Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Republican elites practice politics as warfare, not bipartisanship

The media is setting up a fiction that the Republican Party has pragmatic, rational elites with only an extremist fringe that makes a great deal of noise. This fits with the already existing media fiction that both parties have an extremist fringe but are essentially just alike. This existing fiction is the basis of the idea that there is a "centrist" position that, if only a few courageous politicians would stand up and support it then America could be governed by a bipartisan government that solved real problems.

This media-stoked deal of bipartisanship is a ridiculous fiction, of course. It has no basis in reality. But then the media itself has almost no basis in reality any more. Now Ed Kilgore, James Vega, and J. P. Green describe America's current political reality:
The most dangerous group of political extremists today is not the grass roots supporters of the Tea Party. It is the major sector of the Republican financial and ideological elite who have embraced the philosophy of “politics as warfare.”


Extremist political parties share a large number of common characteristics, one critical trait being a radically different conception of the role and purpose of the political party itself in a democratic society.

In the politics as warfare perspective a political party’s objective is defined as the conquest and seizure of power and not sincere collaboration in democratic governance. The party is viewed as a combat organization whose goal is to defeat an enemy, not a governing organization whose job is to faithfully represent the people who voted for it. Political debate and legislative maneuvering are seen not as the means to achieve ultimate compromise, but as forms of combat whose objective is total victory.

This basic conception of the role of political parties leads to the justification and use of two profoundly anti-democratic strategies.

First, in the politics as warfare perspective it is a legitimate strategy for a political party to paralyze the workings of government in order to prevent a democratically elected government of an opposing party from implementing the platform on which it was elected. In the politics as warfare perspective the extremist political party accepts no responsibility for stability—engineering the failure of the existing government is absolutely paramount and any negative consequences that may occur in the process represent a kind of “collateral damage” that must be accepted as inevitable in warfare.

Historically, the Republican Party never embraced this strategy at any time during the Democratic administrations of Truman, Kennedy or Carter. The strategy first made its appearance when Newt Gingrich engineered the shutdown of the government in 1994. After Obama’s election in 2008 the use of this “paralyze the government” tactic accelerated dramatically with the conversion of the filibuster into a minority veto of virtually all majoritysponsored legislation and a Republican bar to the huge numbers of judicial and administrative appointments. Previous generations of Republicans would have been scandalized by the notion of crippling the administration of justice by leaving courts grotesquely understaffed in order to prevent the appointment of individuals who did not strictly adhere to conservative orthodoxy.

The most dramatic escalation of this approach, however, occurred after the elections of 2010 and was reflected in the rejection of the very substantial reduction in federal spending that Obama offered the Republican house majority. Observers concurred that the deal was far more favorable to conservatives in terms of policy than the deal Ronald Reagan accepted in 1986 on tax reform or that Newt Gingrich accepted on welfare reform in 1995. But public statements by Republican leaders indicated that the deal was rejected in substantial part on the explicitly political grounds that any legislative agreement that produced a “victory” for Obama was unacceptable. In effect, the political objective of weakening the president had actually become a higher priority than the achievement of the most fundamental long-sought conservative policy goals.

It is almost impossible for anyone who does not remember previous eras of American politics to realize how extraordinary this transformation actually is. It would have been literally inconceivable to the Republican senators and congressmen of the 1950s and 1960s.

The second, even more directly and profoundly anti-democratic strategy that directly flows from the politics as warfare philosophy is the calculated attempt to disenfranchise likely pro-Democratic voters.

There were no systematic Republican initiatives to disenfranchise voters during the Nixon, Reagan or Gingrich eras. But after the 2008 elections Fox News began promulgating the notion that massive voter fraud had occurred. Fox News featured a video of two members of the New Black Panthers at a single polling site more than 100 times on its national programs, asserting that they had intimidated voters in order to insure Obama’s election.

Even after it was conclusively demonstrated2 that sworn eyewitness testimony had been intentionally falsified in order to fabricate this charge, Fox continued to air the accusations and to assert that they were the tip of the iceberg of similar incidents. In parallel, accusations were also made that massive numbers of fraudulent votes had been cast in the election. The result of these charges was a widespread grass-roots effort by local tea party groups to police polling places and record incidents of intimidation and fraudulent voting during the 2010 elections—an effort that produced not a single documented case anywhere in the country. Nonetheless, there is now a major, nationally coordinated and massively funded effort to prevent pro-Democratic constituencies from casting their ballots. TDS managing editor Ed Kilgore accurately summarized the situation as follows: Central Eyewitness Testimony.

