Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 8, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

"THANK GOD FOR TALK RADIO!"....Why is Tom Tancredo such a monomaniac on the subject of illegal immigration? In an interview on our radio show with Markos Kounalakis and Peter Laufer, he explains that a lot of it isn't about winning, it's about redefining the playing field:

What happens is, you provide people with some space to get into where they can say, "That guy is a racist xenophobe. That guy is just so crazy that we can take a more moderate stance."

....I have to set the bar as high as I can. I'm being completely candid with you. If I had actually set out to become president, then of course it would be ludicrous for me to do it in the way I'm doing it. I don't have that as my goal; I never have. The only way I can get on that plane and go to Iowa or New Hampshire and spend night after night in hotels in places you've never even heard of is by saying, "Think about why you're doing this, Tom. It is because the issue is important. You are the person that is advancing it." I have the luxury of saying, "I will set the goalposts as far as I can down the field because then I will have a better chance of getting the game played on my side."

So: Politics 101. Stake out an ultra-extreme position so that when the rest of your party endorses a merely extreme position it looks like it's a moderate compromise.

Question: why don't liberals do this? The stock answer is that we're wimps, but I don't think that's it. At least, not always. I think the answer is talk radio. Our extremists don't succeed in redefining the playing field because there's no institutional infrastructure behind them that converts lunacy into political pressure. But conservative extremists have talk radio, which can mobilize hundreds of thousands of phone calls in a single day if they put their mind to it. Tancredo himself explains what happened a few months ago when the White House tried to push through a proposal he didn't like: "The phones at the Senate offices were shut down because of overload. On Tuesday, we had only thirty-six senators on our side, and on Thursday, we had fifty-three. Every single vote that changed was a senator running for reelection in 2008. Thank God for talk radio and the Internet!"

Kevin Drum 12:52 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (74)

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(Note to Calpundit/Washington Monthly supreme being Kevin: This is the first election day in all my 15 years in California that there was no election -- not one thing to vote for, not a single statewide initiative, no local initiatives, no county or city issues, nothing. My wife and I were so used to voting on ten pages of ballots in November and May, and usually a run-off in December on even-numbered elective office years. Anyway, history is made! No damn initiatives to vote on this year! Let's make it a habit.)

Posted by: anonymous on November 8, 2007 at 1:08 AM | PERMALINK

Maybe on this particular issue the answer is Lou Dobbs.

Posted by: KathyF on November 8, 2007 at 1:12 AM | PERMALINK

In a sense what he is talking about is that overton window thingy people were discussing last year.

And we don't do it, because our gutless politicians are too worried about being reelected than acting as leaders.

If we were organized, we could find people in safe seats, or retiring, or who needed some notoriety and ask them to take point and draw the fire and provide cover (note I have no understanding of military strategy or tactics) for our party leaders and leading senators to advance more moderate positions.

That we don't do this is not because we're not smart enough to figure it out, it's because each and every pol doesn't give a shit and is much more interested in their career and perks than in advancing the ball.

Posted by: jerry on November 8, 2007 at 1:16 AM | PERMALINK

Don't kid yourself. The strong opposition to illegal immigration goes far deeper than the fringe.

Tancredo is correct on strategy, however. By going out front and taking the hits, he proved how deep the reservoir of anger is. Tancredo was the canary who lived. Not only didn't he get hurt, he actually thrived by hammering on illegal immigration. His success, followed by the polls showing that people were more likely to agree with him than not, opened the door for more. That made it safe for others to go out there and brave the screams of "racist!", knowing that a huge percentage of the population agreed with them.

We're now approaching the point where we aren't only talking about illegal immigration, but even tiptoeing towards curbing legal immigration. All that in fewer than five years.

Immigration, like welfare, is an issue where the elites of both parties were significantly out of touch with the public. That's the only time that you can use the Tancredo approach.

Liberals can't do this because there isn't an issue in the world on which the public is further out to the left than the politicians are.

Posted by: Cal on November 8, 2007 at 1:18 AM | PERMALINK

The main difference is that what counts as forging new ground on the Left is usually something that's fairly reasonable and not mixed in with racism.

Anyone who is pushing for single payer health care for all immediately, for example.

Posted by: Boronx on November 8, 2007 at 1:26 AM | PERMALINK

It would be nice if the interview were complete ...

"The rest goes here. Don't forget to fill in the page header."

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot on November 8, 2007 at 1:29 AM | PERMALINK

Liberal issues by definition are going to be of main concern to those without much money or power. Since the politicians and the media bigwigs have some of both, they cannot, in general, effectively speak for those issues. Even if they try to do so, the charge of hypocrisy will easily stick to, for example, a multi-millionaire senator incessantly talking about the miseries of a single mom working two jobs to barely make the ends meet.

A leader like JFK or RFK, who can easily overcome the inherent handicap of a well to do person taking positions that are not in the best interest of his economic class, comes along only once in a generation, if at all.

Posted by: gregor on November 8, 2007 at 1:32 AM | PERMALINK

Liberals can't do this because there isn't an issue in the world on which the public is further out to the left than the politicians are.

I call bullshit.

Social Security
Healthcare
Iraq
Bankruptcy law
Corporate Welfare
Tax law
Product safety
Environmental law
etc bloody etc

Posted by: craigie on November 8, 2007 at 1:39 AM | PERMALINK

"The main difference is that what counts as forging new ground on the Left is usually something that's fairly reasonable and not mixed in with racism. "

When your position depends on characterizing over half the public as racist, that's not a "main difference". That's a serious semantics issue.

As for single payer, that's a perfect example. While a good 60-70% of the voting public has indeed been somewhere between mildly annoyed and furious about illegal immigration, maybe 10% is longing for single payer health care. A good 40-50% is suspicious about it, and at least 20% oppose it wholeheartedly.

