The Air, the Air Is Everywhere

rightwingoverse I’m hoping Salon and Tom Tomorrow don’t mind my borrowing a panel of today’s strip, but I haven’t seen anything that better sums up the current state of the Right than the panel at left. What’s hysterical about it is that it’s not exaggerated.

The Right cannot merely disagree with Democrats and with the Obama Administration. No; every point of disagreement (which is everything the Obama Administration is doing, because it’s them doing it), no matter how minor, is framed not as a bad idea but as The End of the Universe as We Know It.

For example, at the Los Angeles Times Jonah Goldberg explains the role of the Environmental Protection Agency in the evil plot to bring America into the grip of dictatorship. Because the EPA (Goldberg says, ominously) has given itself the power to regulate everything, including the air you breathe.

Nominally, the Environmental Protection Agency’s announcement last Friday only applies to new-car emissions. But pretty much everyone agrees that the ruling opens the door to regulating, well, everything.

According to the EPA, greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide — the gas you exhale — as well as methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride. It is literally impossible to imagine a significant economic or human activity that does not involve the production of one of these gases.

Ah, how diabolical. The EPA can regulate everything that involves carbon dioxide, which is pretty much all air-breathing life forms on this planet.

For a little background, read the New York Times editorial on the EPA policy:

The formal “endangerment finding” names carbon dioxide and five other heat-trapping gases as pollutants subject to regulation under the federal Clean Air Act. This in turn sets the stage — after a 60-day comment period — for broad new rules touching major sectors of the American economy and profoundly influencing how Americans use and generate energy.

The finding is also likely to accelerate the progress of climate legislation in Congress and will give the United States the credibility it lost in international climate negotiations during the Bush administration. The next round of talks is scheduled for Copenhagen in December.

The decision has been a long time coming. Two years ago, the United States Supreme Court ordered the agency to determine whether greenhouse gases harmed the environment and public health and, if so, to regulate them. Scientists at former President George W. Bush’s E.P.A. largely agreed that greenhouse gases are harmful and should be regulated. In December 2007, the agency forwarded an endangerment finding to the White House, where senior officials promptly suppressed it, refusing even to open the e-mail to which it was attached.

Talk about judicial activism! The Supreme Court was in on the plot two years before Obama became President! Of course, what you don’t see anywhere in Goldberg’s column is anything resembling a reasoned, documented argument why the EPA’s policy regarding greenhouse gasses is not the best approach for, you know, protecting the environment.

BTW, here’s the background on the Supreme Court decision, which passed by a 5-4 vote, the usual dissenters (Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Thomas) dissenting. More here and here.

But, you know, there’s a list that goes on and on. The marginal tax rate for millionaires is bumped up by 3 percent, and the wingnuts start screaming about econo-fascism. (Because, you know, calling it socialism isn’t working.) What you don’t get is anything resembling a reasoned, factual discussion of Obama’s actual tax policies (as opposed to the fantasy Obama tax policies the Right complains about) and why they might not be a good idea.

For that matter, someone explain why wingnuts scream bloody murder when someone suggests paying taxes is patriotic. They say they love America, but they don’t want to pay to maintain it? Isn’t that a bit like saying you love your children, but not enough to be bothered to feed and clothe them?

A rightie might argue they are only opposed to taxes that are too high or unfair taxes — taxing some people at a higher rate than others. OK, fine. Then stop fomenting hysteria and attempt a reasoned, factual discussion. (Clue: A fact is generally defined as something that has objective, verifiable reality; it is not anything you want to believe because it fits your prejudices.)

In other news, the lying aggregate of fecal matter known as “Newt Gingrich” went ballistic because President Obama not only shook hands with Hugo Chavez; he smiled and shook hands at the same time. Satyam Khanna points out at Think Progress that lots of presidents have shaken hands with dictators and smiled while they were doing it.

Gingrich said on NBC,

How do you mend relationships with somebody who hates your country, who actively calls for the destruction of your country and who wants to undermine you?

Which brings me back to the cartoon at the top of the post. We turn once again to Richard Hofstadter, here quoting Theodore W. Adorno:

The pseudo-conservative, Adorno writes, shows “conventionality and authoritarian submissiveness” in his conscious thinking and “violence, anarchic impulses, and chaotic destructiveness in the unconscious sphere … The pseudo conservative is a man who, in the name of upholding traditional American values and institutions and defending them against more or less fictitious dangers, consciously or unconsciously aims at their abolition.”

