It's always important for us to remember what the last eight years have again taught us, which is that America has a very strong civic fabric, one that can withstand, absorb and conquer all manner of ugly behavior. It can take in stride a lot of angry rhetoric, townhall fisticuffs and more.
But as this escalates we should continually be stepping back and thinking retrospectively from the vantage point of the future about where this all seems to be heading. Josh Marshall
The main difference between left and right wing extremism is that corporate interests ally with the right. Right wing extremists might be crazy, but the corporate interests are not, and they know how to manipulate the crazies on the right.
So the idea that what we're seeing now isn't as bad as what we saw in the sixties and seventies on the left might be true on one level, but it's not on another. Left-wing extremists were always fringe and never accomplished much of anythiing; right-wing extremists might be fringe in their psychology, but they are not fringe politically, and they have been fairly effective in getting their agenda recognized and implemented. The left never had a major cable news station, and it never had major funding. You don't have to be a majority to dominate in the political and economic spheres. You just need to have a lot of money and most of the power and an effective media megaphone.
And the left in this country outside of the Labor movement, which was never really "left" in the European sense, even in its New Deal heyday, never had a strong cultural and institutional grounding in the industrial north as the right has had in the white supremacist, one-party south. The idea that there is some kind of equivalency between the extreme right and the extreme left in the political and economic spheres is just silly. The right has always been much stronger in both spheres, while it might be argued that the liberal left is stronger in the cultural sphere--in the universities, the art world, the MSM, and in Hollywood. Many if not most corporate elites are cultural liberals--certainly in their lifestyle, their sexual attitudes, and attitudes toward science. But that does not mean that they are Liberal in the political or economic spheres. But again, left is a relative term. Liberal Leftism in the U.S. is moderate centrism in most of the developed world.
I said the other day that sane Americans who care about supporting public-interest politics need to worry less about the right and more about getting themselves organized and focused on achieving their objectives, but that also means understanding as clearly as possible what they're up against. The right-wing in this country is formidable and dangerous.
When Obama and the Dems won so handily last November, I allowed myself to exhale a little. The country, which quite frankly surprised me in its voting so decisively for Bush in 2004, seemed to be correcting its course. But the Obama administration has been disturbingly weak in resisting corporate and right-wing influence, and it's worrying to me because if someone who clearly understands the problem as well as he does--his statements in the past attest to this--if he cannot do anything more than he has done to push back, then it's hard to imagine who can. His weakness so far is a significant indicator about how little power is left in the political sphere to work on behalf of the the public interest. Things are as far gone as I had feared, and this healthcare debacle is the proof.
I know that failure with regard to establishing universal healthcare isn't new, and that everybody since Truman has tried and failed. But the fact is that between Truman and Nixon there was progress. There was Medicare and Medicaid, Nixon came up with a good plan that Kennedy in retrospect says he wishes he would have supported. He didn't because he thought history was on his side and that he could hold out for something better.
But things started to shift rightward in the mid-seventies. Challenges to the New Deal consensus, which even Nixon didn't countenance, were beginning to get traction, the country was sick of all the cultural turmoil, and blamed Liberalism and its party, the Democrats. The Dems' political and economic agenda became too closely aligned with its sexual-politics agenda, and a rift between the Dems and Main Street opened and has been exploited by the Right ever since.
And so we're at a very critical point in our historical development. There are many of us who hoped that Obama would get us back to where we left off when the new deal consensus was dominant, that he would be for progressive forces now what Reagan was for the forces of regression in 1980. I have, rightly or wrongly, made this healthcare battle a kind of miner's canary indicator about how much oxygen is still left for our democracy, and time will tell if I'm right about that. But I think it's true that we would all feel better about compromise and an incrementalist approach if we believed that Obama was truly changing the country's course, that history was on his side. But that's really an open question, isn't it?
Because at this point it looks like the American political and economic spheres are still dominated by the forces of regression, and that Obama is impotent to do anything except make a few adjustments. Unless the conventional wisdom is completely wrong, his speech next week will try to sell these minor adjustments as robust reform. He'll make the best case he can for an incrementalist approach, and call it victory. But even these minor adjustments will be a Pyrrhic victory if they can be undone when a passionate right runs a candidate in 2012 who will push out an Obama, who will be perceived by then as just another weak, ineffective Democrat that the Dem base no longer cares about.
The Dem leadership's gamble is that the base has nowhere else to go if the choice is either the crazy GOP or the sell-out Dems, but in most arguments crazy usually wins because sane just walks away. I hope I'm wrong, and I'll gladly admit it if I am, but I'm very apprehensive about where we are going. There is very little solid institutional resistance to the power of the right, and until some vigorous, sane opposition arises, I see the political and economic spheres as dominated by the alliance of the crazy right and the big corporations. I'm open to be talked down on this if someone wants to try.