Sunday, March 4, 2012

Right turn only

In my prior post titled "Not your average liberal," I discussed how the incessant compromise on the part of the political left in this country has assisted radical, corporate conservatism in dramatically pushing our political discourse to the far right.  One of the premises of that piece is that we are at the point in our country where positions which were once considered extreme are now considered moderate, and positions which were once considered moderate are now labeled as socialist or communist.

Rachel Maddow did an extraordinary job of explaining this phenomenon a few nights ago on her show on MSNBC.  She validated, with research and facts, the reality of this political shift in a way that leaves little room for argument to the contrary.

Maddow discussed research conducted by Howard Rosenthal and Keith Poole, distinguished political scientists from the University of Georgia.  It is this kind of research that may explain why some in the far right don't really want people to go to college (apart from their fondness of paying workers low wages).  The research conducted by these scientists, published on their website Voteview, present a jarring view of American politics.

For starters, Rosenthal and Poole found that in the past 35 years, every Justice appointed to the Supreme Court was more conservative than the Justice they replaced, whether they were appointed by a Democratic or Republican president.  This is a pretty astounding statistic, and helps to explain why we are at the point in our country where corporations are considered people by the United States Supreme Court.

The Voteview research shows that the United States presidents have also become more conservative over time, as illustrated in the graph below from Voteview's website.  The dotted line in the center of the graph represents neutrality, the point exactly in the middle of the political spectrum.

A couple of things are striking about this graph.  First, it is clear that Republican presidents have become dramatically more extreme and polarized than their Democratic counterparts, as evidenced by the distance from the center line in which the presidents from each party exist.  That march to the right has occurred steadily since Nixon, culminating in George W. Bush's place near the 0.8 mark of political conservative ideology.  Second, and even more telling in my opinion, is the fact that Democratic presidents have also been trending more toward the conservative since the Carter administration.  In fact, President Obama exists in a range of moderation comparable to Dwight Eisenhower on the Republican side of the aisle.  This is extraordinary considering the constant, rabid nature of the attacks by the right labeling Obama as nothing short of a radical socialist.  This graph demonstrates what many of us on the left know, which is that President Obama is not all that liberal.  I believe this trend toward the conservative on the part of Democratic presidents is yet more evidence of the effect of this constant push to the right over the past three decades.

The United States Congress exhibits the same pattern, in even more dramatic fashion.  The graph below of the House of Representatives is fascinating, not only because it clearly illustrates this meteoric shift to the right, but because it also examines the moderate and extreme segments of both parties.  The march to the right on the Republican side is quite remarkable, and has occurred in both the extreme and moderate Republican camps at the same time and same rate of incline.  In fact, the most moderate Republicans today are more conservative than the most conservative Republicans between 1939 and 1980.  The most conservative Republicans in Congress today are existing at essentially the "redline" of the conservative tachometer.  They couldn't get farther right if they tried.  It is why you see current Republicans abandoning Republican-created policies like individual mandates for health insurance, immigration reforms like the Dream Act, and a whole host of social welfare policies.  The Republicans today are far more extreme than the Republicans of even 10 years ago, let alone 30 years ago.  The Democratic line, in contrast, is fairly flat, and the Democrats occupy a space clearly closer to the middle than their Republican counterparts.

Maddow's opinion is that this shift has been largely initiated by corporate conservatism, and is part of a deliberate and long-term plan.  Her belief is that this shift had less to do with true ideology than the influence of corporations on our political system. This theory of corporate influence is directly supported, in my opinion, by the overwhelming amount of money that has literally purchased our democratic process.  I discuss the influence of money in politics in my prior post "The Plague."

Those pushing this far right agenda are extremely organized and disciplined.  While we discuss each election cycle as it occurs, these folks are looking ahead years into the future.  In the short term, they are willing to take losses.  They are willing to sacrifice seats, even the balance of power, to pursue their long-term agenda.  The positions they promote are often to the right of even their own electorate, a fact that will sometimes cost them elections.  Here's the thing:  they don't care.  It is why I believe they consider people like Walker and Snyder and Kasich to be expendable, like those first soldiers killed immediately as they exited their landing crafts on the beaches of Normandy.  Those soldiers had little chance of survival, but they paved the way for their comrades behind them, and the beach was ultimately taken.  Luckily for today's corporate oligarchy, they tend to choose politicians with tremendous egos who lack the self-awareness and foresight to even realize they are being sacrificed.

My only complaint with Maddow's discussion is that she didn't take the final step and explicitly acknowledge that these corporate influences HAVE influenced the ideology of the right wing base. The agents of corporate conservatism have dragged the electorate along with them in the march to the right.  This influence on the minds of the voters can be seen in the manufactured self-centered philosophy that I describe in Compassion Lost.

