The Fundamental Disconnect

The headline on this post isn’t intended as a double-entendre; fundamentalism is, admittedly, disconnected from reality, empiricism, science and (often) common sense, but the disconnect I’m referring to is the one highlighted in that recent roundtable published by the New York Times that I’ve been referencing.

The discussion centered on the takeover of the Republican Party by its fringiest elements, and it began by considering the vast difference between Democratic and Republican strategic foundations. The Democrats–according to the Opinion writers participating in the Roundtable–are operating on the belief that political success means trying to enact widely popular policies and then running on that basis. As the moderator noted, that certainly isn’t the Republicans tactic.

The thing that strikes me about these Republican bills is that they’re staking ground on some things that are not necessarily popular with the majority of voters. That would seem to suggest to me that there’s political risk in doing them, but instead these laws have been copied from G.O.P. statehouse to G.O.P. statehouse. Why do you think that’s happening, in your view?

To which Ezra Klein responded, I think accurately:

So I think there are a couple of levels you can think about these bills on. One is to think about what you might imagine as the modal Republican strategy for a year like this. Every Republican could spend the next couple of months just saying, “Huh, gas prices are pretty high, aren’t they?” And that would be it. They would win the midterms. It would be done.

And instead, the Republican Party, in part due to the incentives of modern media, in part due to the example offered by Donald Trump and how he shot to prominence and then ultimately to the presidency, has become extraordinarily attention-hungry among its rank-and-file legislators. And so if you can create the next culture-war kernel by passing a really brutal piece of legislation — and these are brutal pieces of legislation that will hurt a lot of very just ordinary kids who need some help — then you can catapult to the center of the national debate.

So I don’t think Mitch McConnell wants to be having this conversation. I don’t think Kevin McCarthy wants to be having this conversation. I think they want to talk about how Joe Biden is a failure. But the Republican Party doesn’t have that kind of control over its own structure and its own institutional members now. And so at a time when there’s a lot of tailwinds for them, they are nevertheless pulled along by the more extreme and attention-driven members of their own caucus.

Pete, who often comments on this platform, has pointed to the powerful role of entertainment in American politics and governance, and the “attention” hypothesis would seem to confirm his observations. As Jamelle Bouie observed, it’s a strategy supported by the huge media infrastructure of the Right–not just Fox, but as he says, ” a broad constellation of outlets and different modes of delivery that allow them to, if not shape a message from its inception, then shape how its supporters receive any given message or any given piece of information.”

I used to tell my Law and Policy students that most of what I learned in law school could be reduced to a single axiom: He who frames the issue wins the debate.

Implicit in the above Roundtable analysis is a big question: can Republicans’ hysterical attention-getting frame and win the midterm debate? It’s hard to disagree with Klein and others when they say that running on policy–no matter how popular–no longer works, if it ever did.

So what should  those of us horrified by these unhinged people do?

I live in a bubble populated mostly by thoughtful, sane people. We have our policy disagreements, but if–and it is admittedly a big if–the people in my bubble represent majority opinion in America, perhaps Democrats should accept the GOP’s framing, and run against that. After all, look at what the GOP stands for in 2022: pushing gays back into the closet, forcing births, banning books, rejecting accurate history, racism (insulting  and maligning an eminently qualified Black female jurist and preventing Black folks from voting)….basically, today’s GOP stands for the embrace of QAnon conspiracies, rejection of science, and strengthening the hegemony of fundamentalist White Christian males.

If the folks in my bubble are representative of the majority of Americans–and survey research says they are–let’s accept the challenge. Let’s fight the midterm battle on the grounds the attention-getters have staked out. For once, the bottom-feeders who have framed this debate are unlikely to win.

If I’m wrong about that, we’ve really lost America.


  1. Agreed. And don’t forget the one GOP senator who actually delivered a platform and outlined the policies they will enact when they regain power; Rick Scott, who said the plan is to raise taxes on everyone who earns less than $100,000 a year, to sundown all of the “entitlement” programs such as Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, and cut taxes for corporations and the rich.
    And I have not heard anything about the Attorney General from Texas, who said on Fox News that if he had not disallowed tens of thousands of legitimate mail-in ballots in the last presidential election, Democrats would have won Texas.
    Democrats need to get a fighting spirit, and soon.

