The Radicalization of the GOP is the Most Important Political Story Today

by Joshua Holland, Bill Moyers.com, October 10, 2013

Excerpt

…Arguably, the most important political story of our time – one necessary to understanding the last five years of so-called “gridlock” in Washington, DC – is one that journalists wedded to the idea that ‘both sides do it’ are uncomfortable reporting: the wildly asymmetric polarization of our two major political parties as Democrats inched to the left and Republicans lurched to the right… Dan Balz, senior correspondent for The Washington Post, … He attributes it to “a deepening red-blue divide in America [that] has made this era of politics the most polarized in more than a century.”

The bonds that once helped produce political consensus have gradually eroded, replaced by competing camps that live in parallel universes, have sharply divergent worldviews and express more distrust of opponents than they did decades ago. Many activists describe the stakes in apocalyptic terms…. Yale political scientist Jacob Hacker used this data for his 2006 book, Off Center, in which he noted that since 1975, Senate Republicans have moved twice as far to the right as their Democratic counterparts have moved to the left. Of course, this shutdown is being driven by the Republican-controlled House, and in the lower chamber Hacker found that Republicans had shifted six times further to the right than their Democratic counterparts went to the left… the ideological center… has shifted dramatically to the right over the last 30 years…. Thomas Mann, of the Brookings Institution, and Norman Ornstein, of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, from their book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks:

One of our two major parties, the Republicans, has become an insurgent outlier—ideologically extreme, contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime, scornful of compromise, unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science, and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

full text

There is no doubt that at the root of this crisis is a deeply polarized public. But, the key aspect of this story is that the Republican Party veered toward the extreme of its ideological orientation just as the country was becoming more diverse and tolerant – and as the most progressive generation in 70 years was coming of age – and that dissonance has driven them to cast off the legislative norms that have traditionally made our divided government work.

Rep. Peter King (R-NY) once claimed that “80 to 85 percent of mosques in this country are controlled by Islamic fundamentalists” and called those who worship in them “an enemy living amongst us.” He held McCarthyesque hearings into the supposed “radicalization of American Muslims,” parading a line of prominent bigots through the House Homeland Security Committee.

He’s an outspoken advocate of the war on terror – The New York Times called him “the Patriot Act’s most fervent supporter” – and has been a leading figure politicizing the attacks on our consular office and CIA station in Benghazi. King was a fierce opponent of George W. Bush’s efforts to reform the immigration system. He railed against the Occupy movement, and opposed both the 2009 stimulus package and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. He called for the prosecution of journalist Glenn Greenwald for reporting Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks. He has a 100 percent rating from the National Right to Life Committee and a zero percent rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America. The Drum Major Institute gave him a seven percent rating for his votes on issues of importance to the middle class last year.

In the past few weeks, dozens of political journalists have dubbed him a moderate. In fact, he’s been anointed a leader among the Republican moderates. He earned that label because, like other New York pols, he doesn’t blindly support the National Rifle Association, and because he opposes shutting down the government and threatening to unleash a potential economic catastrophe in a hopeless quest to defund Obamacare. That’s it. That’s how low the bar of moderation in the Republican Party now falls.

Arguably, the most important political story of our time – one necessary to understanding the last five years of so-called “gridlock” in Washington, DC – is one that journalists wedded to the idea that ‘both sides do it’ are uncomfortable reporting: the wildly asymmetric polarization of our two major political parties as Democrats inched to the left and Republicans lurched to the right.

This week, Dan Balz, senior correspondent for The Washington Post, took a deep dive into the roots of the latest crisis. He attributes it to “a deepening red-blue divide in America [that] has made this era of politics the most polarized in more than a century.”

The bonds that once helped produce political consensus have gradually eroded, replaced by competing camps that live in parallel universes, have sharply divergent worldviews and express more distrust of opponents than they did decades ago. Many activists describe the stakes in apocalyptic terms.

