I really do believe that the craziness displayed by the radical right in general and those who are involved in the Tea Party in particular - has lowered the level of not just political discourse, but of the expectations we as progressives have of ourselves.
We have let it contribute to our own myopia in some ways. It doesn't have to be this way though.
Please join me below.
Reading the diary on Grady Warren's racist denial of Tea Party racism prompted me to write this, but this is something I've thought for quite a while.
Often we are told that when our adversaries are about to shoot themselves in the foot, it's best we not get in their way. And I think that is true. If they are about to expose themselves as horrific people, let them do so - their words and actions speak for themselves.
The crazy things Tea Party folks say can gain for us some political traction, but only some. I'm afraid that too often we act like that by itself is sufficient for electoral success, and sometimes we seem to even act like we can parlay that into policy and legislative victories.
It's certainly true that last fall the craziness of some candidates such as Christine O'Donnell, Sharon Angle, Ken Buck, Carl Paladino and Art Robinson repelled many voters, but other crazy candidates did win. Their craziness did not work against them. While it's true that many people who came out to vote in droves in 2008 stayed home in 2010, the problem cuts much deeper than that.
I even read it on this site that no matter what we need to vote each election otherwise the Michelle Bachmann's of the world will call all of the shots, and there's much truth to it, but here's where we have a blind spot. It may motivate us progressive political junkies to go to the polls, pound the pavement with GOTV efforts, talk to our neighbors, and what have you. And fear of a Senate full of Christine O'Donnells and Sharon Angles may drive some swing voters to the polls, but can we really expect that type of motivation to reach a critical mass all of the time?
If what we are selling is "vote for candidate X", the first thing to keep in mind is that in sales, many folks buy from people they like. To use an example, how much of a ringing endorsement of itself would it be if Sprint's main pitch was that they were not A T & T Wireless? You would think that to be worth anything Sprint itself has to have something attractive to offer.
So when our political opposition is intractable, makes unreasonable demands again and again, and neglects, if not refuses, to condemn those within their ranks who use eliminationist rhetoric, we may be able to stave off some of their candidates for office and use it to swing an election or two at the national level, but we're kidding ourselves if we think that is sufficient for our long-term political success, much less for the well-being of this country. This is true for at least two reasons.
First, if we want independents to come to our side, we need to do a far more effective job in messaging for our cause. We need to show the public at large that voting for us will lead to things actually getting better. The health care bill that passed about a year ago as a whole is less than the sum of its parts IMO, but there are several good elements in the bill. Why didn't we as Democrats trumpet those things loudly? It's one thing to be honest and admit that the bill that passed still leaves a lot of things unaddressed, and even to admit that it was a boon to insurance companies, but I got the sense that the Democratic Party was walking around in ashes and sack cloth when it came to that bill. That, to me, was self-defeating.
We need to convey clearly what we stand for, not just that we're not like those crazy Tea Party folks. We need to let our fellow Americans know that we really do stand for restoring America's economic vitality with good paying jobs, that we stand for making our energy use greener and more efficient, for a sane foreign policy that doesn't spread our soldiers thin, that we stand for true equality for all Americans, for accessible, affordable health care for all Americans, for a sound educational system, etc. - and that all Americans stand to benefit from us implementing our proposals to make those things a reality
Another reason why the crazy from the right brings us as progressives down is that we are having to expend a great deal of energy combating it, especially since the right is relentless in its current craziness. Ignoring it and pretending it will then go away only makes it worse. Ever since I embraced a progressive outlook I continue to believe that even if we as progressives hold the lion's share of the levers of power, we still need an honest, loyal opposition. Not the type of opposition we have now, but an opposition that will keep us honest and prevent us from turning what we believe into a kind of dogmatism. So while it may be true that we need to just let those who are about to shoot themselves do their thing, the far right's continued extremeness does more harm to America than any good it may do to our own electoral success. Let's try to avoid the short-sighted thinking that can come from that.
And yes, it is true that the media is no help, that CNN and others bend over backwards to avoid the "liberal bias" charge (but get charged with it anyway) when they treat crazy right-wingers like they have something valuable to add to the conversation, but you know what, until that changes, we're going to have to do our work in spite of the major media.