Tuesday, May 8, 2012

May 8, 2012

In their recent Post article, Mann and Ornstein noted that one of the problems in dealing with Republican extremism is that the media are reluctant to expose it, and instead play the blame-both-sides game.
We understand the values of mainstream journalists, including the effort to report both sides of a story. But a balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon distorts reality. If the political dynamics of Washington are unlikely to change anytime soon, at least we should change the way that reality is portrayed to the public.
Our advice to the press: Don’t seek professional safety through the even-handed, unfiltered presentation of opposing views. Which politician is telling the truth? Who is taking hostages, at what risks and to what ends?
That’s good advice, but will it be taken? Not by the Post, which felt compelled to achieve "balance" by tacking on at the end of the article a link to a comment by one of its pundits, the ubiquitous Jennifer Rubin. Although the title of her column is "Right Turn," which exposes its bias, she had the chutzpah to describe Mann and Ornstein as "Democratic hacks." For good measure, she declared that they are "shopworn founts of conventional wisdom, . . not serious pundits, let alone scholars."

Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein are scholars, and are especially interested in the function, performance and problems of Congress, as shown by their book The Broken Branch. Glancing at the introduction to that book would have revealed to Ms. Rubin the truth of this statement in their article: "In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted." Paying attention to current events would have shown her the truth of this one: "Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party."

Monday, May 7, 2012

May 7, 2012

A recent article in The Washington Post by Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein made this observation:
The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of
compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition. When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges. . .
To put the matter in less scholarly terms, it’s difficult to have a debate, and to hold open the possibility of compromise or a change in one’s opinion, when the other guy lives on a different planet. If he has different goals or beliefs or priorities, there still is the possibility of a constructive conversation. However, when perception is radically different, when one person’s fact is another’s fantasy, debate is impossible and even basic communication is difficult.
Take, for example, Newt Gingrich who, in his enthusiasm for colonizing the moon, almost literally fits the other-world model. In his formal "suspension" announcement, he offered qualified, grudging support for his rival: "As for the presidency, I'm asked sometimes, is Mitt Romney conservative? And my answer is simple. Compared to Barack Obama? You know, this is not a choice between Mitt Romney and Ronald Reagan." In other words, Mitt isn’t as conservative as Republicans like to think the Gipper was, but the Reagan option isn’t open. We must accept Mitt, but only as the lesser evil, the alternative being really evil: "This is a choice between Mitt Romney and the most radical leftist president in American history." Radical leftist? It’s difficult to remember that Obama is a Democrat, let alone a liberal, still less a leftist, "radical" or otherwise.
Then we have Michael Gerson, one of the Post’s stable of conservatives (and by no means the most detached from reality). He started out a recent column with a partially accurate comment: "The past few years have been the most decisive and divisive ideological period since the early 1980s, perhaps since the late 1960s." Let’s hope that the politics of this decade has not been decisive as to our common future, but certainly Republicans have been divisively ideological. Oh, that’s not what he meant: "Barack Obama has pursued Keynesian economics on a breathtaking scale, racking up three years of deficits in excess of a trillion dollars and presiding over a national credit downgrade." A necessary and inadequate stimulus during a recession somehow qualifies as breathtaking Keynesianism. The current deficits are huge, but Mr. Gerson neglects to note that 1) his former employer, G.W. Bush, inherited a surplus, which turned into a deficit in his first full fiscal year; 2) every subsequent Bush year ran a deficit; 3) the huge deficits we now face are the result of a recession which began on Mr. Bush’s watch; and 4) the largest deficit to date was in fiscal 2009, which began in the last Bush year. The credit downgrade was a non-event; the government still can borrow at very low rates. Gerson also managed to detect in the reactionary Ryan budget something called "Reform Conservatism."
Nitwits like Allen West think that progressives are, by definition, communists. Even common words have, for the right, sinister connotations: the Obama campaign slogan, "Forward," is, according to Breitbart.com, The Washington Times and William Kristol, a communist term.40
In his book Anti-intellectualism in American Life , Richard Hofstadter treated such a charge as already quaint because "Communism has been reduced to a negligible quantity in American domestic life . . . ." That was in 1963. There was, however, a reason for the witch hunt of the Fifties, the same reason for such accusations today: "The truth is that the right-winger needs his Communists badly, and is pathetically reluctant to give them up." Senator Joseph McCarthy’s ranting "satisfied a craving for revenge and a desire to discredit the type of leadership the New Deal had made prominent." Then, as now, one tactic of the right was "obscuring as completely as possible the differences between liberals and Communists."
Conservatives still are arguing about the New Deal, even after the failure of conservative economics has provided additional proof of the truth of Keynesianism. As in the Fifties, they also are debating matters settled even longer ago. "McCarthy's own expression, ‘twenty years of treason,’ suggested the long-standing grievances that were nursed by the crusaders, though the right-wing spokesman, Frank Chodorov, put it in better perspective when he said that the betrayal of the United States had really begun in 1913 with the passage of the income-tax amendment." Ron Paul, still a candidate for the GOP nomination, also wants to repeal that amendment.
The ideologues on the right fit this definition: "the essence of a doctrinaire is not that he does not read newspapers or collect facts: it consists in adhering to a system of interpretation that is impervious to empirical data, or is so nebulous that any and every fact can be used to confirm it.” Ironically, that was used to describe Trotsky.41


40. There are links to the various sources at http://thinkprogress.org/election/2012/05/01/474507/right-wing-claims-obamas-new-campaign-slogan-reveals-his-secret-communist-andor-fascist-allegiances/
41. KoĊ‚akowski, Main Currents of Marxism, p. 958
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