Balz covers a lot of ground, noting that red districts have become redder and blue districts bluer. He points out that there are fewer districts in which one party won the congressional vote while the other party got more votes in the last presidential election and notes that conservative Democrats or liberal Republicans no longer exist in Congress. He talks about the role gerrymandering has playedin this and the even greater impact of natural migration patterns that concentrated Democrats into tightly packed urban districts while Republicans got the advantage in suburban and rural areas.

But, he didn’t discuss the most important political trend of our time. Only toward the end of the piece, on the fifth and final page, did he offer a throwaway observation that, “Republicans have shifted more to the right than Democrats have shifted to the left,” before adding, “but on both sides passions are stronger than they were two decades ago.”

This anodyne statement glosses over the radicalization of the Republican Party since the 1980s. That shift isn’t merely a matter of opinion. Political scientists Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal developed a statistical measure of lawmakers’ voting records that allows scholars to study the dynamics in Congress empirically. The system, known as DW-NOMINATE, ranks legislators according to how far they veer from the midline of congressional votes.

Yale political scientist Jacob Hacker used this data for his 2006 book, Off Center, in which he noted that since 1975, Senate Republicans have moved twice as far to the right as their Democratic counterparts have moved to the left. Of course, this shutdown is being driven by the Republican-controlled House, and in the lower chamber Hacker found that Republicans had shifted six times further to the right than their Democratic counterparts went to the left.

On the DW-Nominate scale, -1.000 represents the position of the most liberal vote, while +1.000 is that of the most conservative. The bigger a lawmaker’s number, the further his or her record is from Congress’s center. In the 100th Congress (1987-1989), only around four percent of Republicans had a score over 0.600, but by the last Congress almost a quarter of the Republican caucus fell into that group. The same dynamic wasn’t apparent on the Democratic side of the aisle: The share of Democrats who scored between -0.600 and -1.000 rose from slightly less than six percent of the caucus in 1989 to just over nine percent in the last Congress.

But that’s not the whole story. DW-Nominate scores don’t measure lawmakers’ liberalism or conservatism. They measure how far their votes are from other votes in the same Congress. As such, it doesn’t factor in shifts in the ideological center itself. That center has shifted dramatically to the right over the last 30 years.

In a 2012 article for The New Yorker, Ryan Lizza quoted Thomas Mann, of the Brookings Institution, and Norman Ornstein, of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, from their book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks:

One of our two major parties, the Republicans, has become an insurgent outlier—ideologically extreme, contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime, scornful of compromise, unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science, and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

There is no doubt that at the root of this crisis is a deeply polarized public. But, the key aspect of this story is that the Republican Party veered toward the extreme of its ideological orientation just as the country was becoming more diverse and tolerant – and as the most progressive generation in 70 years was coming of age – and that dissonance has driven them to cast off the legislative norms that have traditionally made our divided government work.

Joshua Holland is a senior digital producer for BillMoyers.com. He’s the author of The Fifteen Biggest Lies About the Economy (and Everything Else the Right Doesn’t Want You to Know about Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America) (Wiley: 2010), and host of Politics and Reality Radio. Follow him on Twitter or drop him an email at hollandj [at] moyersmedia [dot] com.

http://billmoyers.com/2013/10/10/the-radicalization-of-the-gop-is-the-most-important-political-story-today/

