Victimhood and the “ New Class” Argument
The New Right claims that the glue that holds them together is a deep attachment to moral values. Yet, these people have yet to shun Republican politicians whose personal lives have been revealed to be characterized by immorality and degenerate practices. It is far more likely that the main defining characteristic of the New Right is a sense of victimhood, epitomized by the so-called New Class argument. A consistent, overarching indictment of the so-called liberal cultural elite first appeared in the form of an attack on what was called the” New Class.” This attack on a so-called liberal elite had a particular appeal to the New Right, but it was also attractive to other elements in the party and had the effect of cementing ties between the various elements in the new conservative coalition. It also provided a framework in which the old charges of communism, socialism, and treason could be blended with those of immorality and, by the eighties, political correctness-- a term being used to describe what they considered to be excessive efforts to enforce racial and cultural sensitivity, especially in the universities.
Many members of the New Right felt as though they were cultural outsiders and were very receptive to the argument that there was a “New Class” that had gained too much power and which was destroying American culture. It was argued that liberal members of the New Class were elitists who had contempt for ordinary folks and hated America. This attack on a supposed elite had great populist appeal. In selling neoliberal economics and cultural conservatism, the New Right waged cultural war against what they called “the New Class,” academicians, media people, and intellectuals who were supposed to be deeply committed to uprooting traditional American values. They were bureaucrats, “verbalists,” “elitists,” and “pointy heads” -- a term they borrowed from George Wallace. Peggy Noonan lamented that “our great universities [are controlled by people] who seem to hold little intellectual or emotional attachment to the Constitution.” The New Class included some eastern “bluestocking Republicans” who frequented cocktail parties and polluted the Republican Party with their moderate views.
What was conveniently forgotten was that many of the conservatives own pundits and theorists had the benefit of elite educations. William Rusher and M. Stanton Evans attended Yale, and Pat Buchanan was a graduate of Georgetown. Kevin Phillips attended Harvard and the London School of Economics, and Howard Phillips went to Harvard. The right-wing cultural warriors succeeded in persuading many that this was the “elite” to be feared. In time, all liberals were portrayed as sharing the attributes of the New Class. John Mc Cain, a maverick Arizona Republican senator, expressed disdain for this approach to partisanship “which considers political opponents as inferior moral characters.” He thought such characterizations banished civility from debate and damaged the political process.
The concept of the New Class was a badly flawed sociological portrait of liberals , designed to include electronic media and motion picture people, intellectuals, academicians, journalists, government professionals, authors, and speech writers. Its roots were in Senator Joseph McCarthy’s right-wing populist indictments of diplomats in striped pants, their over-educated supports, and the eastern establishment that dominated the Republican Party. Even though the New Class included right-wing intellectuals, speech writers, and journalists, it was portrayed as a left-leaning, malevolent, and power hungry, unproductive elite with inordinate power. Their patriotism was in question because they backed Jimmy Carter’s Panama Canal treaty. The morality of the New Class was considered clearly beyond the pale of acceptability because it was responsible for electing liberal judges and supporting permissiveness in schools and elsewhere. The charge of permissiveness was meant to associate the New Class with drugs, abortion, promiscuity, obscenity, and homosexuality. The New Class was also associated with forced busing in the schools, gun control, gay rights, abortion, and reverse discrimination.
Long after the term “New Class” was no longer employed, this argument provided the basis for very effective attacks on “Hollywood liberals,” “eastern establishment liberals,” “liberal eggheads,” and limousine liberals.” Vice President Spiro T. Agnew’s highly effective, though misleading, denunciations of this elite were very effective in fueling resentment of the New Class. Denunciation of the New Class and Agnew’s denunciation of a liberal elite were designed to drive a wedge between blue-collar workers and their traditional allies among intellectuals and academicians. Nixon and Agnew experimented with this cultural populism to good effect. At the time of Nixon’s resignation in 1974, about a third of American voters still remained committed to him.
This rhetoric was intended to remind people of their distaste for the lifestyles associated with liberalism. In fact, more than a few conservative politicians and publicists were homosexual, and many liberals rejected the excesses of the 1960s. Few in the New Right recalled that the liberals of those years usually did not endorse the lifestyles of the New Left . It was simply assumed that almost all liberals opposed family values and could be considered degenerates. At the 1992 Republican National Convention, columnist Pat Buchanan gave a speech entitled “The election is about Who We Are: Taking Back the Country,” a classic presentation of the New Right’s cultural argument. Claiming that the cultural war was as important as the Cold War, he complained that the Democrats were pro-lesbian, pro-gay, and soft on crime. Nixon’s former speech-writer insisted that “we must take back our cities, and take back our culture, and take back our country.”
These claims against the Democrats were excessive, but the Democrats injured themselves in the early seventies with frequent calls for guaranteed incomes and what seemed to be a tendency toward fiscal profligacy. The internal party reforms of that era alienated old line Democrats and disarmed some of the party’s most effective activists. The party mechanism itself had been badly damaged when President Lyndon Johnson stripped it of operating funds because he feared the staff was allied with the Kennedys. Some saw proposed family assistance and income distribution plans as a sign the party was more concerned with helping minorities than with assisting its traditional white, blue collar base. By 1974, the party’s ”liberal hour” was over, and many of the new people entering Congress were more interested in a new moralistic agenda than in defending and extending the New Deal and the Fair Deal.
