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I would like to point out two articles I read recently that perfectly sum up the state of the national circus known as our political process, and those individuals who may be gumming up the works. One of the articles is as short as the other is (moderately) long, and one is as partisan as the other is (mostly) decidedly not.

First, the former, which is an essay by Mark Warren, writing for Esquire magazine, on the mostly self-induced situation our leaders on the right find themselves in:

The energetic right wing of this new Jacobin Republican party (which has swallowed the party whole) lately has been going through a purification ritual, turning on conservative stalwarts deemed insufficiently radical. In this atmosphere, merely participating in the essential acts of democracy — negotiation, compromise, legislating — becomes suspect. Worse, and perhaps the root of this phenomenon, is the party’s now decades-long habit of trying to win elections not on the basis of its governing strategy or vision for the country but rather on scandal-mongering and defamation, the two biggest targets being Bill Clinton, who was impeached by the Republican House, and Barack Obama, whom a majority of Republicans, according to some polls, consider to be an illegitimate president because they believe he was born in Kenya.

There are obvious problems with pursuing scorched earth as a long-term strategy. First, movement conservatives have become so ill-equipped to govern that when they do win elections (as with the Gingrich revolution of 1994), they don’t know what they are doing; second, and more important, what started as a tactic to win elections became, over time, a literal belief in the actual evil of their opponents. The party’s committed constituencies became conditioned to ascribing the very worst motives to people who in saner times would merely have been their political opponents. A poll conducted in the spring found that 20 percent of Republicans believe Obama could be the actual Antichrist.

If there is an error in Warren’s argument, it’s that he indicts all Republicans without specifically naming who he’s talking about, like Tea Party Republicans or the Republican Congressional leadership. But that is perhaps only a vagary of journalism or an issue of semantics. No one is claiming that every single last person in the Republican Party thinks or behaves this way. The people he’s talking about are the people he’s talking about. Res ipsa loquitur.

(Personally, I would very much like to hear the well-crafted, intelligently thought-out counterargument to Warren’s piece, and by counterargument I do not mean a similar ad hominem indictment of the Democrats.)

The latter article is by Peter Beinart, writing for the Daily Beast, and though titled “The Rise of the New Left,” it is more an assessment of the current transformations undergone by both parties and put in a historical context than it is a promotion of the left wing or a treatise on liberal values.

Maybe Bill de Blasio got lucky. Maybe he only won because he cut a sweet ad featuring his biracial son. Or because his rivals were either spectacularly boring, spectacularly pathological, or running for Michael Bloomberg’s fourth term. But I don’t think so. The deeper you look, the stronger the evidence that de Blasio’s victory is an omen of what may become the defining story of America’s next political era: the challenge, to both parties, from the left. It’s a challenge Hillary Clinton should start worrying about now.

To understand why that challenge may prove so destabilizing, start with this core truth: For the past two decades, American politics has been largely a contest between Reaganism and Clintonism. In 1981, Ronald Reagan shattered decades of New Deal consensus by seeking to radically scale back government’s role in the economy. In 1993, Bill Clinton brought the Democrats back to power by accepting that they must live in the world Reagan had made. Located somewhere between Reagan’s anti-government conservatism and the pro-government liberalism that preceded it, Clinton articulated an ideological “third way”: Inclined toward market solutions, not government bureaucracy, focused on economic growth, not economic redistribution, and dedicated to equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome. By the end of Clinton’s presidency, government spending as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product was lower than it had been when Reagan left office. 

For a time, small flocks of pre-Reagan Republicans and pre-Clinton Democrats endured, unaware that their species were marked for extinction. Hard as they tried, George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole could never muster much rage against the welfare state. Ted Kennedy never understood why Democrats should declare the era of big government over. But over time, the older generation in both parties passed from the scene and the younger politicians who took their place could scarcely conceive of a Republican Party that did not bear Reagan’s stamp or a Democratic Party that did not bear Clinton’s. These Republican children of Reagan and Democratic children of Clinton comprise America’s reigning political generation.

It provides some enlightening answers to the questions of where we are going and where we have been – worth a read.

Much has been said about the movie Zero Dark Thirty, in the world at large as well as by this blog. My reaction to it, which I posted, has attracted an amount of attention through comments and emails that, though modest, is sizable for this blog. Most have been complimentary, but the most interesting one was not.I follow Andrew Sullivan’s blog The Dish at The Daily Beast – which is the last remaining partition of the former Newsweek empire – on a regular basis, and a few days ago I came across a conversation he was having with his readers about the movie and its use of torture. The conversation was prompted by what Sullivan saw as a softball interview Jon Stewart had with the film’s star Jessica Chastain, and his opinion that Stewart should have taken the opportunity to press her about the films depiction of and –  to him – apparent condoning of torture.I emailed Sullivan my take on the movie (verbatim):

I wrote my opinion/review about this movie for my blog (found here) that I think and hope is relevant to your’s and your readers’ comments on the subject. I’ve gotten some positive feedback on it, so if you have a chance please give it a read.

I should also mention that this is the first time I’ve written but I’m a huge fan of the blog and keep up with it daily.

To his immense credit, Sullivan – or at least someone who works at the blog – read my post and responded to me by email (also verbatim):

thank you. i just want to point out, though, is that the torture as depicted is illegal and the perpetrators war criminals under the geneva conventions. to hail war criminals as heroes as you do strikes me as unwise. if iranian revolutionary guards were torturing american suspects in a similar movie, would you have the same attituide? my concern is the notion that when america tortures, it isn’t torture. when others do, it is. but torture is torture. it’s against the law – something the movie never mentions or even indicates. it has never before been approved by a US president.

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Some people are giving Obama too much credit. And they’re not his supporters, or really anyone in the Democratic Party. To find anyone with heartfelt belief in Obama’s second term, who truly believe he will make monumental progress on any of his issues, you have to go to the far right. Yes, the right. It is only they who seem to most strongly believe that Obama will start doing great things now. I’m paraphrasing Thomas Frank, in an article for Harper’s:

To find someone who sincerely believes that Barack Obama is going to preside over his second term as a strong, determined progressive, you must make your way far to the right. There, the panicked consensus holds that he will remake the nation as dramatically as did Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson. There, and only there, will you be told that Obama is preparing to tackle the unemployment problem by establishing a new Works Progress Administration of the kind I called for in this magazine’s pages back in December 2011. Of course, for the true believers who make this assertion […] the idea of a resurgent WPA is the ultimate slacker-coddling nightmare.

Granted, the far right’s assertion of Obama’s greatness is couched in hysteria and apprehension, as with the oncoming of a certain doom, but in so believing it they nonetheless hold the most productive vision of a second Obama term.

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