Monday, February 27, 2012

Paying Tribute to Extremists

It's no surprise to the people who know me that my personal political preferences are often at odds with my understanding of how American politics actually function. For example, while I want to believe that my preferred candidate can win elections by throwing political meat out to us lefties and "turning out the base," it's still probably true that there are more gains to be made by tacking to the middle in a general election, i.e. median voter theorem. With that being said, I constantly find myself jealous of the way the Republicans cater to their most right-wing base in ways the left NEVER does. In fact, us lefties seem complicit in marginalizing our own views, systematically mocking and rejecting candidates like Dennis Kucinich, whose most "extreme" view seems to be that would shouldn't start wars for no reason - you know, views that 80% of liberals support. But, as someone who does understand the way our democracy elects politicians, I also understand that policy positions have very little to do with how we elect politicians. It's almost entirely a reflection on the economy (by all I mean roughly 85%). Just look at the lineup of crazy motherfuckers Americans elected in 2010. Americans (all voters really) have extraordinarily short memories. You can start unnecessary wars, explode the deficit, destroy local and global economies through deregulation and increases in income inequality, and you can be put back into power 24 months later. So when we see Rick Santorum say all these kinds of crazy things about religious freedom in ways that make him indecipherable from Sarah Palin, we say, well nobody is going to elect this guy, right? Maybe, maybe not. It really depends on the economy. If the economy is improving, Santorum/Romney will lose. If it's not, really any Republican can win. Even the crazy ones (OK, OK, they're all crazy). And either way, the Dems will probably lose the Senate and maintain an albeit reduced minority in the House. They way we vote and pay attention to politics, we really aren't smart enough to figure these things out. That's why I'm jealous of the Republican lurch rightwards. It would be nice if their renewed attacks on women's rights (and their continued attacks on Hispanics and "welfare queens"), relegated them to the dustbins of history but it simply won't be the case. Instead, this radicalism, win or lose, will set the new normal, the new center. Remember, a few years ago Santorum was a right wing radical with a Senate seat who lost his reelection bid in Pennsylvania by 18 points. Now he is amongst the two Republican presidential frontrunners and he polls decently against a President that is ending two unpopular American wars, is turning around the economy, who regulated the extremely unpopular financial industry, and who killed Osama bin Laden. Why is the polling so close? To use the most overused phrase in political history, it's the economy stupid. Knowing that Americans vote on sociotropic economic concerns, Republicans can pursue all sort of radical Republican cultural objectives and really pay a very small political price. In the meantime, extreme radicalism on the right redraws the political center on a longterm basis. Even if they lose the general election (which I'm betting they will). Look at the successful Goldwater movement. Yes that Goldwater. Goldwater got smoked in the presidential election, but the radicalism that rose to power during that time period is a continued triumph that ratchets upwards through political generations. Read Rick Perlstein epic history, Before The Storm for the evidence on that front (pun intended). As a liberal, I find this monumentally frustrating. Again, I understand why our candidates campaign as center-right politicians. But I don't have to like it.  And I can also understand that it does very real, and very long-term damage to the Democratic brand. And that is frustrating. When we constantly make Republican concessions on the debt, or on abortion, or on taxes in order to tack to the center and gain centrist voters, we do long-term damage to Democratic aims like reducing global warming, universal healthcare, reductions in income inequality, full employment, nuclear stock reductions, clean energy, improved education, and general increases in equality of political and economic opportunity. As usual, I don't have a solution to this dilemma. We truly cannot afford to let one of the madmen on the right to win election. The Bush years were catastrophic. So we hold our noses and vote for the Democrat who continues to prosecute whistleblowers, crack down on legal medical marijuana dispensaries, deport Hispanics at unprecedented rates, expand executive authority, caters to bankers, refuses to prosecute financial malfeasance, and has claimed the right to assassinate American citizens with or without due process. And remember, that's the "socialist" candidate. I guess my complaint is that if you're going to be painted as a socialist anyway, why not campaign as one. Or at least made positive nods in that direction. I mean, the election is coming down to the economy anyway. Might as well stick up for some Democratic priorities. You know, like the right does.


  1. There's a new concept called paragraphs. I hear they are pretty awesome.

    All that and no use of the phrase Overton Window?

    Anyway, my ridicule of Kucinich isn't that he's radically liberal so much as he is pretty shallow. His mastery of policy details does not impress me, even if he is vaguely in the ballpark ideologically. Bernie Sanders on the other hand is great.

  2. For whatever reason, my blog posts take me forever to write so by the end, I just say fuck it, and submit it. Before I hit submit on this one, I actually said to myself, "I should probably add some paragraph breaks", but the stream of consciousness nonsense seemed more appropriate, since that is how these posts occur to me. A part of me doesn't WANT to write as if people are reading my posts, even though I want MASSIVE amounts of people to read them! To make a long story shorter, I'm just lazy.

    Second, AFTER I submitted, I said to myself, "I'm clearly talking about the Overton window here. Should I go back and add that? Nah! People won't give a shit". Thanks for pointing out my laziness. Again!

    Your right about Kucinich. He's not very bright but I just picked a name more people might be familiar with. Clearly Bernie Sanders is superior in everyway.