December 17, 2008

WASPy conservative non-WASPs

I completely agree with Austin Bramwell that the Conservative Movement was never made up by WASP elitists and conversely that the WASP elite has long been beholden to the Left. Yet this does not mean that conservatives are not WASPy in some sense. When you see someone wearing a Blue Blazer and Rep Striped Tie, the instinct is to guess they are a Republican. This would be a bad guess in Greenwich, but it would be a pretty good guess if you were in DC, or if the person wearing it is not a WASP.  (Yes, I’m aware I fit this description completely.) But the average Republican voter is more likely to wear Carhartt than Brooks Brothers.

This disconnect is nothing new.

The ethnic whites who founded the conservative movement defended and tried to emulate the values of that the Northeastern WASP establishment abandoned. If there was a mass base of the conservative movement at its infancy, it was the ethnic whites who rallied around Joe McCarthy and the Southerners who resisted forced integration. As busing and similar issues became a nationwide problem in the 1960s and 70s, these two groups combined to some extent (George Wallace had large pockets of support in states like Ohio, New Jersey and Michigan.)

Yet early on, the Conservative Movement threw both these groups under the bus—at least in part to gain approval from the then current establishment. This problem was exacerbated because, as Bramwell notes, the New Left rang the final death knell to the “Best and Brightest” crowd. Thereafter, defending the establishment was opposing the Left. 

Today, with the WASPs firmly out of power and the New Left and others filling the establishment, Republicans occasionally manage to win elections by attacking the “liberal elite” through some bread and circus. When they gut moose, eat freedom fries, burn Dixie Chicks CDs, or talk to Joe the Plumber, conservatives hail them as standing up for the ?Real America? against the pointy heads. During the 2008 GOP primaries, David Brooks acknowledged, “you wouldn?t know it from the past few years, the white working class is the backbone of the G.O.P. Huckabee is most in tune with these voters.” Why?  Because he talked about bathing in Lava Soap.

But when a George Wallace or Pat Buchanan actually defends the interests of Middle America, he is engaging in a “demagogic populism.” The problem with Buchanan rallies, according to Brooks, is that,

There are none of those Chamber of Commerce officers in golf shirts and tasselled loafers. Instead, Buchanan draws the beefy, 300-pound guys with tattoos up their arms and sleeveless T-shirts. He draws the guys with shaggy biker beards and the Teamsters who park their rigs in the lot and get hoarse shouting, ‘Go, Pat, go!’

They also, if I may add, don?t go snowboarding.

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