Four years ago, reading the agenda of the 2009 Values Voters Summit, I hypothesized a connection between the agenda of the Republican Party base and the values of one of America's four founding subcultures, the northern English and Scots-Irish "Borderers" who settled the Appalachian "backcountry" and highland South, as described by the historical anthropologist David Hackett Fischer in Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America. I wrote about this theory in a Daily Kos diary titled "Yo, Pundits! Here's What's Up With the Republicans.""The more we study the Borderers' folkways in Britain and in America," I wrote, "the more we see how thoroughly the Republican Party has adopted this culture's worldview and purged itself of incompatible elements."
That was in the first year of President Barack Obama's administration. Four years later, it's become even more apparent -- as has the party's monomaniacal hostility toward the president.
I suspect that too many people continue to believe either that Republican opposition to Obama is either a simple ideological difference or rooted in straightforward racism. These explanations tell only a sliver of the story.
Obama is viewed a threat by Borderer Republicans because his ways are antithetical to theirs on so many levels: He advocates cooperative partnership and brotherhood, brushes off insults, proclaims a desire to sit down with enemies and talk rather than fight, and projects tolerance and trust. He's highly educated and sophisticated in his speech and has never been in the military. He's in a partnership of equals with a strong, professional wife. His Christianity is of the inner-light variety. And his ambiguous ethnicity can only be a source of frustration to anyone accustomed to seeing the world divided into neat opposites: he looks black, but he's only half-black, and he doesn't sound black or act stereotypically black, and he's also financially successful. Yet looking black, in America, has always been enough to mark one as black -- besides which, his father was Kenyan, which makes him not only black but foreign.Yet he was born in Hawai'i, which is American, but sort of foreign at the same time . . .
The point is, the opposition to Obama doesn't come from just one thing. Even if he were straightforwardly, obviously white, the other aspects of his personality would be more than enough to generate intense hostility among Borderers. (Recall the right's hostility toward Bill Clinton, who had the same cool temper and intellect, the same preference for cooperation, and a similar marriage of equals with a strong, professional wife -- despite being a Borderer himself.) It's the fact that Obama is all these things that elevates Borderer Republicans' antipathy to apocalyptic fear -- and that has led to the emergence of the Tea Party as an opposing force.
It's now four years later. We're in the midst of a government shutdown precipitated by Tea Party Republicans seeking a showdown with the man they've inflated into a towering nemesis of Führeresque proportions, and we're coming up on yet another Values Voters Summit. What can these things tell us about the size, force and nature of the Tea Party bloc and where America can go from here?
The Republican Party is the party of the South, in culture if not in literal geography. It represents the descendants of the Borderers and the Cavaliers -- but the only vestige of Cavalier influence is the whiff of aristocracy surrounding the party's coddling of the financial industry. . . . In other respects, the Borderers are running the show, and they won't yield an inch to anyone, even their own allies.