How much more spot on can one get? They’ve somehow simultaneously staked claims on both “love it or leave it” super-nationalism and “hate the Gubmint” anarchism, which may be unprecedented.

Hopping to Crazyland

Call it Clash of the Titan Wingnuts. Pam Geller of Atlas Shrugged is accusing Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs of being an infiltrator, a neo-nazi, a fellow traveler of jihadists. Macranger calls CJ a “closet liberal” (ouch!).

Johnson actually said something sensible, which of course is beyond the pale for a wingnut. Commenting on a Politico piece called “Extremist rhetoric won’t rebuild GOP,” Johnson said,

This turn toward the extreme right on the part of Fox News is troubling, and will achieve nothing in the long run except further marginalization of the GOP—unless people start behaving like adults instead of angry kids throwing tantrums and ranting about conspiracies and revolution.

Based on blog reaction to Johnson, we needn’t be concerned that the Right will take Johnson’s advice.

I want to shift gears for a moment and look at some numbers — Nate Silver shows us that the GOP has lost considerable popularity in recent years. “[T]hose persons who continue to identify as Republicans are a hardened — and very conservative — lot. Just 24 percent of voters identified as Republican when Pew conducted this survey in March, which is roughly as low as that total has ever gotten,” says Nate.

If you go to you can find a page with “Dem versus GOP” approval ratings going back several years. There have been more Dems than Republicans all along, but since the 1970s the Dems took a big dive in party dominance. However, in very recent years they’ve been coming back.

A question asked sporadically by the ABC News/Washington Post poll, “Overall, which party — the Democrats or the Republicans — do you trust to do a better job in coping with the main problems the nation faces over the next few years?” shows the Dems consistently ahead going back to 1992, except for the years 2002 and 2003, when the GOP came way out on top. But by 2004 the Dems had the advantage again.

A Gallup question, “Looking ahead for the next few years, which political party do you think will do a better job of keeping the country prosperous: the Republican Party or the Democratic Party?” had the two parties evenly split, 42 to 42 percent, in 2002. But in 2007 the Dems were up, 54 to 34 percent.

So this movement in public opinion away from the GOP and toward the Dems isn’t something that just started this year. It appears it started in 2004. It just took awhile to become obvious even in mass news media.

At The New Republic, Chris Orr has an intriguing analysis of what’s happening on the Right. Essentially, the Right is already so marginalized its members have nothing else to do but compete with each other for position within the movement. And to do that they’re all trying to out-flank each other on the Right. So conservative politicians and media personalities are in a big potato sack race, hopping to Crazyland.

See also No More Mister Nice Blog.

Insanity Unleashed

Kevin Drum writes that the crazy Right is getting crazier.

A sense of besiegement has been the right’s stock in trade for as long as I’ve been alive.

But there is something different about their tone these days, and I can’t quite put my finger on exactly what it is. My tentative take is that there’s an inchoate quality to their fears that’s new.

See also “Scenes from the Real America” at the Washington Independent.

I don’t know that the wingnuts are any more “inchoate” than they’ve ever been. I don’t know that their problem is that they don’t have an enemy. I mean, who was their enemy in the 1990s? Bill Clinton, black helicopters, and the phantom liberal elite. Now they’ve got Barack Obama, Muslims, and the phantom liberal elite. What’s the diff?

Are they less sensible now than in their glory days when they stampeded us into Iraq or went after Dan Rather like a pack of rabid wolves? Yet there is a difference, as Gary Kamiya says.

With the collapse of the GOP into the party of Rush Limbaugh, and as Limbaugh and his ilk grow ever more reckless in their attacks on Obama, the boundaries between “respectable” right-wing paranoid hatred and “extreme” right-wing paranoid hatred are getting more blurred. Right-wing fanatic du jour Glenn Beck teased his recent Fox show with images of Hitler, Stalin and Lenin and said that he was wrong to say that Obama was leading America to socialism — because Obama is actually a fascist. “They’re marching us towards 1984,” Beck intoned. “Big Brother, he’s watching.”

I think the real difference is that, deep down, they know they’ve lost. They can’t admit it to themselves. They are still blustering as if they represent mainstream America. They still pretend to themselves the majority of Americans give a bleep what they think.

