Thursday, March 1, 2012

Go Crazy For A Change

Whether President Obama's "typically serpentine ideological course" is due to strategic brilliance or executive inexperience, as Rick Perlstein writes, it won't stop the Republicans from wrecking the country -- and it may end up abetting them.

No matter how extremist the Republicans appear to be, Obama refuses to criticize "right-wing ideology" or "make a full-throated case that Democrats offered an ideological alternative."  Republicans, on the other hand, plant an ideological flag and don't waver:
They plant their flag in an uncompromising position, and wait for the world to come around – which, quite often, it eventually does. This is because in a media environment based on the ideology of "balance," in which anything one of the parties insists upon must be given equal weight to whatever the other party says back, the party that plants its ideological flag further from the center makes the center move. And that is how America changes. You set the stage for future changes by shifting the rhetoric of the present.
Republicans don't strike extreme right wing positions, according to Perlstein, in order to please their base, but to shift the political discourse. Obama plays right into this strategy.  His penchant for compromise means that he never tries to use his political power to "define reality."  Instead, "he ratifies his opponent's reality, by folding it into his original negotiating position. And since the opponent's preferred position is always further out than his own, even a "successful" compromise ends up with the reality looking more like the one the Republicans prefer."

A perfect example, Perlstein notes, is the recent contraception fight.  Obama's attempt to compromise with the Catholic bishops, which seemed to many as a brilliant stroke, has resulted in the right moving to an ever-more extreme position.  The Blunt Amendment now before Congress would allow any employer -- not just church-affiliated ones -- to deny contraception coverage by stating an objection on religious grounds. Objectively, as Perlstein says, this is "insanely extreme," but it is not being reported that way.  Rather, as everything else in politics, it is simply the Republican side of an even-handed debate.
That's the game: Conservatives recast the global perception of something they despise, and the rest of us take for granted as plain progress, as a bubbling cauldron of "controversy." Which allows them, in the fullness of time, to get policy makers on board to take the risk to change the laws in the way they prefer.
Right-wing change relies on Democrats like Obama who "don't plant a flag, who refuse to render the bad guys 'controversial,' and who never stake their claim on apparently 'insane' ideas of their own."

Perhaps what we need is a little craziness.


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