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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

“Enumerated Powers” And The Radicalism of The GOP Thought Process

Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry chatted with The Daily Beast yesterday, and was asked about his understanding of “general welfare” under the Constitution. The left, the Texas governor was told, would defend Social Security and Medicare as constitutional under this clause, and asked Perry to explain his own approach. He replied:

“I don’t think our founding fathers, when they were putting the term ‘general welfare’ in there, were thinking about a federally operated program of pensions nor a federally operated program of health care. What they clearly said was that those were issues that the states need to address. Not the federal government. I stand very clear on that. From my perspective, the states could substantially better operate those programs if that’s what those states decided to do.”

It’s worth pausing to appreciate the radicalism of this position. When congressional Republicans, for example, push to end Medicare and replace it with a privatized voucher scheme, they make a fiscal argument — the GOP prefers to push the costs away from the government and onto individuals and families as a way of reducing the deficit.

But Perry is arguing programs like Medicare and Social Security aren’t just too expensive; he’s also saying they shouldn’t exist in the first place because he perceives them as unconstitutional. Indeed, when pressed on what “general welfare” might include if Medicare and Social Security don’t make the cut, the Texas governor literally didn’t say a word.

Now, this far-right extremism may not come as too big a surprise to those familiar with Perry’s worldview. He’s rather obsessed with the 10th Amendment — unless we’re talking about gays or abortion — and George Will recently touted him as a “10th Amendment conservative.” Perry’s radicalism is largely expected.

It’s worth noting, then, that Mitt Romney seems to be in a similar boat. He was asked in last night’s debate about his hard-to-describe approach to health care policy, and the extent to which his state-based law served as a model for the Affordable Care Act. Romney argued:

“There are some similarities between what we did in Massachusetts and what President Obama did, but there are some big differences. And one is, I believe in the 10th Amendment of the Constitution. And that says that powers not specifically granted to the federal government are reserved by the states and the people.”

What I’d really like to know is whether Romney means this, and if so, how much. Because if he’s serious about this interpretation of the law, and he intends to govern under the assumption that powers not specifically granted to the federal government are reserved by the states and the people, then a Romney administration would be every bit as radical as a Perry administration.

After all, the power to extend health care coverage to seniors obviously isn’t a power specifically granted to the federal government, so by Romney’s reasoning, like Perry’s, Medicare shouldn’t exist. Neither should Social Security, the Civil Rights Act, the Clean Air Act, student loans, FEMA, or many other benchmarks of modern American life.

And if Romney doesn’t believe this, and he’s comfortable with Medicare’s constitutionality, maybe he could explain why the federal government has the constitutional authority to bring health care coverage to a 65-year-old American, but not a 64-year-old American.

By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly-Political Animal, August 12, 2011

August 13, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Congress, Conservatives, Constitution, Deficits, GOP, Health Reform, Ideologues, Ideology, Medicare, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, Seniors, Social Security, States, Teaparty | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Extortion Politics: A New Form Of Governing

Josh Marshall made an interesting point in passing yesterday, asking whether conservative Republicans could achieve massive spending cuts through “old-fashioned majority votes.” Josh answered his own question: “Of course not.” The cuts on the table were only made possible by Republicans “threatening the health” of the United States.

I think this arguably one of the more important realizations to take away from the current political landscape. Republicans aren’t just radicalized, aren’t just pursuing an extreme agenda, and aren’t just allergic to compromise. The congressional GOP is also changing the very nature of governing in ways with no modern precedent.

Welcome to the normalization of extortion politics.

Consider, for example, the Republican decision to reject any and all nominees to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, regardless of merit, unless and until Democrats accepted changes to the agency’s structure. Traditionally, if the GOP wanted to alter the powers of the CFPB, it would write legislation, send it to committee, bring it to the floor, send it to the other chamber, etc. But that takes time and effort, and in a divided government, this “old fashioned” approach to policymaking probably wouldn’t produce the desired result.

Instead, we see the latest in a series of extortion strategies: Republicans will force Democrats to accept changes to the agency, or Republicans won’t allow the agency to function. Jonathan Cohn wrote a good piece on this a couple of weeks ago, noting the frequency with which this strategy is utilized.

Republican threats to block nominees to the consumer board are at peace with their opposition to Don Berwick, Obama’s first choice to run the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services; to Peter Diamond, whom Obama tapped to sit on the Federal Reserve Board; and most recently to John Bryson, Obama’s nominee to take over the Commerce Department. It’s nothing short of a power grab by the Republican Party — an effort to achieve, through the confirmation process, what they could not achieve through legislation. And it seems unprecedented, at least in modern times.

Republicans effectively tell the administration, over and over again, that the normal system of American governance can continue … just as soon as Democrats agree to policy changes the GOP can’t otherwise pass.

The traditional American model would tell Republicans to win an election. If that doesn’t work, Republicans should work with rivals to pass legislation that moves them closer to their goal. In 2011, the GOP has decided these old-school norms are of no value. Why bother with them when Republicans can force through policy changes by way of a series of hostage strategies? Why should the legislative branch use its powers through legislative action when extortion is more effective?

It’s offensive when it comes to nominees like CFPB nominee Richard Cordray, but using the full faith and credit of the United States to force through desired policy changes takes this dynamic to a very different level. And since it’s working, this will be repeated and establishes a new precedent.

Indeed, it’s a reminder that of all the qualities Republicans lack — wisdom, humility, shame, integrity — it’s their nonexistent appreciation for limits that’s arguably the scariest.

By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly-Political Animal, July 31, 2011

August 1, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Consumers, Democracy, Democrats, Elections, GOP, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Lawmakers, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, Teaparty, Voters | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Strangling Our Nation: ‘A Self-Inflicted Wound Of Monumental Stupidity’

There are, regrettably, plenty of prominent media voices who insist on characterizing the Republicans’ debt-ceiling crisis as a disaster brought on by “both sides.” Yes, David Gergen, I’m looking in your direction.

