Jon Chait calls our attention to Robert Draper’s piece in the New York Times Magazine this week about Priorities USA Action, a Democratic super PAC run by Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney. Here’s a lovely little excerpt:
Burton and his colleagues spent the early months of 2012 trying out the pitch that Romney was the most far-right presidential candidate since Barry Goldwater. It fell flat. The public did not view Romney as an extremist. For example, when Priorities informed a focus group that Romney supported the Ryan budget plan — and thus championed “ending Medicare as we know it” — while also advocating tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, the respondents simply refused to believe any politician would do such a thing.
After countless debates and arguments about politics, I have certainly found this strange phenomenon to be true. I know plenty of people who are smart, sane, and relatively well-informed who simply refuse to believe that some of the crazy extremist stuff that comes from Republican mouths are FOR REAL.
Take for example, Ron Paul lovers. Most of these guys that I know are really cool, into self-sufficiency and personal accountability, and really love Paul’s libertarian message. I, too, like that part of his message. Where I get off the Paul train is when he says that free markets and business can regulate themselves without government interference. No, they can’t. Time and time again they have proven that rampant and unchecked capitalism leads to massive inequality and abuses of power. Period. I also think that we should take care of our own-the sick, the disabled, children, and the elderly deserve protection. Also, somehow in Paul’s philosophy, he condones invasive intrusion into a woman’s autonomy by opposing her right to choose, even in cases of incest and rape. When I point out this strange and seemingly contradictory stance to Paulites, they often say that this is just a talking point that he espouses to gain popularity. Really? He wants to end all wars, get rid of nearly all government agencies and THIS is his concession? It’s nonsensical.
Perhaps Paul isn’t the best example, however, since his anti-war stance has left him dead in the water. So many mainstream Republicans, including Mitt Romney, are running on the platform of cutting costs mainly on the backs of the poor. Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, etc., are all on the chopping block. This is backed up by actual legislation and budget proposals put forth by Paul Ryan and others. It is in black and white and enshrined on video forever. Somehow, the elderly and many of the poor don’t seem to see how that pertains to them and their way of life. I often scoff and tell myself these people are just stupid idiots and completely deserving of whatever befalls them for not being an informed electorate, but bleeding-heart that I am, can’t muster enough scorn to truly embrace that cruel opinion.
Many Republican friends and family members think that Romney and other candidates say these things to get elected. They must play “to the base.” I would love it if “the base” included the sane members of the electorate. Most people I know, whether conservative or liberal, are actually somewhat in the middle on most issues. No one likes unchecked debt and most support some fiscal responsibility and budgeting. Most people don’t really care if it’s Adam and Eve or Adam and Steve. Most people support a woman’s right to choose what’s best for her own body, though we prefer she not be either a baby machine or use abortion as birth control.
If the base includes only the far right or left of the parties, we get something like the Tea Party-driven agenda that plagues us all. Since their ideologically ridiculous platform drove the narrative during the last election, we have seen the fruits of their wingnuttery blossom all over the country. Suddenly, police officers, firefighters and teachers are seen as moochers. Personhood amendments are threatening to make miscarriages illegal. Voter suppression measures are cropping up across the nation. Aid to the poor and hungry is facing draconian cutbacks.
I would for balance include a far-left example of this, but I’m failing to come up with an equivalent to the tea party’s influence on mainstream politics. Yes, we have Occupy, but so far there’s no corresponding change in public policy that I can see. Also, I just don’t see Occupy as unhinged leftists. Advocating banking regulation doesn’t seem very anarchist to me. But, I am willing to concede bias.
“The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment.” – Robert M. Hutchins
The point is, we do ourselves a disservice if we no longer take politicians at their word. If they SAY they are going to cut Medicare and privatize Social Security, we should not be interpreting this as a winking concession to the far-right that will never be actively implemented. Current events prove that extremism has had a huge effect on public policy. The fact that school vouchers are being used for fundamentalist schools that teach that the Loch Ness monster is real and that the earth is 6,000 years old is proof positive that hard-right agendas are coming to pass. Apathy and cynicism are going to destroy this country if we don’t demand more from our leaders. The very basic and most important of these demands is honesty.