The Rhetoric Trap
I think Jonathon Chait makes a really good point here:
Now, most elite Republicans understand that the red meat fed to the base isn’t exactly right. It’s useful to scare the daylights out of the activists, but writers for the Standard and the Journal editorial page understand that “freedom,” as most people understand the term, is not really at risk. They understand as well that politics is a little more complicated than “if Republicans stay true to conservatism, they cannot lose.”
But the conservative base is not in on the joke. And so Republican elites found themselves with just a few frantic days to undo the toxic and intoxicating effects of 20 months of relentless propaganda. Vote for the man who compromised with evil! The true conservative can’t always win! They couldn’t do it.
I won’t say that the Republican base strategy has been a total failure. But it is nice to see it blow up in the face of the establishment from time to time.
He’s a little more happy about this whole Christine O’Donnell scenario than I am, but I think this is important, and it reminds me of something President Obama said a while back when he visited the House Republicans at their retreat.
So all I’m saying is, we’ve got to close the gap a little bit between the rhetoric and the reality. I’m not suggesting that we’re going to agree on everything, whether it’s on health care or energy or what have you, but if the way these issues are being presented by the Republicans is that this is some wild-eyed plot to impose huge government in every aspect of our lives, what happens is you guys then don’t have a lot of room to negotiate with me.
I mean, the fact of the matter is, is that many of you, if you voted with the administration on something, are politically vulnerable in your own base, in your own party. You’ve given yourselves very little room to work in a bipartisan fashion because what you’ve been telling your constituents is, this guy is doing all kinds of crazy stuff that’s going to destroy America.
And I would just say that we have to think about tone. It’s not just on your side, by the way — it’s on our side, as well. This is part of what’s happened in our politics, where we demonize the other side so much that when it comes to actually getting things done, it becomes tough to do.
I think people generally underestimate the effect of conservative hyperbolic rhetoric. It’s nice to sit over here on the left and think that every Republican in the Senate genuinely believes the crap coming out of Fox News, but the fact is that not all of them do. I’m sure there are several Republicans who would love to compromise on legislation but are boxed in by this rhetoric. And it’s not just Republicans either. I’m sure that this also effects conservative Democrats like Ben Nelson too.
People have to realize that the vast majority of people don’t pay attention. For those that do, a majority of them are watching Fox News, and are exposed to this hyperbole all day long, and it’s poisonous. It stifles rational debate and fosters gridlock.
There’s a part of me that wants the Republicans to win the House so that they have to lay in the bed they made. How can you pass a bill without compromising with the enemy? But the other part of me knows how irresponsible the GOP can be and I can’t eliminate the possibility of utter gridlock on Capitol Hill.
One thing is for certain. If the GOP wants to create any public policy in the near future, it will either have to tone down the rhetoric, or control the entire government.
For America’s sake, I hope it’s the former.