How dare you vote for your interests!

It’s pretty well known that among Fox News’s “infotainment” programming (between its official news segments) the show Fox & Friends is perhaps the most devoid of a link to reality. But it does spit forth, within a vast mine of crap, some particularly putrid gems worth looking at in greater depth.

allen-westOne such recent gem was a segment with Allen West, a hyper-conservative former Congressman from Florida and advocate of the Tea Party movement, perhaps best known for his undying rage toward Muslims. (He is also known, among critics, for his borderline war crimes in Iraq that led to his early retirement from the U.S. Army — a fact the Fox News hosts did not bring up when repeatedly calling him “Colonel West.”)

During this segment, the show asserted (with little daylight between his claims and the hosts’ statements) that the Muslim Brotherhood is about to become a party on everyone’s voting ballots, right alongside Democratic and Republican candidates.

Now, there are many things wrong with that claim (besides the fact that it’s 100% made-up). It’s hard to know where to begin.

For one thing, the framing of the claim is outlandish because anyone could start any party (as many have indeed done) and it would still not be on the same level as the Democrats and Republicans — certainly no more than if I were to launch the “American Easter Bunny Supremacy Party” or whatever. But we’re talking about the network that tried to convince its viewers that the “New Black Panther Party” was a revolutionary force sweeping the nation and oppressing white voters, rather than two old Black men in berets looking cranky outside a single polling place in Philadelphia.

So, for today and the segment in question, it’s probably not worth my time to rehash the theme that Fox News is crafting an entirely fabricated reality that with each passing day shares fewer properties — nay, even laws of physics — with our dimension. If you want more on that, you’ll want to read my popular 2010 treatise entitled “The Right-Wing Alternate Universe.”

(Shout out, though, to their extensive world-building and long-running character development work on this Fox Newsiverse. They should host a con or have a wikia or something, so Fox News Channel nerds can discuss continuity error resolution and alternate timelines.)

Voting bloc

But the real reason I wanted to bring up this segment was the claim that a consortium or coalition of legitimate Muslim-American and Arab-American lobbying organizations were trying to put together a political party. That’s not actually true, as you’ll see from this quotation from the segment, where he elides two entirely different concepts of
1) a political party and
2) a voting bloc (a group of voters who informally vote together based on a shared interest).

From the Informed Comment summary of the exchange (if you haven’t watched the clip yet):

“They’re forming some type of political party, a voting bloc as they call it,” West said.

“In this country!” Doocy emphasized.

“That’s right! To institutionalize policies that favor them,” West agreed, adding that they wanted to “destroy America from within using a civilizational jihad, and that’s exactly what you see happening.”

Ok, so in reality (as he tacitly acknowledges without formally acknowledging) no one is actually forming any type of political party. A “voting bloc as they call it” is exactly what every major group of united voters is called in every democracy in the world, but he makes it sound like a concept so exotic and Middle Eastern it just walked out of One Thousand and One Arabian Nights holding hands with Scheherazade.

If all the labor unions in the United States endorse a candidate and organize to get their membership to back that candidate, they have formed a voting bloc, not a political party. They’re not suddenly now “The Labor Party.”

But look at that other remark he tosses in there. He says they (the Muslim/Arab-American interest groups) want “to institutionalize policies that favor them.”

That’s a fancy way of saying they want to pass laws that are in line with their goals (of reducing discrimination against Americans who are Arab and Muslim and of promoting better cultural understanding).

If you listen to the clip of Allen West talking, but then read closely the words coming out of his mouth, it’s the political equivalent of Andy Daly’s (very funny) “Jerry O’Hearn, veteran standup comic” character who just says banal and vacant statements in the expected cadence and rhythm so it sounds like he’s doing a routine, without having to make actual jokes (much like West says banal facts but makes them sound shocking).

Daly has said that he developed the character after he accidentally timed a joke wrong one time and audience members laughed automatically at the pause rather than at the punchline because they thought he had already said it.

Similarly, Allen West can just say normal stuff in a scary way — “a voting bloc as they call it” or “to institutionalize policies that favor them” — and suddenly it has great meaning.

But actually, for the tea party movement, as I’ve argued before, there is great (negative) meaning to the idea of (other!) people voting for candidates that will pass “policies that favor them.”

Voting for Your Interests

It is, of course, both acceptable and laudable — indeed, even desirable — to many conservative base voters for Christian Conservative candidates to vote on moral issues in line with their voting base’s moral beliefs. But the single biggest criticism many base conservatives have of the Democratic Party — and one that Allen West has often expressed himself as a Black Republican criticizing Black Democratic voters — is that “many” voters are “just” voting for the Democrats because the Democrats will “institutionalize policies that favor them.”

