Friday, April 22, 2011

Liberal Anger: Not a Great Idea

Dave Weigel questions where the liberal anger is over the budget cuts advocated by Paul Ryan. A few Republicans have faced embarrassing questions after flip flopping to support the far-right agenda that demolishes Medicare and cuts even more taxes for the wealthiest Americans. Weigel notes that there's simply no comparison to the outpouring of anger over the Affordable Care Act that was ginned up by talk radio, Tea Party organizers, and Koch money. The angry protests, often armed and dangerous, at Congressional town halls shocked the media narrative into Republican hands, handing the GOP footage of old Americans, demanding "Keep your damn government hands off my medicare!"

I have less faith than Weigel does that "liberal anger" would be as well received by the corporate media as the apparent outpouring of pro-corporate values in the summer of 2009. First of all, Conservatives already invoke the specter of of angry brown and black people whenever they want to support an unfounded point. It excites their largely white and often racist base. Whereas conservatives have wrapped anti-government anger in the American flag, they have consistently cultivated an image of any sort of liberal demonstrations as inherently violent. They claim that a return to historically moderate tax rates on the super-wealthy would amount to a class war against the rich. They claim that "union thugs" intimidate poor old Republican state house members while they illegally attempt to strip unions of existential rights.

Republicans are going to claim that liberals (read: historically moderate voters) are inherently violent anyway. Why give any credence to their noise? The mainstream media will inevitably carry any mention of "liberal anger" alongside a Republican denunciation of liberals as radical individuals. Democrats turned backflips in the summer of 2009 to avoid calling Republicans carrying guns to town hall meetings radicals. They insisted that the display of unhinged absurdities would backfire on Republicans. They did everything but call the anger what it was. Republicans have always had much better message discipline, and have typically been more willing to label their opponents as illegitimate. The media, sticking to the 'each side has a point' paradigm, will carry a dedicated Republican talking point through a series of stories dealing with more diffuse Democratic complaints about Ryan's Folly.

The answer isn't to attempt to match Koch money with Union money in order to turn out angry liberals at town hall meetings. A better approach would be to turn out moderate voters to actual debates to let them see the insanity of the Republicans who represent them. Weigel is focused on beating Ryan's Folly, and he thinks media attention on anger against Ryan's plan will do just the trick. Even Republicans know that Ryan's Folly is doomed to drag the party through the mud for a generation. Susan Collins has already come out against it. There is no need for an exhibition of anger against Ryan's plan to send vouchers instead of providing Medicare; the Senate will not pass it, and President will veto it. Angry town hall protests cowed Democrats into passing a worse bill than they could have otherwise. Republicans cannot pass Ryan's Folly.

Weigel wants to run congressional elections at a national level. That's a waste of resources and an ineffective idea to boot. The next election is going to be a street fight for the White House and control of both Houses of Congress. Introducing independent and moderate voters to the Republican ideas is necessary. Playing into Conservative stereotypes of their opponents is not. The key to winning even deep red districts next year will be to allow Republicans to see how deeply isolated from reality their representatives are. The closer to normal that the Democrats and their supporters seem, the better.

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