While You Obsessed Over Trump’s Scandals, He’s Fundamentally Changed The Country

By Sam Stein, huffingtonpost.com, 05/31/2017

 Excerpt – The president has immense power and, despite the Russia saga, he is using it….This is a defining feature of the Trump administration: While scandal and squabble, palace intrigue and provocative tweets suck much of the oxygen out of the room ― and leave the impression of mass government disfunction ― a wide array of fundamentally Trump-minded reform is taking place.

“All of this smoke is missing the steady progress that the modern Republican Party is achieving,” said Grover Norquist, the longtime anti-tax advocate. “The idea that Trump isn’t getting anywhere is wrong. Those free market guys are picking up maybe not all the marbles in the world, but a large quantity of them. And we haven’t thrown away any marbles.”…

But legislative progress is only one vehicle that moves a president’s agenda. And there have been profound policy changes on a variety of administrative fronts, often obscured by scandals emerging from the White House….

The president’s retrenchment will have immense, generations-long geopolitical ripple effects….On regulatory policy, Trump’s impact has far outpaced the coverage it’s often received…Trump has made moves that will fundamentally alter the way our economy operates and individuals live their lives. His appointment of Ajit Pai to head the Federal Communications Commission is one of them. Pai is poised to dismantle net neutrality rules, moving away from treating online content as a public utility and toward a system that allows cable and telecom industry interests to control content and traffic. “That appointment,” Norquist said, “is [determining] 16 percent of the economy.”  Deportations of undocumented immigrants have grown steadily under Trump’s watch, especially among noncriminals. And Trump has had a profound impact on women’s health… Indeed, the Trump administration has seemed to make the most progress when the epicenter of action is removed from the White House itself. At some point, Trump, Sessions and the rest of the Cabinet will run out of the low-hanging regulatory changes they can easily make. At that juncture, they will be limited in the policies they can promulgate. But by then, they will have already instituted substantial reforms, many of them without the public’s knowledge and hard to reverse. Democratic operatives are waking up to the idea that the party should stop acting as if Trump is a rudderless president, desperately trying to pass an agenda as it’s anchored down by continuous scandal ― but rather, prosecute a case against Trump’s actual policy achievements. “Democrats aren’t making a mistake by focusing on Russia, because it is potentially the biggest political scandal in U.S. history,” said Pfeiffer. “And the pressure they are putting forward has led to new revelations. But there will be a time when voters are interested in stuff beyond this. We aren’t there yet, but it would be incumbent upon the party to point this out.”

Full text

The president has immense power and, despite the Russia saga, he is using it.

On the morning of May 12, Attorney General Jeff Sessions revealed that he had instructed federal prosecutors to begin pursuing lengthier prison sentences for drug offenders.

It was a draconian change in approach that flew in the face of a growing bipartisan agreement on sentencing reform. “He’s completely discarded what has been an emerging consensus about how best to keep the country safe,” said Matthew Miller, a former Department of Justice spokesman. “[O]ne of the most extreme voices in the country on criminal justice policy just happened to be put into the most important job for shaping its future.”

The move was then largely buried under an avalanche of Donald Trump-related news.

Just hours after Sessions’ policy was revealed, the president tweeted that he may have taped conversations with his recently-fired FBI director, James Comey. With less than 140 characters, Washington was abuzz again over Trump’s potential ties to Russia, which Comey had been investigating.

This is a defining feature of the Trump administration: While scandal and squabble, palace intrigue and provocative tweets suck much of the oxygen out of the room ― and leave the impression of mass government disfunction ― a wide array of fundamentally Trump-minded reform is taking place.

“All of this smoke is missing the steady progress that the modern Republican Party is achieving,” said Grover Norquist, the longtime anti-tax advocate. “The idea that Trump isn’t getting anywhere is wrong. Those free market guys are picking up maybe not all the marbles in the world, but a large quantity of them. And we haven’t thrown away any marbles.”

One reason behind the perception that Trump’s agenda has largely foundered is that it’s made painfully little legislative progress. His efforts to push health care reform through Congress have advanced incrementally, but many hurdles remain. Tax reform appears unlikely to come before the summer, if at all. Trump’s budget won’t get a vote, and his relationship with Congress seems to fall somewhere between fractious and nonexistent.

But legislative progress is only one vehicle that moves a president’s agenda. And there have been profound policy changes on a variety of administrative fronts, often obscured by scandals emerging from the White House.

Take reports that Trump will leave the Paris Agreement on climate change, the milestone global accord to lower carbon emissions in the face of overwhelming evidence of human-caused global warming.

The president’s retrenchment will have immense, generations-long geopolitical ripple effects. Yet on Wednesday morning, it competed for media attention alongside the fallout from Trump’s bizarre Twitter typo the night before and the backlash against comedian Kathy Griffin’s vulgar depiction of a severed Trump head.

