Political Animal


June 10, 2012 1:04 PM The Limits of Sweet Reason

By Ed Kilgore

Yesterday Ryan commented on the oddly anachronistic New York Times op-ed by Steve Almond advancing the tired idea that if liberals would ignore wingnuts they’d go away and we’d rediscover our own positive agenda via civil discussion with reasonble conservatives.

Ryan’s point of emphasis was that ignoring The Crazy had never done any good, while fighting it actually has. I agree, but want to make a different and more fundamental point: we really are getting down to points of disagreement between the nation’s two major political parties and two prevailing political ideologies that can’t be reduced to matters of taste, emphasis, background or calculation. I just wrote scathingly about a column on reproductive rights by Ross Douthat. Unlike, I suspect, some readers, I don’t think Ross is stupid or crazy. I’ve met him, been on a panel with him, and on some limited topics, I can talk with him reasonably with the possibility of his or my own mind changing. But Ross believes pretty strongly that legalized abortion is a moral horror of the highest order. I think returning to the days when abortion was illegal would be a moral horror of the highest order. If he and I were somehow placed in charge of setting abortion policy for America (and I bridle at the very idea of any man being so empowered), we could compromise, I suppose, but the battle between his idea that I’m more or less a “good German” in the service of unmitigaged evil and my idea that he’s confusing the way things used to be with God’s Will would not go away. Eventually, he’d try to deny me any power over this subject, and I’d do the same. It’s what Seward called an “irrepressible conflict,” and like it or not, our politics are presently loaded with such conflicts.

To put it another way: Paul Ryan is not as crude as Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter, or as hammer-headed as Sean Hannity or Bill O’Reilly. But he has a moral and social vision of the country’s future that I find deeply and fundamentally offensive. And best as I can tell, the Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, whatever he actually believes deep down in his soul, has outsourced the most basic domestic policies of the administration he hopes to lead to Paul Ryan, and to people like Jim DeMint who reminds me in every utterance of everything about my home region I had hoped and prayed we had overcome a long, long time ago. And here’s one more example: yes, I find Sarah Palin’s style of politics maddening, her whole belligerent-martyr shtick and her fact-free treatment of issues pathological and dangerous. But much as it freaks me out that she is capable of breezily making up an outrageous lie like the “death panels” smear about ObamaCare and casually disseminating it via Facebook, it freaks me out even more that it’s become gospel truth to millions and millions of Americans and thousands of Republican politicians, because it accords with their general understanding of what universal health coverage involves.

I spend as much time as anyone deploring The Crazy, but I try to show why it’s relevant to actual politics and actual governing decisions. Sure, it’s fun to make sport of the Cult of Breitbart, but it’s a deadly serious fact that Breitbart is rapidly being mainstreamed by highly respectable conservatives, more every day.

If liberals could truly make wingnuttery go away, I’d be all for it, even though it would make my own job a lot harder. But every time I try to wake up from the weird distorted images of politics presented by what Almond calls “conservative wack jobs” and soberly consider the options facing voters this very November, there they are again in the eyes of Mitt Romney or the voice of Eric Cantor or the budget of Paul Ryan—perhaps less “crazy,” but a poor reflection nonetheless of what I hope to be our country’s values and future.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • c u n d gulag on June 10, 2012 1:39 PM:

    "A house divided against itself cannot stand."

    And, while it looked like 'the arc of the moral universe was bending towards justice' in the 1960's and 1970's, that was exactly when the reactionaries and nihilists decided to fight back.
    And the most important thing was killing the middle class - and make everyone worry about 'them and theirs,' from day to day, and not be concerned for the welfare of others.

    In the late '70's, they added the Evangelical's/Dominionist Christians, with their Manichean world views, and lashed out against what they supported back in the 60's - racial equality. And for the Jesus freaks, a womans place was to be by, and subservient to, her man.

    Then, the Tea Party movement brought out the old and new John Bircher's.

    And so, now, we really are a house divided.

    We Liberals have tried, and continue to try to live with these people, hoping that they will see things as we do. Or, at least, accept gray, and not insist that every single issue is black or white.