But yeah, the only difference between illegal immigration and single payer is that over half the US is a bunch of racist thugs.

Posted by: Cal on November 8, 2007 at 1:43 AM | PERMALINK

Why is illegal immigration an issue now?

Posted by: Tilli (Mojave Desert) on November 8, 2007 at 2:01 AM | PERMALINK

Why is illegal immigration an issue now?

Because the rest of the GOP talking points are in the toilet.

"Vote for us! We're incompetent criminals who want to transfer all your money to our rich friends, right after we torture brown people for being brown!" Kind of a tough sell, really.

Posted by: craigie on November 8, 2007 at 2:12 AM | PERMALINK

Time, I think, to mention the polls reported by "Polling Report.com" (the most compelte compendium of political polls I've found anywhere on the Web) on health insurance. There are quite a lot of them, but almost all of them mesh nicely in their content with the following ones.

(1) Quinnipiac, Oct. 26:

"Do you think it's the government's responsibility to provide health insurance for those who can't afford it? "Yes", 60-33.

"Do you support the federal government doing more to help pay for catastrophic health care costs?" "Yes", 70-23.

(2) ABC, Sept. 28: "Which political party do you trust to do a better job handling health care?" "Democrats, 56-26.






"Which do you think would be better for the country: having one health insurance program covering all Americans that would be administered by the government and paid for by taxpayers, or keeping the current system where many people get their insurance from private employers and some have no insurance?" Answer: Choice #1 by 55-29.



Posted by: BruceMoomaw on November 8, 2007 at 2:29 AM | PERMALINK

Typo on that last one (my Internet Explorer keeps breaking down lately). That last poll was CBS, Sept. 15.

Posted by: BruceMoomaw on November 8, 2007 at 2:32 AM | PERMALINK

"So: Politics 101. Stake out an ultra-extreme position so that when the rest of your party endorses a merely extreme position it looks like it's a moderate compromise. Question: why don't liberals do this?"

In point of fact, this is Ralph Nader's strategy for public policy advocacy. He quotes his hero, David Brower (the founder of the League of Conservation Voters), thusly, when noting Brower's eschewing of compromise and middle-of-the-roadism

"We are to hold fast to what we believe is right, fight for it, and find allies and adduce all possible arguments for our cause. If we cannot find enough vigor in us or them to win, then let someone else produce the compromise. We thereupon work hard to coax it our way. We become a nucleus around which the strongest force can build and function."

Patrick Meighan
Culver City, CA

Posted by: Patrick Meighan on November 8, 2007 at 2:56 AM | PERMALINK

Bruce--yeah, a whole big compilation of poll numbers is super-reliable. And even with that caveat, I'm surprised you think any of those numbers contradicts me.

Health insurance to those who "can't afford it" is not universal health care. Nor is government funding catastrophic health care. And there are a whole lot of other options than a choice between universal and employer-provided. Note, however, that I *underestimated* the amount of people flat out opposed to universal health care--30%, not 20%.

But even with all those caveats, you miss the point. Kevin was asking why liberals don't stake out an extreme position to give people room to maneuver. But universal health care has to be *sold*. There isn't a groundswell out there for it.

The equivalent of Tom Tancredo on single payer would be a politician saying "Let's up the payroll tax to 40%, ban private insurance, and enact universal health care and paid sick leave for everyone." Then, presumably, someone would come along and say no, let's just make the tax 20%, no paid sick leave, and ban private insurance except for elective surgery.

That's what Kevin is envisioning. The problem is that the original proposal would do the *opposite* of what Tancredo did with illegal immigration. The proposal would instantly infuriate everyone and make universal health care a much harder sell.

Posted by: Cal on November 8, 2007 at 2:58 AM | PERMALINK

Hispano-fascism is the greatest danger we face today. Must be a reason Latins flee their own culture, right? And when the migration into our country takes off (we are probably just seeing the beginning) and we are overrun, the PC libs will understand, but not until. They are too stupid.

Posted by: Luther on November 8, 2007 at 3:19 AM | PERMALINK

Cal sarcastically scolds: yeah, a whole big compilation of poll numbers is super-reliable.

As opposed to your method of pulling numbers out of your ass?

Next time don't articulate your stupidity in flashing neon.

Posted by: Disputo on November 8, 2007 at 3:46 AM | PERMALINK

Actually, it's because liberals see the world in complex ways and if you see complexity you can't take extreme positions. The consequence is, of course, that liberals come off looking like wimps (or flip floppers ... which to many probably appears like another face of wimpery).

Posted by: Callimaco on November 8, 2007 at 3:56 AM | PERMALINK

Health insurance to those who "can't afford it" is not universal health care... Note, however, that I *underestimated* the amount of people flat out opposed to universal health care--30%, not 20%.

The 30% against "universal health care" that you cite comes from the CBS poll quoted by Bruce M., right? The same poll shows 60% support for what, to use your words, is "universal health care".

Posted by: JS on November 8, 2007 at 4:09 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

What on earth do you think Dennis Kucinich is doing? Do you think he's running because he wants to be president, or because he wants to keep the actual Left-wing positions in the public eye?

But I agree about talk radio. If Clear Channel were owned by Leftists, Dennis would be treated with a lot more respect.

Posted by: CharlesS on November 8, 2007 at 4:09 AM | PERMALINK

"Question: why don't liberals do this? "

He asks this on the day that Kucinich moved to impeach Cheney.

Kevin, you need to pull your head out of the bubble for a while.

Posted by: a on November 8, 2007 at 4:15 AM | PERMALINK

CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll. May 4-6, 2007:

"Do you think the government should provide a national health insurance program for all Americans, even if this would require higher taxes?"

Yes: 64%
No: 35%
Unsure: 2%

Posted by: JS on November 8, 2007 at 4:27 AM | PERMALINK

So...Drumster...are you the guy who referred to Ron Paul as a "fruitcake" just recently? Really? A fruitcake?? Good grief. Sounds a little panicky.

