The conventional take on the government shutdown is that it is a colossal blunder, but one largely of tactical dimensions: John Boehner underestimating the risk of trying to co-opt Ted Cruz’s brinksmanship gambit; Cruz and his think tank strategists miscalculating public angst over the healthcare law as a license for obstructionism. All true, but at the danger of missing the more substantial reality: the shutdown continues because it is remarkably popular on much of the political right. That is still the case after a week of unmitigated bad publicity for Republicans; it will likely remain so up to and after the point someone invents a fig leaf to make it end. And a Republican base that is undaunted in the face of such a debacle will keep limiting the party’s options with its ready-made barbs about sell-outs and pandering.
And what is an even more depressing truth? Those Republicans who are most at odds with the shutdown have some complicity here too. And no, it is not that they have been weak-kneed deal-cutters whose moderation created a demand for “principled” confrontation. (I have seen only two genuine deals in Washington in nine years: Democrats bending on top bracket tax cuts in late 2010 and Republicans doing the same, from the opposite vantage point, in early 2011, and I don’t hear tax relief for millionaires as an applause line in many Tea Party venues).
The real culpability for us right of center types? They (we) have been too timid in dealing not with Democrats but with a certain variation of conservatism. Those of us on the right who envision conservatism as a brand of public policy and not an enemy of the concept, who conceive that a more cohesive society is a legitimate conservative mission, and don’t confuse the left’s newest ill conceived initiatives with the fading hours before a socialist midnight, could and should have fought harder to keep the right from becoming radicalized. Instead, we soft-pedaled our own sense of responsibility. We bargained on absorbing a hard-right insurgency when we should have been looking harder at its assumptions, and its radicalism.
When it got fashionable to peddle theories that voters—that is, our fellow citizens—were divided between productive contributors to capitalism and coddled takers of government giveaways, too much of the thought leadership of the party sagely nodded. And then when our presidential nominee got caught saying the same thing, we rolled our eyes at his political tin ear without acknowledging that what he said was actually an article of faith in some of our ranks.
We allowed a lot of simplicities to frame our positions on complex issues. For example, we undermined our valid skepticism about the Democratic environmental agenda with muddled charges that science is a conspiracy. We cheapened our warnings about the lingering depth of the Great Recession with pot-shots that the media and the Labor Department were cooking the unemployment numbers.
We showed a little resistance to the hard-right’s musings about abortion and “legitimate rape” and did our share of distancing from mandatory ultrasounds and personhood laws. But the noisiness of these culture wars seemed to worry us more than their inherently un-conservative, big government character—and in our too tepid responses, we missed a chance to arrest the gender gap that is single-handedly turning states like Virginia.
We just shifted in our seat when the diatribes about the machinations of our liberal opponents crossed lines. When the jabs evolved from ritualistic partisanship into an insinuation that we were facing enemies who didn’t share our reverence for the country, our silence implicitly condoned the vitriol.
We didn’t stress enough over the evidence of a gulf between Americans in our respective visions of culture, of the economy, of the very legitimacy of government. If we were bothered that people who view their adversaries as illegitimate will coarsen civic dialogue, we rarely said so, unless it was the left throwing stones at our crowd.
We properly celebrated the grassroots populism on the right for the pragmatic reason that it finally gave Republicans the organizing mechanism to turn our base out; and for the intrinsic reason that activism is the essence of our democracy. But we weren’t quick enough to insist to the movement-minded among us that a political party is at its core not a movement: a party exists to mobilize to win campaigns and in a fractured electorate, winning requires being coalitional rather than ideologically pristine. We developed a weakness for rewarding provocateurs with the spotlight, as if unseriousness were not a ticket to perpetual minority party status.
We were entirely justified in noticing that conservatism had been demonized into the one permissible category for ridicule and verbal abuse. But we seemed so frustrated at our lost ground that we were tone deaf about how our partisan anger played to a middle class preoccupied with its own struggles—therefore, we missed the impression that we were more outraged about our own powerlessness than the powerlessness of the blue collars who not so long ago were part of our political base.
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Artur Davis: How the Right Turned Radical
Given that not a single Democratic voice has surfaced in favor of bending on the House GOP’s demand of a moratorium on the health care law, and since it is unlikely that the House would accept the one remotely plausible counter-offer of a one year delay of the individual mandate, the government shutdown is about to commence.