  2. Back during the Obama years, when he was getting kicked and stomped on by the Republican Right, he and the First Lady’s response was “When they go low, we go high”. I thought then and continue to think that to be the dumbest slogan of all time. So I wrote the President telling him so and suggested that he needed to put on his hip boots and wade on into the sewer where the battle was being fought. It is late, but I am glad to learn that someone else thinks as I do.

  3. “It is so easy to break down and destroy. The heroes are those who make peace and build.” Nelson Mandela

    “Let’s fight the midterm battle on the grounds the attention-getters have staked out.” The GOP is winning with their breaking down and destruction of democracy and loss of civil and human rights by convincing the staunch Republican voters that they can be saved by denying democracy, civil and human rights to minorities they believe are the cause of their economic plight. They are fundamentally disconnected from today’s reality by those red MAGA hats and tee shirts (made in China) passed out at his rallies and Trump’s loud voice and continuously applauding himself. They are still waiting for their “trickle down” portion of wealth to be handed to them. “Let them eat cake.” as the GOP stores up the levening in their off shore bank accounts.

  4. I’m not running for the Mr. Obvious award, but the Democratic Party hasn’t been a boon for the American people either. Oh yea, they have Joe Manchin to blame. But, of course, if it wasn’t Joe, it was a parliamentarian.

    They could have destroyed the Republican Party and its funders over the 1/6 event but instead let out Freudian slips that “We need a strong GOP!” LOL

    Biden could cancel student loans and get ahead of the education crisis, but he’s either got an excuse or is too distracted by Russians.

    All the reports I get show the Military-Industrial Complex is making a fortune. The World Economic Forum almost seems grateful for Russian tanks demolishing the old Ukrainian infrastructure so they can rebuild Ukraine and make it a model of high-tech alternative energy infrastructure.

    Is it possible the media over-sensationalized the Ukrainian War?

    Why haven’t we gone after all the oligarchs in this country? LOL

  5. Adding to the comment from James about election rigging in Texas, remember that the current governor of Georgia won his election because he was Georgia’s Secretary of State, and therefore in charge of the last election. He went out of his way to remove large numbers of black voters from the lists of qualified voters, and by doing so, won the election. But I don’t hear about that in the media.

  6. Dems should take a cue from Brian Schatz, who very vociferously called out Josh Hawley on the Senate floor for his pompous screed about how long it was taking to get aid to Ukraine, after voting against aid to Ukraine. The Dems don’t need to get into the swamp, but they do need to get mad and LOUD about it, if they are to win.

  7. If that was the view that most Americans are seeing then of course the Democrat Party would overwhelmingly win. Thats not what they are looking at. They are looking for the middle ground to reverse the economic crisis. They are looking at gas prices, high inflation, higher interest rates to buy things, logistics and his failures, supply chain failures, and everything else that this administration has brought to harm the poor. They have a deep understanding that we have come so far with civil rights issues, but see that their families, their schools, their children, their ability to be in control of their lives, are out of control now. Most black friends of mine are really scratching their heads about what’s going on. Unless the Democrat party can find some kind of middle ground, There may be a shift between black voters and Hispanics. This will be not good for the union. Where does the middle class worker come into the mix of things. I don’t see anywhere where anybody is fighting just for the middle class person anymore. And yes I’m heavily invested in EV Technology and everything ESG. But a year and a half ago we were told don’t worry about your 401(k)s and just pull the tab. I hate to tell you everyone out there is scrambling to find out how to get there 401ks from taking another 2008 hit.
    Build Back Better and its trillions is like throwing gas on a fire. Manchin sees it whether we want to agree with him. Larry Summers was right, but here we are struggling to move forward because of a poorly run country. I dont trust a roundtable of people who historically get thongs wrong, a history of their own that dates back to missteps in acknowledging the holocaust during WWIi.
    Bidens approval rating is between 33-41 %. Not looking good for us in the middle class.

  8. Todd; you need to start your own political party. I suggest you call it the Contrarian Party and begin seeking supporter in the Muncie/Middletown, IN area where you are already their “Voice”.