    The Conservatives want to eliminate everyone who doesn't agree with them off the face of the Earth.

    And so, we'll either have another Civil War, or a Revolution.

    Or, the Conservatives will do what Hitler did, and if they win in 2012, and have the Presidency and Congress, then they'll use the tools written in the Constitution to fundamentally change the laws of this country - and we Liberals will have the choice to fight, take off to another nation, or stick around and accept whatever consequences and fates await us.
    And they won't be pretty.

    Maybe separate the nation into Blue and Red states, and set aside some money from the military budgets of the, now, two different countries, and let people move to wherever they want within 5 years.

    But this time - we won't take them back.
    They can live or die in their Theocratic Fascist Hellhole.

    And we won't give a sh*t - because those morons won't be our problem anymore.

  • spiny on June 10, 2012 2:11 PM:

    Well, I for one wish that there were more points of disagreement between "the two parties".

    The problem we have right now, is that except for a few discreet issues- like abortion (and even that is getting blurry, let's not forget that the Democratic Senate majority leader is anti-choice, not to mention how many times abortion rights have been sold out by Democrats to "compromise" with the radical right in the last couple of years), both parties want to primarily represent the money party and their interests.

    The Republicans get to be full on crazy and almost honest about their corruption- because their belief system is authoritarian and promotes the idea that wealth equals the divine right to rule, while the Democrats have to be more subtle and duplicitous about their corruption. Still, the bottom line is that most Democrats have become too compromised to be an effective counter to the radical Republicans. In their zeal to be the other party of business, Democrats have turned away from implementing policies that help working people and instead have turned themselves into seemingly belief free technocrats that will change their stance on any issue depending on how the wind blows and what their big-money donors want them to do. Austerity, social security cuts, insane Bush security state policies- you name it, they will support it if that's what the money party wants.

    The Republican party is lost. Their political calculus is fast approaching outright fascism. We need an opposition party to them. Unfortunately for most of us, it really seems like most Democrats would rather sell themselves to the money party as enablers rather than becoming the true opposition party to the radical right that our times call for.

  • AngryOldVet on June 10, 2012 2:34 PM:

    Ed. I think that your Inside the Beltway, Go Along to Get Along, DLC/DINO/Repuke-Lite side is showing again.

    As good as your other postings have been today, Who the F*ck are the highly respectable conservatives? Name some names, because I do not see any of the current day conservatives who are not wacked out on one or more levels!

  • Bobbo on June 10, 2012 2:48 PM:

    Well said

  • pangea on June 10, 2012 3:05 PM:

    Ya know, gulag, I've lately thought that is probably the best/only solution to our current impass - split the country (impossible as that would be practically speaking).
    I just live in a completely different world than conservatives. We view the world in fundamentally different ways and there doesn't seem to be any middle ground anymore. We can't even agree on the same set of facts, much less opnion on how to view and what to do with those facts.
    Thinking ahead, though, even if somehow we did split the country into red and blue, you know that within a matter of years the red would invade and attempt to conquer their new rival.

  • emjayay on June 10, 2012 3:15 PM:

    If it weren't for western expansion and Kansas and all that, maybe we could have split into two countries back in 1860. One normal industialized educated liberal country, and one retarded hellhole third world one. I'd vote for that.

  • SBcardinal on June 10, 2012 3:17 PM:

    Ed, you have captured my feelings exactly. If there is some mythical reasonable Republican out there, there's no chance that person has to affect the crazies in control.

    Gulag, "a house divided" was the sermon at my church this morning and it chilled me, because I fear your scenario is where we are headed.

  • DAY on June 10, 2012 3:18 PM:

    I watched Ryan v. Elmendorf on C-SPAN, and was struck by how utterly sure the Right was that they were right. They questioned the facts, and when that didn't work, they simply said the 80% of economists got it wrong. Why? Because it does not mesh with MY "facts".
    gulag is right; you cannot teach a scorpion not to sting; as the turtle learned, it is in his nature.