Obama: A pragmatic moderate faces the ‘socialist’ smear by Norman J. Ornstein

Washington Post, April 14, 2010

In the 1950s, Democratic senators from the solidly Democratic South uniformly supported segregation and opposed civil rights and voting rights bills. They dutifully spent long hours on the Senate floor filibustering such efforts. Legend has it that during one marathon filibuster, after Olin Johnston of South Carolina, a populist liberal on economic matters, handed off the baton to Strom Thurmond, Johnston went into the cloakroom where many of his colleagues were seated, gestured back toward the Senate floor, and said, “Old Strom, he really believes that [expletive].”
This story came to mind with the recent blizzard of attacks on Barack Obama by Republican presidential wannabes and other office-seekers, along with their allies on cable television and talk radio. The most extravagant rhetoric has come out of the gathering of Southern Republicans in New Orleans, led by former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who called Obama “the most radical president in American history” and urged his partisan audience to stop Obama’s “secular, socialist machine.”
At the same conference, Liz Cheney, the former vice president’s daughter who is often mentioned as a possible Senate candidate from Virginia, fiercely attacked Obama’s foreign policy as “apologize for America, abandon our allies and appease our enemies.” And last week the ubiquitous Sarah Palin said of the arms-control treaty Obama signed with Russia, “No administration in America’s history would, I think, ever have considered such a step,” likening it to a kid telling others in a playground fight, “Go ahead, punch me in the face and I’m not going to retaliate.”
On talk radio, Rush Limbaugh accused Obama of administering “statist-assisted suicide.” Talk show host Michael Savage called Obama’s health-care plan “socialized medicine” and described the nuclear treaty as “insane.” These are not isolated comments; the terms “radical,” “socialist” and even “totalitarian” are bandied about frequently by Obama opponents, including congressional and other GOP leaders.
To one outside the partisan and ideological wars, charges of radicalism, socialism, retreat and surrender are, frankly, bizarre. The Democrats’ health-reform plan includes no public option and relies on managed competition through exchanges set up much like those for federal employees. The individual mandate in the plan sprang from a Heritage Foundation idea that was endorsed years ago by a range of conservatives and provided the backbone of the Massachusetts plan that was crafted and, until recently, heartily defended by Mitt Romney. It would be fair to describe the new act as Romneycare crossed with the managed-competition bill proposed in 1994 by Republican Sens. John Chafee, David Durenberger, Charles Grassley and Bob Dole — in other words, as a moderate Republican plan. Among its supporters is Durenberger, no one’s idea of a radical socialist.
What about Obama’s other domestic initiatives? The stimulus was anything but radical — indeed, many mainstream observers, me included, thought it was too timid in size and scope given the enormity of the problems. The plan could have been more focused on swift and directed stimulus. It included such diversions as a fix for the alternative minimum tax — at the insistence of Grassley. And it excluded some “shovel-ready” ideas such as school construction — at the insistence of Republican Sen. Susan Collins. It did not include the kind of public works jobs program employed by Franklin Roosevelt. Nonetheless, it has been widely credited with ameliorating the worst effects of the downturn and helping to move us back toward economic growth. The widely criticized Troubled Assets Relief Program — initiated by Obama’s predecessor — is now returning to the Treasury most of the taxpayer money laid out to keep us from depression and deflation.
It is true that, in an attempt to head off a meltdown stemming from a collapse of the automobile industry, Obama engineered a temporary takeover of two of the Big Three auto companies. But nothing suggests that this is anything but temporary, and Obama has resisted many calls to take over major banks and other financial institutions.
The nuclear treaty with Russia excoriated by Palin, Savage and others was endorsed by Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, the GOP’s resident foreign policy expert, and it was crafted under Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who was first appointed to that post by George W. Bush. Obama’s approach to terrorism has been similar to Bush’s, while more aggressively targeting leaders of terrorist groups; his larger foreign policy has received the seal of approval from James Baker, former chief of staff to Ronald Reagan and secretary of state to George H.W. Bush. Obama’s energy policies include more nuclear power and more offshore drilling. Obama’s education policies have received wide acclaim across the political spectrum. The “secular” president has shored up and supported federal faith-based initiatives, to the dismay of many in his base.
Looking at the range of Obama domestic and foreign policies, and his agency and diplomatic appointments, my conclusion is clear: This president is a mainstream, pragmatic moderate, operating in the center of American politics; center-left, perhaps, but not left of center. The most radical president in American history? Does Newt Gingrich, a PhD in history, really believe that [expletive]?
The writer is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/13/AR2010041303686.html