March 11 2013
The GOP's Double Bind
In a moment of extreme creativity, Matthew Continetti uses feminist theory to explain the challenges facing the Republican Party:
I doubt John Boehner has read much feminist theory, but it’s never too late for him to start. He and other GOP leaders, not to mention the Republicans who want to run for president in 2016, might want to familiarize themselves with the concept of the double bind. They are in the middle of one, and it will be difficult for them to escape.
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote the classic treatment of the subject in her 1995 book, Beyond the Double Bind: Women and Leadership. A trap confronts successful women, Jamieson argued. They can’t display mastery in the workplace without sacrificing their sense of femininity. On the other hand, they can’t emphasize the feminine without being condemned as bimbos….
Here’s the [double bind] problem [for the GOP]. The domestic proposals that have the greatest chance of making the Republican party attractive to the “coalition of the ascendant”?—?immigrants, members of the millennial generation, single white women?—?involve far more government intervention in the economy than the GOP coalition?—?married white people, Wall Street, the Tea Party?—?will allow. And we haven’t even mentioned changing the GOP approach to social issues, which would drive the Republican base of religious conservatives out of the party. Pursuing such proposals would break the coalition that puts Republicans close to a majority. …
…Trying to appeal to the coalition of the ascendant and the Reagan coalition simultaneously would give the party a severe case of political schizophrenia. The GOP would bewilder its historic base of support while disappointing newcomers, leading to confusion, disillusionment, apathy, and perhaps (ultimately) dissolution.
The Republicans, like feminists, can’t have it all. They are trapped in the double bind.
The Republicans have done a few things right lately. They stood firm on the sequester and now it is President Obama who is flailing. Whatever you think of the issues underlying Senator Rand Paul’s filibuster, he gave the GOP a rare moment of excitement.
But does any of this matter? In the wake of the November 2012 presidential electoral results, it was possible to make the argument that a changed electorate would permanently swing Democrat in national elections. More voters were single women, for example, and likely to vote for bigger government. Charisma was important to the American voter in a new way.
City Journal has a must-read book review this morning that adds to the explanation of why the Republicans face such steep challenges. It is related to the issue of charisma. In a review of Michael Szalay’s new book, Hip Figures: A Literary History of the Democratic Party, Fred Siegel writes about how liberalism has been “conquered by cool.”
In a nutshell, it’s just not cool to belong to the GOP. Instead of seeing past this immature emphasis on being cool and dismissing it as maybe okay for the likes of George Clooney or Eva Longoria but not for genuine intellectuals, our academic and literary establishment promotes the notion of cool:
Szalay argues that the work of novelists such as Norman Mailer, John Updike, E. L. Doctorow, and William Styron made them “the most important political strategists of their time.” They paved the way, he rightly argues, for the creation of the contemporary liberal lifestyle of upwardly mobile people who, in their twenties and thirties, are square by day, swingers by night.
Today, we might call them hipsters. By the time they settle into genuine adulthood, they’re no more capable of defending the bourgeois virtues that propelled their careers than a Communist commissar would be.
President Obama likes to portray the GOP as “millionaires and billionaires.” But really it is the party not of the very rich but of bourgeois values. Of course, it has to be admitted that it is bourgeois values that are often at the root of many a great fortune. But mostly the GOP is the party of uncool values. It does not speak well of our intellectuals that they are slaves to cool.
So, in addition to confronting the problem of the double bind, the GOP has to face up to not being cool, an important factor for low-information opinion leaders of a juvenile stripe in places such as Hollywood and academia.