For the last few years (I can’t put a specific date on it) and especially since the tea party Republicans erupted, I have watched our national politics with mouth opened amazement. What once would have been treated as lunacy or, at minimum, wild radicalism, like the Ryan budget, has suddenly been taken as mainstream. If some Republican came out tomorrow and said, “We are going to take a baseball bat to Uncle Sam and beat him into a bloody pulp”, the nation’s media would treat it as just another proposal from the party that won a massive House victory in 2010. What’s more, the smarty pants commentators on the television talk shows would blathering knowingly about it. “So, beating up Uncle Sam, a good idea or just an election year trial balloon?”
The Ryan budget put forward a couple of weeks ago, and approved by the House in an entirely symbolic gesture late last week, would grant TRILLIONS of dollars in new tax breaks for the wealthy, cut virtually all social programs and, according to one reliable study, completely END ALL GOVERNMENT, except for defense, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid by the year 2050. Is that radical? Oh, it would also add trillions of dollars to the national debt on the way to, sometime, somewhere, ending deficit spending. What’s not to like?
One reason I have been consistently amazed by what is happening is that I don’t believe we are a radical country. Indeed, I don’t believe, in the popular phrase, that we are a “center-right nation” either. I believe we are in some ways fundamentally conservative AND modestly liberal. Almost the entire history of our nation is one of moving toward, and eventually embracing, progressive change.
Look at the long record: embracing individual freedoms under the founders, fighting a Civil War to maintain the Union, breaking up business monopolies under Teddy Roosevelt, creating Social Security and programs against the Great Depression under FDR, ending official racial separation under Kennedy and Johnson, creating Medicare and Medicaid under Johnson, creating the EPA under Nixon, consistently raising the minimal wage under most presidents and so on. We don’t always eagerly rush out to meet change and embrace it, but eventually, gradually, change happens. I am willing to bet that even most of the people who long supported segregation in Alabama or Mississippi believe, now, that they are better off without it. (If they don’t agree, then I say they should realize that ending it was a price to be paid to be part of a great nation.) The amount of progressive change the country has undergone, even while fighting it in various phases, is truly remarkable.
Are we to conclude that no one wants to keep improving the nation now? Are we to conclude that the main tasks of a strong national government, like building the Interstate Highway System under Eisenhower or supporting commercial aviation under every president for the last 110 years is no longer needed? Dozens, if not hundreds, of surveys over the years have shown that most people want to keep programs in place, especially those that benefit them directly, even when the call for less spending.
So what is going on? I believe the Republican party has locked itself into opposition for its own sake. No matter what the Democrats are for, they have to be against it. The main reason is an attempt to win elections. A secondary factor is an all but total misreading of the election results of 2010. Most elected Republicans, especially those in the House and those newly elected, believe 2010 proved that America wants radical change. So, those who call themselves leaders and those who want to be nominated for president have fallen all over themselves trying to be radical. They have succeeded. Yet, they still call themselves conservatives and the nation’s news media plays along with the game by using the same label.
The national news media has been blindingly slow to catch on to what is happening. Trying to avoid the charge of bias, they play everything down the middle or a little bit to the right. Besides, the overriding “trope” of the news media has always been this: “Look, things are okay. There’s this little problem, but people are working it out. We’ll get back to you when the results are known.” Things are not okay! Things are not being worked out.
If you would like to delve a bit more into the issue of whether one party in America has jumped off a 5,000 ft. cliff, I suggest a column in the Washington Post by E. J. Dionne. Here is how he sums up what it happening now in American politics and government:
If our nation’s voters want to move government policy far to the right, they are entirely free to do so. But those who regard themselves as centrist have a moral obligation to make clear what the stakes are in the current debate. If supposed moderates refuse to call out the new conservatism for the radical creed it has become, their timidity will make them complicit in an intellectual coup they could have prevented.
Right now, all major news media are, in fact, complicit in what is happening. In refusing to report clearly on the radical proposals of the far right, and covering them over as just being part of the usual “political disagreements”, the media, the talking heads and many commentators are failing to serve the public interest and creating soft lies to feed the public instead of hard truths. People need to know, clearly and directly, what they might be voting for. If they want it, that is their right. If they don’t know but vote for it anyway, it is everyone’s fault who has the ability to shine a light and tell the truth.
Doug Terry, 4.2.12