But the truth is, the majority of Americans don’t give a bleep what they think. They’re jokes.

President Obama is popular. Legislation gets passed without conservative votes. The nation is not in shock and awe of, or even paying attention to, their “tea parties.”

Remember back in January, when the stimulus bill passed in the House with no Republicans votes? For a time House Republicans seemed actually proud of themselves for standing together. Then they noticed nobody but them cared how they voted.

They threaten to “go Galt.” America says fine; go right ahead. Don’t let the door hit your butt on your way out.

This is the real danger. They still have the sense of besiegement, but before 2006 they felt they had power, and that they represented the mainstream. Now about all they have is paranoia and guns.

Watch your back.

Are We Depressed Yet?

Brad DeLong has a Geithner Plan FAQ that makes it sound as if it could work, although Professor DeLong’s still appears to be a minority view. Paul Krugman responds to DeLong and says he’s not buying it.

Frank Rich says, in effect, that Obama’s attempts at communication are fine, but the financial team has way too many ties to the old Wall Street boy’s network and is not going nearly far enough to overhaul the system. I cannot argue with that.

Tom Friedman wrote a reasonably perceptive “pox on both their houses” column that some rightie bloggers are selectively quoting as a slam on Barack Obama and the Democrats. But no, Friedman is pissed at everyone. So for the record, here is a paragraph the right-wing bloggers did not quote:

I saw Eric Cantor, a Republican House leader, on CNBC the other day, and the entire interview consisted of him trying to exploit the A.I.G. situation for partisan gain without one constructive thought. I just kept staring at him and thinking: “Do you not have kids? Do you not have a pension that you’re worried about? Do you live in some gated community where all the banks will be O.K., even if our biggest banks go under? Do you think your party automatically wins if the country loses? What are you thinking?”

Thinking? Who’s thinking? Anyway, a number of rightie bloggers gleefully link to Friedman’s column as evidence that Obama is failing, which is what they are rooting for. Their side wins if he loses, you know.

See also Comments From Left Field.

The Health Care Rant

I haven’t done this for awhile, but I decided to post the health-care rant I’ve been working on at Alternet PEEK. Go give it some love. I will probably cross-post it here and a couple of other places tomorrow. I’m not hearing anyone else plainly say how radical and untested the “conservatives'” cockamamie “consumer-driven” idea really is, so I’m trying to get the word out.

Shifting Ground?

At Tapscott’s Copy Desk, DC Examiner, we find “Obama is in trouble.”

Did you feel it? The political ground shifting beneath President Barack Obama since his speech last week to Congress? It’s been downhill since and I’m not referring mainly to the Dow Jones record-setting dive. The pivot point of the shift was the speech, or rather what the speech did to the evolving public narrative of Obama.

The “evolving public narrative,” one learns, is going on entirely on right-wing public radio and Faux Nooz. Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck are on fire, apparently. Further, “a potentially devastating conservative case against Obama is coming together rapidly.” Wow! This could be troublesome. But yes, two columns “tell the tale.” They are:

Daniel Henninger at the Wall Street Journal:

The Republicans have been handed on a tarnished silver platter the chance to offer the American people an alternative vision of how their economy works — and grows.

They should take political ownership of the 75% of the U.S. economy that the Democrats have abandoned — the private economy.


Over the past four decades and the decline of private-sector industrial unions, professional Democrats — politicians, intellectuals like Robert & Robert, campaign professionals, unions and satellite groups — have severed their emotional and intellectual connection with private production.

Wow, that’s so — nonsensical. OK, so what’s the other column? Why, it’s Charles Krauthammer! The same column I cited in my last post! Let’s look at Tapscott’s synopsis Krauthhammer:

Obama’s mastery of public speaking has heretofore served to deflect attention away from the details of what he is actually proposing. And there is in those details, according to Krauthammer, a fundamental deception: Obama summons visions of catastrophe that are the result of too little government regulation of the financial markets and he offers as a solution vastly more government regulation of …. health care, energy and education.

Krauthhammer and Tapscott are saying that Obama is deceiving the public by claiming the financial meltdown is the result of deregulation of financial markets and offering as the solution more regulation of health care, energy and education. Tapscott continues,

In other words, Krauthammer said, Obama tries to have it both ways, with the alleged errors of deregulation being compounded into the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression by America’s failure to nationalize health care, shift our economy to alternative energy sources and give everybody a free pass to college. Obama is trying to make the cause and the cure synonymous. “Clever politics, but intellectually dishonest to the core,” Krauthammer said.

