Sunday, September 19, 2010

Fareed Zakaria GPS Panel Is Clueless About Jacksonians

by Michael Kaplan

On his CNN show this week (September 19, 2010), Fareed Zakaria moderated a panel which discussed, among other things, the recent political success of Tea Party candidates in Republican primaries. Also up for discussion was the controversy surrounding Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s proposed Ground Zero mosque. It didn’t take long for Fareed and the panel members—Kathleen Parker, Bernard-Henri Levy, Chrystia Freeland, and Dan Senor—to start complaining that Jacksonian populist conservatives are screwing up America.

I like Fareed Zakaria and I usually like his guests, the members of this panel included; I have enjoyed watching them on talk shows and have read some of their writings. I don’t always agree with them, but then again I’ve never been in lock step with anybody, left, right, or center. Here at The New Jacksonian Blog, we believe in free and open discussion and are always willing to entertain opposing points of view. What came through loud and clear was the panel’s liberal internationalist elite disdain for Jacksonian America. I hate having to keep saying it, I wish it were not true, but there it is.

Kathleen Parker, an establishment Republican journalist, started off saying that the Tea Party would be a disaster for the Republicans. Like most establishment Republicans, Parker was “appalled” at Christine O’Donnell’s victory in Delaware. Only Dan Senor had anything good to say about the Tea Party. But Senor misread the Tea Party when he pointed out their focus on conservative economic issues and silence on conservative cultural issues. “I think what's interesting about the Tea Party movement is in the 1980s and the 1990s, the fringe right of the Republican Party, those fights were fought and they were culture wars. Right? They were fought over abortion, they were fought over prayer in school and flag burning.” Senor continued, “What's motivating the Tea Party movement are not those issues. This is about spending. It's about bailouts. It's about the growth of government.” Yes, the focus is on fiscal issues, but the Tea Party is committed to conservative cultural positions on abortion, gay marriage, traditional values, and patriotism. Anyone who’s listened to Sarah Palin or Christine O’Donnell would know that. Lee Harris has written on this in The Weekly Standard. They are not the priority in this election cycle given the state of the economy—yes, as Freeland observed “this is an ‘it’s the economy stupid’ election.”

Parker, Freeland, and Levy agreed that economic uncertainty, the middle class fear of falling, is driving a tide of xenophobic nationalism that is behind such issues as immigration restriction and the mosque controversy. Levy lamented that America is abandoning its traditional pragmatism for extreme ideology. Parker raised the race issue: opposition to illegal immigration shows that Jacksonians are still wedded to white supremacy.

PARKER: I think we cant -- it would be remiss to skip the race factor, because what you're talking about when you talk about immigration now, especially these more highly-skilled workers, are people from other countries with darker skin, and we are seeing -- the Tea Party is primarily male, primarily white, primarily over age 45. And there is the sense that despite our wonderful history of immigration and immigrants, that this country is going elsewhere.
And we know the statistics down the road. What is it? By what year whites will be the minority? I mean, there's a very strong, emotional sense that the country is becoming something else that is exclusive to them.
Jacksonian opposition to the mosque, the panel minus Senor agreed, was driven purely by Islamophobia. “Well, its classic. I mean, the mosque, in particular, is classic displacement, right? Its looking for the other, looking for the enemy.” (Freeland) The three panelists contemptuously dismissed the idea that Ground Zero is sacred ground. When Senor, who opposes the mosque, spoke up for the majority of New Yorkers and Americans who also oppose the mosque, observing that the wounds of 9/11 were still raw, the other panelists jumped all over him. Parker complained that many Americans’ distrust of Rauf’s motives, fear of Sharia law, and concern that the mosque would be seen as a monument to Islamic triumphalism, was nothing more than xenophobia.

Unfortunately the GPS panel failed to provide a penetrating analysis that goes to the heart of why Jacksonians oppose the Ground Zero mosque. Ross Douthat in the New York Times and Fouad Ajami in the Wall Street Journal, do understand the real cause of Jacksonian angst. Where liberal progressives see America in constitutional terms as a set of political propositions, Jacksonians see America in cultural terms as a distinct and unique national community. For liberal progressives building the mosque is a matter of upholding the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of religion. For Jacksonians the mosque project is “an affront to the memory of 9/11, and a sign of disrespect for the values of a country where Islam has only recently become part of the public consciousness.” Jacksonians question whether Islam, with its heritage of Sharia law, is compatible with America’s culture of liberty and rugged individualism—just as it had similar concerns about Roman Catholicism in the nineteenth century. Liberal progressives, with this history in mind, argue that religious tolerance cannot be made conditional upon cultural assimilation. But Jacksonian America does expect Muslim Americans to make a greater effort to assimilate Islam to American democratic social and cultural norms if they want to be accepted as full members of the folk community. This includes showing respect toward Jacksonian sentiments on what they consider sacred ground.

So to sum it up, Fareed, Parker, Freeland, and Levy were basically saying that Jacksonian Americans (the 70 % who oppose the mosque) are just a bunch of racists, jingoists, xenophobes, and Islamophobes. This is just a recycling of the standard elite liberal progressive talking points. As much as I like Fareed Zakaria, he and his guests simply don’t get Jacksonian America—any more than President Obama does for that matter. Instead of trying to understand what motivates the 70% or so of Americans who are Jacksonians: their passion for liberty and honor; their love of God, family, and country; their commitment to keeping America exceptional; they just dismiss them as . . . you guessed it, boobus americanus. If Fareed Zakaria hopes to influence Jacksonian public opinion, he’s going to have to do better than this.

I've posted the video below. The panel discussion starts at around 4:30 minutes and ends at around 20:15.

© 2010 Michael Kaplan