Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Dance Of The Madmen

The insufferable David Brooks is shocked, shocked to learn that his Republican Party has "abandoned traditional conservatism for right-wing radicalism." Where has he been?  This inexorable march to utter insanity -- from Nixon's southern strategy to Reagan's dog whistle politics to the more explicit Tea Party delusions to Trumpism -- has not been all that difficult to discern. 

Brooks is upset because what thinks of as traditional conservatism -- "intellectual humility, a belief in steady, incremental change, a preference for reform rather than revolution, a respect for hierarchy, precedence, balance and order, and a tone of voice that is prudent, measured and responsible" -- is no longer the defining characteristic of Republicans.  Like so many other things, this treacly version of the Republican Party only exists in Brook's imagination.   As Paul Krugman, points out, "conservatism was never about that ---  it was always about preserving power relations."  And, by the way, Ronald Reagan's embrace of supply-side economics, "which was not only a radical doctrine but one rejected by virtually the entire economics profession" was hardly an exercise in intellectual humility. 

As Charles Pierce reminds us, it has been "one long, continuous plague of Republican extremism that began quietly when the party moved west and south in its orientation, and when Richard Nixon discovered that George Wallace was onto something that could be immensely useful to a shrewd and brilliant code-talker like Nixon himself."

The chickens have finally come home to roost.  William Greider explains:  "The GOP finds itself trapped in a marriage that has not only gone bad but is coming apart in full public view. After five decades of shrewd strategy, the Republican coalition Richard Nixon put together in 1968—welcoming the segregationist white South into the Party of Lincoln—is now devouring itself in ugly, spiteful recriminations." Or, as Pierce describes more colorfully, "the disease . . .went merrily on, until it finally burst into full-blown dementia in 2008, when the country elected a black Democrat. The country responded by electing the worst Congress in history in 2010, and then somehow surpassed that feat in 2014. Which brings us to this week's carnival of souls."

Pierce makes a critical point that the Democratic Party is partially to blame:  "If one of the parties goes as thoroughly, deeply, banana-sandwich loony as the present Republican Party has, the other party has a definitive obligation to the Republic to beat the crazy out of it so the country can get moving again."
Republican extremism should have been the most fundamental campaign issue for every Democratic candidate for every elected office since about 1991. . . .The mockery and ridicule should have been loud and relentless. It was the only way to break both the grip of the prion disease, and break through the solid bubble of disinformation, anti-facts, and utter bullshit that has sustained the Republican base over the past 25 years. Instead, and it's hard to fault them entirely for their sense of responsibility, the Democrats chose largely to ignore the dance of the madmen at center stage and fulfill some sense of obligation to the country.
But perhaps we have finally reached a tipping point, where even the likes of David Brooks is calling out his Party for being "incompetent at governing and unwilling to be governed."  Indeed, it should be difficult for the mainstream press to continue to ignore the fact that one party is engaging in a meaningful discourse about policy while the other has devolved into mindless demagoguery.  Vice-Presidential candidate Martin O'Malley in his closing remarks at last night's debate ably summed up this stark contrast when he noted:
On this stage you didn't hear anyone denigrate women, you didn't hear anyone make racist comments about new immigrants, you didn't hear anyone speak ill of anyone because of their religious beliefs. What you heard was an honest debate of what will move us forward, to lead to a clean electric grid by 2050, and employ more of our people, rebuild our cities and towns, educate our children at higher and better levels, and include more people in the economic and sociopolitical life in our country.
Greider is right that this election cycle provides a great opportunity for the Democrats:
Instead of playing limp and vague, Dems can launch what Howard Dean called for in 2004: a 50-state strategy that runs on liberating issues. Instead of ignoring GOP bigotry, the Democratic ticket can promise to challenge it on every front and attack reactionary Republicans who try to impose the past on voters. Above all, Democrats should demand that Tea Party rebels explain why they are in league with a party that intends to cut Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security in order to finance more tax cuts for billionaires. . . . . [I]f common folks ever understand the corrupt nature of the Republican coalition, we will see a popular rebellion that makes the present chaos look like, well, a tea party.
We can no longer ignore the dance of the madmen.


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