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August 08, 2014 4:52 PM Fred Barnes Goes In Circles

By Ed Kilgore

I don’t normally pay much if any attention to the predictable stylings of the Weekly Standard’s Fred Barnes. Yes, I’m old enough to remember when Fred was capable of shrewd political insights, back in the days before he joined the Red Team full-time and became the Standard’s purveyor of the Strict Party Line, even when his colleagues strayed into the occasional heterodoxy. But I noticed his unintentionally humorous take on Elizabeth Warren precisely because if Fred’s saying it, you can bet we’ll be hearing it elsewhere in GOP talking points.

On second thought, Fred’s column will have to be translated into talking points, because he goes in many circles. Since I don’t want to quote the whole damn thing, I’ll just paraphrase it into a chain of arguments:

Elizabeth Warren is to Democrats what Barry Goldwater was to Republicans. Goldwater made the GOP a totally conservative party. Warren wants to make Democrats a totally liberal party. The Democrats are already a totally liberal party, and Barack Obama leads the “more liberal” faction of the totally liberal party. And that’s where Elizabeth Warren would take it! Right back to the disaster of McGovern 1972! Just where Goldwater’s heirs have taken Republicans!

Fred didn’t make that last argument, of course, though that’s where he logically (if we can use that term here) seemed headed. No, instead he lurched into the usual effort to prove that “polarization” is at least as much Democrats’ fault as Republicans. So he goes to the Pew vault and confuses ideological consistency with some sort of leftward shift on a fixed spectrum, and then goes back to the liberal! liberal! liberal! characterization of Obama. Sometimes I just want to shake people like Fred and have them explain how it is that a president whose signature domestic policy initiatives have been an inherited Republican financial relief plan, a discarded Republican health care plan, a discarded Republican cap-and-trade proposal, a couple of discarded Republican education plans, and a discarded (or in-the-process-of-being-discarded) Republican comprehensive immigration reform proposal, is supposed to be leading his party straight to Scandanavia!

In any event, the real howler is that Fred can’t seem to choose between his Obama-bashing and the red flag he’s waving about Warren. The usual formulation—on the left, certainly, but even among conventional and even some conservative analysts—is that Obama has continued the Clinton center-left legacy and Warren would like to intensify its populist features quite a bit (so far as I can tell, she has no differences with Obama or either Clinton on cultural issues or foreign policy). But for Fred, conceding that (even though it’s rather essential to the Warren-as-McGovern trope) would mean conceding Obama’s not bright red, and we can’t have that. So we’re left with the absurd idea that the Obama and Warren both equal McGovern, and political disaster for Democrats. Last time I checked, Barack Obama won two presidential elections. Did he just let his freak flag fly after 2012? Not according to Republicans, who have been doing the same name-calling about Obama regularly since 2009.

While I have no illusion that the vast illogic of Barnes’ argument will phase him even a bit, I do think I’ll look the other way next time he pops up on the aggregator. It makes me dizzy following as he goes in circles.

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.

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