October 15, 2010, 10:10By TOBIN HARSHAW
It’s the duty (and, O.K., the bliss) of an opinion journalist to demonstrate that the Beltway’s conventional wisdom has far fewer garments than it supposes. But on one count — that the progressives are at the moment far more marginalized by their Democratic president and Congressional leadership than are the Tea Party enthusiasts by the Republican powers-that-be — it’s been hard to show contention. After all, the president who insisted that the day of his inauguration would be “the moment when we ended a war,” who confidently said that “we are going to close Guantanamo”, who promised to repeal the military’s don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy has shown, through deed if not word, that he’s not exactly a hostage to the far left. Nor has the Democratic leadership: Senate majority leader Harry Reid is an apostate on a woman’s alleged right to choose — “abortions should be legal only when the pregnancy resulted from incest or rape, or when the life of the woman is endangered” – and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi isn’t exactly beloved.
A poll on which party is more dominated by its fringe found that the far left is viewed as more influential than the Tea Parties.
So how to explain this, from The Hill’s Alexander Bolton?
Likely voters in battleground districts see extremists as having a more dominant influence over the Democratic Party than they do over the GOP. This result comes from The Hill 2010 Midterm Election Poll, which found that 44 percent of likely voters say the Democratic Party is more dominated by its extreme elements, whereas 37 percent say it’s the Republican Party that is more dominated by extremists.
Award for the pithiest response goes to Gawker’s Jim Newell: “44% of likely voters say the Democratic Party is ‘more dominated by its extreme elements,’ versus 37% for the GOP. This is probably because Democrats have very few ‘likely voters.’ “
Now, it’s true that the survey was focused on just a handful of Congressional districts in which the races are considered toss-ups, but can the Democrats’ election gurus really ignore it? “That’s real trouble for Democrats,” Jim Kessler, co-founder of the Third Way, a centrist Democratic think tank, told The Hill. “All the press coverage has been about how these Tea Party candidates are fringe ideologues, and there have been high-profile examples of them proving the point. Yet, still at this moment, you have independents saying, ‘I think the Democrats are a little more extreme than the Republicans.’ ”
Some on the left think it’s less a matter of how Democrats are behaving than of poor framing on the concept of extremism. “The Democratic Party is ‘more dominated than the GOP by extreme views’?” asks Misty at Shakesville. “What? Did they forget to finish that statement with ‘…. more dominated than the GOP by extreme views because they’re so like the GOP and not like Democrats at all’? Who are these ‘extremists’?” As for the villains in her mind, you can probably guess:
Media like Fox and their hateful talking heads certainly make a lot of noise–and many people listen to that noise. This country seems to have drifted “right”ward, given how many people actually take it seriously–see it as a reasonable accusation–when Obama is called a socialist. He’s a centrist, milquetoast Democrat. He’s not a freaking socialist! However, a lot of people really seem to believe that some centrist positions are socialist (and un-American, to boot).
This is in line with the comments the liberal activist Markos Moulitsas gave the Hill:
“Democrats haven’t nominated anyone like Sharron Angle or Rand Paul or Christine O’Donnell or Rob Johnson or Joe Miller for Senate seats, much less the myriad of wackos in House races across the country,” said Markos Moulitsas, founder and publisher of Daily Kos, one of the nation’s largest liberal blogs. “We don’t have media figures like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh calling the shots for our party.
“But they have built their alternate world courtesy of Fox News, thus making them impervious to reality. Is that a problem? Sure. Even more so when Democrats think they can reason with this crowd,” said Moulitsas, a contributing columnist for The Hill.
“This is the direct result of systematic, intentional right wing media deregulation,” is the echo from Michael Tedesco at Comments From Left Field. “If reasonable people wish to ever see their political process return to some semblance of sanity then the focus of grass roots efforts on reform needs to directed on reversing the decades of destruction wrought on the journalism.”
Hmmm, if conservative commentary is the product of “deregulation,” I’m curious to know how Tedesco would have the press regulated. Why do I doubt that such a media utopia would have little room for people like JammieWearingFool, who had this to say about the Hill poll:
Despite 18 months of the media calling tea partiers frothing rabble and angry extremists, a new poll shows precisely the opposite. More people perceive the Democratic Party to be dominated by the fringe. Of course anyone with functioning synapses has recognized this for the past few decades …
In other words, clear-thinking people have tuned out the lamestream media and their mantra about how crazy tea partiers are. The think they can constantly harp on Angle and O’Donnell yet they overlook the surge nationwide from independents toward the GOP. The media won’t change, they’ll just lose more viewers and readers.
“Recall how the unhappy Barney Frank, after leaving on a (bailout recipient’s) jet plane to the Virgin Islands, insisted that Republicans “need to do more to ‘differentiate themselves’ from the hateful speech spewed in the healthcare debate’s final hours’?” asks B. Daniel Blatt at GayPatriot. “Seems this mean-spirited Massachusetts Democrat wants to tie his partisan adversaries to the fringe elements of the Tea Party (while they, in Barney’s fervid imagination, want to tie him to the train tracks). Well, Barney, like most things you try, this, well, this strategy isn’t working.”
Susan Duclos at Wake Up America notes that the poll result “even crossed party lines with one-in-five Democrats, 22 percent, saying their own party was dominated by extremists, which is double the amount of Republicans that said the same thing about the GOP (11 percent).” She thinks the reasons for this are obvious:
Obama, Pelosi and Reid have represented the extreme portion of their party base at the exclusion of Independents, centrists, moderates and conservatives and the midterm election results with reflect whether the country approves of that representation or not … Perhaps this is one reason we are seeing Blue Dog Democrats come out so hard against Pelosi, swearing to their constituents they will not vote for her as Speaker of the House if the Democrats should manage to retain control of the House of Representatives, going so far as to say they want a centrist as Speaker, calling her “divisive” and too “extreme”.