  • Anonymous on June 10, 2012 3:22 PM:

    If it weren't for western expansion and Kansas and all that, maybe we could have split into two countries back in 1860. One normal industialized educated liberal country, and one retarded hellhole third world one.

    Except that, as Abraham Lincoln noted, the two natural boundaries to such a pair of failed nations -- the Mississippi and the Appalachians -- both run the wrong way.

  • c u n d gulag on June 10, 2012 3:24 PM:

    And if they DID invade, they'd suffer the same fate as the agrarian, slave-dependent, resources-poor South did in the Civil War, when they tried to defeat the wealthier, more equitably-incomed, and more populated, industrial, North.

    So, I say, "Onward Christian soldiers," marching into a war you have no chance of winning.

    FECK 'EM!

    And THIS time - hang 'me all, and their families. And then, salt the feckin' soil.
    "Carthage" the MOTHERFECKER'S!!!

  • Joe Friday on June 10, 2012 3:33 PM:

    I for one am enthusiastic about seeing so many of the American RightWing now coming to Willard's defense and stating they approve of all of the police, firefighters, teachers, and nurses that have been laid-off, and are against hiring any of them back, which is what Obama has proposed.

    Hopefully we will go into the fall campaign with them giving us a full-throated display of their true agenda. To paraphrase "Let Reagan be Reagan", 'Let the American RightWing Be The Real American RightWing'.

  • joel hanes on June 10, 2012 3:55 PM:

    What spiny said.

    I can't share the apparent eagerness for a military confrontation, and I hope some of you spend a moment imagining what it would be if four men in every hundred were to perish in such a conflagration.

  • Lolly on June 10, 2012 3:58 PM:

    I don't think the "reasonable conservative" described here was actually posited as a possibility; it was a paraphrase of Almond's position in his piece.

    As for Almond's argument, it sounds like a form of kicking the easiest target rather than facing the real demon. It's so much easier to say "If only those fairly reasonable people would be even more reasonable" than to point out that the crazy evil demons are crazy and evil because, well, crazy evil demons will turn on you and make your life hell if you do.

  • ComradeAnon on June 10, 2012 4:03 PM:

    Don't underestimate Paul Ryan. Give him a radio show instead of a district and I'm sure he'd make Rush proud.

  • Jim on June 10, 2012 4:31 PM:

    Paul Ryan is not as crude as Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter,
    or as hammer-headed as Sean Hannity or Bill O’Reilly.
    Maybe. But the point you've left out is that Paul Ryan is fundamentally dishonest, a dishonesty nicely encapsulated by his recent etch-a-sketch lies about Ayn Rand vs Jesus as the source of his political philosophy, or his insistence that medicare vouchers aren't vouchers, or that ending Medicare isn't really ending Medicare. THis leads to another fundamental point about where we are now: The moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the Establishment Media, who pretend Ryan isn't a liar because 1) that would be rude (and Bill O'Reilly might say they were being mean) and 2) he seems like such a nice young man. The media may be right to give Sarah Palin as much attention as they give Limbaugh or Coutler-- I think the Republican primary showed that she has less influence than Limbaugh in real politics-- but the only reason we know who Sarah Palin is, is because John McCain picked her to be a heartbeat away from the Oval Office. This is only the most glaring and most comical way that vainglorious mediocrity has recently demonstrated that his much vaunted, not least by him, "character" is a myth, and that the reason he was last in his class at Annapolis is less because he's a lovable rake but because he quite simply is not that bright. Yet he is still treated by official Washington as if he were the reincarnation of both Teddy Roosevelt and Daniel Webster.

  • Josef K on June 10, 2012 5:18 PM:

    I'm trying to think of something substantive to add, but Ed covers the relevant points. This is a sad, frightening time for us all, and I truly wish my children didn't have to grow up in it.

  • emjayay on June 10, 2012 5:48 PM:

    Anonymous: I was mostly just being a smartass, but I wasn't aware of the Lincoln comment. But yeah, if the geography had offered some sort of convenient division....interesting how stuff from a century and a half ago has in a way persisted. If another country was in the way of westward expansion (not just you know people who had lived there for fifteen thousand years) things would be a lot different today.