On regulatory policy, Trump’s impact has far outpaced the coverage it’s often received. He’s made it harder for workers to set up retirement accounts and has delayed the implementation of workplace safety rules. He repealed a regulation protecting workers from wage theft and allowed employers with spotty labor records to get government contracts. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has hit the brakes on a rule that would require firms to report worker injury data online. Trump has given coal companies permission to dump debris into local streams and canceled requirements for reporting methane emissions. Both the Dakota Access and Keystone pipelines have been allowed to proceed, and coal companies have been allowed to again lease on public lands.

Elsewhere, Trump has made moves that will fundamentally alter the way our economy operates and individuals live their lives. His appointment of Ajit Pai to head the Federal Communications Commission is one of them. Pai is poised to dismantle net neutrality rules, moving away from treating online content as a public utility and toward a system that allows cable and telecom industry interests to control content and traffic. “That appointment,” Norquist said, “is [determining] 16 percent of the economy.”  

Much attention has focused on the way the courts and Congress have stymied Trump’s immigration policy. But even absent a travel ban or a border wall, he has dramatically altered the government’s approach. Deportations of undocumented immigrants have grown steadily under Trump’s watch, especially among noncriminals.

And Trump has had a profound impact on women’s health. He drastically expanded the so-called global gag rule, restricting a larger pool of funding from groups that mention or promote abortion, and he is poised to gut a mandate requiring employers to cover birth control for employees, broadening exemptions to the requirement that extend well beyond religious-affiliated groups.

These are just the domestic consequences of Trump’s presidency. On foreign affairs, his reach is far greater and restraint more limited.

Trump’s ability to do all this is not, as his administration would argue, evidence of an unappreciated wizardry at governance. He has simply utilized the powers afforded to the executive branch.

“He has a lot of leeway, and that’s why winning the White House is so important and losing it is so painful,” said Dan Pfeiffer, a former top aide to former President Barack Obama. “The fact is, the bureaucracy is set up in the way that career professionals at government agencies are able to get things done in the way that the class of clowns around Trump aren’t able to.”

Indeed, the Trump administration has seemed to make the most progress when the epicenter of action is removed from the White House itself.

Kevin Ring, the president of the nonprofit Families Against Mandatory Minimums, said he was heartened to see Republicans and Democrats alike pushing back on Sessions’ sentencing guidelines. The impact of the policy change may be overstated, he says, as lawyers and judges could still determine they don’t want to abide by the tougher sentencing guidelines. But Ring concedes that Sessions had proved himself to be a competent and effective governing agent in ways that set him far apart from his boss.

“In every other battle, it is like, ‘Who is winning, Jared [Kushner] or [Steve] Bannon?’ Who is winning Trump’s blessing? And without it, they can’t go forward,” Ring said. “Sessions is at 950 Pennsylvania Avenue [where the DOJ is located] and doing whatever he wants. Which is not to say he isn’t doing what Trump wants. But he certainly has enough authority and discretion to move full speed ahead on all these fronts.”

At some point, Trump, Sessions and the rest of the Cabinet will run out of the low-hanging regulatory changes they can easily make. At that juncture, they will be limited in the policies they can promulgate. But by then, they will have already instituted substantial reforms, many of them without the public’s knowledge and hard to reverse.

Democratic operatives are waking up to the idea that the party should stop acting as if Trump is a rudderless president, desperately trying to pass an agenda as it’s anchored down by continuous scandal ― but rather, prosecute a case against Trump’s actual policy achievements.

“Democrats aren’t making a mistake by focusing on Russia, because it is potentially the biggest political scandal in U.S. history,” said Pfeiffer. “And the pressure they are putting forward has led to new revelations. But there will be a time when voters are interested in stuff beyond this. We aren’t there yet, but it would be incumbent upon the party to point this out.”

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The Democrats’ Religion Problem

By DANIEL K. WILLIAMS, New York Times, JUNE 23, 2017

Carrollton, Ga. — Jon Ossoff’s defeat in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District election on Tuesday wasn’t just a sign that Democrats may have a harder time winning in the Trump era than they had hoped. It is a symptom of a larger problem for the party — a generational and racial divide between a largely secular group of young, white party activists and an older electorate that is more religious and more socially conservative.

Put simply, outside of a few progressive districts, secular-minded young activists in the party are unable to win voters’ trust.

Mr. Ossoff, 30, represented this new wing of the party. He said almost nothing about his religious beliefs or the way in which his Jewish upbringing affected his political views — probably because, like many white, college-educated Democratic activists of his generation, religion didn’t shape his political beliefs.

Mr. Ossoff’s secularism would have surprised many American liberals of the 1950s and 1960s, who looked to the moral inspiration of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, both of whom saw a religious imperative for social justice. The civil rights movement was grounded so thoroughly in the theology and culture of the African-American church that the historian David L. Chappell has called it a “religious revival.” And the economic views of New Deal and Great Society liberalism echoed the positions of mainline Protestant denominations and the social teachings of 20th-century Catholicism.

In the late 1960s, some white liberals — especially college-age baby boomers — began to adopt a secularized version of liberal Protestant values. Yet even then, the Democratic Party’s leaders retained a connection to those religious traditions, which allowed them to maintain their appeal to religious voters.

