Groping For Another Way
This was the week of â€œhigh conceptâ€? audio and visual clips from the G8 conference. And what memorable imagery…
First, there was President George Bushâ€™s blunt, no PC use of a four letter word beginning with â€œsâ€? in referring to Hezbollahâ€™s provocative Middle East actions (The word wasnâ€™t â€œsore.â€?) in a moment when he didnâ€™t know his mike was on.
Next, there was that visual of Bush walking behind a clearly surprised and not precisely delighted German Chancellor Angela Merkel to give her a neck rub. (He would have gotten lots more publicity if he had done it to British Prime Minister Tony Blair).
In a way these seem to be metaphors for many in Americaâ€™s political center.
You meet more and more centrists and moderates who are bluntly saying (and some will use the â€œsâ€? word) about how fed up they are with polarization and the way they perceive both partiesâ€™ partisan bases are ignoring or â€œdissingâ€? them.
And you find more and more centrists groping for solutions — and new options.
Did you ever walk onto a school playground and hear a little kid say â€œNanee nanee noo noo!â€? as he teases a playmate? Youâ€™ve heard it many times before and even thought it may be cute and attention getting, but itâ€™s quite old.
And thatâ€™s the story of American politics as it moves into the 2006 midterms and the 2008 presidential elections. We wouldnâ€™t dare use the phrase â€œstuck on stupidâ€? to describe what’s going on.
Let’s just say it seems stuck on stupidity.
POLARIZATION REMAINS KING: Last week former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich had some advice for GOPers and the White House. Start talking up events in the Middle East as being part of World War III. Have President Bush then call Congress into session in September and bring it all together using label World War III. Newt then suggested this could work against Democrats in the upcoming mid-term elections — in other words, are you for us in this fight in World War III (which would embrace everything the administration has done on Iraq, 911, the Middle East) or not? In essence, he was suggesting national unity over the Middle East be flushed down the toilet. But when he went on Meet the Press he urged the World War III terminology, yet omitted the idea that this be used against Democrats to further divide our polity. In talking to Tim Russert, Newt assumed the role of thinker versus polarizing political hack. So which one is he?
EVEN SYMBOLS OF MOMENTS OF NATIONAL UNITY ARE EXPLOITED: In Ohio, Sen. Mike DeWine is using 911 footage to suggest his Democratic opponent is soft on terrorism. It turns out DeWine is soft on accuracy: it turns out the footage he was using was doctored. Mr. DeWine and others who want to turn 911 images of falling towers (which mean people being burned into cinders inside the buildings) into suggestions that their opponents are soft on terrorism and donâ€™t care about American lives seem to forget that 911 was a supremely NONPARTISAN moment in national history — where all Americans came together and on the key decisions in changing the way the government operated BOTH PARTIES voted for the final measures. He seemingly forgets that who might have voted against a piece of legislation did so for reasons other than not caring about Americans. He also forgets: 911 was the result of a failure of MANY administrations of BOTH parties and intra and inter intelligence agency bickering that failed to connect the dots. No one party deserves the blame for 911 or is totally responsible for the national unity that came right after it.
DOWNSIZING THE SIZE OF YOUR PARTY TENT: Many partisans in both the Republican and Democratic parties seem determined to weed out people who do not fully agree with their own ideological agenda. They always offer logical explanations and rationalizations for doing it but the bottom line is the same. Lieberman has acted like a Republican and blasts his own party. Bush kissed himâ€¦Lincoln Chafee is a RINO. You canâ€™t count on him to back the Republican party. (Come to think of it, Harry Reid has not kissed HIM so perhaps Chafee is luckier than Lieberman.) When these folks are weeded out or even if they survive with grave political wounds, it will tell some independent or non-lockstep voters: Youâ€™re not welcome in THIS party unless you agree with everything we believe so find another home. (We predict they WILL).
How did we get in this state? You can make the case that since the early 20th century America has gone through upheavals in the concept of â€œbroadcastingâ€? versus â€œnarrow castingâ€? that impacted entertainment and politics. Early live vaudeville shows had to appeal to a wide audience. Movies and radio came in and killed vaudeville but the concept was still to get a broad audience. In politics, politicians sought broad-based coalitions that would help them win and govern.
By the early to mid 60s and the growth of the Vietnam War, generation/culture gap and divisions became more rampant. In entertainment terms, this partly led to the demise of CBSâ€™s Ed Sullivan Show because a â€œbig tentâ€? entertainment variety show was becoming passÃ©. Cable fed the trend of â€œnarrow casting where you now have 100 stations to choose from (most of them showing crap). The Rush Limbaughization of America began by the 80s where politics became like pro-wrestling — entertainmentâ€¦hours of demonizing and ridiculing politicos and defending and praising one side. Rush became the model for much of progressive talk.
Enter Karl Rove and the â€œmobilization electionâ€? where you aim to get YOUR side out and donâ€™t worry about the center. Add to that a (sometimes angry) soul searching among some Democrats that their party has blown it by trying to appeal to Republicans and that the way to win is to by accentuate differences between parties to offer a clearer choice.
In a way, this comes full circle: todayâ€™s left-wing Democrats arenâ€™t just like the 1960s McGovernites, but like the early 60â€™s Goldwaterites whose credo was â€œA Choice Not An Echo.â€?
Increasingly, moderates and centrists are being asked to choose sides or someone will define them as being on one side whether they like it or not. In Blogtopia some blogs in the middle are being labeled as right or left. Usually a writerâ€™s motives are impugned. Blogs on both sides have allowed almost slanderous things to be said about other bloggers in comments sections. Meanwhile, blogs in the center are used to being called secretly Democrat, secretly Republican and being delinked occasionally by the right or the left who insist they know THE TRUTH about what these blogs REALLY believe.
Itâ€™s trying to shove people in the center into one of the ideological slots on the right or left. The goal in American politics these days seems less to create broad-based coalitions and win people over than to beat them down. Old fashioned political horse trading has in many cases been replaced by a yearning for intellectual slavery and total obedience.
This may work to bludgeon some folks in the center. But those on the right and left may find that when it comes time to vote he who has pressured or demonized people in the center may find that his side will lose their votes. The good news: there are STILL thoughtful politicos and operatives in both parties who are trying to keep their tents from shrinking. There ARE many thoughtful liberals, conservatives and centrists who arenâ€™t buying into the politics of demonization and intellectual intimidation. They vigorously defend their views but donâ€™t do so by trying to tear down others.
You could make the case that folks attacking the center for not supporting them 100 percent must be moles for their opposing parties. But, more accurately, they sometimes seem moles for the politics of polarization and intellectual intolerance.
Many Americans in the center look at all of this and use the â€œsâ€? word. And many grope for answers.
Although perhaps not as joyously as Mr. Bush.
Cross posted (with some minor edits here) on Unity08
(This post does not necessarily reflect the views of cobloggers on The Moderate Voice)