The irony of this position (besides the hypocrisy), of course, is that the Democrats tend to have a broader coalition of interests they are trying to appease with various policies, whether on resource allocation or otherwise. In contrast, the Republican Party caters to a much narrower set of interests. The latter should be more objectionable since it’s more of a “giveaway” or favoritism of a small in-group than one party trying to spread favors over many diverse groups.

But it’s kind of a silly objection to have in the first place, in my opinion, to just object to a party seeking to pass favorable policies for their base. That’s pretty much what they’re supposed to do. Corruption and vote-buying is certainly bad and should be eliminated, but there’s a vast gulf between institutionalizing policies that favor “them” (whoever that might be) and slanting all the laws and resources toward “them.” I agree that that would be very damaging and should be opposed. That’s not the point of a representative system of government.

The Republic

But what’s the point of voting if not to advocate for your own interests, on some level, even if you also weigh the interests of the whole system/nation along with your own?

Ah, but that’s not the point of voting, according to many tea partiers. They’re the ones who enthusiastically and vigorously remind us that the Founding Fathers did not establish a “democracy,” but rather a “republic!”

Now, the entire rest of the world defines “republic” as a synonym for “representative democracy” or “indirect democracy,” as do most Americans. But the foot-stamping, indignant tea partiers disagree. To them, a “republic” is actually intentionally created to be an elite system, divorced from the whims of the populace and composed of our wisest, most grizzled, white-haired men — like the oligarchic Roman “Republic” of old. This system can thus act in the best interests of the entire nation, even if the people don’t realize what that interest really is.

As my radio co-host Greg has noted in the past, it’s exactly the reason that many tea partiers have seized upon an issue that seems oddly abstract and quirky to the rest of us: the “need” to repeal the amendment that established direct elections of U.S. Senators.

Senators in the original constitution before the Seventeenth Amendment (i.e. until 1913) were to be elected by the state legislatures, not by the voters themselves, although voters could lobby their legislators for certain candidates (as we know from the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates in 1850s Illinois). This was a means of keeping the classical republican nature of our government intact. A laudable goal and outcome, to these most “republican” of tea partiers, even today. The rest of us don’t see it that way, but rather as as a dubious separation of the people from their representation, much like the original version of the electoral college to select the nation’s president.

From the American South to the cities of Thailand

This Tea Party conceptualization of representative democracy favorably as elite, patrician republicanism is a position essentially shared only by Thailand’s opposition movement (as I argued last December on the blog and on the radio show) which has proudly and openly declared that “the people” are “not ready” for democracy because they are insufficiently educated about what is best for the nation.

This viewpoint in Thailand largely arose out of the realization after more than two decades of defeat at the ballot box in free and fair elections that the vast, rural majority of the country didn’t like their platform and agenda and was never going to vote for them. The Thai opposition’s biggest criticism of the current system, much like West criticizing Arab-American interest groups for lobbying for policies that are better for their constituents, is that the majority coalition consistently delivers policies their voting base appreciates and supports, which in turn keeps these voters turning out to vote for them.

Which — as long as it is not corrupt and is transparent — is exactly how most of us believe the system is supposed to work.

But like the urban Thai opposition, many American conservatives find themselves dug into positions no longer supported by a majority of the country and dug into a region that no longer determines the outcome of national elections on its own. The response has been, as in Thailand, to lash out at the voters as being unworthy of the right to vote and to advocate for the removal of newer layers of democracy in favor of a more elite system that “knows better” than the masses.

Doubling down

If, like the tea party and the U.S. Republican Party in general, you find your political movement on a shrinking geographical and ideological footprint that will make it increasingly difficult to win open national elections, the appropriate solution is to re-tailor your agenda and platform to appeal to a larger spectrum of the electorate again.

The inappropriate solution is to declare it a conspiracy that you are being defeated by parties that institutionalize policies that their (purportedly ignorant sheeple) voters support. Even more inappropriate is trying to tell everyone that an interest coalition’s routine activities to promote their interests, just like every other interest group in every developed democracy, in the world are actually a plot to wage jihad within the civilization.

But as the management of Fox News asserts, people know the difference between their news segments and their opinion segments. Right? Why else would they devote so many promos to reminding viewers they don’t need to — and shouldn’t — watch any other media source?

Bill Humphrey

About Bill Humphrey

Bill Humphrey is the primary host of WVUD's Arsenal For Democracy talk radio show and a local elected official.
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