Mass market comedy, as seen in Hollywood films, strikes me as a pretty good partner for post-Goldwater conservatism. Comedy, to be funny, usually requires the skewering of the powerful in some sense. But the mass culture marketing demands that your product not actually do much to challenge prevailing ideas in the world. It’s a bit of a paradoxical situation, but it nicely mirrors the efforts of a political ideology designed to further entrench the privileges of the country’s wealthy elite and its white Christian majority and somehow do so in the name of anti-elitism.
Ross took umbrage at this and responded:
The idea that white, middle-class Christian Americans, simply by virtue of being part of our country’s “white Christian majority,” never have any legitimate grievances against the American political system has a long and distinguished pedigree on the left.
I understand what Ross means here, and he’s right to scoff (as I think he is) at the implication that the “white Christian majority” somehow rules the roost in this country. A large part of the Republican coalition exists today because this is untrue and demonstrably so: it is because much of the “white Christian majority” has acquiesced or been made to acquiesce in the losses to cultural liberalism that conservative Christians mobilised politically and began trying to create a political response to these cultural reverses. Another idea that has enjoyed circulation on the left is the What’s the Matter With Kansas-style complaint that middle and working-class social conservatives act against their own economic self-interest in backing the GOP, which such observers as Thomas Frank deem to be “irrational” (because voting on something other than economic matters is always “irrational” to such people). There is a sense in which it is true that these voters support the GOP despite the damage GOP-backed policies do to their communities, businesses and wages (it is also true that they back the GOP because they have tended to assume, with good reason, that Democratic policies would do more damage), but it is not really possible to complain about aggrieved cultural conservatives who are so alienated by cultural liberalism that they vote against their own best economic interests and also complain that these cultural conservatives enjoy some default hegemonic status because they happen to belong to the demographic entity of “white Christian majority” (which never acts as a cohesive or unified bloc in any way).
Even so, Ross might sharpen his reply to Yglesias by noting, among other things, that only some parts of the “political ideology” of conservatism are dedicated to defending the interests of the “white Christian majority” (though it is apparently necessary to wrap this in the fluffy, inoffensive language of “Judeo-Christian values” or just “values”), while other, probably more influential parts of today’s political conservative movement are more or less dedicated to that wealthy elite privilege-entrenching Yglesias mentions. This comes in place of, and at the expense of, the interests of middle and working-class white Christians. The relatively clever bit of the political movement today is how it manages to convince these people, at least temporarily, that their interests are profoundly implicated by the forging of new free trade pacts, unending mass immigration and perpetual war and all other policies endorsed or tolerated by corporations and the moneyed interest. More often than not, these constituencies don’t really buy these arguments, but probably think that an alliance with corporate interests and the rest of the open borders lobby is necessary to remain politically competitive and thus allows them to engage in their rearguard political actions against cultural dissolution. Their disappointment with Mr. Bush is therefore extremely acute, because there has been and continues to be a great deal of working for corporate interests and waging the perpetual war and very little, save perhaps the bizarre Schiavo episode, that seems to have much to do with either the “values” or interests of the white married Christian voters of this country. These voters made their corrupt bargain in 2000 and again in 2004 and are annoyed that there has been no payoff. A movie highlighting those tensions and conflicts might be quite interesting, even if it wouldn’t necessarily be very funny.