I read this three times to try to see where Obama’s dishonesty lies, and it eludes me. Of course, like most righties Tapscott and Krauthammer cannot so much as breathe without being intellectually dishonest about it. For example, they are being intellectually dishonest when they say Obama’s solution is more regulation of health care, energy and education. Some regulation is needed, but even more important is more investment in health care, energy and education.

And what’s with the “free pass to college”? Exactly where do they get this stuff?

Anyway, like most right-wing arguments, it is based on ideology that is utterly unconnected to anything happening in the real world. People who are already convinced that President Obama is a radical socialist terrorist fist bumper will take this argument to their hearts and repeat it like parrots without knowing what any of it really means. Everyone else will say, “huh?”

Michael Hirsch writes at Newsweek about the shifting ground:

Despite the tumbling economy, Barack Obama continues to enjoy a honeymoon with the American public in the face of the most trying crisis any newly inaugurated president has encountered since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The GOP, meanwhile, is viewed by a majority of Americans as the party of “no,” without a plan of its own to fix the economy, and even rank-and-file Republicans are concerned about the party’s direction, according to the first NEWSWEEK Poll taken since Obama assumed office. …

… Overall, 58 percent of Americans surveyed approve of the job Obama is doing, while 26 percent disapprove and one in six (16 percent) has no opinion. Although his approval ratings are down from levels seen a few weeks ago in other polls, 72 percent of Americans still say they have a favorable opinion of Obama—a higher rating than he received in NEWSWEEK Polls during the presidential campaign last year. The president’s rating in this poll is consistent with estimates provided by other national media polls in the last week.

Many on the Right also are claiming that Obama owns the nation’s faltering economy, since he’s been POTUS for less than seven weeks and hasn’t fixed it yet. In particular, the Right is seizing the falling stock market as proof that Obama’s economic policies are already failing. Robert Reich explains why this is nonsense. See also Tom Petruno at the Los Angeles Times.

Of course, going back many years we see that righties always claim good economies as theirs and bad economies as belonging to Democrats. In rightie world, the “Reagan Recession” of 1981-1982, which began after St. Ronald of Blessed Memory took office, was Jimmy Carter’s fault. On the other hand, the strong economy of Bill Clinton’s second term was, of course, Saint Ronald’s doing, even though Reagan had been out of office for a decade.

Time has a way of strangely compressing and expanding in the rightie brain.

When Failure Is an Option

Rush and other mouthpieces for movement conservatism are not backing down from their public wish that Barack Obama fails. As Dave Neiwert says, his excuse for this is the time-honored foundation of all conservative morality — That other kid did it first.

Limbaugh: Did the Democrats want the war in Iraq to fail?

[Crowd shouts:] Yeah!

Limbaugh: Well, they certainly did. And they not only wanted the war in Iraq to fail, they proclaimed it a failure! There’s Dingy Harry Reid, waving a white flag, ‘This war is lost. This war — ‘ They called General Petraeus a liar before he even testified! [Boos.] Mrs. Clinton — [Loud boos] … Said she had to suspend, willingly suspend disbelief for whenever one had to listen to Petraeus. We were in the process of winning the war and the last thing they wanted was to win. They hoped George Bush failed.

Dave’s comment:

It would be one thing if Republicans were simply warning that Obama’s stimulus plans were doomed to failure. We’d understand that. It certainly would mirror how we felt about the Iraq war: we believed it was a doomed enterprise that would not only cost far more in human lives than anything that might possibly be gained from it, but would actually worsen the conditions for terrorism it purportedly meant to combat. We recognized that Bush’s rosy scenarios might come to pass, but we doubted it deeply — and said so, and rightly.

But it’s another thing altogether to openly hope for failure — in the case of the Iraq war, because it meant American soldiers would die needlessly, an outcome no one who loves America would want; and in the case of the economy, because it means that America is doomed to slide into a Depression. It will mean that millions of Americans will lose their jobs, millions will slide into poverty, and misery will be rampant.

Of course, from the moment the invasion of Iraq became public discussion, any arguments against it evoked howls about “Fifth Columnists” and “Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys” from the Right. I do not believe most of them see a difference between expressing the opinion that X is a bad idea and wanting X to fail. There’s a huge difference, of course, but I suspect it would be easier to teach algebra to a gerbil than to teach that difference to your standard wingnut. I personally would not want to waste my time trying.

