Tuesday, June 26, 2007

2009 Polarization and a Freeper Hostage Crisis

Political analyst Larry Sabato has some interesting words to say about the probable impacts of Hillary Clinton winning the White House in 2008. [h/t Andrew Sullivan]

Let's suppose Mrs. Clinton wins in November 2008. Democrats would have to live with the consequences. There is simply no question that Senator Clinton would be the third deeply polarizing President in a row, following her husband's divisive and partially wasted tenure and George W. Bush's deeply disappointing turn at bat. We bet that she would have a short honeymoon and would be unable to convince her millions of critics and detractors that she had changed - or was different than they long ago concluded she was. At a time when the nation could use a unifier and a healer - to the extent that any President can perform those roles - partisan warfare would be at fever pitch from Day One.
I disagree with a good deal of his argument but it is an interesting leaping point.

I am not a fan or supporter of Hillary Clinton. I do not think that she will make a great president. I don't trust her governing instincts or judgment. At best I think she'll be a competent placeholder. But again I have to defend the notion that Hillary Clinton will be uniquely polarizing figure once the general election season come along.

Right now the country is not particularly polarized on the Presidential level. 26% of the country thinks George W. Bush is a good president, and the rest of the opinions range from 'nice but incompetent' to a 'freaking disaster." 70% super majority opinion on any issue and outlook in American political life is not a polarized position.

Bush is not popular. He has not been popular for a very long time and that popularity was solely the result of his incompetence combined with short term brilliance in exploiting a terrorist attack against us for political gain. The country is not polarized under George W. Bush. Liberals, moderates, independents and a growing chunk of conservatives have come to the opinion that George W. Bush is not a good president. The timing has varied, but the opinion is now a consensus opinion. The remaining 26%-ers are the dead-enders of the American political landscape.

It is these same Freepers and their establishment enablers, who supported the 'polarization' and the impeachment of Bill Clinton despite his approval ratings being in the high 60s and low 70s during the Christmas of 1998. These are the folks who ginned up the Arkansas Project, who shot water melons with handguns as part of a 'forensic investigation', who claimed that Hillary Clinton was both a lesbian and the illicit lover of Vince Foster before she had him killed.

This is also the same group that everyone was afraid of during the Florida recount. Vice President Gore was told to lie down and take a defeat despite most likely having the votes in Florida to win the electoral college and definately having a popular victory because the Freeper-right had made life so unpleasant for the elites in the 90's. This is the group that was the Brooks Brother rioters in Miami-Dade to disrupt the recount.

I noted in April that I make a couple of assumptions whenever I am analyzing scenarios:

When I analyze problems and scenarios, I am interested in looking at the things which have the potential of changing. After a very short while, I only pay attention to constants when the laws of reality and physics force me to pay attention to them. I assume unhinged and substantially fact free attacks against Democrats are a prerequisite of any GOP campaign. I assume that these attacks will occur, and the only variance will be the internal details of the attack. If any Democrat wins the Presidency we'll have the crazy lunatic brigade of the VRWC trying to gin up a scandal where there is nothing there.

The Freeper right is a constant of American politics, at least in the short and intermediate term. The only way to appease the Freeper Right is to elect their favored candidates and implement 100% of their agenda and conducting mass conversions of the remaining population to their viewpoint. At the same time a small caste of unabashed liberal caricatures are needed to be the object of their daily two minute hate. Even reactionary authoritarians like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) can be the target of this vitriol if there is a break from the script on immigration.

They try to leverage their ability to create embarrassment to the 'responsible adults' of the discourse by throwing a crazed tantrum anytime that they do not get what they want; the facts, reality or the Constitution be damned. It has worked because the set of Republican politicians who are not Freepers per se have benefited from this arrangement more than it has cost. I am assuming that the same pattern of behavior will be in effect for any Democratic Presidential nominee no matter who that person is. The difference will be in the internal details of the attacks, not the meta-structure of the attacks.

The Yorkshire Ranter has an interesting take on the historical process of the Freeper temper tantrum strategy and the corrective to it: " In the US, the problem is that one party has gone berserk and dragged the Overton window off across the countryside with it. The corrective is to whack it in the teeth."

This corrective will work in the intermediate to long term as we can marginalize the poltical influence of the loudest and least grounded screamers in politics, but the process will produce a stronger scream in the short term. The 2006 Congressional elections virtually eliminated the Northeast moderate Republican wing of the Congressional Party (Chaffee, Simmons, Johnson et al) and seriously dented other Republicans who compete in marginal districts. The survivors of the 2006 wave election are disproportionally from safe, and conservative districts.

The remaining marginal House members expect to face a strong challenge in 2008 and more of them will go down. The probable GOP gains are either from deep Red scandal seats (TX-22) or re-gerrymandered seats in Georgia where the probable GOP winners will be to the right of the current GOP caucus anyways. The districts will self-select conservative and very conservative candidates and the GOP caucus will move further to the right in the short term. The lack of a moderate wing as a counterbalance to local factors and grassroots pressure from the Freepers will make the Congressional GOP more conservative in the short run.

So if my assumption that the Freepers and their ridiculous attacks are a short term constant, what should we do? We could appease and only elect reactionary Republicans, or we can actually behave like adults and not allow these political two year olds dictate our entire political discourse. We can do it by ignoring the obvious conspiracy theories, the wildly contradictory and lurid tales, and by actually bringing facts into the debate. Otherwise, we give a loud and wrong quarter of the country a de-facto veto.

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