Tag Archives: extremism

The ReCenter Response

As promised, here is ReCenter’s response to yesterday’s post.


In her blog post of April 20, Sheila Kennedy expresses dismay, if not outright despair, over the current deep polarization in American political life.

We at ReCenter Indiana can relate. In fact, that’s why we formed this non-profit, bipartisan organization.

Our friend Sheila, who once was a proud Republican, likens today’s GOP to a cult. Again, there’s plenty of evidence of that. A group in the thrall of an authoritarian, charismatic leader, abandoning its long-held principles? Check.

Nonetheless, Indiana needs the balance of a healthy two-party system. Our state also needs the ideas of reasonable people across the political spectrum. Fortunately, as Sheila acknowledges, there are still people like that in the Republican Party. One of ReCenter Indiana’s goals is to give them encouragement to stand up to the strident voices of fear and division.

Sheila’s additional concern is that “the contemporary Republican Party is autocratic,” requiring “adherence to extremist and antidemocratic positions.” On the national level, she accurately points out, “Republicans who put people over party and patriotism over politics are promptly ejected from positions of influence.” And she correctly decries the blatant gerrymandering that enables a “radical supermajority” to keep getting elected to state offices here in Indiana.

To be clear, the supermajority is radical because, in so many gerrymandered districts, the only real competition is in the primary, and the only imperative is to avoid being outflanked on the right.

But we still find room for hope. Carmel and Evansville are two of Indiana’s largest cities. Both have successful centrist Republican mayors who are not seeking re-election. Each of those cities this spring has a competitive Republican primary to nominate a potential successor.

In Carmel, two of the three mayoral candidates in the GOP primary impress us with their willingness to listen to and represent all the residents of their community. The third candidate did not respond to our requests for an interview.

In Evansville, both candidates in the Republican mayoral primary talked with us. And one of them clearly appreciates that complex problems don’t have simple solutions. She also understands the importance of building consensus.

Sheila concludes that “the only way America will emerge from our current divisions is a massive electoral defeat of the GOP, and its subsequent dramatic reformation or replacement.”

Our concern with that is what might emerge from the rubble. That outcome is unknown and terribly risky. First, because if just one political party remains standing, it is all but certain to prove the axiom that “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  Second, because even more antidemocratic and violence-prone forces could well take the GOP’s place.

No one supposes that moving Indiana politics back to the center will be easy or fast. But we think it will be easier, faster and safer to save the Republican Party from its worst instincts than to try to build a viable second party on its ruins. We are heartened that notable Republicans in our state have not given up on their party; we’re not ready to give up, either. (And if Indiana Democrats ever succumb to the siren song of extremism, we’ll try to help them save their party, too.)

We agree with Sheila that the political marketplace is broken. We also agree that a sound electoral defeat of extremism can lead to a more normalized marketplace. Voters in arch-conservative Kansas eased the conversation back to the middle in 2018 and again in 2022.

If Indiana can shake off the stranglehold of supermajority rule, we Hoosiers might even embrace concepts – now gaining traction across the country – that give power back to the voters. Concepts such as ranked choice voting, nonpartisan redistricting, maybe even campaign finance reform.

If ReCenter Indiana is to succeed, it will be because of an enlightened and passionate electorate who are willing to transcend divisive politics. Especially young Hoosiers, who historically have had low political participation but are showing signs of increased participation and engagement, demanding accountability and results.

ReCenter’s goal is to spread awareness of the issues at stake and the choices at hand. And that also means encouraging centrist candidates to enter the fray.

Sheila is right that we may not succeed.  But we are certain to fail if we don’t try.

What’s at Stake

Yesterday, the media frenzy was all about Chris Christie’s endorsement of “The Donald.” Of course, there has been something every day–the latest tweet, the most egregious insult, the latest analysis of how someone so manifestly unqualified has managed to get this far…

All of this media attention focused upon Trump–attention that has allowed him to suck all the oxygen out of Republican rooms–has had a number of unfortunate consequences. One of the less remarked of those consequences is that the so-called “establishment” candidates look more reasonable by comparison.

Even Trump can’t make Cruz look sane, but as political observers have pointed out, Rubio and even Kasich are on record taking positions that would have been unthinkable even ten years ago. Paul Krugman recently noted aspects of Rubio’s extremism:

[W]hat I do know is that one shouldn’t treat establishment support as an indication that Mr. Rubio is moderate and sensible. On the contrary, not long ago someone holding his policy views would have been considered a fringe crank.

Let me leave aside Mr. Rubio’s terrifying statements on foreign policy and his evident willingness to make a bonfire of civil liberties, and focus on what I know best, economics.

You probably know that Mr. Rubio is proposing big tax cuts, and may know that among other things he proposes completely eliminating taxes on investment income — which would mean, for example, that Mitt Romney would end up owing precisely zero in federal taxes.

What you may not know is that Mr. Rubio’s tax cuts would be almost twice as big as George W. Bush’s as a percentage of gross domestic product — despite the fact that federal debt is much higher than it was 15 years ago, and Republicans have spent the Obama years warning incessantly that budget deficits will destroy America, any day now.

What Krugman failed to note were Rubio’s extreme social policy positions; for one thing, he proposes outlawing abortion even in the case of rape and incest.

Not to be outdone, the presumably more moderate John Kasich recently defunded Ohio’s Planned Parenthood.

These are the candidates whose hoped-for elevation to the highest office in the land is motivating Mitch McConnell and his Senate colleagues to ignore their constitutional duty to consider an Obama Supreme Court nominee. (“Strict construction,” anyone??)

If the Senate Republicans manage to keep Scalia’s position open, the next President is likely to choose three Supreme Court Justices. If those choices are made by any of these candidates, America will be a very different country in short order. And it won’t be a country that most of us will recognize.



