Thought Police: How the Tea Party's Assault on Dissenting Thought Has Trapped the GOP
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Identity lies at the core of politics, no matter what your ideology. It's the reason candidates portray themselves as coming from humble beginnings and feeling at home among regular folks or say they have "[insert our state name here] values" and their opponent doesn't. It underlies all the key political divides we have -- North versus South, urban versus rural, the "heartland" versus the coasts. It is behind every attack on the "elite," whether from the left or the right and whether offered honestly or not. It's written all through human history, from the first moment a hominid tribe decided that there were others of their kind who were outsiders and could not be trusted.
And Newt Gingrich knows it as well as anyone. When he said that Barack Obama "is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together" who the president is, he was just the latest version of the homo erectus grunting to his tribesmen that his rival has been seen visiting that cave on the other side of the valley and therefore must be slain lest the tribe be contaminated. But he failed to pay close enough attention to where the borders of identity had moved, and he paid the price. It will not be the last time in this election cycle that a candidate's identity as a member of the tribe is challenged.
Reprinted with permission from Paul Waldman, "Thought Police," The American Prospect Online: May 24, 2011. http://www.prospect.org. The American Prospect, 1710 Rhode Island Avenue, NW, 12th Floor, Washington, DC 20036. All rights reserved.
Paul Waldman is a senior correspondent for the Prospect and the author of Being Right is Not Enough: What Progressives Must Learn From Conservative Success.