Whether that eventuality proves to be a blunder that thwarts the recovery and casts Republicans as intransigent extremists is a gamble I would rather Republicans not run. I’m in the camp that fears that shutdown politics will be costly for the party, from Virginia’s November races to the Senate fight in 2014. But even when the crisis eventually resolves, likely through some Senate procedural device that bypasses or outwits the House, the more meaningful dilemma is that the right’s path to brinksmanship has not really been countered by any articulate, influential conservative voice.
The case against the Ted Cruz putsch has been advanced in Republican circles, to be sure, but largely in the context of either the Wall Street fallout or disdain for Cruz’s leveraging of the defund Obamacare strategy to elevate his presidential ambitions. Missing is an alternative, conservative anchored vision of what the political right might more constructively be doing to advance its agenda.
What would such a message sound like? It might, for example, point out that Republicans are sacrificing one of the most principled critiques of the Democratic maneuvers on Obamacare: that the process of passing the law circumvented congressional rules and fed the public’s cynicism about congressional responsiveness to public sentiment. The defund movement’s tactics—risking a government stoppage that every poll suggests is deeply unpopular and seeking to effect a dramatic policy shift without anything resembling the normal process for repealing legislation—resembles too closely the Democrats’ insistence on driving through a healthcare overhaul in the face of broad opposition, through a parliamentary slight-of hand that effectively imposed one congressional chamber’s prerogatives on the other.
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Artur Davis: Where Is the Right’s Answer to Ted Cruz?
Molly Redden’s essay in the New Republic about the waning of Democratic centrists may be off-base in its examples—Christine Quinn’s deficiencies as a candidate competed with her ideological positioning as a source of her troubles, and Bill Daley’s withdrawal from the Illinois Governors’ race can hardly be attributed to a leftist backlash when he was running ahead in the polls—but her premise is certainly not one an expatriate former Democrat like myself would argue. In fact, I will use her observations to go one step further: the declining appeal of centrism in Democratic politics is not only tactically relevant to candidates, it is about to become just as culpable from a policy shaping standpoint as the much more heralded implosion of the old governing “establishment” wing of the Republican Party.
To be sure, Redden and her like-minded colleague Noam Scheiber aren’t spending much anxiety on the erosion of Democratic social conservatism, but they are highlighting that essentially one economic world view is tenable within internal Democratic fights. The tenets are that the inequitable distribution of wealth is the dominant economic threat; an aggressively regulated marketplace promotes fairness in a manner that overshadows any costs to innovation or growth; and the only adequate response to more systemic conditions like high unemployment and poverty is an assertive infusion of public dollars. In practical campaign terms, this means a candidate with a record of alliances with corporate institutions will need to spend time disgorging any rhetoric that helped forge those ties (for example, the Cory Booker who 16 months ago was defending private equity’s capacity to invest in underserved neighborhoods has morphed into the soon to be senator whose stump speech laments the failure to hand down prison sentences to Lehman executives); and a Bill de Blasio will have a built-in advantage over a more pro growth oriented message even without the special circumstances of identity politics around his mayoral nomination in New York City.
But the demise of the corporatist sensibility in Democratic politics has arguably spilled into an aversion to the reform minded brand of politics that was until recently an underpinning of both the party’s strategic and policy framework. This plays out most decisively in the context of entitlements. There is a near universal consensus among Democratic politicians and elites that the current entitlement structure is morally and fiscally sound enough that a genuine overhaul is neither desirable nor necessary: a sharp movement from the Simpson Bowles approach a notable number of Democratic thought leaders praised in 2011 and a lifetime of difference from some of the thought experiments of the late Clinton era.
The same antipathy to reform surfaces in the disappearance of the old Robert Kennedy critique of bureaucratic anti-poverty institutions, and in the field of education reform, where accountability and strengthened teacher standards are about as unpopular among today’s Democrats as vouchers or parental choice; that is to say, almost toxic. And, as fellow right-leaning reformers like Reihan Salam and Ross Douthat might point out, there is no meaningful discussion in contemporary liberalism of the kind of pro family tax reform that would advantage major portions of the Democratic Party’s low wage base; and it is conservative pundits who are churning out proposals to make the earned income tax credit more flexible or to permanently reduce FICA taxation on the working poor.
