Forcing radicalism into the mainstream

FORCING RADICALISM INTO THE MAINSTREAM…. There’s a certain laziness in assuming partisan rage is predictable and cyclical — when Democrats are ascendant, Republicans go berserk; when the GOP is running the show, it’s Dems who are enraged.

The reality isn’t so simple. The right goes from 0 to hysterical with incredible speed and in greater numbers than the left. Their nuttiness also travels from obscure activists to prominent, national leaders of the Republican Party with remarkable efficiency.

But the angle that often gets left out of the discussion is the way in which the far-right brings radicalism to the conservative mainstream. On the left, there are fringe ideas, but they tend to be ignored or rejected by the progressive mainstream, and certainly by the Democratic Party.

Jillian Rayfield had a very good piece the other day, highlighting the ways in which the very far-right is bringing fringe radicalism into the mainstream in ways that we haven’t seen in many generations.

For most of the last century, talk of secession, nullification and the rest of the extreme states-rights lexicon were relegated to the fringiest parts of the political fringe. But since Barack Obama entered the White House in January 2009, mainstream Republican rhetoric and proposed legislation at the state level have both warmed to the hoary idea that state governments can take their relationship with the federal government on what amounts to an a la carte basis or perhaps abandon it altogether.

Take the concept of Nullification — the notion that individual states can unilateral refuse to follow or enforce federal law they don’t agree with. For the most part, it’s been laughed off since the Civil War. It was brought up again by segregationists during the Civil Rights Era but more out of desperation and political theater than as a serious approach to the constitution.

But the rise of the Tea Party and its amorphous anti-federal government platform has brought these ideas closer to the mainstream than they’ve been in decades. So, while nullification advocates, Tenthers, secessionists, “constitutional tender” proponents, and the rest don’t necessarily share the same theoretical rationales, together they’ve brought hostility to the federal government back into the realm of respectable political discourse.

We’re talking about political concepts that are, as a plain matter of fact, stark raving mad. That Republican officials are actually taking these concepts seriously isn’t just crazy, it’s literally dangerous.

Such madness — settled in the mid-1800s — would have been laughed at by the Republican mainstream not too long ago. Now, as Rayfield noted, it’s part of a radical ideology “that’s clearly gaining an expanding audience in halls of power across the country.”

The fabric of our political society is quite strong, and can withstand a great deal. But the ideas bubbling up from the far-right represent a pretty serious test, and should offer a reminder to voters that this isn’t their parents’ Republican Party.