    I'd still vote for it.

  • PTate in MN on June 10, 2012 6:17 PM:

    After the Wisconsin failure, it hit me that the majority of Americans have been operating with the wrong mental model of politics. We say things like "O, where are the sane Republicans?", or "What is this nation coming to?" or like you said above, that conservatives and liberals have "an 'irrepressible conflict,' and like it or not, our politics are presently loaded with such conflicts" as if both the Democrats and the Republicans fundamentally share the principle that government is "of, by and for the people" and just disagree about core values, tactics and strategies. You did just that in the post: Douthat isn't an idiot, you and he just have fundamental disagreements about certain things.

    But try thinking about it this way: the modern Republican party is not a political party, but a political operation taken over by a cabal, a tiny group of extreme right-wing thugs. Frankly, a couple of billion dollars buys a lot of stooges. People like Paul Ryan, Sarah Palin and Ross Douthat are individuals whose have been groomed and rewarded for being loyal supporters of this cabal. (Look at David Frum and Bruce Bartlett to see what happens to those who dare to question.) Ryan, Palin, Douthat have enjoyed significantly more success than they would have if their conservatism was less extreme, and none of them are self-aware enough to recognize this. Some--Paul Ryan, Sarah Palin--just don't have the intellect. Others--Douthat--are just young. So, old paradigm: we have "two prevailing political ideologies that can't be reduced to matters of taste, emphasis, background or calculation." New paradigm: What is happening in the US today reflects the power of a cabal with a powerful financial interest in gutting American democracy and no interest at all in compromising.

    As long as liberals act as if the Republicans were a political party with a differing political ideology, we will be reactive and ineffectual. We will try to strike deals with crazy. But if we accept the new paradigm, I believe we can start framing a positive agenda that is "pro-government of, by and for the people" to combat the lies, distortions and bullying.

    funny Captcha: Banks DopeTV

  • Jose Hipants on June 10, 2012 6:43 PM:

    Gulag - dude, you're way too optimistic. They don't want to break up the Union this time. They want the whole thing.

  • castanea on June 10, 2012 7:20 PM:

    We are where we are in America today for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that some on the whiny left--Hamsher, Greenwald, et al.--thought they could begin criticizing Obama before he even took the oath of office without understanding the repercussions of their actions.

    The rightwing began its "Obama is a failure" meme right out of the box. Unfortunately, whiny leftists were not bright enough to avoid joining the chorus.

    We live in a center-right country in which self-described liberals are outnumbered by self-described conservatives 2 to 1.

    When you are outnumbered like that, you don't whine that people who are mostly on your side--in this case, Obama--are insufficiently pure. When you are outnumbered, you rally behind the people who are mostly on your side and you try to gain as many converts to your way of thinking as possible.

    You do that by electing more Democrats--even blue dog Democrats, if you have to. You do not do that by making mindless comments claiming that the two parties are essentially the same, or that Obama is Republican lite, or by "primarying" blue dog Democrats in congressional districts that will never elect a liberal, and then whining that the Republicans control the house and are causing havoc across the land.

    These days, the American whiny left seems to devalue the notion of compromise and of building coalitions. That is not a wise strategy for a group that is in the overwhelming minority. In fact, it is a plea for extinction.

  • Patango on June 10, 2012 7:25 PM:

    As Ed points out , tying these issues to actual legislation is the sane option , but we know we must stay active and hold media/ business's responsable for what they support also

    But ryan , romney and mcconnell represent everything rush limbaugh does legislation wise , , I see no difference between any of them as far as what they want for america

    There are some facts we must deal with as dem libs , the gop have figured out how to undermine democracy , they are killing our courts and justice system , they are hostile towards voting rights , they defund laws passed by the majority of our constitutional government , and out right break laws we pass by refusing to enforce them

    Now when we sit down to meet these people 1/2 way , as Ed points out , but how do we meet them half way on killing our courts , etc?

