I have very mixed feelings about the upcoming Stewart/ Colbert shindig in Washington. On the one hand, I think it's an inspired marketing idea, and a way to get people actively involved in a massive parody of tea-bagger rallies. On the other hand, the "chill out" message of the whole event may not be the right one for a demographic that almost never votes anyway, and yet could play a decisive role in this year's elections if they wanted to.
With the craziness in the public forum expanding by exponential levels this year, I'm hearing growing calls for "moderation" and "the center." There certainly is craziness on the left with 9/11 conspiracy theorists crediting a very leaky and notoriously ham handed Bush administration with bringing off a massive conspiracy to plunge the country into perpetual war with their own staged terrorist attack. There's the PETA crowd busting up fur shops and the anarchists picking fights with the cops. But let's face it, the really crazy craziness these days is all on the right. What's more, the craziness on the right has a real chance to take power and make policy which left wing craziness will never have.
So where is the center these days? So much that was once considered the stuff of fringe politics, from John Birchers to Lyndon LaRouche followers, is now discussed with great solemnity as serious opinion with a chance to take power and make policy by everyone from the Washington Post to NPR. In case no one has noticed, the political center has shifted very far to the right over the last 30 years. Issues once considered "third rails" of politics like the privatization of Social Security and Medicare are now seriously discussed as real policy alternatives. Recently, the repeal of unemployment insurance, rewriting or repealing the 14th Amendment, very fringe positions, have now entered the realm of serious consideration. And ideas and people from the outer frontiers of Christian Dominionist, secessionist, and racist movements have entered the public forum through the waves of xenophobia whipped up by opportunist demagogues and their media enablers. Can there really be a "middle" in the face of people who want to disenfranchise, and even criminalize, much of the population of the United States?
The reason so many right wing fringe candidates are doing so well this year is because the country really is extremely divided, probably worse than during the Vietnam War, because of the anger and desperation created by a failed economy, the fear of massive demographic change, and because of historically low voter turnout numbers (perhaps the most disturbing reason of all). In prosperous times, all of these folks would be confined to street corner ranting and angry letters to the editor. So far, I don't see any push back. All I see is the usual passivity of the political and media mandarin classes. The Democratic Party has fallen back into its old bad habits of taking its voters for granted and alienating its base while trying to attract affluent white people by watering down their positions and policies. I don't see a rally to "Take it down a notch America" as the beginning of any kind of a real push back. I'd feel better about the whole thing if there were voter registration tables set up there to try to get the under 40 crowd to go out and vote. I'm not optimistic. I also don't think the Democratic establishment's idea of appealing to voter fear of the extremists will work very well either. They need to find a way to rekindle that sense of expectation from 2008. They could do it if they embraced their considerable policy accomplishments over the past year instead of running away from them. To my mind, the Obama Administration's biggest liabilities with the folks who turned out for them in 2008 are Afghanistan and the decision to continue and expand the Bush/Cheney national security state.
We'll see what happens in November. I think the Republicans' expectation that this year will be a rerun of 1994 is overblown. Their own party is in melt-down right now. They are even more despised by voters in the opinion polls than the Dems. If they do succeed in taking both houses of Congress, it will only be because most voters will have stayed home. But it could happen, and if it does, then we'll have at least 2 years of gridlock and stalemate as the country faces probably its most serious crisis since World War II.