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links for 2009-12-18

Julian Sanchez on the Republican Party: Expect the Craziness to Get Worse Before It Gets Better

He has some very smart things to say:

The Politics of Ressentimentt: The word he wants is ressentiment:

Ressentiment is a sense of resentment and hostility directed at that which one identifies as the cause of one’s frustration, an assignation of blame for one’s frustration. The sense of weakness or inferiority and perhaps jealousy in the face of the “cause” generates a rejecting/justifying value system, or morality, which attacks or denies the perceived source of one’s frustration. The ego creates an enemy in order to insulate itself from culpability.

Conservatism is a political philosophy; the farce currently performing under that marquee is an inferiority complex in political philosophy drag.... [T]he pathology of the current conservative movement is... specific and  convoluted. Palin irritates the left, but so would lots of vocal conservatives if they were equally prominent—and some of them are probably even competent to hold office. Palin gets to play sand in the clam precisely because she so obviously isn’t. She doesn’t just irritate liberals in some generic way: she evokes their contempt.... Think back to the 2004 RNC—which I happened to be up in New York  covering. After witnessing three days of inchoate, spittle-flecked rage from the people who had the run of all three branches of government, some wag (probably Jon Stewart) puzzled over the “anger of the enfranchised.” And it would be puzzling if the driving force here were a public policy agenda, rather than a set of cultural grievances.... The secret shame of the conservative base is that they’ve internalized the enemy’s secular cosmopolitan value set and status hierarchy—hence this obsession with the idea that somewhere, someone who went to Harvard might be snickering at them.

The pretext for converting this status grievance into a political one.... Check out the RNC’s new ad on health reform, taking up the Tea Party slogan “Listen to Me!” There’s almost nothing on the substantive objections to the bill; it’s fundamentally about people’s sense of powerlessness in a debate that seems driven by wonks.... [C]onsider the study Ryan Sager highlighted a while back, showing that many SUV owners don’t merely think their choice of vehicles is harmless or morally neutral, but positively virtuous.... [T]his is classic ressentiment: It’s not just that SUVs are great in themselves because they somehow “embody” some set of ideals. They’re good just because they symbolize an inversion of the “anti-American” values of critics. Second, think what it reveals that people feel the need to construct these kinds of absurd rationalizations—to make their cars heroic.... It betrays an incredible sensitivity, not to excessive taxes or regulations on the vehicles, but to the feeling of being judged....

Even if conservatives retook power, they wouldn’t be able to provide a political solution to a psychological problem.... It effectively says: We cede to the bogeyman cultural elites the power of stereotypical definition, so becoming the stereotype more fully and grotesquely is our only means of empowerment. To see how the difference between ressentiment and simple schadenfreude matters, consider Palin one more time.  If the goal is just to antagonize liberals, making her the Republican standard-bearer seems tactically bizarre, since ideally you want someone who isn’t so repugnant to independents as to be unelectable. If the animating force is ressentiment,  the leader has to be a loser to really deserve the role. Which is to say, expect the craziness to get worse before it gets better.