    A war has been declared by conservative gop , now we will see if people will respond to those who have declared it....???... imo

    They are getting 48% of the vote , or there abouts , to me there is no "KIND OF BEING" what GOP USA is and represents , they want no fed or state gov AT ALL!!!!!!! But they still want unending tanks and guns to feed their paranoia .... How are we meeting them 1/2 way on all that , and still calling this AMERICA?????

  • DisgustedWithItAll on June 10, 2012 9:57 PM:

    I worry not so much about "irrepresible conflicts" but the soul-destroying realization that no matter what, the country consists of approximately 50% of people that will not, under any circumstances, entertain any fact, any evidence, any reasoning that does not support their beliefs; beliefs for which there is no evidence and no reasoning which would make it true. They reject rational analysis. Abortion is the least of the troubles.

    This realization is soul-destroying. I just can't get past it. What can be done if there is 50% of the nation that believe a reality that doesn't exist, and they're coaxed into that reality by intentional misinformation of rightwing media?

    This is worse than the 30's. This is willful, unparalleled, intentional ignorance and stupidity.

    Wanna lose hope? Take a gander at the comments on this WP column by the mediocre Chris Cillizza:


    (Actually, any WP column's comments would serve the purpose.) The wingnut comments are punishingly stupid, ignorant, belligerent, and soul-destroying.

    There is only one course of action against those who will not accept reality. Ridicule and shame. If only we could bring back public stocks and use them against the obvious malevolent perpetrators. The press won't do it.

  • Patango on June 10, 2012 11:15 PM:

    " Republicans hold 5 of Wisconsin's 8 House seats. "

    2010 election

    The same people who vote for Walker and gave Wisconsin a majority of gop in 2010, will vote for obama now? This is after watching the DC gop destroy america from 2000 tp 08 .....

    Figure that one out , it use to be a split gov would get things done , now it is just gop destruction all the time...

    All while generic u s congress polls showing a gop lead for nov 2012

    Someone commented on northern states voting with the wacko gop of the old south , it is disheartening to witness

  • The Pale Scot on June 10, 2012 11:17 PM:

    @ joel hanes

    "I hope some of you spend a moment imagining what it would be (like) if four men in every hundred were to perish in such a conflagration."

    Four out of one hundred will be cheap, compared to the certainty that when the fossil aquifers, phosphate reserves and cheap oil based herb and insect-icides are depleted the carrying capacity of our planet will be about three billion, not the seven billion currently or the 9 billion projected in 2050, and that's assuming no climate change or nuclear exchanges over resources.

    That amounts to 4 billion dead in the twenty years after 2030 plus most of those born near the 2050 mark not lucky enough to have extremely wealthy parents.

    I emphasis, this is the least worst future. The USA, Australia, China, India and Russia, the main grain production areas, all use fossil water (non-regenerating) aquifers to grow at least 35% of their grains, there is no technological substitute for water. Precise, scientific dry land farming can squeeze a yield out of semi-arid land, but it's not going to feed planet like it does now.

    "The Crazies" influence on current social politics is simply an indicator of the difficulties that will be facing our species, not just our countrymen in the near future. I'm glad I won't be around to see it.

  • Neildsmith on June 11, 2012 7:17 AM:

    It's nice to see that a few commenters understand the nature of the fight. There is no progressive agenda except beating the crap out of the GOP. Civil war, culture war, hard ball politics, whatever it takes. The progressive agenda is dead, buried, and rotting unless we take back the country from the GOP.

    But progressives also need to find a new agenda. The old one has been completely rejected by the American public. We cannot sustain policies without political support. So when the GOP proposes disbanding medicaid, medicare, SS, or cutting spending, we might as well let them. It's what the people want. They voted for it in 2010. They voted for it in Wisconsin. And we'll see what they vote for in November.

    We have to stand for something other than the status quo because we all know it doesn't work.