The Apocalypse Caucus

At Talking Points Memo, I came across a new–and very apt–term to describe the rabid members of the House GOP: the apocalypse caucus.

There is no doubt that members of this caucus are out of step with the vast majority of Americans–including the majority of Republicans. They are a small tail that is wagging a large and unhappy dog. Their ability to win election–and then pull their saner comrades to the far Right–is explained by a structural anomaly and what Bill Bishop has dubbed “The Big Sort.”

When 2015 rolls around, Steve King is going to have a lot more company. As the Republican House majority looks to add seats, both the House and the GOP caucus will shift rightward. The self-parodying display of conservatism required in red-district primary contests has resulted in a striking new crop of future members for the Apocalypse Caucus….

The new class of Republicans will join an already-large faction of extreme conservatives in the House, representing districts that are out of step with the rest of the country. Reporting on the members who drove last year’s government shutdown, Ryan Lizza notes that:

The ability of eighty members of the House of Representatives to push the Republican Party into a strategic course that is condemned by the party’s top strategists is a historical oddity….these eighty members represent an America where the population is getting whiter, where there are few major cities, where Obama lost the last election in a landslide, and where the Republican Party is becoming more dominant and more popular. Meanwhile, in national politics, each of these trends is actually reversed.

Why does the hard right edge of the GOP have such sway over national politics? Because Speaker John Boehner depends on them. He needs their votes to hold on to the gavel, and he needs to craft legislation to appeal to enough of them so he doesn’t need to rely on Democratic votes to pass bills. The Apocalypse Caucus sets the agenda.

The right wing of the GOP is energized by a wide network of donors, activist groups and — especially — media outlets, in which conservative politicians compete for attention, votes and dollars by trying to out-right-wing each other. There’s essentially no such thing as a Republican moderate any more, since in order to get to November, any Republican needs to get through this gauntlet.

It’s like watching the brakes fail on a driverless car that gains speed as it rolls down a hill…..

Politics and Paranoia

I have an old friend (old meaning duration, not age, although neither of us is getting any younger) who has remained resolutely Republican despite his own distress at the party’s current incarnation. Presumably because of that affiliation, he is evidently on some sort of list that allows him to get the sort of emails that I rarely see, and from time to time, he shares them. (I think he likes to imagine me with my hair on fire as I read them.)

The other day, he sent me one that began:

The American Dream ended (on November 6th) in Ohio. The second term of Barack Obama will be the final nail in the coffin for the legacy of the white Christian males who discovered, explored, pioneered, settled and developed the greatest Republic in the history of mankind.

A coalition of Blacks, Latinos, Feminists, Gays, Government Workers, Union Members, Environmental Extremists, The Media, Hollywood, uninformed young people, the “forever needy,” the chronically unemployed, illegal aliens and other “fellow travelers” have ended Norman Rockwell’s America.

Next time someone solemnly assures you that their problems with Obama have nothing to do with bigotry or mean-spiritedness–and that what is really racist is to suggest that they do–think about this diatribe.

From the far Right, we increasingly hear these laments–the whine of the poor white male Christian victims. What we get from the far Left is more likely to be naiveté and annoying immaturity, but it also can descend into paranoia.

I have a Facebook friend who is constantly sending email “alarms”–with lots of exclamation points and highlighted passages–bemoaning President Obama’s “sellout” and viewing every presidential or congressional action as a conspiracy against “the 99%.” No one gets the benefit of the doubt. All Republicans are evil, all Democrats are disappointing pussies and/or fellow-travelers.

Interestingly, at the very end of the “Patriot’s” screed, he warns darkly that the nation can only be “saved” by zealots with guns. A similar thread runs through my leftist friend’s hysterical “alerts”–only by taking to the streets can “real Americans” prevail.

Thanks to the Internet, it is sometimes hard to remember that the vast majority of Americans are pretty sensible people who would very much like to see the crazies from both ends of the spectrum return to their caves or wherever they came from.

Most of us think it would be nice if our elected officials spent less time placating hysterical extremists and more time attending to the nation’s problems.


Defining Our Terms

On Mondays, I receive an emailed essay called Sightings from Martin Marty, the eminent University of Chicago religion scholar who distributes his observations and those of others studying or teaching at the University’s Divinity School. This morning, he wrote about a recent article from the Economist on Jews and Israel.

The general discussion was interesting, but the following paragraph struck me:

The editors see reactionary Orthdoxies still winning over moderate movements. No surprise here. In the six-year five-fat-volume study of militant fundamentalisms I co-directed (with R. Scott Appleby) for the American Academy of Arts and Sciences,we found everywhere, in all religions, that it was not conservatism that was growing but extremism based less in history-based traditions but in fear, reaction, and aggression. As I read the Economist and other such literature I think of an observation by Harold Isaacs which we paraphrased as we looked at Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Christian and other militancies: “Around the world there is a massive convulsive ingathering of peoples into their separatenesses and over-againstnesses to protect their pride and power and place from the real or presumed threat of others who are doing the same.

I think that’s a perceptive observation, and it applies to more than religious identity.

In America, in our zeal to label rather than understand, we have seen contemporary radicalism confused with genuine conservatism. We have failed to distinguish between patriotism and nationalism. And we have seen “We the People” redefined to exclude “others”–immigrants, GLBT folks, Muslims, “elitists,” even Southerners.  We seem to be growing a variety of fundamentalisms.

Fear, reaction and aggression, leading to extremism and an “us versus them” worldview. Sort of sums up contemporary politics, doesn’t it?

This impulse to label and reject those who do not share our identity may be understandable, but it is deeply corrosive, and it distracts us from the discussions we need to conduct. Distinguishing between mainstream conservatism and liberalism and their extremist manifestations–accurately defining our terms–might be a first step back toward sanity.