Posted by: Fred Stonehouse on November 8, 2007 at 4:27 AM | PERMALINK

"The 30% against "universal health care" that you cite comes from the CBS poll quoted by Bruce M., right? The same poll shows 60% support for what, to use your words, is "universal health care"."

No, it shows 60% support for single payer over employer provided health care. As I said already, it was a choice. So the negative--that is, taking anything else over single payer--is reasonably valid, but the positive--taking single payer over one option--can't be used as evidence that 60% of the nation supports single payer.

In fact, no poll showing support *for* single payer is valid without including or excluding the private insurance out. Single payer won't ever happen, full stop, without a private insurance out. And anyone who wants to see single payer provide meaningful coverage has to know that private insurance can't be available.


However, you're still missing the point. If there's this secret groundswell of support for single payer, and all the politicians are just too scaredycat to come out and make a play for it because they fear the wrath of the insurance companies, then it's ripe for a Tancredo move. I outlined what should work if that's true. Anyone who thinks the proposal I outlined above would do anything but terrify everyone has been drinking too much koolaid.

Posted by: Cal on November 8, 2007 at 4:37 AM | PERMALINK

We shut down the phone lines over Mukasey. The difference here is that this issue is not about a policy position on illegal immigration. The actual republican policy position on illegal immigration is to retain it. If they were serious about eliminating they would direct enforcement not at millions of mobile illegals, but at the thousands of stationary places of employment, and the owners of those places of employment who are hete legally. Yes, they are operting their businesses illegally, circumventing American labor law by employing illegals. Fining them when they do this would make them stop doing it. Then the problem would be gone. All that woudl be left are the nannies and the day laborers, which is not a problem.

What is actually happening is that republicans are continuing the politics of the Southern Strategy. This issue is the new way to tell their "base" that they will deal with the brown people the way they deserve to be dealt with. This is a doomed strategy, going forward, which Rove, who can do arithmetic recognized, because the country is getting browner (they know this; periodically one of them pipes on the need for more white people to have more kids),

It didn't work in state and local elextions in NY, this time (http://slurl.com/secondlife/InWorld%20Studios/36/60/30). But this is this cycle's dog whistle to the racists.

Note that we've been shutting down phone lines over Mukasey (here's another case for Cal where the public is well to the left of the Congress [where does s/he think the 11 percent rating comes from? Or a Democratic Congress polling better among republicans than democrats? Or, DUH, the public view on the occupation of Iraq?)

The reason Tancredo was able to move votes by enraging the base on immigration is that it is a proxy for a voting issue, echoing George Wallace's "I won't get out-seggied again."

Kevin's being something of a sucker on this one. This is not really about illegal immigration, just like voter ID laws are not about fraud or attacks on welfare about the poor. As I said, it's a doomed strategy, but it's what got the current crop into congress--and the presidency.

Thank Richard Nixon and Lee Atwater.

Posted by: jayackroyd on November 8, 2007 at 5:14 AM | PERMALINK

Evidently I'm going to have to repeat to Cal that Sept. 15 CBS poll: "Which do you think would be better for the country: having one health insurance program covering all Americans that would be administered by the government and paid for by taxpayers, or KEEPING THE CURRENT SYSTEM [emphasis mine] where many people get their insurance from private employers and some have no insurance?" Answer: Choice #1 by 55-29. The current system, of course, includes private health insurance for many.

Posted by: BruceMoomaw on November 8, 2007 at 5:43 AM | PERMALINK

Robert Parry over at consortiumnews.com has been writing about this for years. After Watergate, former Treasury Secretary William Simon (of the Coke bottle lens glasses) and others plowed millions of dollars into building a media infrastructure (radio, newspapers, book publishing houses) that dwarfs anything liberals have. As a result, they have an echo chamber that sounds a lot louder to politicians than the actual number of people in it. That is how they turned a 14 yr. old bad real estate investment by Bill Clinton into a eight-year, $150 million investigation that looked at every check he ever wrote and even got into the curvature of his penis. It will also be how they destroy Hillary Clinton's presidency when she gets elected. This media influence imbalance also explains why the Democrats haven't even got George W. Bush to come clean on how many times he has been arrested.

Liberals have simply been outspent and outmanuveured.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on November 8, 2007 at 5:46 AM | PERMALINK

God has nothing to do with it.

Posted by: Kenji on November 8, 2007 at 5:49 AM | PERMALINK

Let's also note that the alternative system which seems to be considered the best in the world by many observers -- France's -- manages to combine single-payer with private insurance quite nicely ( http://blogs.tnr.com/tnr/blogs/the_plank/archive/2007/01/16/36076.aspx ).

Posted by: bruce moomaw on November 8, 2007 at 6:05 AM | PERMALINK

"Just because France has a good system does not mean our government will run a good one. The lefty logic on this is terrible."

Shorter Orwell: I know our system sucks, but all change scares me. I'm a conservative, after all.

Posted by: jprichva on November 8, 2007 at 7:43 AM | PERMALINK

The reason this works for GOP and not Dems is Reagan's 11th Commandment:

"Never speak ill of a fellow Republican"

This is what Republicans do, and Dems don't do. Dems continually seek fleeting advantage by attacking those to their left, trying to stake out an illusory middle ground between their own base and whatever stragglers of the GOP they think they can pick off.

The cost is that they cede a perpetual rightward drift of our public debate.

The benefit is minor advantage for incumbents seeking re-election.

Posted by: matt on November 8, 2007 at 7:44 AM | PERMALINK

The real conservative argument against universal healthcare is that they will succeed in sabotaging it if it's attempted, so it shouldn't be attempted.

Posted by: matt on November 8, 2007 at 7:48 AM | PERMALINK

Doesn't it come down to Republicans are much more scared of their voters than Democrats?

