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“Extremes Is All Our Politicians Have Left”: Without A Center, How Does The Nation’s Business Get Done?

“Things fall apart. The centre cannot hold.” — William Butler Yeats

And so this is the presidential campaign of 2016.

If it were a movie, it would be pornography. If it were a sporting event, it would be a cockfight. If it were music, it would be the sound of cats on a hot blackboard.

In other words, it has not been the most high-minded affair.

But beyond the fact that it has been ugly and dispiriting, the campaign has also come to feel … ominous, like a portent of some dystopian future. You wonder if maybe the superficial nastiness of it isn’t truly superficial at all, but rather, evidence of a grim new reality: that we are a nation of 323 million people in 50 states who not only are not united, but don’t particularly want to be.

It is hard to escape a sense that at some level, we have disengaged from one another and that as a result, our politics has shrunken to its extremes, like two boxers who retreat to neutral corners to yell across the ring.

Two men in particular embody this. The first, of course, is Donald Trump, who has channeled angry misanthropy into political power. The reality show impresario has pulled the Republican Party far to the right, using as his prod the inchoate, done-wrong, want-my-country-back rage of those for whom change is always, by definition, threat.

The second man is Bernie Sanders, who has channeled the angry populism of the political left into a movement that is no slouch for power itself. The Vermont senator has yanked the Democratic field — i.e., Hillary Clinton — far to the left, forcing her to compete for the affections of angry, tired-of-being-dumped-on 99 percenters who see democracy being stolen by Big Money and like it not at all.

Don’t misunderstand the point. Sanders has given voice to concerns too often ignored by Republicans and paid lip service to by Democrats. So the argument here is not that there is equivalence between the extremes of left and right. No, the argument — the observation, really — is that they are both, well … extremes. And that, apparently, that’s all our national politics has left.

It is instructive to watch Clinton and Sanders bicker about which is the more ideologically pure. Until recently, that kind of quarrel was restricted to Republicans jousting over who was most “conservative” — by which they meant draconian — on issues like immigration and abortion. Now, apparently, Democrats, too, want their candidates to pledge allegiance to philosophical dogma.

It raises a question: Whither the center? And if there is no center, how does the nation’s business get done? As ungovernable as the country has been under Barack Obama, a center-left pragmatist the Republicans made out to be the reincarnation of Che Guevara, it can only be worse under a leader whose ideological purity is zealously policed and for whom compromise is apostasy.

One struggles to even imagine what the fall campaign will be like. Usually, candidates argue over who has the best ideas for solving a given set of problems. But in neutral corners America, there is not even consensus on what the problems are. Will we have Trump campaigning on Mexicans and Muslims, while Sanders rails about money and malfeasance? Will we be asked only to decide which makes us most angry and afraid?

If so, whither hope?

And here, Democrats will want it noted that they were not the first to abandon the center. Let the record so state. The GOP eschewed all claim to that ground long ago and even purged itself of members who dared wander too close.

Still, the question of who is to blame for a politics of extremism is less compelling than the question of what that politics portends. Two boxers yelling at one another from neutral corners makes for great theater.

But the fighting is done in the center of the ring.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; Then National Memo, February 22, 2016

February 23, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Election 2016, Governing, Politicians | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Notes On A Pseudo-Scandal”: With No Credibility On Issues, Republicans Demand For Scandal Is Intense And Unflagging

OK folks, if you have the patience for some meta-blogging on the subject of Benghazi, let me share with you some of the thoughts that have been running around my head as I struggle with how to talk about this story. Whenever a topic like this comes up, you have to ask yourself a couple of questions. Do I have something worthwhile to contribute to this discussion? Is there something that needs to be said but hasn’t been yet? Is this thing even worth talking about? Much as I’d like to be immune to the consideration of whether I’m doing a favor for those pushing the story for their own partisan ends by keeping the discussion going, it’s hard to avoid that question popping into your head from time to time.

There’s an objective reality out there, hard though it may sometimes be to discern—either there was or was not actual wrongdoing, and the whole matter is either trivial or momentous—but everyone’s perception of that reality is formed within the context of a partisan competition. Irrespective of any facts, Democrats would like this story to just go away, and Republicans would like it to become The Worst Scandal In History. I’ll be honest and say it’s hard to avoid thinking about that when you’re writing about it. Even doing something like refuting the latest crazy thing someone on the right is alleging does, to at least a small degree, help maintain the story’s momentum.

To step back to the big picture, a “scandal” can proceed regardless of whether any wrongdoing is ever found. If you have your own media system, you can keep talking about it (combined with, always always always, accusations that the mainstream media are ignoring it not because of a reasonable news judgment but because of their liberal bias) until the mainstream media start doing their own reporting on it, pushing the story ahead. This is a routine conservative media are practiced at, and they seem to be having some success yet again. If you have control of one house of Congress, furthermore, you can start investigations and hold hearings, which may not uncover anything incriminating, but it creates news events and produces information, which can be spun to be something nefarious even if it’s utterly mundane.