But for all the complaining I do about this, it’s only fair to also note those who get it right, and resist the Village’s agreed upon narrative. Here’s Time’s Joe Klein yesterday, before last night’s breakdown in the House.

[S]o, here we are. Our nation’s economy and international reputation as the world’s presiding grownup has already been badly damaged. It is a self-inflicted wound of monumental stupidity. I am usually willing to acknowledge that Democrats can be as silly, and hidebound, as Republicans-but not this time. There is zero equivalence here. The vast majority of Democrats have been more than reasonable, more than willing to accept cuts in some of their most valued programs. […]

The Republicans have been willing to concede nothing. Their stand means higher interest rates, fewer jobs created and more destroyed, a general weakening of this country’s standing in the world. Osama bin Laden, if he were still alive, could not have come up with a more clever strategy for strangling our nation.

That last line was of particular interest, because it echoes a recent point from Nick Kristof. Indeed, the NYT columnist recently argued that Republicans represent a kind of domestic threat, possibly undermining the nation’s interests from within: “[L]et’s remember not only the national security risks posed by Iran and Al Qaeda. Let’s also focus on the risks, however unintentional, from domestic zealots.”

Are Klein and Kristof suggesting Republican extremism has become dangerous? It certainly sounds like it.

This is pretty bold stuff from media establishment figures. It also suggests the “both sides” nonsense hasn’t exactly achieved universal acceptance.

 

By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly, Political Animal, July 29, 2011

July 29, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Debt Ceiling, Debt Crisis, Deficits, Democracy, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Ideology, Jobs, Lawmakers, Media, National Security, Politics, Press, Public, Public Opinion, Pundits, Republicans, Right Wing, Teaparty, Terrorism, Voters | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

GOP Leaders Must Free Themselves From The Tea Party’s Grip

Media reports are touting the Senate’s Gang of Six and its new budget outline. But the news that explains why the nation is caught in this debt-ceiling fiasco is the gang warfare inside the Republican Party. We are witnessing the disintegration of Tea Party Republicanism.

The Tea Party’s followers have endangered the nation’s credit rating and the GOP by pushing both House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor away from their own best instincts.

Cantor worked amicably with the negotiating group organized by Vice President Joe Biden and won praise for his focus even from liberal staffers who have no use for his politics.

Yet when the Biden group seemed close to a deal, it was shot down by the Tea Party’s champions. Boehner left Cantor exposed as the frontman in the Biden talks and did little to rescue him.

Then it was Boehner’s turn on the firing line. He came near a bigger budget deal with President Obama, but the same right-wing rejectionists blew this up, too. Cantor evened the score by serving as a spokesman for Republicans opposed to any tax increase of any kind.

Think about the underlying dynamic here. The evidence suggests that both Boehner and Cantor understand the peril of the game their Republican colleagues are playing. They know we are closer than we think to having the credit rating of the United States downgraded. This may happen before Aug. 2, the date everyone is using as the deadline for action.

Unfortunately, neither of the two House leaders seems in a position to tell the obstreperous right that it is flatly and dangerously wrong when it claims that default is of little consequence. Rarely has a congressional leadership seemed so powerless.

Compare the impasse Boehner and Cantor are in with the aggressive maneuvering of Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. He knows how damaging default would be and is working with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to concoct a way out.

McConnell can do this because he doesn’t confront the Tea Party problem that so bedevils Boehner and Cantor. Many of the Tea Party’s Senate candidates — Sharron Angle in Nevada, Christine O’Donnell in Delaware and Joe Miller in Alaska — lost in 2010. Boehner and Cantor, by contrast, owe their majority in part to Tea Party supporters. McConnell has a certain freedom to govern that his House leadership colleagues do not.

And this is why Republicans are going to have to shake themselves loose from the Tea Party. Quite simply, the Tea Party’s legions are not interested in governing, at least as governing is normally understood in a democracy with separated powers. They believe that because the Republicans won one house of Congress in one election, they have a mandate to do whatever the right wing wants. A Democratic president and Senate are dismissed as irrelevant nuisances, although they were elected, too.

The Tea Party lives in an intellectual bubble where the answers to every problem lie in books by F.A. Hayek, Glenn Beck or Ayn Rand. Rand’s anti-government writings, regarded by her followers as modern-day scripture — Rand, an atheist, would have bridled at that comparison — are particularly instructive.

When the hero of Rand’s breakthrough novel, “The Fountainhead,” doesn’t get what he wants, he blows up a building. Rand’s followers see that as gallant. So perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us that blowing up our government doesn’t seem to be a big deal to some of the new radical individualists in our House of Representatives.

Our country is on the edge. Our capital looks like a lunatic asylum to many of our own citizens and much of the world. We need to act now to restore certainty by extending the debt ceiling through the end of this Congress.

Boehner and Cantor don’t have time to stretch things out to appease their unappeasable members, and they should settle their issues with each other later. Nor do we have time to work through the ideas from the Gang of Six. The Gang has come forward too late with too little detail. Their suggestions should be debated seriously, not rushed through.

Republicans need to decide whether they want to be responsible conservatives or whether they will let the Tea Party destroy the House That Lincoln Built in a glorious explosion. Such pyrotechnics may look great to some people on the pages of a novel or in a movie, but they’re rather unpleasant when experienced in real life.

By: E. J. Dionne, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, July 20, 2011

July 21, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Constitution, Debt Ceiling, Deficits, Democracy, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Ideology, Journalists, Media, Politics, President Obama, Public, Republicans, Right Wing, Senate, Tax Loopholes, Taxes, Tea Party | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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