Posted by: jhe on November 8, 2007 at 7:55 AM | PERMALINK

Our extremists don't succeed in redefining the playing field because there's no institutional infrastructure behind them that converts lunacy into political pressure. But conservative extremists have talk radio ...

—Kevin Drum

Yes, but one other factor is critically important. Given human nature, extreme appeals based on hate and fear work far better than those based on reason and justice. Put another way, "we" could have the same "infrastructure" as "they" do, and still not be able to redefine issues (move the center to the left) by taking extreme positions.

Taking an extreme position on health care, for example, doesn't trigger hundreds of pieces of hate mail, thousands of abusive phone calls, or millions of vicious emails. But a proposal to send all brown people back where they came from does.

Posted by: Econobuzz on November 8, 2007 at 8:00 AM | PERMALINK

Why is immigration an issue?

Back in the Reagan Era, Ronald Reagan took his alzheimer's induced afternoon siesta, and his national security policy wonks rendered a study in which, of the many conclusions, two became truly expensive. First, the study insisted that Immigration should be put on the front burner of politics, and secondly, that the Spanish-speaking in the Southwest had a high potential for becoming "fifth columnists".

And if you are a Christianist, there is such a thing as a Sin of Commission. On the flip side of this same coin, is the Sin of Omission. Bush, practing the 'arts and sciences' for Sinfulness, he has neither 'called-off' the numerous Commandante Tancredos in his political party nor ask that they temper their flaming and over-the-top political rhetoric. Now, if I were an exemplar for snarkiness and an historian, I too would write a book and title it, "The New American Legacy: The Bush Bigotry Biz". And if history proves me correct, I would suffer the fate of Native Americans. To wit, the History of Native Americans disappeared with the advent of the Pilgrims and has now been resurrected with the current viability of the Casinos. And there will be considerable merit when Congress passes the legislation that proclaims the day after Thanksgiving, National Native American Heritage Day.

Now, getting back to the story of Ronald Reagan and the American dog whistle. For those of us who reside in the Sonoran Desert and are military veterans, we got our hands on a copy that had been spirited out the back door. When confronted, Ronald Reagan initially denied that such a study had been created, but then, shown a reproduced copy, he did the correct thing and much to his good credit, ordered the study destroyed. However, the further and eroding political damage had been done with respect to the GOP and the Chicanos.

And as a mililtary veteran, I can suffer quietly the indignity for being called, a traitor, anti-American, and even the label of dengiration, i.e., un-American, but being called a 'fifth columnist', now, those are "fighting words" due to the implied intent for destoying the Constitution, and for which we have spilled buckets of blood and seen our Brothers of Shared Experiences, die on the battlefield.

Needless to say but I will, the "authors" of this NSC study, never did figure out why their political careers fizzled out,and that too comes from our political engagement and for the Liberalism of Social Justice.

Respectfully Submitted.

Jaango
Chicano Veterans Organization
Phoenix, Arizona

Posted by: Jaango on November 8, 2007 at 8:48 AM | PERMALINK

It seems to me that liberal activists are more likely to succeed at getting moderates labeled as extremists. Broad paintbrush and whatnot. The SCLM is a significant liberal disadvantage.

Posted by: B on November 8, 2007 at 8:58 AM | PERMALINK

I think it’s the stock answer: too many Democrats are wimps. Political cowardly lions on many issues: immigration, immunity for telecoms, torture, Iraq, Iran and the list goes on…..Too many lack the intestinal fortitude to refuse compromise and counter the Republican zeitgeist.

Posted by: jerseymissouri on November 8, 2007 at 9:04 AM | PERMALINK

Get serious here folks - why would we trust the FEMA government, the Deficit spending governement, the protect the rich government - with the responsibility of being in charge of our health care?

Um, wouldn't it be easier not to elect people who do these things? And, Orwell, why do you want to elect people who do these things?

I mean, health care everywhere else in the OECD is better and half the price. Do you really want to rally your party around Republican exceptionalism--exceptional incompetence and corruption?

You got what you wanted. All three branches for six years. Heckuva job, Brownie. All you got left is racism--even the fearmongering BS that is the global war on terra is a racist campaign. We saw that very explicitly in NY last week, as the party distributed fliers with NY drivers licenses mocked up with picdtures of guys with turbans. (See Kevin, brought us back on topic.) All you got left is knuckle-dragging, mouthbreathing racisrts (who do listen to talk radio, it is true). That's your base. And that's your future.

Huzzah.

Posted by: jayackroyd on November 8, 2007 at 9:10 AM | PERMALINK

Don't forget the right wing talk radio network which catered to Tancredo. This is not the days of the late 60s and the 70s, when the liberal erudite Michael Jackson of KABC in Los Angeles, held the top rated slot on talk radio. Now, one finds the national slime such as BillO, Savage, Hannity, etc. and the local wannabes, such as Lars Larson in Portland.

Yes, we do need Universal Health Care - The powers to be in Oregon just learned the hard way that tieing health care for childre with incresed taxes on cigarettes is not going to be supported by the public. The good citizen's of "Eastern Oregon, that is a place called North Carolina" just pumped 12 million into the campaign to defeat Prop 50 - Came out as $24 a vote to turn back the aid to children, even though so many in the state say they believe the need for helping children. Just don't hurt that "Poor Mr Camel".
Wonder how many insurance policies for kids could have been bought with that 12 million?

Posted by: bert on November 8, 2007 at 9:15 AM | PERMALINK

The question is not what is said, it is what is covered. A radical reformer on the left will be ignored. A radical reactionary on the right is treated as if his nonsense is worth listening to.

Posted by: freelunch on November 8, 2007 at 9:34 AM | PERMALINK

Speaking of overloading lines, you should be calling your Senator on telecom amnesty if he or she is on the SJC. Dodd has set up a citizen's whip application that will help track the citizen lobbying effort:

whip the Judiciary committee.