William Teach of Pirate’s Cove, however, thinks the poll result has more to do with longstanding, shared American values:
The United States is a center-right nation. The People like their taxes low, their military strong, their government out of their lives. The want law and order, they want their government to listen and be responsive. They also like their social programs. Bush, for all his faults, was really about the perfect American president. Strong on international affairs, kept taxes low, but was big on the social programs.
The story points out that despite the constant drum beat about the TEA Party and other conservatives, painting them as extremists, it is the Democrats who are more dominated by their fringe elements, their folks who want to massively increase government, increase their hold on our private lives, and want to raise taxes, among others. The principles of the Republican Party are more like the principles of the American People. They just have to remember to not forget those principles, as they did under Bush.
The liberal blogger BooMan is one of the few to think outside the partisan box here, and comes up with a dandy of a conspiracy theory:
It’s embarrassing that The Hill commissioned a poll from Mark Penn and Doug Schoen … In case anyone’s interested, Schoen and Penn make their living off of corporate clients, and they do everything they can to make the Democratic Party sympathetic to those client’s interests. All this poll represents is an effort to blame the midterm losses on the Democrats going too far to the left. No one in their right mind is going to believe these poll results.
Perhaps, but as for those predicted midterm losses and the next Congress, how big a role will “extremists” play? Well, if you think the Tea Partiers are extreme and believe the analysis of The Times’s Kate Zernike, the answer is: the central one. Here’s Zernike’s explanation:
Enough Tea Party-supported candidates are running strongly in competitive and Republican-leaning Congressional races that the movement stands a good chance of establishing a sizable caucus to push its agenda in the House and the Senate, according to a New York Times analysis. With a little more than two weeks till Election Day, 33 Tea Party-backed candidates are in tossup races or running in House districts that are solidly or leaning Republican, and 8 stand a good or better chance of winning Senate seats.
While the numbers are relatively small, they could exert outsize influence, putting pressure on Republican leaders to carry out promises to significantly cut spending and taxes, to repeal health care legislation and financial regulations passed this year, and to phase out Social Security and Medicare in favor of personal savings accounts.
Jennifer Rubin at Commentary offers backhanded compliments to The Times for according “grudging respect to those it once decried as racists and extremists.” Here’s her take on the mainstream media:
And the Tea Party candidates have performed “better than expected” — umm, better than the Gray Lady expected — the report tells us. Yes, there is Christine O’Donnell, but the Times has figured out that there are many more viable Tea Party–backed candidates (e.g., Ron Johnson and Ken Buck). And it must have slipped the reporter’s mind, but that Marco Rubio looks pretty good, too.
This is yet another instance — the surge in Iraq was one of the more egregious examples — in which the media ignored or derided a conservative effort and then discovered that, by gosh (who could have expected it?), it’s pretty darn successful! If the media weren’t so busy telling liberals what they wanted to hear and ignoring conservative politics, they’d be surprised less.
“Scared yet, America?” asks Zandar. “You should be. The Tea Party will effectively take control of the Republican Party if the Republican Party takes control of Congress. Obama will actually develop some sort of elbow condition from overuse of his veto pen. But that’s what we’re facing here.
“The Tea Party isn’t anything new, folks. it’s just the same old fringe lunacy on the right repackaged, astroturfed, and mass produced for consumption. In fact, just about the only thing people are consuming these days in our economy is Tea Party ideas. It’s the same old litany of hate, the same old ‘I’m the candidate who stands for something, I stand for being against blah blah blah’ and if you value any sort of two party sanity in DC or in the American system as a whole, you’ll want to see these guys go down in flames roughly the same height and temperature as the sun’s corona. These guys actually make me miss the Republicans of the 80’s.”
Washington Monthly’s Steve Benen has more to say about that “blah, blah, blah”: “For the right, government-by-platitudes is surprisingly easy. Spending is bad, earmarks are bad, taxes are bad. They tend to run into a little trouble when this worldview runs into practical applications.”
The liberal blogger Prairie Weather jumps on this passage in the Zernike piece — “in the House, Tea Party candidates are allowing Democrats to poll well in a few districts where demographics and voting history suggest that Republicans should win” — to come to the conclusion that “Republicans are getting their noses rubbed in it.” Hmmm, really? “That’s not to say Democrats aren’t getting hurt, too,” the post acknowledges. After all, there’s the pending Wisconsin tragedy.” Somehow I suspect that Russ Feingold is hardly the only liberal ruing the day the Tea Party took off.
In any case, we’ll know where we stand electorally in a couple of weeks; the more pertinent issue stemming from the Zernike piece is what happens afterward. New York Magazine’s Daily Intel has a pretty intelligent analysis:
Counting how many tea partiers are elected to office won’t give you an accurate measure. Essentially, we have to think of each congressman and senator as falling somewhere along the tea-party spectrum. We’ll have no trouble figuring out where to place prospective senators Sharron Angle or Rand Paul, or in the House, Ohio candidate Steve Stivers, who wants to axe the Departments of Agriculture, Education, Interior, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Energy, “and others.” But almost every Republican, and even some Democrats, will embody the tea-party movement to varying degrees. This is especially true for any Republican whose re-nomination in 2012 is anything less than a sure thing. In that respect, the influence of the tea party in Congress goes far beyond the number of “tea-party candidates” — whatever that means — elected this year.
“Whatever that means” is exactly the riddle of the Tea Parties, and that odd poll from The Hill makes it harder than ever to decipher.