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Artur Davis: Those Fading Democratic Centrists
A few takeaways from Bill de Blasio’s apparent victory in New York’s Democratic mayoral primary:
(1) If the New York Times’ insider account of his strategy is accurate (and not just post victory spin by consultants) de Blasio deserves a substantial amount of strategic credit for running against the grain of initial polling as well as conventional wisdom. Six months ago, the best empirical and anecdotal evidence was that New Yorkers were generally contented with the city’s direction, and preferred a successor that offered a continuation of Michael Bloomberg’s policy tilt, albeit in a less autocratic, more compassionate style. It turns out that had de Blasio heeded that mindset rather than challenging it, his candidacy would likely have suffered from the thematic muddle that damaged Christine Quinn’s and Bill Thompson’s efforts.
That is no small nod to de Blasio, given that most campaigns become prisoners of their own data and the temptation to craft a message broad enough to leave virtually every sector of the electorate (and the universe of endorsers) in play. And in making a bold play for a silent, but disgruntled majority, de Blasio enabled himself to benefit from an emergent shallowness in Bloomberg’s popularity: once the voice of opposition to Bloomberg became an unabashed liberal (and the ad featuring that candidate’s polished, appealing son) as opposed to Fox-loving critics of soda bans and the National Rifle Association, the mayor’s approval ratings bled, and his putative heir, Quinn, collapsed. (for a similarly adept Republican example of tossing conventional wisdom aside, see Bobby Jindal’s 2003 race for Governor of Louisiana, when an obscure, thirty-something Indian policy wonk opted to run on a comprehensive ethics platform when polls described the state’s tepid economy and the wounded petroleum industry as the major voter concerns. Jindal lost in 03, but his 48 percent showing tagged him as a fresh figure who became the presumptive favorite four years later.
(2) Bill Thompson’s inability to mobilize the African American vote, which had he dominated it, would have put him and de Blasio in a dead heat, is even more surprising than it seems on first glance. Unlike, say, my own 2010 race as a right of center Democrat, Thompson’s campaign was a conventionally liberal affair that, post primary rationalizations aside, actually spent considerable energy and advertising on assailing New York’s stop and frisk laws. To be sure, there was a lawyerly, nuanced bent to the substance of Thompson’s arguments—more thorough supervision versus an outright repeal—but it is unlikely that Thompson’s increasingly personal and forceful denunciations of the controversial tactic did not register on the city’s African American electorate. Nor did Thompson, by the way, reap much benefit from his support from one of New York’s influential and minority dominated teacher unions.
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Artur Davis: The Tale of New York
After a week of national debate, I think I follow the arguments for the pending Syrian force resolution before Congress: air strikes won’t threaten Bashar al-Assad’s hold on power; and they may or may not deter Assad from continuing the devastation of his own citizenry (which, by the way, has been well underway for the better part of two years without any attempt at American intervention.) Bombing would enforce the conscience of an international community that also happens to be conspicuously unwilling to act, even under the auspices of the usual fig leaves, NATO and the UN Security Council. True, Assad is not even remotely on the verge of exporting his destruction to his neighbors, and there is not a shred of evidence linking him to any credible threat to our homeland. But we should push ahead in the interests of future presidents having the flexibility to rattle sabers with credibility: and by the way, you are likely guilty of being an unsophisticated strategic thinker or an isolationist if you disagree.
That’s a lot of caveats, and concessions, in the service of a hypothetical. No surprise, then, that the prospects for Syrian resolution are crumbling in the House of Representatives, and the backlash has even generated the inconceivable—a bipartisan coalition for restraining Barack Obama’s consistently limitless vision of his authority. But despite the weakness of the substantive case for air strikes, it’s still worth addressing the institutional one that is becoming the rationale of last resort.
The defenders of the Syrian resolution assert a variety of fearful consequences if Congress actually asserts its prerogative of limiting a president’s war-making authority (never mind the irony of suggesting that the system is broken when it works exactly as it is constitutionally supposed to). But the specter of future chief executives suffering a dangerously weakened hand when they rhetorically draw “red lines”, or assert that renegade dictators “must go”, assumes the hand is a particularly strong one now: in fact, that strength is always tied to the precise nature of the national interest at stake, and a yes or no vote won’t change the calculus.
