I am not educated as a political scientist, or a political insider of any sort. Mostly, I observe the goings-on of what is happening with a mixture of amusement and curiosity. I would generally prefer not to throw out political analysis as a 'pundit', but since I see nobody saying this yet, it might be worth getting out there. Especially considering that this is both potentially good and bad news for the Democratic party, if it is true.
I think Harry Reid is sensing a political shift for the Democratic party, and acting early in an attempt to hold onto his position of power within the party. A strong sense of moral outrage and accusations of nefarious intent are always going to be popular attention-grabbers. As a politician skilled enough to become a high profile leader, I believe Harry Reid is doing this accusation with no evidence for a reason.
It is the same reason the Fox News channel, as well as Rush Limbaugh, and all those folks make up facts out of nowhere to rail against. Righteous indignation is so popular, it doesn't have to be based on any evidence. The only thing that matters is the accusation for the guilty target to prove wrong. Eric Holder was attacked like this. ACORN was attacked this way. Climate researchers involved in 'Climategate' were attacked like this. Shirley Shirrod was attacked like this.
This isn't to say that Harry Reid is making up his accusation, either. I can't know this for sure, but I think he probably wouldn't be doing this unless he had a high degree of confidence of what he was saying was true. Most political analysts seem to think that Mitt Romney will eventually release his returns, and if that occurs and Harry Reid is wrong, he'll look like a fool. But that potential outcome is completely irrelevant to making an accusation without evidence and charging the party as guilty until innocent. All that matters is that the accusation of a wealthy person paying no taxes makes one feel righteous indignation. Even when being presented by someone as mild as Harry Reid.
A charge like that, with no accompanying evidence is hearsay. But it doesn't matter to the Democratic party base. It could still be true. Even without evidence, a good chunk of the Democratic party base could accept it as true. Hell, I believe it's more likely to be true than not, even though there's no evidence for it.
But, the refusal to prove it definitively false is just evidence in it's favor, right?
I think this may represent a shift for the party. Sure, there's always the outliers that express righteous indignation. Alan Grayson got a lot of attention for his die quickly rant against the Republican opposition to health care. Elizabeth Warren got a lot of attention for her words about fair taxation on the wealthy.
But now Elizabeth Warren is a rising star within the Democratic party. She's going to give a speech at the DNC. Not only that, but as the article notes:
Warren has warmed up the crowd for a bigger speaker before -- she introduced President Barack Obama at a recent fundraiser in Boston.Clearly, the President is comfortable associating directly with her. And she has a habit of saying things of a righteous indignant nature.
Asked recently about news that Mitt Romney had money in offshore tax havens, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said, “It’s really American to avoid paying taxes, legally…. It’s a game we play. … I see nothing wrong with playing the game because we set it up to be a game.”Righteous indignation is a mixed blessing. The Republican party uses it so much, they've practically lost the ability to do anything else. It's just about the only thing they seem capable of doing. The problems they have is virtually everything that upsets them is actually not true.
Graham is right about one thing—it’s a game for some. It’s a rigged game that benefits big corporations and billionaires who can deploy armies of lobbyists and lawyers to create those tax loopholes and then exploit them.
Righteous indignation is such a powerful political tool, it doesn't matter if the underlying narrative has any truth to it. It can motivate the base, be exciting, and feel wonderful that someone is finally saying something that needs to be expressed. It can make someone popular. Keith Olbermann built his career on righteous indignation. James O'Keefe does the same. It can give a party huge political leverage and the ability to accomplish an agenda. For example, ACORN was abandoned so quickly in the manufactured scandal, that the facts only came out after the damage was done.
Are we heading in the direction where Democrats 'fight' in this antagonistic manner? I suspect Harry Reid thinks so, and is choosing to pick a fight with the top Republican to prove how he's dedicated to the new Democratic party. I suspect we'll start to hear more rhetorical attacks like this coming from our party in the future.
As I've noted, this kind of political tactic can make a party divisive, paralyzed by uncompromising dogmatism, and flail madly at imaginary demons. I don't think any of that is a danger in Harry Reid's allegation that Mitt Romney's no paid taxes thing, but it probably ought to be something we're all aware of, in case this kind of guilty until proven innocent rhetorical style catches on. Generally, bullying a bully is kind of cathartic anyway.
But I think this is just a side-effect of the Democrats finally learning to utilize righteous indignation. I think I can be okay with this sort of thing (in limited quantities) if it ultimately means more Democratic politicians like Elizabeth Warren.