The charts shown above are evidence that these people are playing for keeps, and frankly, they are winning.  When I think of this phenomenon, I think of an archery target.  Instead of aiming their arrows at the bullseye, the far right simply picks the entire target up, stand and all, and moves it to the right.  In response, those on the left keep aiming for the center and believe they are doing OK when they hit their mark.  Progressives need to be smart enough to understand that the net result of a very deliberate thirty year plan is that the target keeps shifting to the right, and aiming for center just isn't good enough.

The Republicans may not win in 2012, but we have presidential candidates that are publicly talking about the wisdom and morality of birth control, about letting people without health insurance die, about creating historically low tax rates to further enrich corporations and the wealthy, and about taking away the voice of workers in the workplace.  They are talking about these things with straight faces and, even more incredibly, without being booed off the stage.  Conversely, sometimes they are actually cheered for these points of view.  The corporate agenda may not win the day at this moment in time, but they have succeeded yet again at pushing the political conversation of this nation to once unthinkable extremes.  They may be to the right of even their base electorate, but their electorate is listening.   Make no mistake about it:  the results of this shift have been a windfall.  The wealthy in this country have seen their wealth triple in the past three decades, while the rest of us have been stagnant or have lost ground.  The red meat they throw to their base in the form of social issues masks the real goal of an economic policy that favors them in every way imaginable.

Additionally, the research of Rosenthal and Poole once and for all destroys the assertion that the problem with politics in the America is that both sides have become more and more extreme, and as such, they just can't agree on anything.  This assertion implies that there has been parity in the polarization of America.  Maddow describes this belief as the "pox on both your houses" mindset, and it just simply isn't accurate.  The claim that both sides have gone to the fringes is one of the big lies perpetrated by the corporate and wealthy interests that control this country, and unfortunately the average person has accepted this lie without hesitation.  It is a lie repeated over and over again by the mainstream media when discussing congressional approval ratings.  I am willing to bet that each and every one of you has heard a friend or coworker earnestly state that the problem with American politics is that both sides are too extreme.  The reality is that our political system has rocketed to the right during the past 30 years, and even the Democrats have come along for the ride.

This lie is among a veritable catalog of lies furthering the agenda of those that create them, and it is one that is in good company.  It exists alongside such lies as the assertion that Wisconsin's public employee pension is in trouble and will leave taxpayers on the hook.  It is similar to the lie that the economic catastrophe of the past three years was the fault of teachers, police officers, and firefighters feeding off "the system," instead of admitting that a thoroughly unregulated financial industry tanked the economy for their own gain and walked away with a pile of our money.  It is like the lie that says the shipping of jobs overseas is an inevitable and unavoidable part of our national landscape, when it is actually the result of a deliberate and relentless lobbying effort on the part of multinational corporations.

We need to start framing this debate from the position in which we want to be, not the position in which we feel we have to be due to this extreme push to the right.  We need to recalibrate the national political conversation, even if that recalibration brings with it growing pains.  There will be push-back from the forces setting the current trajectory, but that must not deter us.  We are currently witnessing Democrats sell out labor rights, voting to allow employers to determine what kind of health care and contraception their employees should utilize (albeit a small number), and voting to further enrich the corporate treasuries through favorable tax policy and subsidies.  This complicity must stop if we are to ever realize a vision of a nation we can once again be proud of.  As I have stated before in this blog, a civilization cannot survive by serving the interests of such a select few.

There are days I am rather jaded about what President Obama actually represents versus the potential that was his campaign in 2008, particularly in light of the above visual representation of presidential politics.  However, as is often the case when I hear him speak,  his address in Michigan the other night left me with some hope.  President Obama, in speaking to the United Auto Workers on February 27th, remarked:
"You want to talk about values? Hard work -- that's a value. Looking out for one another -- that's a value. The idea that we're all in it together -- that I am my brother's keeper; I am my sister's keeper -- that is a value," Obama said."
These truly are the values that made this country great, yet we have collectively allowed ourselves to stray from them.  A huge section of our population has been seduced by the polished message of the corporations that control our politicians and our media, the message that applauds an "every man for himself" philosophy.  We need to recommit to the values of which President Obama spoke.  We need to fight for a national conversation that promotes these values, not mocks them.  Without our strong commitment to that conversation, we will continue to witness the grim march of extremism that is destroying our nation.



  1. Excellent again Brian and spot on...the shift right has been underway for many years and has been well planned and very well funded. R

  2. Brian, your speech at the candlelight rally on March 9 was right on the mark and the best speech of the weekend. Would you post it here, please?

    1. Thanks for the kind words. The remarks from the vigil are included in my new post "One Year Later" which went up tonight