  • Rich on June 11, 2012 7:54 AM:

    Douthat may be a delightful cocktail party guest and less of a meat head in a debate than in print, but he's simply not going to break with the wingnut reservation. The "reasonable" conservatives (Orrin Hatch, who used to cut deals on things like mental health with Ted Kenndy) and moderate Republicans (Olympia Snowe, Richard Lugar) have moved rightward, been primaried out, or have retired. The intimidation has worked and they are now irrelevant to the process. The discipline that holds thhe wingnut loony bin together is something that needs to be challenged and, in some ways, emulated. Kilgore still hasn't shaken off all that third way nonsense and the blue dog sensibility that makes Southern Dems seem ineffectual and useless to any real progress in this country.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on June 11, 2012 8:40 AM:


    "...So when the GOP proposes disbanding medicaid, medicare, SS, or cutting spending, we might as well let them. It's what the people want. They voted for it in 2010. They voted for it in Wisconsin. And we'll see what they vote for in November."

    That's pretty much the dumbest, most anti-progressive thing I've ever read on this site. You a Republican? Blue dog?

  • esaund on June 11, 2012 10:15 AM:

    Prior to Nixon, Republicans and the media used to be self-policing. But the last Republican (with only a few anecdotes) to put real distance between the party and the nutters (e.g. John Birchers and the ever-present religious extremists) was Barry Goldwater. He knew how unyielding they were and thus, had no place in politics.

    But now, there is zero distance between the party and full-throated crazy. Romney is free to seek the endorsement of Ted Nugent, fergawdsake. And of course, there are no inside-the-beltway talking heads demanding that Romney distance himself from him. (By contrast, Obama had to distance himself from Ann Romney for pointing out the obvious truth that Ann Romney never worked.)

    I just wish for once, Democrats would point out this terrible imbalance, instead of playing along with the "both sides are to blame" meme.

  • smartalek on June 11, 2012 12:21 PM:

    It would be really nice -- and, who knows, possibly even effective, in the current climate -- if the Congressional Dem's (and maybe even -- dare to dream! -- "our" President) would have the brains, heart, and guts to truly call out the Publicans on their fundamental hypocrisy, and say...
    "You know, the time has come to admit that we've been wrong, and they are right.
    "The days of socialist giveaways are over and gone.
    "They times of the legalized theft of forced wealth-redistribution are done.
    "We can't afford them any more.
    "Accordingly, from this day forward, no unproductive State will be allowed to leech off its more productive brethren.
    "It's long past the time that the moochers learn they must depend on their own hard work, and not subsist on the handouts of the most productive of our htaxpayers.
    "Never again will the most productive among our several states be burdened, punished for their very success, by being saddled with the costs of worrying about the welfare of those unwilling to take responsibility for themselves!"
    Then sit back and watch the fun when Idaho and Kansas and Oklahoma and Mississippi and Alabama and South Carolina and Nebraska and Tennessee and Kentucky and W. Virginia and Wisconsin (didn't think we'd forget, did you?) suddenly realize what a socialist hell they've been living in, supported by the taxpayer money generated by the "coastal liberal elites" they've been excoriating for the last two generations.
    "Those without purpose perish as they should," right Mr Greenspan?

  • bobatkinson on June 11, 2012 1:23 PM:

    Never, ever forget that Limbaugh and right wing talk radio began in force in the 1980's and that Fox debuted in the 1990's which coincides with the new Pew followup study on political party preferences on a variety of issues over the past 40 years. Dems have not changed much while Republicans have moved far, far to the right as the information they get became more and more only from the right wing media machine. Millions and millions of our fellow Americans are addicted to that daily dose of divisive disinformation and refuse to believe that the right wing bloviators are using them. The frighteningly effective right wing media has indeed poisoned the brains and souls of half the American people and yes it is a soul crushing reality.

  • Patango on June 12, 2012 1:01 PM:


    "...So when the GOP proposes disbanding medicaid, medicare, SS, or cutting spending, we might as well let them. It's what the people want."

    DisgustedWithItAll , we have some dandy conservadems on here who think the dem party should take up where the gop left off , imo they are disenfranchised gop voters looking for a place to sell their batshitcrazy

    Neil , they ran on creating jobs , not destroying ss and medicare , go buy a clue