Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Mainstream Media Has No Sense Of Direction: Hillary Clinton Must Go Left, Not Right

I feel like I'm flogging a dead donkey here, but it is crazy-making how the mainstream media continues to yearn for a Democratic candidate who magically will unite the left and right by appealing to ordinary Americans aka the White Working Class and Red State Democrats -- a candidate who will eschew the polarizing effect of embracing such progressive concerns as economic inequality suppression of voting rights, mass incarceration and immigration reform, not to mention reproductive and LGBT rights.  According to the conventional wisdom, Hillary's failure to hew to the right will be the singular cause of a dispirited electorate and increasing rancor and gridlock on Capital Hill.  Republicans, of course, bear no responsibility for their refusal to accept the legitimacy of any Democratic president since LBJ, their increasingly extremist (and unpopular) positions on these issues or their preternatural inability to govern responsibly.

An infuriating article on the front page of last Sunday's New York Times, heavily relied on the two most conservative Democrats in the Senate who expressed their dismay that Hillary is not wooing the voters in their bright red states -- North Dakota and West Virginia -- but has instead chosen to focus on states that she can actually win.  The article cautions that taking "liberal policy positions" might "fire up Democrats" but by foregoing "a broader strategy that could help lift the party with her" could mean "missing out on the kind of spirited conversation that can be a unifying feature of a presidential election" and leave her "if she wins, with the same difficulties Mr. Obama has faced in governing with a Republican-controlled Congress." 

This was followed by the insufferable David Brooks aka Moral Hazard's trolling about how destructive and divisive Hillary's campaign will be if she "dispens[es] with a broad persuasion campaign" that fails to attract the ever-elusive swing voter.  Ron Fournier, another favorite of the punditocracy, also weighed in that Hillary is taking the wrong path by pandering to the Democrats' "most devoted partisans" rather than appealing to the "broadest possible audience."  According to Fournier, the problem is that even if she wins, such "a polarizing, opportunistic candidate assumes the presidency with no standing to convert campaign promises into results."  Chuck Todd says basically the same thing, that campaigns that don't "engage in persuasion," but instead seek to come out ahead in in a polarized America "makes governing harder than it already was."

The underlying premise that liberal ideas are inherently divisive is simply wrong.  Recent polls show that Americans are shifting to the left on a variety of issues.  A campaign that focuses on the above-mentioned progressive themes and chastises Republican candidates for not believing in climate change, for wanting to deport the children of immigrants, for insisting that tax cuts for the wealthy are always the cure for what ails the economy and for seeking to disenfranchise voters, might alienate extremist Republicans but are hardly an anathema to swing and independent voters.

The problem isn't Democrats failing to reach for a middle ground.  It is that Republicans keep moving farther to the right.  Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institute accurately 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."  Nancy Letourneau explains that "what makes governing harder . . . is that we have one political party that is catering to an ever-decreasing group of voters that completely rejects any form of compromise to their agenda."  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."

Nevertheless, the mainstream media continues to puzzle over where the polarization and gridlock originated.  Chuck Todd poses it as a chicken/egg question:  "What came first -- this red-blue campaign strategy we've seen since 2000, or America's political/geographical/ cultural polarization."

The notion that Republicans in Congress would cooperate with another President Clinton if only she would present a more inclusive approach to governance is insane.  They impeached her husband, for God's sake, a president who attempted -- much to the dismay of many a progressive -- to embrace inclusiveness and appeal to Republican concerns (e.g., welfare reform, stricter drug laws, DOMA).

Charles Pierce describes far better than I, "the great failure of our elite political media -- a complete disinclination to look at what is plainly right there in front of them. It is simply not considered good form among our political elites to note that one of our two political parties has lost its mind and that it has committed itself to wrecking our politics if it doesn't always get its way."

I've written before about reverse barometers.  The advice from David Brooks, Chuck Todd and Ron Fournier on how Hillary Clinton should run her campaign is useful only insofar as it shows that by doing the opposite she is really on to something.


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