UNFAIR FAIRNESS….In the LA Times today, Ron Brownstein writes about the polarized political environment of contemporary America:
At this level of anxiety, democracy itself is difficult. From the right, there’s a tendency to equate dissent with disloyalty. From the left, there’s an instinct to see Bush’s decisions as goose steps in a march toward authoritarianism.
Now, Brownstein is a sharp guy, and I generally applaud his moderate instincts. But ? as my commenters tell me ad nauseum ? those instincts can sometimes lead you astray. Here’s a sentence from earlier in Brownstein’s piece:
Americans are sending the same message with their wallets: President Bush, Sen. John F. Kerry and Democratic interest groups all have raised unprecedented sums, much of it from small donors.
Maybe this was just a slip of the keyboard, but if so it’s a telling one: there are, apparently, no Republican interest groups raising money these days. No Chamber of Commerce, which declared death to Kerry when he picked trial lawyer John Edwards as his running mate. No NRA, pouring uncounted dollars into conservative races all over the country. No fundamentalist Christian groups, no anti-abortion groups, no insurance companies, and no oil companies. And certainly no 501(c)s like Americans for Job Security, raising money for conservative political advertising at a clip that would make George Soros envious.
But while this may be a nitpick in Brownstein’s case, it’s emblematic of a broader problem: an unstated assumption, even in opinion columns, that fairness dictates that both sides are equally at fault for today’s supercharged atmosphere. But while there’s no question that Democrats are mad as hell this year ? and you can even make a case that their anger is misplaced if you want to ? it’s not as if this newfound militancy sprang out of nowhere.
Politics is always a tough business, but consider what’s happened to American politics in the past 12 years. At the same time that Democrats were moving to the center by electing DLC centrist Bill Clinton as president, Republicans were getting steadily more radical: first with attacks on Clinton during his first two years that were unprecedented in their tinfoil ferocity, followed by the election of Newt Gingrich as speaker of the House, Clinton’s impeachment, the election of the most conservative president since World War II, and capped by a steady stream of ruthlessness and faux patriotic dishonesty since 9/11 that’s been breathtaking in its scope and venom.
Democrats may be responding in kind this year, but if you’re going to talk about today’s supercharged political atmosphere, basic honesty dictates that you explain where it came from in the first place: the radical conservative Republicans who took over their party a decade ago and control it to this day. Washington Monthly editor Paul Glastris tells the whole story in “Perverse Polarity.”
UPDATE: Filling in for Dan Drezner, Reihan Salam looks at this same problem from a center-right perspective. He thinks a moderate takeover of the Republican party is essential for its future, and I agree. Purging the Republican party of its Norquist/Bush/DeLay radical wing is as important today as it was for the Democratic party to purge its Henry Wallace wing in 1948.