  9. Do you go head to head with the bottom feeders? About the time you start debating GOP members on LGBTQ or CRT issues, you suddenly acknowledge these issues matter and give them even more voice and importance. If you dismiss or down play these issues, then you are belittling the “deplorables” that have latched onto these issues as important.

    About the time you point out the bigotry, misogyny , or racism and try to turn the debate to the details of real policy, peoples eyes will glaze over because it is not entertaining. The other guy is going to be shouting “what about CRT, grooming, etc…” and people will be paying attention because you don’t have to know the details of a sound bite culture war term to know that you are angry because you think you are aggrieved.

    Who cares about framing the issue. I don’t think you can win when you can’t even agree to debate about the same thing and the GOP know this and aren’t going to do it. To that point, yesterday the GOP has officially broken ties with the not-fo-profit Presidential Debate Commission.

  10. Sheila’s concluding observation is a good one, and if (as she suggests) she is wrong I would begin seriously to look at ex-pat status. My older daughter and I are already pricing real estate in Spain, Italy and Salonica, Greece, though I am thinking Costa Rica, Panama or Canada if the hysterical Republican right ends our teetering democracy.

    I will give the felonious senator from Florida (Scott) credit for telling it like it is with his plan to go back to the role of government in returning ordinary Americans to serfdom, i.e., no Medicare, no Social Security, higher taxes on the middle class and poor etc. With poverty on every hand can Dred Scott and an even more mangled (if not reversed) Roe and denial of voting rights become the norm? Can’t happen here? Don’t bet the ranch.

    If Republicans impose a banana republic-dictatorial form of government on America, thus ending our noble experiment in democracy (and if I’m still around), I’m out of here, and perhaps not even as an ex-pat, since who other than those in the ruling class would be interested in citizenship as a serf in an imperialist fascist state? Not I.

  11. JoAnn,

    There are several alternative Left parties, but the American people are too lazy to do their own research. Suppose it doesn’t come from the celebrity box on their mantle. Maybe Will Smith will run for Dem Party?

    The problem is the Establishment from the Western Empires just got toasted, and they don’t even know it. Of course, they know it, but they haven’t let the people in on it.

    We passed a trillion-dollar infrastructure package, but Indiana roads look like a war zone in Ukraine. Where’s the CIA groomed Transportation Secretary? 😉

  12. Good grief! Are our politics so wretched that the majority of voters will willingly vote against their own best interests, embrace the bullshit coming from the “framing the conversation” idiots running the GOP? Is this where we are?

    Why did the “media” start yelling about how the Republicans would take back the Congress in 2022 WAY back in 2021 before Russia invaded Ukraine and before inflation took off and before gas prices spiked? Why? Well, the “media” is run by corporate moguls who need to sell papers and airtime sponsors. Most of those corporations are owned and operated by Republicans.

    That said, it must be clear to everyone not breathing helium that the Republicans care not a single crap about anything but retaining power and satisfying their corporate masters. Rick Scott’s outrageous contribution to the Republican platform is taken as gospel by everyone voting for Republicans…including those living on Social Security and staying alive due to Medicare.

    This is not news. Republicans have been fighting against caring for the citizens since 1933! You can look it up. Republican ideologues are the whores of money and the people with money who pay them. The so-called cat was finally legalized with the Citizens United v. FEC decision of fetid lore. THAT decision let our fascist assholes feel legitimized…just as in the book “It Can’t Happen Here” so aptly describes.

    That book was fiction then. Today it is the reality of the Republican party: Wrapped in the flag, wailing about God and Christianity, then doing everything they can to be undemocratic, unpatriotic and screwing as many non-Republicans as they can.

    Well done, America. As Marx and many others have predicted, we are destroying ourselves from within and the Republicans are leading us all over their moronic cliff.

  13. I have previously said that Biden needs to get out there and be loud. He, and the Dems, imho, need to point to the QGP’s tactic,
    directly, clearly, call it out for what it is, and raise the fear of hell in their base; raise the fear of exactly what Scott’s proposals would
    mean for EVERYBODY not making over $100,000! These used to be called “Bread and Butter issues,” and they still are.
    As for “Framing the issue,” Biden/Harris need to use that B&B issue and explain that if the people give them some new senators, just
    a couple, then they B/H can give the country the Build Back Better programs.
    “The thing to fear is fear itself,” said FDR, but now the thing to fear is the fear tactic…and it needs to be laid bare.