For instance, conservatives continue to froth at the mouth over whether a set of talking points the administration produced contained the words “terrorism” or “Islamic extremists” or “extremists,” as though one answer means everything was above-board and another answer means there was a cover-up so sinister that impeaching the president is the obvious response. You may be shocked to learn that talking points on national security matters are routinely edited by representatives of different agencies! Or maybe you’re not shocked, but just in case, Republicans are going to act as though it’s shocking. If you’re an Obama partisan, the fact that your opponents think that the key to the President’s undoing will be found in some Microsoft Word “track changes” should make you feel pretty secure, since those opponents are plainly a bunch of buffoons.

Trouble is, that may not stop the “scandal” from continuing to generate momentum. Brendan Nyhan just put out a paper in which he posits a theory of scandals, arguing that they are a “co-production” of the media and the opposition party. Specifically, the less popular a president is with the opposing party, the more likely a scandal is to emerge.Other factors have an impact as well, including competing news stories, the time a president has been in office, and the time since the last scandal. This is essentially what Jamelle noted yesterday, that while there may not be much of a supply of actual Obama administration wrongdoing, the demand for scandal on the right is intense and unflagging. That demand is met by the conservative media, whose coverage pushes Republican lawmakers to get involved, which generates more coverage, which generates more demand in the Republican rank and file, and on and on.

I hesitate to even use the word “scandal” to describe Benghazi, because so far we haven’t learned of anything scandalous anyone did. Conservatives themselves don’t seem to be able to say exactly what the Obama administration is supposed to have done wrong, particularly since lethal attacks on American diplomatic mission are a frequent occurrence, even under Republican administrations. “Talking points were edited to make the attack sound less terrorist-y” isn’t exactly a high crime. “Some different decisions in those first chaotic hours might have made a difference” isn’t much of an indictment either; that’s always true of any tragedy. Yes, there are some people on the right who will speculate that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton actually said, “Go ahead and let those people in Benghazi die, because even though we could save their lives, doing so might harm our re-election, so screw ’em.” But those people are obviously nuts, and everybody knows it.

It may well be that, as it was during the Clinton years, even many of the people pushing the alleged scandal realize there’s not much to it, but they find political utility in keeping the president under siege. If he’s worried about this, he’ll have less time to devote to his other priorities. Spend tens of millions investigating a failed land deal, and even if you don’t find that he did anything wrong there, maybe along the way you’ll discover that he got a blow job from an intern.

As reluctant as I am to feed that beast, in the end I suspect they’ll be punished for their obsession with Benghazi, assuming that they fail, just as they have so far, to uncover any actual wrongdoing. And that’ll happen whether people like me write about it or not.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, May 10, 2013

May 11, 2013 Posted by | Benghazi, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Crazies Just Get Crazier”: Bring Me Your Angry, Your Paranoid, Your Masses Huddled In Their Bunkers…

Independence is the new media thing. Andrew Sullivan is doing it. Trey Parker and Matt Stone are doing it. And Glenn Beck, who did it already when he got booted from Fox News and created his own internet TV … um … thing in response, is taking it even farther. Inspired by “Galt’s Gulch,” the place in Atlas Shrugged where the Randian übermenschen retreated, Beck is unveiling plans for an entire city he will build, a city to embody all that is right and good and libertarian about America, a true refuge where those who have proven their mettle by watching hundreds of hours of his programs can come and live just as the Founders intended. It’ll be called, naturally, Independence, U.S.A. Behold: http://www.video.theblaze.com/media/video.jsp?content_id=25550259

You’ll notice how right at the beginning Beck says, “You will have to literally wipe us off the face of the earth and wipe us off the map before you can erase the truth that is America.” Presumably in the regular America, the sinister forces can just come for us one by one, and before you know it America is gone, but it’ll be a lot harder if the True America is all concentrated in one city. Seems a little backward to me, but OK.

Of course this will never happen, but you can’t fault him for a lack of ambition. It isn’t enough to pay to be a member of Glenn’s web site and listen to his radio show and buy his books. He wants you to come live in a city he designed! And what’s the end point of this? Perhaps an “Eternal Glenn” program, where after your loved one dies, you mail to Beck a small vial containing some of old grandad’s blood (harvested while he was alive, of course), and in a brief but solemn ceremony, Glenn will join the blood with that of other Beck fans in a beautiful cauldron (mini-replicas available for only $39.95), merging their essences into a powerful liquid spirit, each drop a concentrated reduction of Paranoid Cranky Old White Man, bursting with America-ness and used for anointing in secret ceremonies deep within the underground temple at Independence, U.S.A. Don’t be surprised.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, January 14, 2013

January 15, 2013 Posted by | Right Wing | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Always In The Future”: When Do We Get To See Obama’s Radicalism?