Eugene McCarthy and Robert F. Kennedy, the party’s leading antiwar candidates for the presidential nomination in 1968, were practicing Catholics who found inspiration in the church’s teachings. Jimmy Carter was a Southern Baptist deacon who regularly taught an adult Sunday school class during his 1976 campaign for president.

Jesse Jackson, who won several primaries in 1984 and 1988, was an ordained minister. Al Gore was a Southern Baptist who had attended divinity school. Bill Clinton had deep roots in the Southern Baptist tradition, despite his troubled relationship with some of the conservative leaders of his denomination during his presidency.

Hillary Clinton frequently cited her Methodist faith as a source of her values. And Barack Obama, despite a secular upbringing, learned to speak in the theological cadences of a Protestant Christian tradition while attending a progressive African-American church in Chicago.

Yet now younger, secular Democrats are attempting to separate their party’s progressive values from those religious traditions. Some may belong to a religious tradition or consider themselves to be spiritual people, but they are not able to speak the language of a communally based faith because it does not inform or shape their political views.

This has posed a problem at the polls, because most Democratic voters are not as secular as these activists might assume. While only 47 percent of white, college-educated Democrats identify as Christians, Christianity remains the faith of 81 percent of African-American Democrats and 76 percent of Latino Democrats.

The religious differences between generations are just as stark as the differences between racial groups. While 35 percent of millennials report having no religious affiliation, only 17 percent of baby boomers — and fewer than 11 percent of Americans born before 1945 — are religiously unaffiliated.

The party is thus split between a minority of young, educated, secular white activists and a larger group of African-Americans, Hispanics and older whites whose political values are closely tied to their faith. No wonder candidates like Mr. Ossoff struggled to connect with key blocs of the Democratic coalition.

And it’s also no wonder that the Democratic congressional leadership is still dominated by a graying generation of leaders; they are the only ones who can bridge the party’s religious divide. The median age of House Democratic representatives is now well over 60 — the highest in decades, and several years older than the median Republican age.

All four of Georgia’s Democratic representatives are 60 or older, and most have deep roots in the African-American Baptist tradition. If Mr. Ossoff had been elected to represent the Sixth District, he would have been over 30 years younger than the next-youngest member of the Georgia Democratic delegation, and he would have represented a very different set of cultural values.

What can Democrats do to bridge the divide between young, secular party activists and the rest of voters? Oddly, last year’s presidential run by Senator Bernie Sanders, a secular Jew, may suggest a way forward.

Mr. Sanders’s non-Christian background may have hurt him in the South; he did poorly among African-American voters, despite his consistent civil rights record. But he did what few other secular candidates have done: He won a sympathetic hearing from conservative evangelicals with a speech that gave a religious grounding for his economic views, complete with biblical citations. When Mr. Sanders spoke at Liberty University, he did not pretend to share evangelical Christians’ faith, but he showed respect for his audience’s religious tradition.

To do the same, secular Democrats need to study the religious language of Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. They need to take the time to learn the religious values of their audience. They need to be honest about their own secularity, but acknowledge their debt to the religious traditions that have shaped their progressive ideology.

Only through a willingness to ground their policy proposals in the religious values of prospective voters will they be able to convince people of faith that they are not a threat to their values but are instead an ally in a common cause.

Daniel K. Williams is a professor of history at the University of West Georgia and the author of “God’s Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right.”

Why Progressives Need a Long-Term Strategy, Built on Values – BillMoyers.com

By John Atcheson | May 8, 2017 http://billmoyers.com/story/progressives-need-long-term-strategy-built-values/

Ever since Trump got elected, there’s been a lot of talk about resistance. As the country marked Trump’s first 100 days, it reached a crescendo. Then Republicans in the House passed Trump care — one of the cruelest Bills in recent memory. The reason they can screw so many people with relative impunity, is that they’ve invested decades in creating a mega-narrative that insulates them from consequences.

The alternative is to continue to lose elections at all levels, as Democrats have been doing with increasing frequency since they abandoned the New Deal and adopted the raw deal.

Certainly, we must resist Trump’s destructive agenda in every way we can. But if progressives are to recapture the hearts and minds of America it will take far more than just resisting. It will require that progressives develop a long-term strategy that addresses the needs of people, not plutocrats, that is based on values, not tactics.

And that has to start with reclaiming the Democratic Party from the neoliberals. The alternative is to continue to lose elections at all levels, as Democrats have been doing with increasing frequency since they abandoned the New Deal and adopted the raw deal. And if progressives cannot take over the Democratic Party we will have to start the long, slow slog toward building a third party and hope that there’s enough left of the country and the planet to salvage by the time we succeed.