However, it’s also the case that when a wingnut evokes “Iraq” and the rest of us speak of “Iraq,” we’re talking about entirely different things. I go back to my contention that right wingers, like the Tamarians of Star Trek TNG, see everything as part of a vast mythology.

When most people think of the War in Iraq, they see the Mother of All Boondoggles; a hopeless mess that was entered into foolishly, for reasons that proved to be false, and without proper planning, that has wasted billions (at least) of taxpayer dollars, has taken the lives of 4,255 American soldiers (so far), has caused immeasurable stress and hardship for military and reservists’ families, has drastically decreased our military’s ability to respond to other (and possible real this time) crises, has eroded American prestige, has probably increased the risk of another terrorist attack, and has generally pissed off the planet.

When you say “Iraq” to a wingnut, however, out of the misty haze of his brain comes a mythical vision of good versus evil, where the shining forces of righteousness (righties) eternally battle the dark, malevolent Other (everybody else). And victory over the Other is not really about the Middle East or even 9/11. It’s about preserving Christmas and Jesus and gun shows, and the right of white Americans to hear no language but English spoken in the aisles of Wal-Mart. And, of course, conquering the Other requires unwavering faith. To doubt is to embolden the enemy. Through our very brain waves, we doubters gave strength to the Other; and because we refused to clap, the fairy almost died.

For the rest of us, who think somewhat more analytically, if we are accused of wanting the war in Iraq to “fail,” I’d have to ask for clarification. What part of it exactly did we want to “fail”? We on the Left do have a pubescent fringe whose antics are lovingly documented by Michelle Malkin as representative of all of us, but the truth is that Democratic Party leaders and the huge majority of liberal political activists have been supportive of the troops all along, and have not spoken against military victory in Iraq. Nor am I aware of anyone who has opposed democratic elections in Iraq or hoped the government of Iraq would fail and be replaced by a junta of Islamic radicals.

What we’ve opposed, other than the damnfool invasion itself, is the incompetence and corruption. It’s the way the Bush Administration was perpetually six months (at least) behind in responding to ongoing developments. It’s the way billions of taxpayer dollars have been soaked up by corrupt contractors or just plain evaporated. It’s the way the Bush Administration was forever coming up with post-hoc strategies that were more about domestic consumption than real-world application.

Because we actually noticed this stuff, and commented on it out loud, we were not playing by the rules of rightie myth. “Winning” requires us all to shut our eyes, keep visions of John Wayne at Iwo Jima in our heads, and to speak only of honor, glory and resolve.

On the other hand, if President Obama’s stimulus programs fail, we and much of the rest of the planet will be plunged into another Great Depression. We might end up there, anyway, for policies that are too little and too late. But not acting pretty much guarantees it.

Now, it may be that righties really don’t want another Great Depression, any more than I supported Saddam Hussein or wanted Iraq to collapse into a failed state. (Note to wingnuts: I didn’t, and I didn’t.) They just don’t comprehend that we’ll end up there if we don’t get currency moving through peoples’ hands again, and fast. Whether they don’t understand this because they’re blinkered by ideology or just plain stupid, I’ll let you decide. The fact is that the Right hasn’t come up with a alternative plan beyond oh, let’s just keep doing what we’ve been doing, which is what got us into this mess. Not an option.

Then you’ve got the faction (most righties, I suspect) who sincerely believe Barack Obama is an agent of totalitarian socialism who is trying to undermine republican government and turn the U.S. into a gulag. These are the same people who are insulted if you call them “John Birchers,” mind you.

If one really believes this, then I suppose it would be one’s patriotic duty to want Barack Obama to fail. I would argue it’s their patriotic duty to get professional help.

Update: See John Cole.

Fear, Loathing and Child Abuse at CPAC

If you didn’t watch last night’s “Countdown,” just catch the conversation between Keith Olbermann and Eugene Robinson on the Conservative Political Action Conference. My only quibble is that the participants are not getting crazy. This is who they are.

Dave Neiwert explains how the Right is dreaming of a Road Warrior scenario in which civilization utterly collapses. This is not what they fear; it’s what they want.