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Artur Davis: The Real Consequences of a “No” on Syria
While the political world is consumed with Syria—and the close question of whether Barack Obama’s muddled case for intervention is bolstered by worries about the institutional damage to the presidency that would come from a “no” vote on his Syrian resolution—a perceptive piece by two Democrats, William Galston and Elaine Kamarck, on the travails of the Republican Party, deserves a serious read. In their essay “How to Save the Republican Party, Courtesy of Two Democrats”, Galston and Kamarck outline Republican misconceptions about the electoral environment that as they point out, almost identically mirror what pre-Clintonian Democrats surmised about their party on the heels of successive presidential losses: (1) faith that there is a non-voting segment of the electorate that would be energized by a move toward an undiluted, ideologically pure version of the party’s ideological message and (2) that a solid majority in the House of Representatives and a majority of governorships are proof of an underlying electoral strength that will eventually reassert itself at the presidential level.
Anyone who has perused this site can guess that I am aligned with much of the Galston/Kamarck critique, and that I view what they call the “hyper-individualistic libertarianism” that is dominant in conservative grassroots circles as a liability for Republican aspirations to raise their vote shares with minorities, under 35 professional women, and white working class voters: in fact it is a liability about equal to the constraints interest group liberalism posed to eighties era Democrats trying to resurrect their appeal to southern moderates, white ethnics, and suburban professionals in the aftermath of Reagan.
But while Galston and Kamarck are singing off the right hymnal, I’ll advance one huge cautionary note that partly explains why conservative reform still struggles to resonate with GOP activists and primary voters. Any advocate of the kind of conservative evolution I would favor has to come to grips with an intrinsic contrast between the respective policy successes of Reagan Republicans (more muted than memory usually serves) and Obama Democrats (more sweeping than either camp prefers to acknowledge).
A generation ago, the Reagan era managed to rewrite one dramatic element of the domestic policy framework—namely, a sizable reduction in marginal tax rates—but to an extent that was downplayed then and obscured now, that framework was undisturbed in most other aspects. Discretionary spending was not sharply diminished; the entitlement structure was solidified; legal policy was turned rightward at the edges, but not in a manner that criminalized abortions or undermined affirmative action; and the regulatory footprint was mostly indistinguishable in 1989 from what it was in 1981.
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Artur Davis: One More Threat to Conservative Reform
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The modern South is waiting for its epic; or failing that, for a book that captures how one region can be so distinctive and still emblematic of every national psychosis at the same time. Peter Applebome’s excellent 1997 work “Dixie Rising” (facts out of date, conclusions still dead on) comes the closest in a pretty sparse field to hitting that zone, but there is no southern themed version of what George Packer just did so skillfully in excavating the Great Recession in “The Unwinding”. Tracy Thompson’s sometimes very good but nowhere near great effort, “The New Mind of the South” doesn’t threaten “Dixie Rising’s” standing. It might have, if the author had done a little less translation and a little more interpretation.
Some of Thompson’s flaws are relatively lower case blunders: identifying William Jennings Bryan, the Democratic presidential nominee who reconfigured his party as a populist vehicle, as a third party candidate is not unforgivable, although it is the kind of gaffe that calls every other obscure detail into some degree of doubt. Some of her faults are the price of an approach that prefers the anecdote and the cherry-picked stat to heavy duty research. This is a book that devotes a chapter to Hispanic immigration while tossing off two sentences about Alabama’s controversial law; that reaches conclusions about the racialization of southern politics without acknowledging that at the time she went to print, the nation’s only black senator happened to be a South Carolina Republican who defeated Strom Thurmond’s son in a congressional primary.
But Thompson did not set out to write a tome or a textbook. And her intuition that the best impressionistic essays can be deep without being a fact dump is surely right. But where she falls short is that a stylishly rendered, graceful account still constantly feels one step away from the depth she was striving toward. This is well done description of a road trip laced with a little data, not so much analysis, and likely would have fared better with critics if it had been packaged that way.