How Conservatives Took Over America

We can learn a lot from conservatives, because they executed a successful silent coup, more than four decades in the making, funded by and conducted on behalf of the oligarchy. We’re not talking about some shadowy conspiracy featuring clandestine meetings, passwords, secret handshakes, James Bond supervillains, Freemasons or…gasp…even the Trilateral Commission. This coup was more like a flock of vultures moving in tandem only because they were pursuing a shared vision of their own self-interest — which was to relentlessly fleece us to feather their own foul nests. But if it wasn’t a coherent junta, it was fueled by money. Lots and lots of money. And it had a blueprint — The Powell Memo.

The strategy focused on:

  • creating a conservative infrastructure in the form of foundations, think tanks, endowed academic chairs and media-savvy spokespeople at all levels;
  • deregulating the media, Wall Street, banks and industry in general (and purchasing the media outright once regulatory constraints were removed);
  • discrediting government as the source of anything good or valuable;
  • starving government of receipts with the purpose of shrinking it, assuring government couldn’t function;
  • creating wedge issues to exploit hate, fear, greed, xenophobia and other aspects of the lizard brain; and
  • creating the myth that markets would provide all good things by pure serendipity.

The strategy has culminated in their spectacular success at all levels of government — they now control both branches of the legislature in 32 states and the governorship in 24 of those states, as well as both houses of Congress and the presidency at the federal level. But an even starker measure of their success is how corporations and the uber-rich have prospered at the expense of the rest of us. The top one-tenth of 1 percent of Americans now have as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent, democracy is all but dead in the Unites States, the press is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Oligarchy and both parties dance to its tune.

Government — once the champion of the working man, the author of the New Deal and the architect of the longest sustained and broadly share period of prosperity in US history, has become the enemy. Meanwhile, the free market, which exploited workers, defiled the environment and operated outside of any moral framework, is now believed to be the font of all things good, delivered by pure serendipity. As a result, broad sections of society — including much of the press, the establishment wing the Democratic Party, much of academia and the public policy infrastructure and of course Republicans — believe taxes are bad, regulations are bad, small government is good, public programs are bad, and the markets (i.e. the oligarchy) will automatically provide great things if we just get government out of the way. This is the camouflage under which such nonsense as laissez-faire, trickle-down and supply-side economics keep getting resurrected, no matter how often it fails.

Republicans Strategic Approach Will Make it difficult to Win the House until 2022

For another example of the power of long-term strategic thinking over mere opposition or identity politics, consider project Redmap — a Karl Rove effort that all but assures that Republicans will control the House until at least 2022 — and that assumes Democrats stop navigating by their hood ornaments and get strategic. If they don’t, then Republicans will control the House for much longer.

As recounted in David Daley’s Ratf**ked, Republicans targeted key races in the state legislatures with an eye toward gerrymandering the hell out of the House elections. The results have been dramatic. In 2012, the first year the full effect of redistricting could be seen, Democrats got 1.7 million more votes than Republicans, but Republicans won 33 more congressional seats. And for all the talk — and the need — to take back Congress in 2018, it will be extraordinarily difficult for Democrats to do in the face of such a stacked deck.

Here’s the timeline for leveling the playing field. Democrats would have to launch an effective attack on Republican legislators at the state level in 2018 and 2020, then wait for the census results and draw reasonable districts that actually represent the people. As a result, the first time Democrats could face Republicans without their gerrymandered advantage will be 2022, again, assuming Democrats get their act together.

If this frightens you, it should. Even more frightening is the fact that Republicans are just two states shy of being able to convene a constitutional convention and the Koch Brothers — funders of the coup — are pumping money into an effort to put them over the top.

How Democrats Lost America – and Why They’ll Continue to if They Don’t Change Course

While conservatives are playing political chess and thinking several moves ahead, Democrats are playing political checkers and focusing on short-term excuses for losing the election — like the Russian email hacks — which as Norman Soloman pointed out, gives them a pretext to continue to blame their defeat on the Russians, rather than the fact that they ran candidates who put Wall Street over Main Street.

It is precisely this embrace of neoliberalism that has caused the Democratic Party’s long, slow slide into irrelevance. Back in the 1960s, half the registered voters claimed to be Democrats; today, 29 percent do. Republicans have been hovering somewhere near 25 percent during the same period, while winning elections.

The reason Republicans win as a minority party is because Democrats have embraced neoliberalism and rejected true progressivism and the New Deal. As a result, turnouts at election time are typically low, and it’s the Democrats and disaffected independents who don’t turn out. The difference between the “trickle-down, supply-side” con of the Republican Party and the Democrats’ embrace of the free market, deregulation, lower taxes, markets-know-best agenda that Bill Clinton brought to the party with the Democratic Leadership Council is simply too small to excite the people.

If Democrats want to win again, they will need to embrace real progressive values, restore a measure of diversity to the press and media by restoring regulations that allowed the FCC to bust monopolies, and invest in the needed infrastructure — foundations, think tanks, academic chairs, etc., to carry a populist message and to reveal the treachery of the Republicans’ economic con game.

As you read this, there’s a fight on for control of the Democratic Party. Incredibly, the old-guard neoliberal establishment is doing all they can to hold onto the status quo that enabled a dangerous know-nothing like Trump to assume the presidency.