Last week I wrote a post mocking conservatives for their relentless search for the next secret videotape that will expose Barack Obama as a dangerous radical, the latest of which was the shocking revelation that as a law student, he supported his professor Derrick Bell’s efforts to diversify the Harvard Law School faculty. Unsurprisingly, conservatives reacted by saying that I just didn’t get it (here‘s a sample). It’s worth saying a bit more about this phenomenon, because we surely haven’t seen the last of it, both in the campaign and in Obama’s second term, should he win one.

The search for the radical associations in Obama’s pre-political history began almost as soon as Obama’s presidential candidacy began in 2007. Some conservatives (and that’s an important qualifier; many conservatives understand that this stuff is nuts) have been positively obsessed with uncovering Obama’s radical associations. They have also insisted that those associations are closer than anyone thinks. So it isn’t enough that Obama once served on a charitable board with former ’60s radical Bill Ayers; some want us to believe that Ayers actually ghostwrote Obama’s books! Obama didn’t just speak at a rally supporting Derrick Bell; he hugged Bell, which just shows how close they were!

And all of this is supposed to lead to something, something about Obama’s presidency. Not even the craziest among the conspirators thinks that Obama is, today, taking orders from Ayers. But they would no doubt assert that he doesn’t have to, because in his youth Obama drank so deeply from their cup of extremist America-hating that he will be doing what the likes of Ayers want anyway.

So here’s my question: When do we get to see Obama’s radicalism?

I’m not talking about Affordable Care Act-type radicalism. I mean the real radicalism. The Weather Underground radicalism. The Black Panther radicalism. The dismantling of capitalism, the closing of the Defense Department, the demotion of white people to second-class citizenship. When is that going to come? Can they give us the litany of Obama policies that represent the realization of the visions of the ’60s radicals who supposedly control his mind across the decades?

Because after all, the point of the supposedly shocking revelation about Obama’s past isn’t to help us understand what has already happened but to give us a preview of what is to come. For instance, some conservatives believe the auto bailout is a key component of Obama’s nefarious socialist plan. But you don’t need to know when Obama spoke with Bill Ayers 15 years ago or what he said about Derrick Bell 20 years ago to understand the auto bailout. You can look at the actual auto bailout. No, the shocking revelation is supposed to warn us about new radicalism, the radicalism to come that can only be appreciated if you grasp the full implications of the people Obama was hanging around with a couple of decades ago.

So what exactly is it that they’re warning America about? When do we get to see this crazy radical Obama? If they’re pressed, there is an answer to this question: In his second term! That’s when the mask will be torn off, and the true Obama revealed. Sure, he might be governing like your average center-left Democrat now, but that’s only because he’s been lulling us into a false sense of security, so he can get re-elected and then begin his true project of remaking America, when Angela Davis gets nominated to the Supreme Court, private property is outlawed, and half the public gets herded onto collective farms. Or something.

To people who have a grip on reality, the things Barack Obama will do in a second term aren’t particularly mysterious. We don’t know exactly what will happen, of course, but we’ve got a pretty good idea. He’ll try to solidify the ACA, his signature legislative accomplishment. He may try to achieve tax reform, which could involve slightly higher rates for the wealthy, although he’ll need Republican cooperation to do it. He’ll try to extricate us from Afghanistan, and he doesn’t seem too keen on starting a war with Iran. And so on. Conservatives will dislike most of what he does, and liberals will like most (but not all) of it. In short, though the details aren’t easy to predict, in its broad strokes a second Obama term will probably be a lot like the first Obama term. You’d have to be pretty crazy to believe otherwise.

 

By: Paul Waldman, The American Prospect, March 12, 2012

March 13, 2012 Posted by | Birthers, Conspiracy Theories | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Yes, Perry And Bachmann Are Religious Radicals

While few in either the mainstream media or the conservative commentariat have been so bold as to deny that the Republican Party is a lot more ideologically rigid than it was four or twelve or thirty years ago, there has been some regular pushback against attaching such terms as “radical” and “extremist” to the party’s views. Some conservatives like to claim that they just look extreme when compared to a Democratic Party dominated by a radical socialist president. Others admit their party is in an ideological grip unlike anything seen since Barry Goldwater’s 1964 campaign, but argue the whole country’s moved with them. (Just observe Michele Bachmann’s recent statement that the Tea Party represents the views of 90 percent of the U.S. population). But more common is the effort, which extends deep into the media, to push back against charges of Republican extremism on grounds that, well, a party that won over half the ballots of 2010 voters cannot, by definition, be anything other than solidly in the mainstream. And so it becomes habitual to denigrate even the most specific text-proofs that something odd is going on in the GOP as “liberal hysteria” or mere agitprop.