Exhibit One: The sketch of teenaged Latinos in Asheboro, North Carolina is a smart, interesting read on their space between absorption into and alienation from their surroundings, and that duality does add a tricky side note to the rising Hispanic southern population. But that same half-in, half-out condition also applies equally well to, oh, inner city black teenagers in the Ivy League, or imported northern professionals filling downtown condos from Richmond to Nashville. Thompson dwells on whether that ordinary enough ambiguity in place identity will change the nature of southerness, as if it were something profound, but skims the surface of more immediately relevant questions: are Hispanics really the key to a Democratic revival in a Georgia or North Carolina or will the social conservatism of the region’s Latinos (which she pauses to address for only about a sentence) turn them into a bloc that Republicans may woo when the immigrant bashing drains out of the right’s system? Is their rightward lean on faith and family different than or tantamount to the one that black southerners possess but don’t take into the voting booth? And if those details are too tediously political, how about this big question: how is that Alabamians and Georgians who so conspicuously pride themselves on racial progress had no compunction passing some of the nation’s harshest immigration laws at obvious cost to their reputation? Thompson’s take on whether there is rationalizing or back sliding at the source of this tension would have been worth hearing.
There is more of this pattern of reporting up to but not including the point of real insight. She is laser like in capturing Atlanta’s rising tide that didn’t lift enough boats, and is appropriately critical of Atlanta’s run of political mediocrity and its lapsed civil rights generation succession. All true, but interesting for this book’s purposes only if it traces a path that surfaces in the rest of the New South. Thompson never lets us know if a Birmingham, Memphis and Little Rock tell the same story, even if just by way of an aside. Moreover, by subscribing so predictably to the lament over right wing Republicans and self serving civil rights cut-offs, she brushes aside another thorny issue: why have southern progressives had so little to offer lately beyond a bought and paid for defense of plaintiffs lawyers and casinos? The absence of a reform culture in 21st century liberal southern politicians is the kind of thing a southern liberal like Thompson should have appreciated. But she opts for the cliché instead.
For every spot-on instinct about southern ways—give her credit for placing the southerner’s casual interrogations as to who raised you and who you married as anxiety to find a zone of connection rather than snobbery or nosiness—there seems to be a spot where her antenna goes dead. One would like to know what Thompson makes of a more consequential oddity most northerners don’t know: the fact that the South’s politics are arguably the most classless in the country—downscale whites vote roughly the same as white southern economic elites, and not just when a certain black president is on the ballot. The phenomenon of upper income voters forming the newest element of the Democratic electoral base is altogether missing down South. Also, what does Thompson take from the perverse reality that the irrelevance of class, rather than birthing some new fangled populism, has instead produced an electorate disengaged from class oriented problems in one of the sections of American where they are festering?
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Artur Davis: The New Mind of the South: A Native Southerner’s Miss
How depressing is it that the freshest commentary on Martin Luther King’s legacy is now twenty years old in its own right? Bill Clinton’s extended remarks at a Memphis church in 1993 remain the gold rhetorical standard for King commemoration: Clinton stretched a conventional riff about what King would make of contemporary America into an elegiac portrait of the self despair and internally inflicted injuries that haunt the black community, and the eloquence is deepened by Clinton’s sensitivity toward the national neglect that gave those wounds room to flourish.
Much of the speechifying and editorializing around this half week of “I Have a Dream” reminiscing will pale in comparison with Clinton’s talk. The favored cliché of a half empty, half full glass will pair the obvious successes—the fact that it will be a black president who occupies King’s place on the Lincoln Memorial to offer an official tribute; the emergence of a black economic elite that is one of the most potent consumer bases; the commonplace nature of advances for blacks in virtually every sector—with the just as apparent misses, from poverty to high rates of minority incarceration to the persistence of racial backlash. The most predictable liberal voices will invoke voter ID laws, stand your ground defenses, and stop and frisk police tactics in New York City as modern counterparts to Jim Crow and George Wallace, and conservative critics will seize on the gulf between each example and the harshly repressive color code of America pre 1965 to frame those same liberal voices as a farce.
There will be the inevitable effort to downsize King into the familiar ideological boxes of the past several decades. But while something should be said for Ross Douthat’s perspective that a few contemporary ideological battles have aligned at least some conservatives with traditional civil rights priorities on education and criminal justice reform, there is even more to be said for the notion that King had, and likely would have continued to have, an ambiguous relationship with liberalism. If LBJ’s Great Society wasn’t sufficient to deter King from making his last initiative a Poor People’s march on Washington, it’s reasonable to envision his evolution toward skepticism about other antipoverty programs and their effectiveness. And while some of the critique would have demanded more spending and redistribution, it’s fair to speculate if some of it could have sounded more right-leaning themes. A man who founded a civil rights movement on the ethic of individual participation and self-worth may well have uncomfortable with, for example, welfare unconnected to work requirements: and that would have sharply shifted the perimeter of the debate over welfare during the next 25 years, a period when pre Clinton liberals generally defended and wrote into law a vision of unconditional government assistance.
