A reader writes:
I think party of Klansmen. What drives them is resentment.
The Republican world falls apart at each of its ascendent moments. We see it again and again: the Right organizes, wins, shows its ugliest feathers, and is then rejected. The wound from each rejection is cauterized by the Limbaughesque smug satisfaction of being right all along! Smarter than their rejectors, who have been brainwashed, are privileged elitists, or are insufficiently informed by a biased media / educational / entertainment complex.
This is how they felt in 2008. They didn't hate Obama because he's black; they resented him because he was beloved. The nation had fallen in love, and it wasn't with them. Who could overlook the Nixon-like contempt for the Other? If the rejection carries with it an identifying characteristic (a history of racism, elitism, fiscal mismanagement) it becomes ammunition to hurl back. Hence "racist hatemonger", "he made it worse", and so on. They resent being called racist, so Obama's the racist. They resent their own Big Governing, so Obama is a socialist. They resent the stain of Bush's 5-4 election, so the fix was in for Obama '08.
The Right is poised for another big, historical dive, but it won't be the last we hear from them. Resentment is a strong motivator, and it will continue to pick them up off the mat.
I think you are correct re: the unhinged nature of the modern Right in response to Obama’s election, but I don’t think Michael Walsh’s claim of a "rigged" 2008 election is a sign of anything new or especially alarming. I am a historian of 19th century America and I can tell you that accusations of fraud were absolutely rampant in the first century of American democracy.
I’m not talking about cases of actual fraud and ballot-box stuffing that made the Tweed Ring so famous. I’m talking about completely unsubstantiated, sour-grapes claims of fraud, stemming from the epistemic closure of a partisan 19th-century news media where readers simply could not imagine that legal, American voters would freely choose the opposing party’s candidate. What’s more, this was true in landslide elections as much as in razor-thin contests where actual fraud may have made the difference.
As much as we love to celebrate the legitimacy of democratic victory – the willingness of the loser to accept the winner – the reality is that American voters and political parties have always challenged the propriety of the election process when the favored candidate loses. This extends to the pre-election process as well. That’s why we have to see all the "photo ID" laws appearing in GOP-run states not as a legitimate attempt to curb "fraud" but as a tactic to change the electorate itself.
Historically, liberals have sought to change the electorate too – by expanding the polity to include the poor and marginalized – or, less conscientiously, by tying an electoral outcome to the distribution of basic government services (the spoils system). We have always sought to game the system. When our side’s candidate wins, it’s a historic repudiation of everything the other side believes. When our side loses, it’s because the other side cheated. This was true in the 1830s, the 1860s, the 1890s, the 1920s, the 1950s, the 1980s and the 2010s.
The National Review crowd cannot accept Obama because he effectively refutes the ideology at the heart of what passes for modern conservatism. Any more praise – beyond an episodic congratulations for killing Osama bin Laden, for example – would amount to ideological and political “treason”.
(Image: Barack Obama Incredible Hulk action figure by Ron English)