This 45-million-Americans-can’t-be-wrong meme has been deployed most recently to scoff at those progressive writers who have drawn attention to the rather peculiar associations of presidential candidates Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry. The most typical retort came from Washington Post religion columnist Lisa Miller, who deplored those scrutinizing Bachmann’s legal training at Oral Roberts University or the “dominionist” beliefs common among many key organizers of Perry’s recent “day of prayer and fasting” as “raising fears on the left about ‘crazy Christians.’” New York Times columnist Ross Douthat offered a more sophisticated but functionally equivalent rebuke, suggesting that Bachmann and Perry were representing a long Republican tradition of co-opting religious extremists with absolutely no intention of giving them genuine influence.

But the recent resurgence of militant Christian Right activism, alongside its close cousin, “constitutional conservatism,” is genuinely troubling to people who don’t share the belief that the Bible or the Constitution tell you exactly what to do on a vast array of political issues. From both perspectives, conservative policy views are advanced not because they make sense empirically, or are highly relevant to the contemporary challenges facing the country, or because they may from time to time reflect public opinion. They are, instead, rooted in a concept of the eternal order of the universe, or in the unique (and, for many, divinely ordained) character of the United States. As such, they suggest a fundamentally undemocratic strain in American politics and one that can quite justifiably be labeled extreme.

Consider the language of the Mount Vernon Statement, the 2010 manifesto signed by a glittering array of conservative opinion-leaders, from Grover Norquist to Ed Fulner to Tony Perkins:

We recommit ourselves to the ideas of the American Founding. Through the Constitution, the Founders created an enduring framework of limited government based on the rule of law. They sought to secure national independence, provide for economic opportunity, establish true religious liberty and maintain a flourishing society of republican self-government. …

The conservatism of the Declaration asserts self-evident truths based on the laws of nature and nature’s God.

An agenda speaking with the authority of “self-evident truths based on the laws of nature and nature’s God” and advancing the “enduring framework” of the Founders is, by definition, immutable. And in turn, that means that liberals (or, for that matter, their RINO enablers) are not simply misguided, but are objectively seeking to thwart God and/or betray America. Think that might have an impact on the tone of politics, or the willingness of conservatives to negotiate over the key tenets of their agenda?

From this point of view, all the recent carping about liberal alarm over the religious underpinnings of contemporary conservatism seems to miss the big picture rather dramatically. Both Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry have conspicuously offered themselves as leaders to religio-political activists who, whatever their theological differences, largely share a belief that God’s Will on Earth requires the repeal of abortion rights and same-sex relationship rights, radical curtailment of government involvement in education or welfare, assertion of Christian nationhood in both domestic and international relations, and a host of other controversial initiatives. Does it ultimately matter, then, whether these activists consider themselves “dominionists” or “reconstructionists,” or subscribe to Bill Bright’s Seven Mountains theory of Christian influence over civic and cultural life? I don’t think so.

Similarly, the frequent mainstream media and conservative recasting of the Tea Party as just a spontaneous salt-of-the-earth expression of common-sense attitudes towards fiscal profligacy is hard to sustain in light of the almost-constant espousal of “constitutional conservative” ideology by Tea Party leaders and the politicians most closely associated with them. Perhaps Rick Perry, just like his Tea Party fans, really is personally angry about the stimulus legislation of 2009 or the Affordable Care Act of 2010, and that’s fine. But no mainstream conservative leader since Goldwater has published a book challenging the constitutionality and morality of the entire policy legacy of the New Deal and (with the marginal exception of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) the Great Society. Ronald Reagan, to cite just one prominent example, justified his own conservative ideology as the reaction of a pure-bred New Deal Democrat to the later excesses of liberalism. Reagan also largely refrained from promoting his policy ideas as reflecting a mandate from God or the Founders, and he treated Democrats with at least minimal respect.

In that sense, major presidential candidates like Perry and Bachmann really are something new under the sun. They embody a newly ascendant strain of conservatism that is indeed radical or extremist in its claims to represent not just good economics or good governance, but eternal verities that popular majorities can help implement but can never overturn. They deserve all the scrutiny they have attracted, and more.

By: Ed Kilgore, Special Correspondent, The New Republic, August 31, 2011

September 2, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Class Warfare, Conservatives, Constitution, Democracy, Democrats, Elections, Equal Rights, GOP, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Journalists, Media, Politics, Press, Public, Republicans, Right Wing, Teaparty, Voters | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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