Tribal Loyalty and the Corporatist Agenda: It’s Not Just For Republicans Any More
By: Jane Hamsher Monday March 29, 2010 8:40 am
Ezra then went on to write (with no small amount of irony) that poor David Frum had been purged from AEI for his failure to walk in lockstep with the GOP on health care, after Frum pointed out that the foundations of the bill really were conservative. He castigates the party for its unfettered tribalism in shutting down a truthteller like Frum, who he applauds for merely pointing out the obvious conservative intellectual inconsistency. You could give yourself whiplash trying to count all the reversals wrapped up in that one, starting with Ezra’s long-held insistence that the health care bill represents a huge progressive victory (though he has been trying to square the two, as if progressive “goals” hadn’t been used as bait to neutralize liberal opposition and achieve a drastic corporate agenda).
It’s probably unfair to single out Ezra for this rather glaring inconsistency, since he was just one of many who were quick to excoriate “purists” on the left who didn’t support the bill and then subsequently leaped to Frum’s defense. But if the lesson of the David Frum firing is that it’s really bad for a political movement to stigmatize dissent and deviation from the party line, what does it say about those steely-eyed “pragmatists” who castigated pro-choice dissent within their own party when abortion rights were deemed an acceptable sacrifice?
There is no consistent, coherent moral position being expressed here. Rather, a woman’s right to choose has value primarily when it can be demagogued to exclude those who don’t pass its litmus test of tribal loyalty. Abortion is a core element of the liberal canon that cannot be broached at any cost when it comes to shutting down potential trans-partisan alliances around civil liberties or ending the war that have nothing whatsoever to do with choice. But when it comes to a law that actually seriously impacts a woman’s right to choose, abortion rights can be sacrificed for some “greater good,” with some feminist cover quickly assembled to affirm that an appropriate standard has been met. And anyone who doesn’t arrive at that conclusion at the same time is operating in bad faith and should not be taken seriously.
The abortion issue is emblematic of the way in which appeals to tribal loyalty were used to stigmatize and delegitimize progressive opposition to a radically corporatist health care bill. George Bush couldn’t privatize Social Security because of liberal opposition, but liberal resistance to a health care bill authored by the insurance companies was effectively neutralized by a call to Democratic party loyalty. Anyone making a consistent values argument, who didn’t immediately fall in line and support the passage of a neoliberal health care bill, was “helping the Republicans” – as if Republican opposition to the bill wasn’t the very thing that gave progressives negotiating power in the first place.
In What’s the Matter with Kansas, Thomas Frank poignantly describes how white working class Americans are tricked by corporate elites into acting against their self-interest through naked appeals to irrational tribalism.
Glad that only happens to Republicans.