Does that mean that King was a prospective cheerleader for the Reagan agenda? Hardly, but it is not so difficult to imagine King sympathizing with Robert Kennedy’s famous description of public education as the second most distrusted institution in the inner city (trailing only the police). Or to see King turning into an early foe of the left’s contributions to urban pathology: from the hollowed out, decaying public housing structures crammed into the least desirable places on the city’s edge, to the bargains that political hacks negotiated, like a minimal police presence in exchange for peace with the gangs, and lucrative pensions for patronage jobs as a tradeoff for more robust social services. The interest group factionalism of the Democratic Party, it is also worth noting, is a descendant of the LBJ/Hubert Humphrey style liberalism that King seemed to be edging away from in his final months, in favor of Bobby Kennedy’s challenge to the Democratic machinery. If King had lived, it is not far-fetched to think that the next generation of partisan politics might have looked to him like something of a wasteland, as well as a protection racket for a lot of weak, ineffective dogmas.
In other words, one does not have to ridiculously envision King as a budget cutting, quota-bashing conservative to realize his potential for unsettling liberalism from a different, more eclectic vantage point. It is equally interesting to wonder how much polarization could have been avoided if one of the sharpest critics of urban dysfunction had been Martin Luther King as opposed to suburban conservatives, or if King’s evangelicalism had competed with fundamentalism to be the face of religion in politics during the seventies and eighties, or if King’s adeptness at defining a moral case for his goals had won over at least some of the blue collar whites and southern moderates who turned to the right.
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Artur Davis: The Forgotten King
To the extent there is a species of Republican the very left leaning blogosphere approves of, it usually sounds something like this: pro immigration reform and eager to take to task the xenophobic strands of the anti immigration argument; libertarian on gay marriage; skeptical of the Tea Party influence on the modern right; dismissive of government shutdown threats; and independent enough to call out a conservative favorite like Rand Paul when he puts a secessionist sympathizer on the federal payroll.
That happens to also be a point by point account of the opinions of the Washington Post’s Republican blogger Jennifer Rubin, and it explains why she has taken her share of shots from the right (Erick Erickson has famously said that she has “nothing in common with conservatives other than hating terrorists”). But the fact that she is something of a punching bag within the left’s online community is a mystery to me and I suspect a lot of others who actually read her work. And the broadside she just absorbed from the Post’s former ombudsman is even more bizarre, when its principal claim is that she is a serial recycler of “every silly right wing theory to come down the pike.”
An odd charge, given her relatively centrist views, and the frequency with which she expresses them: albeit a common one based on any random perusal of the comments on her blog. Putting the ex ombudsman aside (there is no politics like intra office politics) the “Rubin is far right” charge seems to typify one of two scenarios: either a classic case of the messenger overwhelming the message or, alternatively, a pretty fair reading of the abuse any card carrying conservative faces in the volleying that passes for ideological debate circa the Obama era.
Given that most of Rubin’s online critics probably could not pick her out of a lineup (her only steady television presence is the lightly watched MSNBC roundtable Chuck Todd hosts) and allowing that the author of a three year old column is hardly a long-running bête noire of the left, I’ll opt for theory 2: whatever the precise shade of her ideology, Rubin still wears the c-label as opposed to branding herself a moderate, occupies the most prominent online conservative niche in a liberal leaning paper, and those red flags alone have made her a target. So much so that no matter how many times she deviates from right wing orthodoxy, the credit has been sparse from people who make a habit of dismissing that orthodoxy and claim to value “adults” who break ranks with it.
And that’s the most salient aspect of why a blog dustup over a nationally unknown pundit is worthy of examination: it’s a smallish but telling piece of evidence of how liberalism circa 2013 practices its own form of insularity and narrowness, and how the left exists within the same kind of ideological bubble the right is alleged to live inside. The result is a sense of mission about liberal causes that makes it hard to see conservatism in any form as a serious intellectual rival or a sensibility worth understanding. How can it be, when the left assumes that to be a conservative is to be a one percent coddling, gay hating, war on women waging, vote suppressing, science denying kind of clown.