Posted by: jayackroyd on November 8, 2007 at 9:37 AM | PERMALINK

Why don't liberals act loony to frame the political debate?

Maybe because most of us recognize how stupid we're being when we act like ten year-old sociopaths?

I'm completely serious. I think most liberals hold these little games the far right plays in such (justified) contempt that even the thought of mimicking them to get our way makes us wretch.

Posted by: Frank A. on November 8, 2007 at 9:47 AM | PERMALINK

There is no mirror symmetry because there are two distinct political world views, not two equally opposed yin and yang politics. The right-wing view is characterized by submission to authorities, aggression and defense of the status quo for the in-group. Right-wing leaders are usually violently opposed to some outside group, which tends to be particular to the culture. They seem to universally condemn homosexuality and other forms of unorthodox sexuality. They are always looking to purge society. In North America right-wing authoritarianism embraces undiluted capitalism and religious orthodoxy. In the old Soviet Union right-wing authoritarianism defended another status quo, one that valued the proletariat and communist orthodoxy. There are no radical advocates for collectivism or the proletariat in the US. People are surprised to find that such arch Republicans as Grover Norquist have spent time reading the lessons of arch communists like Antonio Gramsci or that David Horowitz was once a radical “communist”. It comes as no surprise. The political orientation is the same; it is just the ideology that has changed.

Bob Altemeyer surveyed the political opinions of American politicians about a decade ago and found that Republican politicians were much more authoritarian than anyone he measured before. As a group they were more solidly to the right. Democrats tend to fall in the middle of the scale. He suggests that it may be that authoritarian political parties have no natural check on radicalism, so extremists flourish and fill the ranks. The very notion that you will achieve your goals better by advertising radical views sounds like something Lenin or Gramsci would advocate. It doesn't sound like Thomas Jefferson.

The struggle in the United States is not against two opposing views but against an authoritarian movement and an open liberal democratic order. The founding fathers, back in the 18th century, opposed the authoritarianism of their time. It was know as monarchy or as hereditary aristocracy or as state religion. This is, of course, a description of the political order of the United Kingdom in 1776. The unitary executive, untaxed and unregulated property accumulation and the hegemony of evangelical Christianity and its taboos are just the modern incarnation of a perennial political orientation towards power.

Posted by: bellumregio on November 8, 2007 at 10:02 AM | PERMALINK

Has anyone considered that liberals don't act like conservatives because liberals aren't foaming-at-the-mouth purveyors of hate and fear?

I wonder what kind of play this would get if we really had a level playing field in the media:

Two months later, the Austin American-Statesman let [Congressman Ron] Paul share his views in his own words:

Not all officials express alarm when discussing cross burnings. U.S.Rep.-elect Ron Paul, a Texas Republican from Surfside, described such activity as a form of free speech in some situations.

"Cross burning could be a crime if they were violating somebody's property rights,'' he said during his campaign. "But if you go out on your farm some place and it's on your property and you put two sticks together and you burn it, I am not going to send in the federal police."

When will we be hearing an impassioned defense for cross burning on talk radio? Who's going to pick up the white sheet and claim that cross burning is nothing more than a college fraternity hazing prank? Rush? Hannity? Savage? Beck? Who's gonna run that one up the flagpole?

Posted by: Pale Rider on November 8, 2007 at 10:08 AM | PERMALINK

"Politics 101. Stake out an ultra-extreme position so that when the rest of your party endorses a merely extreme position it looks like it's a moderate compromise."

This technique is the classic Bushco MO. Ask for tax cuts of $600 billion, "settle" for $400 billion. Start a global war on terror and "settle" for an invasion of Iraq and huge increases in the military budget. Propose Harriet Myers for the SCOTUS and everyone is relieved to settle for a right-wing jurist.

The question I have is why Democrats keep rolling over and playing nice when the Republicans do this.

The other thing that occurs to me is that this is how a determined 15% minority can get their issues on the table and drive the debate. But it helps to have the noise chamber of talk radio on your side. That has been the Republican coup.

Take healthcare. First, imagine that 15% of the population were insisting on socialized medicine--a healthcare system comparable to the school system in which doctors are state employees, hospitals are government owned and operated. Then imagine that spokesmen were constantly promoting this on the airwaves with the proper mixture of contempt and indignation ("It's incredible that those right-wing demogogues in Washington are getting away with this kind of selfishness when people are dying! People are dying because rich politicians don't want to do the right thing!") Soon Moderates would be proposing something like a single payer system, and it would seem reasonable. Instead the echo chamber is fear-mongering about "tax and spend" Democrats, and central authorities who will take away your choices, and programs we can't afford and that will be badly, corruptly run. So the proposals on the table all propose that insurance companies--who have been part of the problem--MUST be involved.

I am convinced that the nastiness of modern politics is a direct consequence of the 1989 repeal of the Fairness in Broadcasting Doctrine."

Posted by: PTate in MN on November 8, 2007 at 10:10 AM | PERMALINK

The failure of moderates and liberals to mount an effective presence in broadcast media is an abiding weakness that continues to cripple Democratic efforts to tap the potential political support available to them in the country.

Blogs and websites are fine, but broadcast media is very powerful. Millions of working Americans go through their working day listening to right wing talk radio - in part because that's all that is available to them.

Plumbers, electricians, postmen, delivery drivers, construction workers, etc. drive around listening to Rush, not browsing the internet. Until moderates and liberals get serious about establishing a foothold in broadcast media (as Republicans have done for 20 years), they won't be really serious about reaching the American voters.

Posted by: McCord on November 8, 2007 at 10:25 AM | PERMALINK
So: Politics 101. Stake out an ultra-extreme position so that when the rest of your party endorses a merely extreme position it looks like it's a moderate compromise.