  14. Dan and John S. – well said. What’s on voter’s minds: inflation, crime, mental health, healthcare costs – DEMs have reasonable “small step” policies that could make a difference. Talk about them – dare the GOP candidates to do the same.

  15. A disconnect? Oh, yes.

    The Republicans wouldn’t have so much effective influence if there were a formidable opposition to them. The Democratic Party? George Carlin described the Democratic Party as Republican Light. He was and is right.

    If the previous forty plus years is indicative of future Democratic Party opposition to Republican policy, the Repubs have obviously won. And who let them? Especially if the Democrats held majorities within those previous forty plus years. I’m supposed to get out the pom poms for an impotent organization? An organization that has taken my support for granted for decades?

    Republicans represent the top 5%. Democrats represent the top 20%. Yep,there is a disconnect. 40 years of Republican success. 40 years of Democratic Party acquiescence to the Republican$ resulting in Democratic party impotence. At some point, the excuse ;”because Republicans ….” seems really tired.

    Only now the Democrats want to fight back? Really?

  16. inflation, crime, mental health, healthcare cost…

    If you talk about inflation,too late. Inflation is rising under the Biden Admin. The highest rate since…….Jimmy Carter. Dems lose.

    The reality is Democrats are seen as soft on crime and harp for protection of the rights of criminals and to hell with the victims.

    Mental health. The Democrats have had decades to confront this–for the years they held majorities. What did they do? Piss it away.

    Healthcare costs? The Democrats pissed that opportunity away (and their credibility) when they adopted Romney/Heritage Foundation Care. They promised it would be refined. That was 12+ years ago. What happened to that promise of future refinement?

    Joe owes me $600.00

    And there’s this complex/eligibility/moralizing from the PMC:

    PS. Ukraine should be means tested for any and all support.

  17. Hear! Hear! Vernon and Todd—life long Democrat– a woman, from working class, who works in mental health–what other party would there be for me but Democrat but we need to learn to sling some sludge and need to learn to fight. I applaud Michelle on the high road but Americans are entertained 24/7 with drama shows, reality crap, requiring more intense stimuli.

    The Republican party has this is spades–they hate LGBTQ, they hate women, they hate people of color, they hate immigrants, they hate children, they only love a fertilized cell–hate sells and its easy to get people riled up. Whereas ‘love thy neighbor’ takes some effort.

    I have been convinced that we are a pretty lazy–much rather be told how to think, who to love, how to behave which is why Evangelical Mega Churches have thrived for the last 2 decades.

  18. “ If I’m wrong about that, we’ve really lost America.”

    We don’t know the answer now, do we?

  19. I believe we’ve already lost our democracy as the US is barreling down the road heading toward single party rule. The US will still be called a Democracy, but Fascism will take root and it will be an extremist government with rights limited to those who are white “Christian” (read fundamentalist) male land owners. BTW, I’m out of here.

  20. Todd; valid political parties make themselves known to the public, they do not hide and hope someone finds them.

  21. Time to fight. Frame the argument in our terms and bring the troops. I hear all the arguments for not wanting to get dirty and soil our clothes. We need to quit being afraid to engage There are certainly rules and I sense that most of us feel an argument with a trump supporter will just start yelling. Petulant child. Treat them that way.

    Calm, resolute and fearless. CRT and LGBTQ are issue I can debate with anyone. Bring it on!

  22. Adam Kinzinger is asking Democrats and independents to vote in the Republican Primary to “primary” Trump-first candidates out of contention.

  23. Christopher,

    “They” (extremists on the Right and the Left) have been doing that for years. That is not “going low” – it is simply punching by the rules…

  24. What is the best way to “pushback”? Signs, bumper stickers? Taking out an ad?
    Now that the Republicans have decided they won’t even debate, what’s left?
    I have several bumper stickers on my car that indicate I am NOT a Repub. (e.g. “Critical Thinking: The Other National Deficit”).
    I would like to put a “Trump is a Liar and a Crook” sticker on my car but that would get me killed in this area — SC.
    Looking for feedback & suggestions.

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