The New Left radicals constantly ridiculed the political thought and moderation of many of their professors, liberal politicians, and the so-called Old Left. Many liberal academicians and professors expressed grave concerns about the deterioration of values for which they were now denounced. Economic permissiveness that was expressed in unrestrained consumerism contributed to deteriorating values, and the New Right’s political philosophy endorsed the economic philosophy that created reckless competition, a materialistic approach to life, and advertising excesses that threatened traditional values.
Conservatives were right in identifying many motion picture people as being liberals whose works assaulted conventional values. Ironically, these cinema people detested the results of unrestrained capitalism but could not admit that their work often added to the damage. It is also true that some liberals gave conservatives ammunition with which to buttress their arguments. Some were outspoken in their defense of pornography, drugs, and abortion under any circumstances. Reverend Jesse Jackson once admitted as much. They allowed liberalism to be identified with an irresponsible freedom: “It became free speech turned into license for obscenity, pornography, abortion, smoking pot. The liberal movement got trapped with all the decadent fallout and [the appearance of] no values.” Liberals also helped their critics by seeming to redefine “common people” to mean only the most disadvantaged. By appearing to lose interest in the concerns of white working people, they allowed their critics to masquerade as populists defending ordinary people
Conservatives did not use the term “New Class” for very long, but the concept became the core of right wing populism, in which many came to believe they were being assaulted by a treacherous class comprised of tenured radicals, know-everything bureaucrats, an allegedly liberal media, and pro-criminal judges. The term did not reappear after the seventies, but the theme was continued and remained effective. These denunciations of a cultural elite with its commitment to political correctness and permissiveness, served as “the populist battering-ram behind which the Right made the case for tax cuts for the wealthy and welfare minimalism for the poor. “ By ridiculing liberalism's 'politically correct' nostrums, conservatives were able to ridicule the whole liberal enterprise.”
New Right thinkers eventually stopped talking about the New Class, but the same argument was used in other terms. Republican propagandists framed it in terms of elitists (and sometimes traitors) arrayed against Real Americans. . The objects of their attacks became “liberals,” essentially anyone who was to the left of them. Even after the turn of the century, when neoliberalism had become the dominant American political ideology, conservatives wrote as though they were a beleaguered minority, faced with the task of battling entrenched liberalism. William Bennett argued that the liberals constituted an “adversary culture” comprised of various Leftists, multiculturalists, moral relativists, and postmodernists who allegedly had an iron grip on the nation’s cultural and educational institutions. In the colleges, liberals taught students that wrong was right and that the United States was responsible for most of the world’s problems. He suggested that a “vast relearning” was needed, and that people subjected to liberal influence must learn how to recover the American ideal or the American vision. Of course the American vision was synonymous with neoliberalism and antithetical to liberalism.
Denish D’Souza saw “the Starbucks guy” as the personification of the new American created by the liberals. This Starbucks guy has a nose ring and a Mohawk haircut and thinks that Judge Robert Bork and Bennett are “self-righteous mullah[s],” “fascists,” and “enemies of freedom.” However, D’Souza is that rare conservative who thinks it is worthwhile to talk to the Starbucks guy and that a few of his ideas might be worth considering. An associate editor of the conservative Clarendon Review of Books could describe conservatives as the “good guys” or “pro-American Right” which was fighting the Left, “that commands the strategic cultural heights of the Ivory Tower and Hollywood Hills.” The editor of the Rockford Institute’s Chronicles, writing at about the same time, spoke for the Christian Right when he asserted that conservatives had a right to run the country. “We don’t have to be rude or call them names. We can tell them, ever so politely, that ours is the party of Christ and theirs is the party of the Antichrist.”
New Right operative Howard Phillips was on the same wavelength when he called for “a return to Biblical law.” Another variant of the argument appeared early in the Twenty First Century, when American society was seen as divided between the nationalists and the cosmopolitans. The nationalists were seen as down-to-earth, God fearing, plainspoken people like George W. Bush. The cosmopolitans included the mainstream journalistic world that “too often represents the ultimate me, me, me culture of today’s international elite.”
In 1988, George H.W. Bush employed a variant of the New Class argument when he denounced “Harvard boutique” ideas of the people who supported Michael Dukakis. It did not matter that Bush had attended Yale, another Ivy League bastion of privilege. Republicans regularly denounce the “Hollywood elite” and the “intellectual elite,” and George W. Bush condemned Ann Richards in 1994 for going to California to raise campaign money from the “liberal elite.” At the same time, Jeb Bush, running for governor in Florida, claimed that his views were “mainstream ideas, ideas that matter, whether the intellectual elite in this state likes them or not.” Republicans have been able to neutralize much of the criticism of their economic ideas as “class warfare,” but they have used variants of the New Class theme to demonize their opposition and distract attention from economic policies that largely benefit one economic class.
Sherman has written African American Baseball: A brief History, which can be acquired from LuLu Publishing on line.http://www.lulu.com/browse/search.php?search_forum
"Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past." Orwell-- The US is probably moving toward becoming a heavily controlled Rightist state. This blog is an effort to document how that happened.
- Sherman De Brosse
- Sherm spent seven years writing an analytical chronicle of what the Republicans have been up to since the 1970s. It discusses elements in the Republican coalition, their ideologies, strategies, informational and financial resources, and election shenanigans. Abuses of power by the Reagan and G. W. Bush administration and the Republican Congresses are detailed. The New Republican Coalition : Its Rise and Impact, The Seventies to Present (Publish America) can be acquired by calling 301-695-1707. On line, go to http://www.publishamerica.com/shopping. It can also be obtained through the on-line operations of Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Do not consider purchasing it if you are looking for something that mirrors the mainstream media!