In the wake of the 2010 elections, Republican governors and legislatures are engaging in a wave of restrictive voting legislation unlike anything this country has seen since the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which signaled the defeat of the South’s long effort to prevent universal suffrage. This wave of activism is too universal to be a coincidence, and too broad to reflect anything other than a general determination to restrict the franchise. Millions of voters are affected….

As Ari Berman explained in an excellent recent summary of these developments for Rolling Stone, restrictive legislation, which has been introduced in 38 states and enacted (so far) in at least 12, can be divided into four main categories: restrictions on voter registration drives by nonpartisan, nonprofit civic and advocacy groups; cutbacks in early voting opportunities; new, burdensome identification requirements for voting; and reinstitution of bans on voting by ex-felons.

While new voter ID laws have clearly been coordinated by the powerful conservative state legislative lobbying network ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), other initiatives have spread almost virally. Virtually all of these restrictions demonstrably target segments of the electorate—the very poor, African-Americans and Hispanics, college students, and organizations trying to register all of the above—that tend to vote for Democrats.

In previous decades large sectors of the Republican elite would have been extremely uncomfortable with such measures and a significant group would have been vocally critical. Today, however, there is literally not a single significant figure in the Republican universe who is publicly objecting. The overwhelming influence of Fox News and talk radio have converted the notions that Obama represents a threat as massive as the rise of Hitler did in Germany, and that massive voter fraud is occurring all across the country, into passionately held urban legends that Republican elites no longer dare—or indeed
even wish—to challenge.

There are two profoundly disturbing conclusions that must be faced: First, the paralysis of government and the disenfranchisement of citizens are not “business as usual” for American conservatism. They are not attempts to prevent or reverse the enactment of particular policies and bills to which conservatives object but are rather strategies that strike at the most basic institutions and operations of representative democracy itself. To put it bluntly, they are not the policies of conservatives—they are strategies of political extremism.

Second, these strategies are not the products of a disreputable fringe of grass roots conservative activists, but have been designed, executed, endorsed and financed by a major sector of the Republican and conservative financial and ideological elite. The extraordinary fact that there is no major group or individual within the Republican coalition vocally objecting to these measures, as would have occurred in the past, offers the most profoundly disturbing evidence imaginable of the widespread tacit approval by the Republican elite.
There is more in this very clear analysis of the collapse of American democratic politics.

It is my opinion that America has a new aristocracy - one I call the moneyed elite. It consists largely of extremely wealthy families who want their power and wealth to gain control of the federal government, along with the Wall Street banking elite who handle the money belonging to those wealthy elite, and the social group that provides top executives to the large American and multinational corporations. An especially important element of this is Newscorp because it is a multinational moneyed elite predator which, because of its multinational status can avoid much of the regulation that national governments attempt to apply to the moneyed elites.

The federal government has, since the Great Depression, regulated the moneyed elites and provided justice to the working and middle classes. It is this regulation that the moneyed elites wish to break. The takeover of the Republican Party by these elites and the application of the strategy of politics as warfare is their current effort to weaken the power of the federal government to control them.

Addendum 1:33 PM CST
Paul Krugman points to the extremism described above very, very clearly.
Progressives are atheistic socialists who want to impose Sharia law. Class warfare is evil; also, John Kerry is too rich. And so on.

The key to understanding this, I’d suggest, is that movement conservatism has become a closed, inward-looking universe in which you get points not by sounding reasonable to uncommitted outsiders — although there are a few designated pundits who play that role professionally — but by outdoing your fellow movement members in zeal.

It’s sort of reminiscent of Stalinists going after Trotskyites in the old days: the Trotskyites were left deviationists, and also saboteurs working for the Nazis. Didn’t propagandists feel silly saying all that? Not at all: in their universe, extremism in defense of the larger truth was no vice, and you literally couldn’t go too far.

Many members of the commentariat don’t want to face up to the fact that this is what American politics has become; they cling to the notion that there are gentlemanly elder statesmen on the right who would come to the fore if only Obama said the right words. But the fact is that nobody on that side of the political spectrum wants to or can make deals with the Islamic atheist anti-military warmonger in the White House.

Strap yourself in; this is not going to be fun.
I think - perhaps just hope - that the Occupy Wall Street movement is the first real indication that the mass American population has begun to awaken to the threat that the American conservative movement as it is now structured poses to American democracy and to American values.

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