Or at least, that's what he says. Of course, by saying that, he's claiming that essentially his recent political career is entirely and without exception a series of strategic deceptions. If someone is telling you that in an interview, then their explanation of the purpose behind those earlier deceptions ought, itself, to be automatically suspect.

Question: why don't liberals do this?

They do follow the Politics 101 strategy you have described, quite often, if usually not so dishonestly as Tancredo seems to suggest that he has been. Dennis Kucinich, for instance, may believe heart and soul in all the positions he endorses, but he certainly isn't enough of a political neophyte to believe that most of them are actually politically viable in the status quo environment. So why does he keep pounding on them? Why the quixotic runs for President? It's not because he thinks the entire American electorate is going to come to its senses simultaneously and embrace his message and actually send him to the White House—though he wouldn't mind if they did—it is, instead, because by making sure that those messages are out there, and being heard, he pushes out the boundaries of the public debate.

And he's hardly the only one doing things like that (though the only one doing so with energy in the Presidential campaign.) It is not at all uncommon for liberals to engage in the basic strategy you describe (though not in the dishonest way Tancredo claims that he has been doing it.)

Now, why doesn't the rest of the Democratic Party in office take advantage of any wiggle room this produces? Well, two reasons—first, many Democratic officeholders are wimps, or at least politically timid, and are simply afraid to seriously challenge Republicans on substance even if they clearly have political room to do so, and, second, many Democrats in office aren't liberals, they are simply more moderate conservatives than the present Republicans.

And, BTW, what a pathetic interview. Tancredo posits the standard "enforce the law" position that ignores the entire subject of the debate—what the law should be—as the ideal "compromise" that would "solve the problem" and all the response isn't a question that gets back to the heart of the issue, but "You know, it's an irritatingly difficult point to contradict." WTF?

Posted by: cmdicely on November 8, 2007 at 10:26 AM | PERMALINK

This is the second post of Kevin's on the same topic, the subject of liberals getting their message out with the same fire and verve as the Republicans. [THE PRESS AND THE DEMS Oct 30, 2007]

It is exactly the right time for liberals to address taking back the media (TV, Talk Radio) and getting Truth about liberals and liberal causes out to the 68% of the people who are not enamored with Bush or his party.

Taking back the media cannot possibly hurt Democrats more than the current trend of demonization by the likes of Limbaugh, Coulter, Hannity,ect whose mere opinions go unchallenged across national airwaves.

Republicans can take hard stances and malign the citizenry of this country who don't toe the GOP line, and their representatives get elected BECAUSE they do that.

Liberals are being bullied, allowing it, not fighting back, is percieved as weakness in this post- 9/11 world of terror behind every Bush.

Posted by: Zit on November 8, 2007 at 10:28 AM | PERMALINK

Bellumregio: "There is no mirror symmetry because there are two distinct political world views, not two equally opposed yin and yang politics. "

Off-topic, but related, though I bet you already know about this...Psychologist Jonathan Haidt has been doing fascinating work on the "moral emotions" and core values--he has identified five: justice, reciprocity (caring for the needy), obedience to authority, loyalty to the in-group, and purity/divinity (hard to summarize this one in a short phrase because it is so misunderstood in the modern west.) Liberals score high on the first two, justice and reciprocity, and don't even see the other three as values. Conservatives rate all five as values--they don't score as high on justice and reciprocity as liberals, but still regard these as important values. But they also rate loyalty to the in-group, obedience and purity values highly.

I think the values of the right-wing authoritarian ("we need a strong leader to stamp out the rot that is threatening our community") are consistent with loyalty to in-group and obedience to authority values identified by Haidt. And the liberal democratic order is consistent with a value system that emphasizes justice and reciprocity above all: Loyalty to the In-group? Obedience? Purity?-Pfft!

So, maybe liberals don't do use the "propose the extreme in order to obtain the moderate" strategy because it doesn't occur to us that values of defending our In-group and obeying our leaders will help us achieve our common interests. Instead, we start bickering among ourselves over details.

Posted by: PTate in MN on November 8, 2007 at 10:30 AM | PERMALINK

Liberals don't do it because it does not appeal to the electorate. When Lou Dobbs or Tancredo say use the final solution against Mexican immigrants, that resonates with European Americans whose ancestors came to America before 1932. Many Americans think these types of extreme ideas are good ideas.

When a Leftist says mothball the military the way America did after WW I or socialize medicine so that everyone has decent healthcare, these ideas do not resonate with the general public, even though they are not extremist in relation to our past or what the rest of the world is doing. I am curious to know what extreme ideas Mr. Drum thinks could be offered to the public by liberals that could then be softened by a more moderate proponent. Perhaps a socialized healthcare regime like England's would be made and then moderated by a Medicare for everyone-type offering. That might work for a public good like healthcare.

If an extreme liberal policy like the one I propose, open the borders to all immigrants and grant them the same rights and privileges of citizens was softened to we welcome all immigrants but we need to test them for communicable diseases first at an Ellis Island-like facility and proplerly identify them before they enter the country, the way many of Americans' ancestors came into the country, perhaps that might work. But not for this issue. Too many of the children of Ellis Island's immigrants became Dobbs/Tancredo racists.

Posted by: Brojo on November 8, 2007 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

"there's no institutional infrastructure behind them that converts lunacy into political pressure"

Who are you kidding? What do you call every taxpayer funded public employee union in America? Do you think these thugs are moderate? They've taken over the country.

Now delete my post, you extremist.

Posted by: tobe deleted on November 8, 2007 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

Some of Tancredo's campaign donors might be angry to learn that he never really intended to become president. They might even be able to sue him for return of the funds, plus damages. "I almost gave that money to McCain, and a few months back it could have done some real good, but it's too late now!"

Posted by: steve on November 8, 2007 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

I really do think that Conservatives own an inherent advantage when it comes to persuading people to their views.