So far their “resistance” amounts to talking to themselves and holding their little “tea parties.” But we’re going to be very, very lucky if there aren’t some nasty incidents of domestic terrorism coming from the Right in the next couple of years.

I mention child abuse — the righties have found a 13-year-old boy whose little pubescent brain has been thoroughly pickled in rightwing propaganda. The child gave a two-minute talk at CPAC, which essentially amounted to his standing on a podium and vomiting up all the crap he’s been fed all his life.

And maybe next year CPAC will feature a two-minute talk by a parrot. It would amount to the same thing.

Gimmicks and the GOP

Patrick Ruffini’s article “The Joe-the-Plumberization of the GOP” is as fascinating for what it unintentionally reveals as for what Ruffini argues. Let’s start here —

If you want to get a sense of how unserious and ungrounded most Americans think the Republican Party is, look no further than how conservatives elevate Joe the Plumber as a spokesman. The movement has become so gimmick-driven that Wurzelbacher will be a conservative hero long after people have forgotten what his legitimate policy beef with Obama was.

I’ll leave aside how legitimate Wurzelbacher’s policy beef was, and say that otherwise I pretty much agree with Ruffini. On to the next paragraph:

Since its very beginnings as a movement, conservatism has bought into liberalism’s dominant place in the American political process. They controlled all the major institutions: the media, academia, Hollywood, the Democratic Party, large segments of the Republican Party, and consequently, the government. Liberalism’s image of conservatives in the ’50s and ’60s as paranoid Birchers gave birth to a conservative movement self-conscious of its minority status. As in any tribe that is small in number and can’t fully trust its most natural allies (i.e. the business community or the Republican Party), the meta-debate of who is inside and outside the tribe is magnified exponentially.

Is he saying conservatism did not exist before the 1950s? It’s more accurate to say that the current wave of movement conservatism was born after World War II, rising from the ashes of the conservatism that had pushed back against the New Deal and was opposed to taking sides against Hitler until after Hitler’s declaration of war on the U.S., in the wake of the Pearl Harbor attack.

The Right’s climb back to political relevance began with the myth that Roosevelt somehow sold out to Stalin at Yalta (see Kevin Baker’s essential “Stabbed in the Back” from the June 2006 Harper’s). Of course, after the Joe McCarthy debacle had died down the GOP in the 1950s was more or less steered by moderates whose disagreements with Dems were more often in degree than in kind. But you all know the sad story of how the pseudo-conservatives morphed into Goldwater conservatives who morphed into Reagan conservatives, and how these conservatives insist on lockstep ideological purity, so that Eisenhower-style moderates are no longer welcome in the party.

There were, of course, some conservative intellectuals like Russell Kirk and William F. Buckley who managed to slap a veneer of erudition over ideological conservatism. But the rough beast that movement conservatism has become doesn’t know Kirk from mooseburgers, and even Buckley had more or less washed his hands of it before he died.

Ruffini continues,

The legacy of that early movement — alive and well at CPAC and in the conservative institutions that still exist today — is one driven inordinately by this question of identity. We have paeans to Reagan (as if we needed to be reminded again of just how much things suck in comparison today), memorabilia honoring 18th century philosophers that we wouldn’t actually wear in the outside world, and code-word laden speeches that focus on a few hot button issues that leave us ill-equipped to actually govern conservatively on 80% of issues when we actually do get elected.

For whatever reason, conservatives do tend to live in a mythologized past that never actually existed. But I would say that current “movement conservatives” don’t even have coherent issues any more. They have talking points. And the reason they are ill-equipped to actually govern conservatively is that they are ill-equipped to govern at all. “Movement conservatism” is so debased it has no philosophy of government, other than whatever them libruhls is fer, we’re agin’ it.

This culture of identity politics means we get especially defensive about the Liberal Majority’s main lines of attack, because we think of our position as inherently fragile.

There’s a Liberal Majority? Who knew? What happened to the center-right nation?

The truth is, from the 1980s and until about 2006 the Right had thoroughly run true liberalism entirely off the political radar. Genuine liberals, as opposed to ideological centrists who played liberals on TeeVee, were so marginalized in this country we were damn near invisible even to each other. (The Right mistook Bill Clinton for a liberal, but he was not. Clinton never governed as a liberal, but as a triangulator who finessed the Right rather than defeat it.)