Scary stuff.

John Atcheson is author of the novel, A Being Darkly Wise, and he has just completed a book on the 2016 elections, tentatively titled, WTF America? How the US Went Off the Rails and How to Get It Back on Track, which will be released in the spring. Follow him on Twitter: @john_atcheson.

 

The Right’s Stupidity Spreads, Enabled by a Too-Polite Left

by George Monbiot, The Guardian/UK, February 7, 2012

Excerpt

…we have been too polite to mention the Canadian study published last month in the journal Psychological Science, which revealed that people with conservative beliefs are likely to be of low intelligence….There is plenty of research showing that low general intelligence in childhood predicts greater prejudice towards people of different ethnicity or sexuality in adulthood. Open-mindedness, flexibility, trust in other people: all these require certain cognitive abilities. Understanding and accepting others – particularly “different” others – requires an enhanced capacity for abstract thinking…. tends not to arise directly from low intelligence but from the conservative ideologies to which people of low intelligence are drawn. Conservative ideology is the “critical pathway” from low intelligence to racism….This is not to suggest that all conservatives are stupid. There are some very clever people in government, advising politicians, running thinktanks and writing for newspapers, who have acquired power and influence by promoting rightwing ideologies…they now appeal to the basest, stupidest impulses, and find that it does them no harm in the polls. Don’t take my word for it. Listen to what two former Republican ideologues, David Frum and Mike Lofgren, have been saying. Frum warns that “conservatives have built a whole alternative knowledge system, with its own facts, its own history, its own laws of economics”. The result is a “shift to ever more extreme, ever more fantasy-based ideology” which has “ominous real-world consequences for American society”…But when I survey this wreckage I wonder who the real idiots are. Confronted with mass discontent, the once-progressive major parties, as Thomas Frank laments in his latest book Pity the Billionaire, triangulate and accommodate, hesitate and prevaricate, muzzled by what he calls “terminal niceness”. They fail to produce a coherent analysis of what has gone wrong and why, or to make an uncluttered case for social justice, redistribution and regulation. The conceptual stupidities of conservatism are matched by the strategic stupidities of liberalism. Yes, conservatism thrives on low intelligence and poor information. But the liberals in politics on both sides of the Atlantic continue to back off, yielding to the supremacy of the stupid. It’s turkeys all the way down.

Full text

Self-deprecating, too liberal for their own good, today’s progressives stand back and watch, hands over their mouths, as the social vivisectionists of the right slice up a living society to see if its component parts can survive in isolation. Tied up in knots of reticence and self-doubt, they will not shout stop. Doing so requires an act of interruption, of presumption, for which they no longer possess a vocabulary.

Perhaps it is in the same spirit of liberal constipation that, with the exception of Charlie Brooker, we have been too polite to mention the Canadian study published last month in the journal Psychological Science, which revealed that people with conservative beliefs are likely to be of low intelligence. Paradoxically it was the Daily Mail that brought it to the attention of British readers last week. It feels crude, illiberal to point out that the other side is, on average, more stupid than our own. But this, the study suggests, is not unfounded generalization but empirical fact.

It is by no means the first such paper. There is plenty of research showing that low general intelligence in childhood predicts greater prejudice towards people of different ethnicity or sexuality in adulthood. Open-mindedness, flexibility, trust in other people: all these require certain cognitive abilities. Understanding and accepting others – particularly “different” others – requires an enhanced capacity for abstract thinking.

But, drawing on a sample size of several thousand, correcting for both education and socioeconomic status, the new study looks embarrassingly robust. Importantly, it shows that prejudice tends not to arise directly from low intelligence but from the conservative ideologies to which people of low intelligence are drawn. Conservative ideology is the “critical pathway” from low intelligence to racism. Those with low cognitive abilities are attracted to “rightwing ideologies that promote coherence and order” and “emphasize the maintenance of the status quo”. Even for someone not yet renowned for liberal reticence, this feels hard to write.

This is not to suggest that all conservatives are stupid. There are some very clever people in government, advising politicians, running thinktanks and writing for newspapers, who have acquired power and influence by promoting rightwing ideologies.

But what we now see among their parties – however intelligent their guiding spirits may be – is the abandonment of any pretense of high-minded conservatism. On both sides of the Atlantic, conservative strategists have discovered that there is no pool so shallow that several million people won’t drown in it. Whether they are promoting the idea that Barack Obama was not born in the US, that man-made climate change is an eco-fascist-communist-anarchist conspiracy, or that the deficit results from the greed of the poor, they now appeal to the basest, stupidest impulses, and find that it does them no harm in the polls.

Don’t take my word for it. Listen to what two former Republican ideologues, David Frum and Mike Lofgren, have been saying. Frum warns that “conservatives have built a whole alternative knowledge system, with its own facts, its own history, its own laws of economics“. The result is a “shift to ever more extreme, ever more fantasy-based ideology” which has “ominous real-world consequences for American society”.

