Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Pandering to the Base

Here’s Michael Tomasky trying to substantiate his thesis that “Republicans are terrified of offending even the fringe elements of their base. Democrats are terrified of being associated with theirs”:
“A video that made the rounds last summer summed up the problem nicely. Mike Stark of The Huffington Post hoisted a camera on his shoulder, hung out on the streets near the House office buildings in Washington, and asked passing Republican House members: Do you believe that Barack Obama is a rightful citizen of the United States?

“I don't know how many he asked (there were snippets of several ducking into cars or pretending to take calls), but he quoted 11 in the video he posted. Of the 11, only one, Trent Franks of Arizona, acknowledged straightforwardly that yes, his staff had intensively researched the question and was forced to conclude that a birth announcement in a 1961 issue of The Honolulu Advertiser likely couldn't have been forged. The other 10, mostly not well known, either ducked the question, marching forward in that West Wing, I've-got-important-business way, or gave too-clever-by-half responses, or just came out and said they weren't sure. . . . .

“Let's imagine that a right-wing reporter had asked 11 Democratic House members in 2002 whether George W. Bush and Dick Cheney had foreknowledge of the September 11 attacks and let them happen (an imprecise but rough analogy in that it is also, I believe, crazy). One or two Democrats might have played that one coy, but by and large, they'd have turned cartwheels disassociating themselves from such a view.”
Tomasky seems to think that he’s calling attention to a fact that’s perfectly obvious the moment it’s brought to consciousness. You can generally say this sort of thing in the liberal circles I frequent without fear of contradiction because it’s considered bad form even to try thinking up a counter-example. If you’re so poorly socialized that you make the effort, however, you can usually come up with one in less than seven seconds. This one came to my mind within 5.7 seconds.

Ann Coulter and Michael Moore both have large followings. But they’re both held in disrepute, not only by their ideological opponents but by a substantial number of ideological sympathizers, because they make their living upholding views (e.g., her hero-worship of Joe McCarthy and his celebration of bloodthirsty Iraqi insurgents as “freedom fighters”) outside the confines of respectable conservative and liberal opinion. So how does Coulter’s status among Republican politicians  compare to Moore’s among Democrats?

You tell me. Can you think of a national figure in the Republican Party who’d be caught dead being seen in Coulter’s immediate company? I can't.  That’s fine with her, I suspect, because not being hamstrung by their inhibiting presence is a crucial part of her business plan.

Yet prominent Democratic politicians don’t have similar reservations about being seen in Moore’s company. The Washington premiere of his factually-challenged and relentlessly scurrilous film Fahrenheit 9/11 occurred at a time when American soldiers were fighting and dying at the hands of Iraqi insurgents in a war that was still supported by a large majority of the Democratic congressional caucus. Yet it was flamboyantly attended by liberal politicians of the stature of then Senate Democratic Majority Leader Tom Daschle, Senators Barbara Boxer and Tom Harkin and Democratic Party National Chairman Terry McAuliffe. A year later at the Democratic National Convention, Moore was invited by Jimmy Carter to listen to Bill Clinton’s speech with Carter in seats reserved for Democratic Party dignitaries. That doesn’t suggest to me that Democratic politicians are exactly “terrified of being associated with” ideologically extreme elements of the Democratic base.

I doubt that prominent Democrats would hobnob with Moore now that their party’s in power, or that Republicans would have given the birthers as wide a berth as they do now when they still controlled Congress and the White House. For obvious reasons, governing parties tend to be more careful about that sort of thing than parties in opposition. But that explanation wouldn’t enable liberals to pat themselves on the back for their superior rationality.

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