But even when they had all the government, all the media, all the attention to themselves, the Right continued to run against the demon liberals they imagined lurked under every bed. Because that’s all they had. Ultimately, when you strip away the rhetoric and the posturing, all they have is resentment of whatever they think “liberalism” is. They have no interest in governing.

Skipping a bit —

This is so different than the psychology of the left. The left assumes that it is culturally superior and the natural party of government and fights aggressively to frame any conservative incursion on that turf as somehow alien and unnatural. (The “Oh God…” whisper being the perfect illustration.) They dominate Hollywood not by actively branding liberalism in their movies, but by coolly associating liberal policy ideas with sentiments everyone feels, like love (gay marriage) or fairness (the little guy vs. some evil corporate stiff).

Well, yeah, people do tend to approve of love and fairness and like to see these things reflected in popular entertainment. This has been true since at least Shakespeare’s time. But it’s not as if liberals get together and plan what values they are going to promote in next year’s films. It’s more a matter of liberalism by nature being more creative, I think. Whenever conservatives try to be creative they come across as either mean or smarmy. Or both. It’s the nature of the beast.

Skipping ahead —

Put another way, Republicans thrive as the party of normal Americans — the people in the middle culturally and economically. This is true of our leadership as well — we have a history of nominating figures who came first from outside politics. Our base is the common-sense voter in the middle who bought a house she could afford and didn’t lavishly overspend in good times and who is now subsidizing the person who didn’t.

That’s how Republicans want to see themselves, but I don’t think that’s been true for a long time. The suburbs didn’t abandon the GOP in the last election because of Barack Obama’s dazzling rhetoric. They abandoned the GOP because the GOP has nothing to offer them except culture war and erosion of the health care system.

This is why Obama’s pitch is fundamentally off-key if framed correctly. People’s first instincts in a recession are not to overspend, but to tighten their belts.

Yes, and a frightened horse’s first instinct is to run back into the stable, even if the stable is on fire. But it is because people are tightening belts that the government has to pump cash into the economy asap.

In these serious times, conservatives need to get serious and ditch the gimmicks and the self-referential credentializing and talk to the entire country. If the average apolitical American walked into CPAC or any movement conservative gathering would they feel like they learned something new or that we presented a vision compelling to them in their daily lives?

A compelling vision is one thing; knowing one’s ass from one’s elbow is something else. The GOP is basically in denial of the nature of the problems we face, which is why they can’t come up with solutions that might work in the real world. The GOP needs to do more than just scrap the gimmicks. It needs to take a deep breath, calm down, and think hard about what government is and what citizens need from it. What is the appropriate role of government? “None” is no longer a viable answer.

This is why I love Newt’s emphasis on finding 80/20 issues and defining them in completely non-ideological terms.

You want to know what “Newt’s emphasis” is? I followed Ruffini’s links and came to this. It’s a bleeping joke. Just a laundry list of discrete right-wing bugaboos like making English the official language and keeping “One nation under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. Please.

Like I said, this is as fascinating for what it reveals as it is for what Ruffini argues.

See also The American Conservative, Daniel Larison, “Needed: Confidence And Wisdom.”

It seems to me that conservatives and Republicans have assumed the GOP is the natural governing party, at least regarding the Presidency and to some extent as it relates to Congress since ’94, which is why so many have continued to insist that America is a “center-right nation” in the face of mounting evidence that it is not and hasn’t been for a while. Symbolic gimmickry does stem in part from a lack of confidence, but it is more the product of a movement and party that have ceased to understand, much less address, most of the pressing concerns of working- and middle-class Americans. The party assumes that all it needs to do is show up, push the right pseudo-populist buttons and reap the rewards, and for the most part the movement cheers. See Palin, Sarah.

The GOP settles for offering “symbolic, substance-free BS” because enough conservatives are already persuaded that Republican policies obviously benefit the middle class, so there is no pressure to make Republican policy actually serve the interests of Republican constituents. It is taken for granted that this is already happening, but voters have been showing for several cycles that many of them do not believe this. Politically Democrats have been gaining ground in such unlikely places as Ohio and Indiana, which would be inexplicable if the GOP obviously and reliably represented working- and middle-class Americans. Of course, lately these voters don’t see it that way, but instead see the right’s pseudo-populists denounce workers for being overpaid, reject measures that would direct some spending to American industries that their free trade zeal has helped gut and even talk about a spending freeze in the middle of a severe recession.