Lofgren complains that “the crackpot outliers of two decades ago have become the vital center today“. The Republican party, with its “prevailing anti-intellectualism and hostility to science” is appealing to what he calls the “low-information voter”, or the “misinformation voter”. While most office holders probably don’t believe the “reactionary and paranoid claptrap” they peddle, “they cynically feed the worst instincts of their fearful and angry low-information political base”.

The madness hasn’t gone as far in the UK, but the effects of the Conservative appeal to stupidity are making themselves felt. This week the Guardian reported that recipients of disability benefits, scapegoated by the government as scroungers, blamed for the deficit, now find themselves subject to a new level of hostility and threats from other people.

These are the perfect conditions for a billionaires’ feeding frenzy. Any party elected by misinformed, suggestible voters becomes a vehicle for undisclosed interests. A tax break for the 1% is dressed up as freedom for the 99%. The regulation that prevents big banks and corporations exploiting us becomes an assault on the working man and woman. Those of us who discuss man-made climate change are cast as elitists by people who happily embrace the claims of Lord Monckton, Lord Lawson or thinktanks funded by ExxonMobil or the Koch brothers: now the authentic voices of the working class.

But when I survey this wreckage I wonder who the real idiots are. Confronted with mass discontent, the once-progressive major parties, as Thomas Frank laments in his latest book Pity the Billionaire, triangulate and accommodate, hesitate and prevaricate, muzzled by what he calls “terminal niceness”. They fail to produce a coherent analysis of what has gone wrong and why, or to make an uncluttered case for social justice, redistribution and regulation. The conceptual stupidities of conservatism are matched by the strategic stupidities of liberalism.

Yes, conservatism thrives on low intelligence and poor information. But the liberals in politics on both sides of the Atlantic continue to back off, yielding to the supremacy of the stupid. It’s turkeys all the way down.

© 2012 The Guardian

George Monbiot is the author of the best selling books The Age of Consent: a manifesto for a new world order and Captive State: the corporate takeover of Britain. He writes a weekly column for the Guardian newspaper. Visit his website at www.monbiot.com

http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/02/07-5

prejudice…Canadian study that people with conservative beliefs are likely to be of low intelligence…. research showing that low general intelligence in childhood predicts greater prejudice towards people of different ethnicity or sexuality in adulthood. Open-mindedness, flexibility, trust in other people: all these require certain cognitive abilities. Understanding and accepting others – particularly “different” others – requires an enhanced capacity for abstract thinking…. The Right’s Stupidity Spreads, Enabled by a Too-Polite Left

revisionist history Don’t take my word for it. Listen to what two former Republican ideologues, David Frum and Mike Lofgren, have been saying. Frum warns that “conservatives have built a whole alternative knowledge system, with its own facts, its own history, its own laws of economics”. The result is a “shift to ever more extreme, ever more fantasy-based ideology” which has “ominous real-world consequences for American society”…. The Right’s Stupidity Spreads, Enabled by a Too-Polite Left

low intelligence – Canadian study that people with conservative beliefs are likely to be of low intelligence…. research showing that low general intelligence in childhood predicts greater prejudice towards people of different ethnicity or sexuality in adulthood. Open-mindedness, flexibility, trust in other people: all these require certain cognitive abilities. Understanding and accepting others – particularly “different” others – requires an enhanced capacity for abstract thinking…This is not to suggest that all conservatives are stupid. There are some very clever people in government, advising politicians, running thinktanks and writing for newspapers, who have acquired power and influence by promoting rightwing ideologies…they now appeal to the basest, stupidest impulses, and find that it does them no harm in the polls. . The Right’s Stupidity Spreads, Enabled by a Too-Polite Left

revisionist history – Listen to what two former Republican ideologues, David Frum and Mike Lofgren, have been saying. Frum warns that “conservatives have built a whole alternative knowledge system, with its own facts, its own history, its own laws of economics”. The result is a “shift to ever more extreme, ever more fantasy-based ideology” which has “ominous real-world consequences for American society”…

But when I survey this wreckage I wonder who the real idiots are. The Right’s Stupidity Spreads, Enabled by a Too-Polite Left

progressive non-reaction… once-progressive major parties…triangulate and accommodate, hesitate and prevaricate, muzzled by what he calls “terminal niceness”. They fail to produce a coherent analysis of what has gone wrong and why, or to make an uncluttered case for social justice, redistribution and regulation. The conceptual stupidities of conservatism are matched by the strategic stupidities of liberalism. The Right’s Stupidity Spreads, Enabled by a Too-Polite Left

supremacy of the stupid – Yes, conservatism thrives on low intelligence and poor information. But the liberals in politics on both sides of the Atlantic continue to back off, yielding to the supremacy of the stupid. It’s turkeys all the way down. The Right’s Stupidity Spreads, Enabled by a Too-Polite Left

Where the past isn’t even past. Right and Left in Democratic Politics: The Long View

by Rick Perlstein, The Nation, March 18, 2013

It was only after the ascension of Franklin Delano Roosevelt that the Democratic party began to be regarded as fundamentally liberal.