In case after case, the Conservative "ideology" is little more than an appeal to baser instincts. It favors force over negotiation, vengeance over rehabilitation, self interest over common purpose, tribalism and racism over inclusion.

This affords them some very real opportunities to manipulate the public not open to progressives. In particular, the single most important thing a Conservative must do to bring the public to his side on issues is to legitimize the inclinations of their baser instincts.

To achieve this goal, the procedure Tancredo has outlined is perfect. By having someone of at least some responsibility staking out a very extreme position, that makes any movement back toward center appear relatively quite "responsible". It confers the sense of legitimacy that is so crucial to public acceptance. While the public may find some very deep primitive appeal to those extreme positions, it also knows that a sense of responsibility requires that they not give into the impulse entirely. The pullback to the center achieves that effect.

Progressives just can't play this game. Very few people find that liberal positions are ones that they instinctively turn to -- instead, reaching those positions requires the mediation of rational processes. There is little instinctive appeal to extreme views that a progressive might put out; quite to the contrary, there's an instinctive revulsion to them, because primitive impulses run the other way.

In short, there's just an assymmetry here that has to be recognized. Progressive politics is at base the politics of first counting to ten. Conservative politics is the politics of refusing to count. That enables them to engage in strategies that would never work for progressives.

Posted by: frankly0 on November 8, 2007 at 11:19 AM | PERMALINK

An old game. Recall the past. Prejudiced politicians who said lynching blacks was extreme could then be considered community moderates while still keeping their prejudice.

Posted by: Bob M on November 8, 2007 at 11:22 AM | PERMALINK

Very few people find that liberal positions are ones that they instinctively turn to --franklyO

This is not the case if you live outside the United States. Most European “right” politicians share the politics of mainstream Democrats and are to the left of Republicans. That is why everyone in Europe, besides some rather unsavory folks in Poland, is horrified by torture, Guantanamo, executive courts, and extraordinary renditions.

Right-wingers must rely on a sense of insecurity- real or perceived- to persuade people to their views. As societies become wealthier and more secure they also become more secular, less traditional and presumably less prone to authoritarianism. American conservatives work quite hard to keep Americans economically and socially insecure. Redistributing wealth, educating the population, introducing risk-sharing schemes, and a traditionalist responsible political class that is mildly nationalistic secularizes society and opens it up to democracy and tolerance.

Posted by: bellumregio on November 8, 2007 at 11:38 AM | PERMALINK

Liberals can't do this because there isn't an issue in the world on which the public is further out to the left than the politicians are.
Posted by: Cal on November 8, 2007 at 1:18 AM | PERMALINK

Further proof that in politics, there is no lie quite like a big lie.

The American people are to the left on every issue. It takes the spending of $billions to thwart their will.

Posted by: Northern Observer on November 8, 2007 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

Our extremists don't succeed in redefining the playing field because there's no institutional infrastructure behind them that converts lunacy into political pressure. But conservative extremists have talk radio, which can mobilize hundreds of thousands of phone calls in a single day if they put their mind to it.

The left-wing extremists certainly DO have an "institutional infrastructure behind them that converts lunacy into political pressure". It's called the Internet (maybe Kevin has heard of this phenomenon?). Daily Kos and MoveOn.org are the left-wing versions of Rush and Hannity, converting lunacy into political pressure.

As someone noted above, this was posted on the same day that Kucinich tied up the Democrats in the House with his impeachment resolution. This, of course, was driven in part by the many moonbats on DailyKos and within MoveOn who are so enamored by impeachment.

Posted by: Al on November 8, 2007 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

Who are you kidding? What do you call every taxpayer funded public employee union in America? Do you think these thugs are moderate? They've taken over the country.
Posted by: tobe deleted on November 8, 2007 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

You're the reason every liberal in america should own a gun and practice firing it regularily.
BTW- what message are your receiving form 'them' in your fillings today tobe?

Posted by: Northern Observer on November 8, 2007 at 12:20 PM | PERMALINK

Just because France has a good system does not mean our government will run a good one. The lefty logic on this is terrible.
Posted by: Orwell on November 8, 2007 at 7:20 AM | PERMALINK

Your argument is too stupid for you to use Orwell as a moniker.
Conservative logic: an oxymoron.

Posted by: Northern Observer on November 8, 2007 at 12:25 PM | PERMALINK

Because Democrats aren't organized. They don't have a mass base, like the republicans have in the evangelicals.

Consequently the democratic politicians have a lot further to fall if they lose. There is no wingnut welfare for democrats. So they are spineless, which alienates them further from their supporters.

Posted by: Adam on November 8, 2007 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

BTW, I thought of issues on which we liberal extremists could join forces to promote the extreme in the hope of achieving the reasonable.

Extreme position: George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleeza Rice are War Criminals whose actions have killed thousands of people and weakened America. They should be tried and executed. Moderate position: I'd settle for tried, found guilty and their estates confiscated to subsidize gas and heating costs for lower income Americans. I'd love to see the ranch sold to pay off the penalty.

Another extreme-moderate issue is that of punishing the idiots who supported GWB in 2004. The extreme position is that everyone who donated $2000 or more to Bush's re-election campaign will have their estates confiscated to help pay off the deficit that their bozo created.

The moderate position is that they will be taxed an extra 10% for the next 10 years--15% if they live in Texas. We could call it something snazzy like the "Pioneer Tax." Restitution, baby!

Posted by: PTate in MN on November 8, 2007 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

The answer to why this isn't done on the left is pretty simple (and Somerby is right about you, Kev): someone staking out an extreme left-wing position would be characterized by the mainstream media as a craven, raving lunatic who hates America and is trying to destroy our way of life. On the right, the mainstream media either ignores extreme positions, passes them along without characterizing them as extreme, or praises the person taking the extreme position for having the courage of his beliefs.

