Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Of Moderate Republican Candidates, Responsible Political Reporting, And Other Imaginary Things

The mainstream media's abdication of its duty to do actual reporting, its willful blindness to the extremist nature of the Republican Party in the interest of "objectivity," and its insistence on a false equivalency between Democrats and Republicans, are things that, to quote Charles Pierce, make me want to "guzzle antifreeze."  Particularly as recent polling consistently shows Americans moving in a more liberal direction while Republicans in Congress are moving farther to the right, the insistence that the two parties are merely mirror images of each other with equally reasonable positions and equal measures of moderation with the occasional extremist outlier is mind-numbing, although that may be the antifreeze working. 

As Christopher Ingraham reports, "political scientists have known for years that political polarization is largely a one-sided phenomenon: in recent decades the Republican Party has moved to the right much faster than Democrats have moved to the left."  He details data that measures political polarization showing "in the most recent Congress nearly 90 percent of Republican House members are not politically moderate. By contrast, 90 percent of Democratic members are moderates." Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institute describes Republicans as a "radical insurgency—ideologically extreme, contemptuous of the inherited policy regime, scornful of compromise, unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of their political opposition."

This should not be in dispute.  To disavow science, refuse to accept the existence of human-made climate change and/or the need to take any action to mitigate its impact is not a moderate position.  To categorically reject a woman's right to choose to have an abortion is not a moderate position.  To dispute the right of same sex couples to marry is not a moderate position.  To oppose not only the raising of the federal minimum wage but maintaining any minimum wage whatsoever is not a moderate position. 

These are just some of the extreme right wing positions of virtually every candidate crowding into the clown car that is barreling towards the Republican National Convention.  There is no lunatic fringe on the right -- there are just lunatics.  Nevertheless, they are treated with dignity and respect and air time.  According to the mainstream media, it is Bernie Sanders who is the crazy one not to be taken seriously.  As Dylan Byers notes, Sanders' announcement of his intention to run was buried on page 21 of the Times, while every Republican candidate's launch received page 1 treatment.

However, Juan Cole points out, Bernie Sanders' positions on a host of issues, such as the wealth and wage gaps, campaign finance reform, reducing student debt, and combating global warming are shared by strong majorities of Americans.

As Charles Pierce puts it: "What is Bernie Sanders asking of the country as he begins his presidential campaign? A fairer economic system pried loose from the people who nearly wrecked it all [six] years ago. Legitimately progressive taxation. That the country acknowledge, with its money, that we all need bridges and roads and water systems. Honest elections. Recognition that environmental crises are national crises. Theodore Roosevelt could have run on those issues, and once did."

Sanders already has more support among Democrats than any Republican candidate has among its voters (although the most recent poll was taken before such stalwarts as George Pataki and Lindsey Graham jumped into the clown car).  Jason Easley reports that the latest Quinnipiac Poll shows five Republicans (Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Ben Carson, and Mike Huckabee) tied at the top of the Republican field with 10%, while Sanders is supported by 15% of Democrats.  Nevertheless, Sanders is treated far more dismissively than candidates such as Carly Fiorina (2%), Ted Cruz (6%), and Rand Paul (7%).

Easley is right that "the media is perpetuating the myth of a horse race election between Democrats and Republicans when the facts are that the Democratic Party has the two most popular candidates. One of those candidates is extraordinarily popular (Hillary Clinton) while the other is more in touch with the sentiment among average Americans (Bernie Sanders) than any candidate on the Republican side."

And so the media dismisses Bernie Sanders as a kook while treating real kooks like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz as serious contenders.  But whether Bernie Sanders has a realistic chance of winning the Democratic nomination is beside the point.  Sanders articulates important policy positions that should be taken far more seriously than those staked out by the purportedly legitimate Republican candidates.  The mainstream media needs to understand whose ideas are mainstream.


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