Here’s a pet peeve of mine. It’s when people refer to the “democratic wing of the Democratic Party.” Or who say of a Democrat who makes consistent moves to the right, “Why doesn’t he just join the Republicans?” It’s not the underlying sentiment; I want Democrats to stop doing right-wing stuff as badly as anyone. The problem is descriptive—and, ultimately, strategic. The fact is that the Democratic Party in modern times has always had a conservative wing, one frequently as strong or stronger than its liberal wing, and as such, when progressives speak of the party as a vehicle that naturally belongs to them, as if by right—until conservatives stole it from them—they weaken progressivism. The fact is, the history of the Democratic Party has always been one of ideological civil war. And if you don’t realize you’re in a war, how can you win it?

Let’s review the game tape. Take it all the way back to 1924—when both parties had both left- and right-wing factions (before that year, the great progressive reformer Robert “Fighting Bob” Lafollette of Wisconsin was a Republican), when there was no reason to believe the Democrats would be the ones to become the nation’s established left-of-center party, and when at the presidential nominating convention the civil war came down to 103 ballots (and gubernatorial fistfights on the convention floor) over issues like Prohibition and whether the party should be for the Ku Klux Klan or against it.

It was of course with the ascension of Franklin Roosevelt in 1932 and after that the idea of the Democrats as an institutionally liberal party became credible, though many delegates who voted for him at the convention didn’t necessary think or know they were voting for a liberal. Many voters didn’t think so, either, but just marked the ballot for him because he had a “D” beside his name: They were Southerners, and saw the Democrats as the only political bulwark against the racial mongrelization of America. The progress of the New Deal, we now understand, rested on a fragile and complicated coalition joining visionary progressives and the most fearful reactionaries—and when an overconfident Roosevelt overreached to try to put the reactionaries in their place, in 1938, he almost lost control of the whole thing.

With the coming of the civil rights era, the war played out against that precise template: Northern progressives asserting themselves, Southern reactionaries threatening to pack up their votes and go elsewhere—a melodrama that began with a bang in 1948 when Strom Thurmond led Dixiecrats out of the convention and into his own segregationist presidential run, and reached its apotheosis in 1964 when five Southern states went for Goldwater. That, of course, truly began the slow steady transition to ideological realignment, with more and more Southern Democrats voting Republican in each election.

But, wouldn’t you know it, a new issue immediately arose to muddy anew what it meant to be a Democrat. In 1968 the floor of the convention once more split right down the middle, fistfights included, this time over the question over whether the Vietnam War was a good thing or a bad thing. But the end of the war didn’t bring ideological unity, either. In fact, the fist post-Vietnam election, post-Watergate, in 1974, inaugurated today’s order of battle between the right- and left-leaning wings of the party. Democrats gained forty-nine seats in the House and three in the Senate, giving the party of Jefferson and Jackson an approximate two-to-one advantage over the Republicans. People assumed a liberal deluge was in the offing, Congressional Quarterly noted predictions that the 94th Congress would become “a labor-orchestrated puppet show.” Ronald Reagan said, “The small fires that at first threatened free enterprise are growing daily into full-scale four-alarm blazes,” predicting, “We’re going to see a flood of expensive, spectacular, and ill-conceived legislation which can’t be derailed or even tempered by the voices of moderation.”

In fact, something like the opposite happened—as could have been predicted by the language of the “Watergate Babies” on the campaign trail.

Thirty-six-year-old Gary Hart was more or less the ideologist of the bunch. His memoir of the McGovern presidential campaign, which he had managed two years earlier, called liberalism “near bankruptcy.”Time called him a “liberal.” “Traditional ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ slogans,” he wrote back in an angry letter to the editor, “are simply not adequate to cope.” He said the best way out of the energy crisis was “to work together. There will be a lot more cooperative ventures between the environmentalists and the energy developers.” His stock speech, “The End of the New Deal,” argued that his party was hamstrung by the very ideology that was supposed to be its glory—that “if there is a problem, create an agency and throw money at the problem.” It included lines that could have come from Commentary, the neoconservative magazine Jerry Brown, who was friends with Hart, liked to read and quote. Like: “The ballyhooed War on Poverty succeeded only in raising the expectations, but not the living conditions, of the poor.” (That was false: the poverty rate was 17.3 percent when LBJ’s Economic Opportunity Act was enacted in 1964 and 11.2 percent as Gary Hart spoke.) He called those who “clung to the Roosevelt model long after it had ceased to relate to reality,” who still thought the workers, farmers and blacks of the New Deal coalition were where the votes were, “Eleanor Roosevelt Democrats.” He held them in open contempt. His outmaneuvered opponent, a once-popular two-term conservative incumbent, said Hart seemed to be “trying to get to the right of Attila the Hun.” A 32-year-old congressman-elect from Michigan, James Blanchard, said “I’m not entirely sure what my political philosophy is.”

