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Republicans are becoming Democrats

Robin Lakoff, professor emerita of linguistics | March 4, 2011

As a Democrat and a liberal, I used to worry about the party becoming ineffectual. Like others, I urged party members to man up, talk tough, avoid falling into the trap of becoming the girlie-party. But I have stopped worrying. We no longer have to worry. The Republicans have — it appears from their recent behavior — been moving into the positions we used to hold. The Republicans are, in fact, becoming Democrats. So Democrats don’t have to become Republicans — a significant relief.

A few pieces of evidence have surfaced over the last few months for this claim. Let me summarize them.

First: after the midterm elections, the current and future House Speakers gave many interviews. John Boehner — the speaker-to-be, Republican — reliably teared up every time. And he didn’t just get misty-eyed: the tears ran down his cheeks. And he didn’t just sniffle: he snuffled.

You might have expected Pelosi, soon to lose her speakership, to be the abashed and crying one. But no: she was strong, she was tough, she was assertive, and there was no hint of any sadness. So, in terms of gender stereotypes, he was the girl and she was the boy.

That went against all normal expectations. It has been the case for a long time that the Republicans are the boys, the Democrats the girls. Yet the lead Republican and Democrat had clearly shifted sides.

Since then, other evidence of a change in the rules has turned up. Again, males are expected to cooperate, to form teams and follow the leader. Females are traditionally supposed to be recalcitrant to organization, not to be willing to be led. They are, as in so many other ways, like cats — they can’t and won’t be herded.

And again, the Democrats have behaved for a long time according to the female stereotype, the Republicans according to the male. Democratic leaders in Congress could never count on their members to line up and vote as instructed. But their Republican counterparts had no trouble achieving tight disciplinary control.

But lately, among the Republicans, strange things are happening. The House’s newest members, the Tea Party contingent, are demonstrating a very un-Republican feistiness. The leadership doesn’t want to close down Congress? Well, we’ll see about that! The leaders seem unable to control their new brood. So once again, the Republicans seem to be moving toward a Democratic m.o.

With only these two examples, I might not be feeling too confident. But a third case of Republican leftward movement has just manifested itself.

In an article in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, “Fact-Free Science,” Judith Warner notes that an old game of leftist academics is being taken up by Republicans: science denial, in particular climate-change denial. Of course, science denial is nothing new among conservatives: we might think of their decades-long attempts to prevent the teaching of evolution, which the new anti-climate-change agenda seems to be replacing in terms of urgency. But the Republican opposition to climate-change is curious in flying in the face of practically all responsible science, thumbing its nose at any idea of scientific truth.

As Warner reminds us, there is a precedent: in the left-wing academic postmodernism of the 1990s, in which there were not uncommonly arguments against the absoluteness of scientific truth.

Some of these arguments may have gone too far, though (even as a faculty member at what is sometimes still called the most radical university in the world) I never encountered a serious absolute denial of scientific truth among the postmodern left. Many of the arguments started out from the very real fact that “science” had, over the last century, borrowed misogynistic positions from the church that it was supplanting, making “scientific” claims about the inferiority of women that were disproved only when women were able to enter academic science in enough numbers and in authoritative enough positions to give these beliefs a well-deserved burial. Certainly those (and other similar) errors on the part of establishment science were enough to warrant some skepticism.

Warner also fails to notice a couple of other differences between the 1990s postmodern anti-scientism and that of 21st-century Republicans. The former, academics, published their work in scholarly journals read (at best) by about 23 people. They could not, and mostly did not want to, affect public policy.

Modern conservative science-deniers are very different. They often hold prestigious positions in politics or religion or both. They are all over the airwaves. Their aim is, without question, to affect public opinion and change public policy.

And the academics, being deconstructionists and postmodernists, necessarily took an ironic stance on everything they wrote about. Irony was their normal pose. They did not expect to be taken at their word — that would have been cloddish.

The current Republican deniers, on the other hand, are very very serious. Irony, to many of them, is a form of Communism.

