racists who are attracted to the Tea Party's rebellion against a legitimate national governing majority that contains too few white Southern Christians for the right wing's taste.
But what jumped out at me is that Coates gave a name for a phenomenon I know we've all noticed many times before when aggressive right wingers try to adopt the pose of innocent victims instead: "Frame flipping."
And we need to start using that phrase more often.
But like all bigotry, the most potent component of racism is frame-flipping--positioning the bigot as the actual victim. So the gay do not simply want to marry, they want to convert our children into sin. The Jews do not merely want to be left in peace, they actually are plotting world take-over. And the blacks are not actually victims of American power, but beneficiaries of the war against hard-working whites. This is a respectable, more sensible, bigotry, one that does not seek to name-call, preferring instead change the subject and strawman. Thus segregation wasn't necessary to keep the niggers in line, it was necessary to protect the honor of white women.
Frame flipping is what occurs when the KKK accuses the Southern Poverty Law Center of "fomenting race hatred" when it publishes reports documenting the KKK's verbal and physical attacks on minorities.
Frame flipping is what occurs when Southern reactionaries like Senator Jeffrey Beaureguard Sessions III attack people like Justice Sotomayor for their "empathy" in looking at laws, made by the ruling white class to protect their place and privileges, through the lens of those minority groups who might be disadvantaged by those very same laws.
Frame flipping is what occurs when Christian fundamentalists claim that liberals are "attacking people of faith" and engaging in "anti-Christian bigotry" when liberals object to having their alternative life-styles degraded as crimes against nature or sins against God.
I ran across another example of Coate's "Frame Flipping" yesterday in a published debate in the libertarian Cato Institute's Reason magazine between Cato vice president Brink Lindsey and the National Review's Jonah Goldberg that I was going to comment on later. But one piece of it applies here.
Lindsey was arguing that the time has now come for small government libertarians to de-couple themselves from the conservative movement and strike out on their own (perhaps forming an alliance with liberals) because it is now clear that conservatism has been completely overtaken by a dangerous strain of far right, totalitarian extremism -- an extremism that its adherents cannot see because right wing propagandists like Beck and Limbaugh have very skillfully recast the aggressive right wing as society's victims.
In the essay Lindsey wrote:
A clear eyed look at conservatism as a whole reveals a political movement with no realistic potential for advancing individual freedom. The contemporary right is so deeply under the sway of its most illiberal impulses that they now define what it means to be a conservative.
What are those impulses?
First and foremost, a raving, anti-intellectual populism as expressed by Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck. Next, a brutish nationalism as expressed in anti-immigrant xenophobia (most recently on display in Arizona) and it's "always 1938 somewhere" jingoism. And always lurking in the background, a dogmatic religiosity, as expressed in homophobia, creationism, and extremism on beginning and end of life issues. The combined result is a right wing identity politics that feeds on the red meat of us versus them, "Real America" versus the liberal-dominated coasts, faith and gut instinct versus pointy-heded elitism.
This noxious stew of reaction and ressentiment is the antithesis of libertarianism. The spirit of freedom is cosmopolitan. It is committed to secularism in political discourse, whatever religious views people might hold privately. And it cooly upholds reason against the swirl of interests and passions.
Perhaps aware of the instantaneous backlash that met the NAACP when the nation's premier civil rights group suggested there might be racists imbedded within the larger Tea Party, Lindsey is careful not to shake a stick at the tiger by using the word "fascism" in his description of the conservative movement today. But a "noxious stew" of "anti-intellectual populism" combined with "brutish nationalism" is what experts who study political movements define as fascism.
More interesting was the response of Jonah Goldberg, a mercenary scribe of the radical right who's sacrificed his intellectual integrity for 30 pieces of silver to spend his time spinning utter nonsense in order to keep the conservative coalition together at all costs.
And what Goldberg says about Lindsey's concerns on religious intolerance creeping into our politics provides another example of Coate's Frame Flipping.
Many of Lindsey's core aassumptions about conservatism's relationship with libertarianism are just wrong. For starters, why should libertarianism be so hostile to culturally conservative values? Isn't libertarianism about freedom, including the freedom to live conservatively if that's what people choose?
Secuarlism in politics is a perfectly admirable and libertarian value, but using the state to impose secularism on society is not. One gets the sense from Lindsey that the greater threat to freedom in this country comes from conservatives imposing their "benighted" religious outlook on the citizenry, rather than from the state scrubbing society of religion, while imposing narrow conceptions of "diversity" on every institution and hamlet.
Which worldview has more state and corporate power behind it in America today, Christianity or -- for want of a better term -- political correctness? Lindsey is supposed to be making the case for freedom, and yet so much of his uncharacteristically intemperate essay simply reads like he has chosen sides in the culture war and thinks that a host of political and policy questions should therefore be settled.
Now, the first thing to note about Goldberg's rant is that in order for the Religious Right to enjoy its "freedom to live conservatively," as Goldberg says, the Religious Right must make everyone else live conservatively too.
That is why the Religious Right is such a radical movement. It is undemocratic by nature -- and design. It needs to make the rest of us conform in order for it to enjoy what it calls "freedom." That's the whole point of the Moral Majority, the Christian Coalition, and why religious fundamentalists have organized a political movement to reform and "purify" a "liberal, secular, progressive" culture that the far right considers to be decadent.
Liberals are perfectly content with a live-and-let-live bargain with conservatives. Conservatives are not. They are offended every day by the things they see and hear in the larger culture and they find such (how did Goldberg put it?) "narrow conceptions of diversity" intolerable. So, they must change them by having America conform to a "biblical worldview," to Biblical law.
Now, propagandists like Goldberg are smart enough to recognize that the "freedom" to live as one chooses is not compatible with the "imposition" of a conservative worldview the radical right needs to prevail in order to live freely as conservatives. So the right needs to turn the tables by redefining the neutrality of the democratic nationstate in matters of faith and morals into an aggressive liberal/progressive assault on Christianity (and all religion) instead, "using the state to impose secularism on society."
The frame flip here is turning "secularism" -- meaning neutrality in morals and religion -- into one more competing "religion." And by doing this, the right wing scores a twofer: They can accuse liberals of violating the Constitution's First Amendment prohibition against the "establishment of religion." And they can claim that liberals are guilty of an unpardonable religious bigotry for refusing to permit Christian fundamentalists to convert them to the Religious Right's rigid orthodoxy.
The charges of Goldberg and the Religious Right make no sense, either logically or empirically. But this faux victimization resonates powerfully with a demographic that is already receptive to apocalyptic messages and visions of martyrdom. Hence the popularity of Glenn Beck, who some of my more unhinged relatives are now calling "a prophet."
Lindsey's essay thus represents the leading edge of what is perhaps an important turning point in our poltics if it signals a welcoming fracturing of a conservative movement that has dominated American politics for more than 30 years but which has always been a fragile, unstable and ultimately contradictory coalition between those who think "greed is good" and those who believe that virtually everything is bad.