There was a political reason for this. These new Democrats, seeds for Bill Clinton’s capital-n New Democrats, were replacing Republicans in predominantly suburban districts. They spoke to the desires of a white-collar constituency—and not that of the fading urban proleteriat (“We’re not a bunch of little Hubert Humphreys,” Hart famously said). And though many of them, including Hart, frequently did yeoman’s work to reimagine progressivism for a new generation (for instance, in the field of environmentalism), some of them, and their immediate successors, also did yeoman’s work selling off great chunks of the old Democratic agenda to corporate bidders—like Tony Coelho, the California congressman elected in 1978 who became head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 1980. Exulted a Dallas venture capitalist about this new/old breed of Democrat in a 1986 profile of Coelho, “I’m one of the biggest contributors to the Governor of Texas, but can I get him on the telephone? Hell, no. Sometimes it takes a week. I call Tony any hour fo the day or night and he gets back to me immediately. Some days he just calls to ask how I’m doing. That pleases me tremendously.”

This battle goes way back. It’s written into the Democratic Party’s DNA. Acknowledge the other side, study them—take them seriously. Don’t let them play the underdog; that just advantages them, too. We’re in a fight here—always have been. They think they are the party—just as confidently as we believe we’re the party. The only way to make our vision of this party a reality is to work for it—and not to act surprised when their side works for it, too.

http://www.thenation.com/blog/173393/right-and-left-democratic-politics-long-view#

GOP must slip its ugly skin by Jeffrey Kolnick

StarTribune, August 22, 2012

A look back at U.S. history uncovers an undeniable vein of intolerance and right-wing fanaticism. Recent discussions about the 150th anniversary of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 revealed ugly calls for genocide and ethnic cleansing by Gov. Alexander Ramsey.

Ramsey was a Republican. But from the birth of the Republican Party in 1854 until about 1965, the real home of right-wing fanaticism was the Democratic Party.

In our own time, the far right has migrated to the Republican Party, where today it is challenging for that party’s soul.

Democrats dominated the Southern part of the United States after the Civil War and ruled Dixie in the interests of white manhood. In 1928, Ulrich Bonnell Phillips, the dean of Southern historians, proclaimed that maintaining the South as a “white man’s country” was the “central theme” in Southern history.

The South experienced regularized and public lynching for more than 50 years; disenfranchised millions of black voters, and created a segregated system of life that was dramatically unequal.

But the Democratic Party was a complicated organization. As the great American humorist Will Rogers said long ago: “I am not a member of any organized party. I am a Democrat.”

And sure enough, as the Democratic Party reorganized itself in the North following the Civil War, it became the home of millions of immigrants, most of them from Eastern and Southern Europe, and many of them Catholic and Jewish.

In 1924, the Northern wing asserted itself at the Democratic National Convention. New York Gov. Alfred E. Smith attempted to become the first Catholic to be nominated for president by a major party. Before the nomination battle, Smith’s forces attempted to pass a resolution condemning the Ku Klux Klan. The resolution failed, and, after 103 ballots, so did Smith’s run for president.

In 1928, Smith would win his party’s nomination. And 32 years later, Democrat John Kennedy would become our first Catholic president.

Al Smith and his supporters had challenged the anti-Catholic bigotry and the Ku Klux Klan that dominated the Democratic Party. After 1928, those who felt committed to anti-Catholicism had to find a new party.

Twenty years later, at the 1948 Democratic Convention, Minneapolis Mayor Hubert Humphrey delivered a speech declaring that “the time has now arrived in America for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of states’ rights and walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights.”

After Humphrey challenged the white supremacists for power, the entire Mississippi and Alabama delegations walked out of the convention and soon, with other Southern states, formed the so-called Dixiecrat party. Led by South Carolina Gov. Strom Thurmond, the Dixiecrats’ platform left no doubt about where they stood: “We stand for the segregation of the races and the racial integrity of each race.”

Americans like to believe that with the triumph of the civil-rights and women’s movements, the nation overcame its legacy of intolerance. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The far right did not disappear. It suffered setbacks between 1954 and 1973, but it never gave up, nor did it fade away.

And now, the radical right feels empowered and is challenging to dominate the Republican Party.

Just as Hubert Humphrey used to sit in caucus with notorious racists, today well-meaning Republicans caucus with crazy folk like Missouri congressman Todd Akin, who believes that women who are “legitimately” raped can shake it off to prevent a pregnancy.

Well-meaning Republicans caucus with colleagues who would deny basic human rights to gays; who oppose birth control; who protest background checks for buying the most lethal forms of firearms; who question the loyalty of Muslim Americans, and who deny the legitimacy of the president’s citizenship.

Courageous Democrats fought a struggle for the soul of their party and won. If the same struggle were to happen within the Republican Party, we might at last become a nation where no national party welcomes the intolerant and the bigoted. But who among the Republicans has the courage of Alfred E. Smith or Hubert Humphrey?

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Jeffrey Kolnick is an associate professor of history at Southwest Minnesota State University.

http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentaries/167110315.html?refer=y