The Tuesday: Vax, Quacks, and ‘Respectability Politics’

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BY KEVIN D. WILLIAMSON November 02, 2021
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WITH KEVIN D. WILLIAMSON November 02, 2021
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Vax, Quacks, and 'Respectability Politics'

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter that comes out on Tuesdays, because we believe in truth in advertising. To subscribe to the Tuesday, which is a thing you should do, please follow this link.

The Politics of Vax and Quacks

A request from the vast, endless digital peanut gallery: "I'd love to see a National Review contributor try to explain why it is that for 15 years the stereotypical anti-vaxxer was a progressive suburban mom in an ultra-blue district but at no point did any major Democratic politician try to court their support the way Republicans have."

That's a fair question, and the answer, in a word, is: respectability.

The Democrats have won it and weaponized it, and the Republicans have consequently rejected it.

The Democrats have successfully aligned themselves with the most prestigious and powerful social institutions — Silicon Valley, Wall Street, the Ivy League, the New York Times — and they have, in turn, aligned these institutions with themselves and their ambitions. Republicans, for their part, have largely rejected these elite institutions (you can smell the sour grapes from here) along with the entire notion that such elite institutions should enjoy any special status or deference, adopting instead a countercultural politics that is, in spite of its right-wing character, a great deal like the left-wing countercultural politics of the 1960s. The student radicals who occupied the university administration offices would have loved to have done what that rabble did on January 6, but they did not have sufficient strength to occupy the Capitol — only the Lincoln Memorial, where they were visited by a solicitous Richard Nixon.

The hippies and their political allies were neck-deep in filth and dysfunction, high on radicalism, and up to their eyeballs in various kinds of antiscientific quackery. The Democratic Party, at the time, made some considerable room for this, having no other practical choice.

But that was then. The Democratic Party is well on the other side of its "Sistah Souljah moment."

In their current configuration, the Democrats and their progressive leaders practice respectability politics, a politics of in-group affiliation expressed mainly through etiquette and socially necessary gestures of loyalty. Their main — and sometimes, their only — political strategy is based on status games, working to humiliate (and thereby effectively discredit) their opponents and rivals by associating them with low-status people and low-status ways of life rather than trying to persuade them or best them in argument.

That's useful to the Left, which isn't going to win a lot of intellectual arguments because its only big idea, socialism, has been thoroughly discredited by historical experience, while most of the successor ideas are either transparent adaptations of socialism (greenwashed radical anti-capitalism, etc.) or too narrow and boutique-y and bourgeois (intersectionality, neo-Maoist corporate struggle sessions, etc.) to provide the basis for a robust popular political movement.

But you don't really need ideas or good arguments to build a political party or a political movement — you only need enemies. And your enemies should be people of low status. (That doesn't necessarily mean poor or powerless — wealthy business leaders may be denounced as "unpatriotic," as moral degenerates, or as "enemies of the people" in order to lower their moral status, and whatever financial success they have achieved may be discredited by claiming that they got ahead through corruption, cheating, and a "rigged economy.") If they do not already have low status, then you work to lower their status. Donald Trump, kept on the outside by elite institutions, had to rely on sneering Twitter nicknames and such to do that. Democrats, in contrast, have a generous selection of prestigious institutions to deputize for their dirty work.

Our friends on the left routinely admit as much. From time to time, someone will demand of me: "Why should the New York Times publish conservatives? National Review doesn't publish progressives!" Setting aside for the moment the fact that National Review has published many progressive writers over the years when they have something to say that conservatives might be ...   READ MORE

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