Posted by: Dave on November 8, 2007 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

Extreme position: All corporate net profits shall, by law, be distributed to shareholders at the end of the fiscal year.

Moderate: 40% of all corporate net profits shall, by law, be distributed to shareholders.

Posted by: Brojo on November 8, 2007 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

*

Posted by: mhr on November 8, 2007 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

Drum is enthusiastic about polls- polls say that 70% of Americans oppose drivers' licenses for foreigneers in the United States illegally. Liberals favor giving them licenses. Liberal conclusion? The 70% are racists.

Mhr, please spell out more of our conclusions. You are clearly an authority on the subject.

Posted by: uri on November 8, 2007 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

Wow, mhr just hit a new low in stupidity. He is an affront to sentinence.

Posted by: DJ on November 8, 2007 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

Who are you kidding? What do you call every taxpayer funded public employee union in America? Do you think these thugs are moderate? They've taken over the country.
Posted by: tobe deleted on November 8, 2007 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

And you said: "You're the reason every liberal in america should own a gun and practice firing it regularily. BTW- what message are your receiving form 'them' in your fillings today tobe?"

Is that a death threat? Coming from a leftist fanatic like you, it's nothing new. A recent example: You whackos are already saying anyone who questions the global warming scam are traitors.

Admit you leftists are already extremists. Admit mafia-infiltrated labor unions control the democratic party, especially at the local level, spewing impossible egalitarian tripe to nurture the politics of resentment, so stupid voters will vote their puppets in, so they can continue sucking the life out of this country.

Posted by: tobe deleted on November 8, 2007 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

bellumregio got it right

Posted by: chowderhead on November 8, 2007 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

Admit you leftists are already extremists. Admit mafia-infiltrated labor unions control the democratic party, especially at the local level, spewing impossible egalitarian tripe to nurture the politics of resentment, so stupid voters will vote their puppets in, so they can continue sucking the life out of this country.
Posted by: tobe deleted

Somebody forgot to give this imbecile his tranquilizers this morning....

Posted by: DJ on November 8, 2007 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

bellumregio is always correct, as far as I can tell. I also admire bellumregio's calm tone, as well as PTate in MN's, something I am unable achieve.

Every county in Paul's Texas district is run by a mobster. That's why Paul keeps being reelected.

Posted by: Brojo on November 8, 2007 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK

An old game. Recall the past. Prejudiced politicians who said lynching blacks was extreme could then be considered community moderates while still keeping their prejudice.
Posted by: Bob M on November 8, 2007 at 11:22 AM
^^^^^^^^^

Exactly. That's ALL it is. It is nothing more than being intellectually dishonest with moderate voters. It is just another version of the formula we've seen since Goldwater of building support from the extreme right and working towards the middle just enough to get the votes you need without alienating the wingers. The only way you can defeat this is to find rational policy that will appeal to the middle more strongly so that progressives can easily build their coalition the opposite way-from the center to the left. It isn't going to work to copy their strategy in mirror-image.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on November 8, 2007 at 5:40 PM | PERMALINK

It's not like this the world over. Let's take a look at France.

Here, it's often the left that plays this game skillfully. A far-left group will start occupying empty appartments or camp outside of a government ministry to get the government to start addressing the problem of people who don't have access to decent housing. Result, the goalposts get moved -- the "ultra extreme" act of occupying vacant buildings and camping in the city is the limit, and things like adding a right to housing to the constitution seem downright moderate. (The center-right UMP just added a right to housing to the constitution -- and one can sue to enforce this right.)

It's the same with higher education laws. Tiny far-left minorites of students occupy universities and bar entry to everyone for a certain time, until free labor-market laws (Contrat Premier Embauche) are withdrawn. One thinks also of the massive train strikes in '95 and their huge political effects.

Now, how to import this to the U.S.? I think it would be extremely difficult. There isn't as much of a culture of soliderity or a belief in positive rights in the United States. The U.S. is also so much bigger -- a few far left protesters in Paris can do a lot more than a few far left protesters in New York. People in Tulsa will just ignore the latter -- people in Perpignan have harder time ignoring what the Paris-centric media deem important.

Of course, the French right has also moved the goalposts -- to the right -- on immigration. And they just won two elections..

In any event, I say all this simply to point out that the present dominance of the American right in redefining the playing field isn't written in stone -- if the left starts thinking more creatively, perhaps things can change.

Posted by: fe on November 8, 2007 at 5:54 PM | PERMALINK

Talk radio is basically brainwashing. People who listen to it day after day get brainwashed. Brainwashed people have no lives.

As a liberal, I think the reason we can't replicate that is because most of us have lives to live. If I have the radio on, I want to hear music, not talking. There is too much talk every where and most of it isn't worth listening to. I also have specific likes for my TV viewing that does not include some one yapping at me. I do watch Keith Olbermann most every night; but, he is the exception to the rule because he is funny and has John Dean on a lot and oddball. After that, during football season, I watch football. I watch other sports but seldom set aside a whole day for sports as I do for Saturdays during college football season. If I am not watching sports, I watch movies and some selected regular TV shows with handsome leading men, like Mark Harmon. I read a murder mystery in my bath every night for an hour. I play with my cats. I go shopping on weekends when the old knees will allow it (sometimes even when they won't). And, that's probably more than any one ever wanted to know about me. It was good to see input from cmdicely tonight. I have missed your thoughtful, knowledgable comments.

I also have a theory that the mean-spiritedness and the constantly angry people are a direct result of talk radio. I think Tancredo proves that.

But, this all just my humble opinion.

Posted by: Mazurka on November 8, 2007 at 9:33 PM | PERMALINK

Marshall McLuhan said radio is a hot medium. Talk radio is about as hot as it becomes. The only thing more incendiary is when a great speaker uses radio to arouse the masses to action, like Hitler and the Hutus of Rwanda did.

Posted by: Brojo on November 9, 2007 at 12:06 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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