But even with these disclaimers, here is a new twist: Republicans are adopting a position that used to be left-wing. Skepticism about modernity (including science) has always been the business of the left. The right usually stands to gain more from scientific progress than the left. Yet the right has now taken on, in utter seriousness, the argumentative stance of its ironic opposition.

If these straws in the wind can be taken to mean anything, we may be in for an interesting next few years. Suddenly you’ll need a scorecard to tell the sides apart. Suddenly it could be fun to be a Democrat again.

Cross-posted from the Huffington Post.

Comments to “Republicans are becoming Democrats

  1. My heartiest congratulations to Republicans. For all their trouble and time, base-wooing and donor-seeking, they’ve finally done it. They’ve become Democrats. No, not because they’ve had a conversion experience, a mystical visitation from the gods of mercy and light, but because they’re now fighting amongst themselves just like Democrats. “I don’t belong to an organized political party,” said Will Rogers. “I’m a Democrat.” Ol’ Will could now be a Republican, too. Gone is the GOP’s much-vaunted unity.

    Sea Breeze

  2. I was attracted to your article by the title. It was amusing to read about what boys and girls do. You did back your thoughts with somewhat generally known proclivities of two people. I am truely concerned with you conclusion drawn, about the denial of science by Republicans. You leave us believe that some vague postmodern non belief in science is what Republicans are doing and taking over Dem’s turf on climate change. That is not what has been presented for the past ten years. It has been global warming. Setting up carbon credits to pay for our sins. Al Gore and others are profitters plnning and hoping to cash in on, “global warming”. In reality climate changing rhythums have been written about for eons. Keeping accurate logs of temperature, rain, droughts, affecting mans existence. Not creating fictional data, massaging and tweeking data to fit a hypothesis, insteading of creating a hypothesis from real data.
    Name your Republicans that are rejecting science and their offenses!

  3. Robin T. Lakoff,

    As a conservative-republican I can’t help but partially agree with your prose. The republican party has appeared to have weakened from it’s ‘traditional’ platform. But I argue it’s not because the republican mantra has been revised but rather the current representatives have put their careers ahead of their ideals as well as the voters they represent. In November of 2006, the republican party was defeated soundly when distaste for the Bush adminstration and party in general eventually broke the nation’s threshold. Being the good students of history that they are, the newest republicans in the house of representatives fear the chopping block enough to cling less to their conservative roots and more toward public opinion. This type of ‘where the wind may blow’ strategy failed John Kerry in 2004 and will fail the republicans in 2012. Unfortunately for conservatives such as myself, four more years of the Obama administartion is inevitable and its due specifically to the weakness of the republican party. For those who’s paycheck is dependent on the labor of working americans who actually contribute to the economy (you and your colleagues), this should a ‘fun’ time – atleast until there is no more wealth to tax.

    Zac Koehn
    UCB Graduate Student, CEE

  4. Sign me up! Oh, that’s right, I’m already signed up as a Democrat and a progressive. Thanks for this piece, Robin; I’ve needed a good laugh.

    • I’m sorry Victoria.
      I am not sure if it is a real laugh you needed or was that an ironic quip? I truly want to know. You were to glib for me.
      Thanks ,

      • @Richard: I apologize if I was to (sic) glib for you; that was certainly not my intent. I found Professor Lakoff’s piece to be genuinely amusing as well as thought-provoking.

        A Democrat looking forward to having fun again,

  5. Yeah, Harvard threw out Larry Summers ( over math and female-to-superiority topics) and Obama hired him — bad choice, he left D.C. Maybe Obama was too feminine? shouldn’t that confirm your current claim? If postmodernism carries criteria of multi-truths, how can a denial of Climate Change be wrong? That’s a contradiciton. With Obama’s new book claiming that the Tea-Party movement is all about racists, we are indeed in for some interesting years ahead. I do not accept that stance, but the leftwing media and academia ( mostly leftists) have not challenged him on this premise. Tea Partiers are having fights with the established ‘social republicans.’ I like myself, a tea-party member careless about abortion stances and homosexual legal unions. That keeps the real conservative position back from its purpose of progress. So there is a ‘real’ split in the Republican party now, and this, while contentious makes me happy. It helps challenge the entire group of republicans to think outside of their traditional box.

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