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Off to the Horses... | The Nation

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Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

Well-chosen words on music, movies and politics, with the occasional special guest.

Off to the Horses...

My new “Think Again” column is called “As a Matter of Fact,” and it’s about how easily these alleged “fact-check” organizations can be manipulated into buying into right-wing propgapanda via “On the One-Handism” and you can find it here.

Thanks very much to Jordan Michael Smith for this thoughtful and generous review of The Cause.

I will be talking about liberalism and The Cause at an event sponsored by Demos and The World Policy Institute in lower Manhattan on Thursday, May 23 at 6:00. Further information should you wish to attend is here.

Also, if you want to know what drives me crazy in this world it’s stuff like this:  

From the PolitickerNJ report:

Rep. Bill Pascrell.Rothman proudly and consistently declared himself the progressive in the race. Responding to a question from Bergen Record columnist Charles Stile, the Bergen congressman admitted, “I’m a liberal.”

“ADMITTED? “ Jesus. Is he also a serial rapist and a cannibal?

Now here’s Reed:

You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet
by Reed Richardson

To read Jeffrey Toobin’s long dissection of the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling in this week’s New Yorker is to come away more than just a little bit saddened and alarmed about the future of our democracy. Thanks to clever Machiavellian maneuvering two years ago, the Roberts Court’s slim conservative majority brazenly tossed aside any notion of stare decisis in active pursuit of its right-wing agenda, radically rewriting campaign finance laws along the way. And as Toobin’s article strongly intimates (but does not say), to believe that, next month, these same five Justices will choose to uphold decades of settled Commerce Clause law rather than strike a partisan blow against this Democratic president’s landmark health-care achievement is to be as guilty of willfully ignoring precedent as the Court itself.  

These fears for our country’s democratic well-being are rooted in more than just a few individual Supreme Court rulings, however radically tilted toward the powerful though they may be. It’s only by putting the Roberts Court’s sharp rightward turn into a broader political context—something the mainstream press routinely fails to do, but the public is starting to—that the true stakes for this November’s elections become clear. Though it may be obvious to us liberals, it nonetheless bears repeating: a Romney victory this November (and the GOP majorities in the both the House and Senate that would likely accompany it) would mean that conservatives will have now firmly gained control over every branch of our federal government. And if one cringes at the memory of the desolate, middle four years of George W. Bush’s administration (when Justice Sandra Day O’Connor basically kept the right-wing wolves at bay), the prospect of our nation’s political health completely under the care of a President Romney, Chief Justice Roberts, and Rep. Paul Ryan should be enough to trigger full-on heart palpitations.  

Then again, the notion that these three men would lead a Republican triad hell-bent on ushering in a new Gilded Age is likely an exaggeration. Not in the sense that they wouldn’t seek to dismantle the nation’s social compact while reflexively fluffing the rich, but rather in the erroneous assumption that Romney, Roberts, and Ryan would represent the real intellectual impetus behind such an agenda. Instead, they are merely more publicly palatable stand-ins for their more rabidly conservative colleagues. In other words, Roberts really takes his cues from Scalia, Ryan has to satisfy Tea Party types like Rep. Sean Duffy, and Romney has already signaled an abiding affection for former Bush administration neo-cons. That conservatives have positioned less controversial, more moderate-seeming figureheads as the faces of their policy agenda is no happy accident, of course. It’s a canny strategic ploy. But as longtime Washington political watchers Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein have thoroughly documented, it doesn’t mean the plans they are fronting are any less extreme.

Sadly, but perhaps not unexpectedly, the establishment media has mostly taken a pass at delving into the ramifications of such a potentially seismic shift in the American political landscape. The reticence on the part of the press to even discuss this ‘asymmetric polarization,’ though, simply exacerbates the problem and gives Republicans the political cover they seek. Romney, in particular, seems to be getting the benefit of the doubt from the press about his true moderate principles, when the more salient point is that whatever he personally believes won’t make much of a difference if he’s elected. To firebrand conservative leaders like anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist, the value of Romney occupying the White House is simply to act as a rubber stamp for a right-wing Congressional vanguard, and can be summed up thusly: “We just need a president who can sign the legislation…[w]e don’t need someone to think. We need someone with enough digits on one hand to hold a pen.”

Just who the authors of this legislation might be come next January became even clearer this week when Nebraska state Senator Deb Fischer scored a surprising upset victory in that state’s Senate Republican primary. In fact, Fischer might stand as the new prototype of what our democracy can look forward to in this post-Citizens United climate. Hardly given much of a chance in a race against the state’s sitting Attorney General and Treasurer, Fischer eked out a narrow victory thanks, in large part, to a last-minute ad blitz funded by right-wing billionaire patron Joe Ricketts. (Can you guess how else Ricketts is thinking of spending his money this year?) So, instead of her recklessly anti-government views being limited to the coffee shops and feed lots of Cherry County, one man’s money has now propelled Fischer to a better than even chance of joining the ‘world’s greatest deliberative body.’

Over time, this kind of undue concentration of political influence can’t help but perpetuate a vicious cycle for our democracy, one where rich and powerful actors grow even more rich and powerful thanks to payback from the like-minded members of the government that they hand-picked to run it. In state after state, conservatives have already previewed how they plan on rewarding their benefactors and abrogating the rights of the many, whether it’s through ‘voter-ID’ disenfranchisement and right-to-work laws or the de-funding of Medicaid and passage of xenophobic immigration rules. A Republican sweep at the federal level this fall would only serve to supercharge this agenda and possibly cement the GOP’s consolidation of power for a generation or more. Consider, for a moment, the ideological bent of the Supreme Court nominee that Romney would be able to get past a GOP-led Senate populated with more Deb Fischers. (And here’s where, if you’re the praying type, you might offer an extra one that this prediction about Justice Ginsburg doesn’t come true with Romney in the White House.)

One would search in vain, however, to get a sense of this big political picture from most of the current campaign coverage. Horserace reporting, by its very nature, tends to sweat the small stuff and, when it does take off its blinders, still views ascending to office as an end unto itself rather than the means by which one can then exert political power. As a result, the stark choice our nation faces this November—either Obama confronting a divided Congress and a hostile Supreme Court or Romney acquiescing to an assertive Congress and friendly Court—rarely gets explored. But it should. And this may be the biggest story of the election that the press is missing so far—that the Republicans are actually right to warn the public this election could fundamentally distort the nature of our democracy, it’s just that, like Chief Justice Roberts in the Citizens United case, they don’t want to admit that they’re the ones who would be doing it.

Contact me directly at reedfrichardson (at) gmail dot com. 

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