Never mind that the supposedly monolithic right is almost Baptist like in its proliferation of rival doctrinal camps. Never mind that George W. Bush tightened more financial regulations than Bill Clinton; that even an eloquent gay advocate like Frank Bruni initially questioned the wisdom of a federal judicial overturn of traditional marriage laws; that the GOP social issue de jour, banning of abortions after 20 weeks, is the position a growing plurality of Americans hold. Never mind that a liberal icon named John Paul Stevens blessed voter ID laws during his Supreme Court tenure, or that the fact of human influenced climate change can be accepted without co-signing the Obama Administration’s aggressiveness on regulating carbon emissions.
Notwithstanding any of those stubborn facts, the left’s vision of right and wrong (and smart and dumb) thoroughly monopolizes the mainstream press, and the lion’s share of social media. Its dominance, of course, has generated a parallel universe on the Fox News Channel, with its own convictions and suspicions about the other side. But the presence of a Fox does not change the reality that in the most credentialed and prestigious media circles, denigrating conservatism is the last socially acceptable prejudice; and the rightwing counter to that contempt is still confined to one TV channel and a shrinking pool of radio stations.
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Artur Davis: What the Mini War on Jennifer Rubin Reveals
The counter-attack on NBC’s Hillary Clinton miniseries will end up, like most of the pseudo fights in the culture wars, paying dividends for every faction in the dispute. Republicans will stoke their base with this newest evidence that powerful media elites harbor a liberal bias; NBC will end up reaping as many as 40-50 million viewers for two nights of television, the kind of ratings bonanza that is supposedly a thing of the past for non football events; and Hillary’s status as a political heavyweight is enhanced. Everybody not aligned with Joe Biden’s or Cory Booker’s presidential ambitions ends up winning.
But rather than dwell on the lines that a network crosses in promoting a potential candidate’s image when its news division will regularly be making coverage judgments about that candidate, and vetting tips and storylines that could weaken the bet its entertainment division is placing, Republicans would do better to remember why those lines are being crossed. Putting partisan blinders aside, it has infinitely more to do with the television industry’s single mindedness about money than any cheerleading agenda. And the nature of the popularity that makes NBC confident that a Clinton miniseries will pay off ought to stress Republicans considerably more than what questions an NBC moderator would pose during a Republican debate.
This is the Hillary threat in its broadest context: she is for a generation of professional women, the most conspicuous example of an exquisitely successful balance between motherhood, marriage, and career; for consumers of the last twenty years worth of political/celebrity culture, the Clintons are on a very short list of figures in this era whose reputation has survived so long and actually prospered (maybe Oprah, Buffett and Gates) ; and the resilience inside that survival is the kind of narrative that props up the self help-fixated space in our psychology that knows no class, gender, racial or ideological boundaries. Note that not one line of that portfolio has anything to do with her emerging childcare platform, her just rolled out proposal to undo voting restrictions, or her stewardship of the massive infrastructure that is the State Department, or any of the other standard policy components of a candidacy that her putative 2016 rivals are laboring to assemble right now.
Put another way, NBC is not so much creating a phenomenon around Hillary Clinton: it is preparing to make money from the phenomenon that already exists. And since the mythology that makes Hillary worthy of a commercial gamble is completely separated from her politics, conventional campaign attacks—politics as usual—will struggle to diminish that foundation. That’s not to say that 2016 is destined to be a coronation, but that certain casual assumptions about a Hillary race shouldn’t be as glibly tossed off as they are some in GOP consultant circles—namely that Obama fatigue will damage her, that she has already blown one presidential opportunity, or that the appetite for something novel will undercut her as it did in 2008.
Every one of those intuitions about Clinton’s vulnerability seems sound enough until they roll up against one undeniable fact: five years ago, her brand wasn’t strong enough that a network (and let us not forget a big screen movie in development) would have even considered betting its capital on her. The Hillary of 2008 was too wrapped in the psychodrama of her husband’s adventures, too polarizing, too retrograde to justify that kind of high stakes wager. For whatever combination of reasons, from one more bout of redemption by serving the president who defeated her, to the possibility that after the last four years, experience and bipartisan appeal seem valuable again, the Hillary of the present is decidedly more formidable: ultimately, she has reversed the disintegration over time concept that erodes most brands, a sizable achievement given our chronically weak attention span.
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Artur Davis: Fear Hillary!