How Republican Extremism Became Normalized

During the 2016 Democratic presidential primary, I raised some questions about the policies Bernie Sanders was proposing—particularly concerning health care. In the end, those disagreements are largely based on the process of getting to universal coverage more that they are about the overall goal. The same can be said about other areas of difference on things like access to higher education, income inequality and getting big money out of politics.

We’re currently seeing a lot of people suggest that Democrats are sliding into extremism in response to Trump. But as I’ve said repeatedly, what we’re hearing is a chorus of ideas on how to reach the goal shared by all liberals when it comes to opportunity for all. Because Democrats are committed to diversity in all its forms, that should be celebrated rather than critiqued.

A lot of this conversation has been sparked by the fact that a woman who calls herself a “Democratic socialist” won a primary in New York recently. Paul Krugman is right to point out that her ideas aren’t the radical ones.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s upset primary victory has produced a huge amount of punditry about the supposed radicalization of the Democratic party, how it’s going to hurt the party because her positions won’t sell in the Midwest (and how well would Steve King’s positions sell in the Bronx?), etc., etc.. But I haven’t seen much about the substance of the policies she advocates, which on economics are mainly Medicare for All and a federal job guarantee.

So here’s what you should know: the policy ideas are definitely bold, and you can make some substantive arguments against them. But they aren’t crazy. By contrast, the ideas of Tea Party Republicans are crazy; in fact, Ocasio-Cortez’s policy positions are a lot more sensible than those of the Republican mainstream, let alone the GOP’s more radical members.

David Roberts made a similar point.

Among Very Serious People, social democratic economic policies are “silly” and “naive,” but the entire conservative movement’s devotion to ludicrous, serially discredited supply-side dogma is just taken for granted.

No economic policy proposed by the left is as absurd & empirically discredited as the notion that massive tax cuts for the wealthy will stimulate the economy & raise tax revenues. But the GOP has believed & pursued that, single-mindedly, for decades. Where’s the scolding?

They’re right. These days being a supply-sider (what George H.W. Bush once called “voodoo economics”) is pretty much a litmus test for membership in the club called the GOP. As a matter of fact, it is the one thing that all Republicans actually agree on, even though it has been universally discredited by both research and experience. And yet, as Roberts said, the Very Serious People who are responsible for crafting conventional wisdom still credit supply-side economics as a mainstream idea at the same time that Medicare for all (i.e., expanding one of the most revered government programs) is considered “radical.”

But this imbalance isn’t just happening when it comes to economics and health care. In a few days we’ll learn who Trump will nominate for an open seat on the Supreme Court. The last two people to be nominated are an object lesson in how Democrats are mainstream and Republicans extremist. You might remember that Sen. Orrin Hatch, former Republican chair of the Judiciary Committee, said this about Merrick Garland just prior to the announcement that he would be Obama’s nominee:

“The President told me several times he’s going to name a moderate [to fill the court vacancy], but I don’t believe him,” Hatch told us.

“[Obama] could easily name Merrick Garland, who is a fine man,” he told us, referring to the more centrist chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia who was considered and passed over for the two previous high court vacancies.

There is a lot we could say about Trump’s last nominee Neil Gorsuch, but no one would ever suggest that he is a moderate on the Supreme Court.

To provide another example that is in the news these days, we could compare the Democratic and Republican approach to illegal immigration. Back in 2013 Democrats were willing to negotiate on increased border security in exchange for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. But by then the issue was fomenting among Republicans, and Speaker John Boehner refused to bring up a bill in the House. More recently, Democrats were willing to give Trump funding for his wall and even agreed to some of Trump’s demands on legal immigration in exchange for protecting the Dreamers from deportation. The Republicans wouldn’t budge.

We could go on and on with other examples, like common sense gun safety measures, which are overwhelmingly supported by voters. But the fact is that Democrats have always been willing to negotiate and find solutions that advance the party’s overall goals. That is exactly what the majority of Americans suggest that they want from their government.

So why isn’t the story of the day the one about how Republicans are the extremists and Democrats more mainstream? That’s a good question. The only answer I can come up with is the media’s ongoing love affair with both-siderism. If the parties disagreed on the fact that the sky is blue, major news outlets would feel obligated to report on the arguments put forward by both sides and not tip the scales in favor of reality.

Because of Donald Trump’s ubiquitous lies and unfitness for the office he holds, we are seeing less both-siderism when it comes to reporting on him. But that hasn’t typically extended to the Republicans in Congress, who are almost never called out by the media for their extremism—even as they stand behind their lunatic leader.

What this comes down to is that “objective media” has been defined as not taking sides in political disputes. It could just as easily mean ditching the political angle and going with things like facts and science in order to inform the public. If that happened, it would become obvious which party has been captured by extremism.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .