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Forget the ‘Party of No,’ Dems Need to Run Against Extremism

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Posted on Aug 22, 2010

By E.J. Dionne, Jr.

In an election, a solid “no” usually beats an uneasy “yes, but.” That’s the heart of the problem Democrats and President Obama face this fall.

The advantage of saying “no” without equivocation is that a significant share of the electorate is usually ready to shout the word from the rooftops, especially when the economy is as bad as it is now. Both parties have regularly offered variations on the late George C. Wallace’s brilliant slogan, “Send them a message.” The catchphrase leaves voters free to define who “them” is, and to fill in the message themselves.

Democrats know this since the power of negative thinking won them back both houses of Congress in 2006. Their supporters swarmed the polling places to say no to George W. Bush and the war in Iraq.

That’s why identifying the GOP as “the party of no” won’t do the Democrats as much good as they’d like to think. With more than a third of conservative Republicans declaring that our Christian president is a Muslim, just saying no to him is a more than adequate motivation to spend a few minutes with a ballot.

And “no” is certainly more powerful than the mixed messages Democrats are putting forward. In their sweeping victories of 2006 and 2008, Democrats picked up dozens of seats in very conservative districts. Many of these incumbents don’t want to be associated in the least with the remarkable record their party has built in this Congress for fear of tying themselves to Obama or the party’s congressional leadership, or both. But this means that Democrats are defending their achievements halfheartedly, while Republicans are assailing them without mercy and, often enough, without much concern for accuracy.

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To solve this problem, the Democrats have come up with a loud “no” of their own, asking voters to reject the Republican past one more time to avoid moving the country backward. The president makes this case by providing some reflections on driving. “When you want to move forward in your car, what do you do? You put your car in ‘D,’ ” he says. “When you want to go backwards, you put it in ‘R’—back into the ditch!”

It’s a nice line, but will it get enough of his party’s supporters to drive themselves to the polls? What’s missing from the Democrats’ campaign is a willingness to raise the stakes of the election. This may be the only way to inspire the party’s own supporters and move those independents still open to persuasion.

The principled case that must be made is that the brand of conservatism seeking power this year is irresponsible, incoherent and untrue to the best of its own traditions. That’s clear enough at the most basic level of policy: Conservatives can say that they are deeply worried about deficits, or they can insist that tax cuts matter most. But when they say they can reduce taxes and trim deficits at the same time, they are either deluded or deceptive, and they are playing voters for fools.

But there is something far more troubling at work: the rise of an angry, irrational extremism—the sort that says Obama is a Muslim socialist who wasn’t born in the U.S.—that was not part of Ronald Reagan’s buoyant conservative creed. Do Republican politicians believe in the elaborate conspiracy theories being spun by Glenn Beck and parts of the tea party movement? If not, why won’t they say so? Liberals who refused to break with the far left in the 1950s and ’60s were accused of being blinded by a view that saw “no enemies on the left.” Are conservatives who should know better now falling into a “no enemies on the right” trap?

When Texas Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert warns, with absolutely no proof, of the dangers of “terror babies”—children whose mothers allegedly come to the United States to give birth so their offspring can have American passports for later use in terrorist activities—have we not crossed into never-never land? Where are the responsible conservatives who should be denouncing such crackpottery?

What the current right has on offer is far worse than anything Bush put forward, which means that this election isn’t even about whether we’ll go back into the ditch. It’s about whether a movement that’s gone over a cliff will be rewarded for doing so. A victory for this style of conservatism will be a defeat for the kind of conservatism the country needs. And that’s a worthy matter to put to the voters.

E.J. Dionne’s e-mail address is ejdionne(at)washpost.com.
   
© 2010, Washington Post Writers Group


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By richard, August 24, 2010 at 5:47 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“Where are the responsible conservatives who should be denouncing such crackpottery?”

Yes indeed, that is the question, isn’t it? But the answer lies in the gradual but steady descent into crackpottery of the entire right. There were at one time conservative critics of thieir younger and wackier collegues. Goldwater criticized the Fallwell and Gingrich crowd, thugs I believe he called them. He hadn’t seen anything yet.  But at some point, things crossed a line. I think it might have been the impeachment of President Clinton for fooling around with some girl, led by such saintly scions of virtue as Newt Gingrich. At some point, anyone who had any sense of decency left in that conservative breast said, “This is not conservative,” and “I can no longer be a part of this madness.” If there were any stragglers left after the impeachment, the Bush years would have sent them packing. And then the no-holes-barred reaction to the first black president had no one left on the conservative side to disgust. Anyone with a strong heart or a weak stomach was already gone. 
We now see a unified front, all marching in lockstep over the edge of democracy, into the unknown realm where truth has no meaning and power is the only good, onward to God knows where. But I’m afraid we are going to find out.

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RayLan's avatar

By RayLan, August 23, 2010 at 8:23 pm Link to this comment

I stand for no more BS - the way the American dream of selfish indulgence beyond one’s means has burst its bubble. I’m sick of the enforced stupdity of, on the right - simple-minded xenophobic slef-centered natioonalism - and on the left -sappy ineffectual political correctness.

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By rollzone, August 23, 2010 at 8:06 pm Link to this comment

hello. no. this is baiting for direction. our economy
is at about $15 trillion/ year now. running smoothly,
debt is manageable, unemployment is constant and will
remain as America transforms into a more IT society,
and away from jobs being replaced by robots. all the
truth is smothered, and the Demoncrats can run on the
same platform Oboymamma ran on, because he has not
done a thing to change the hope we all had. Beltway
politics, special interests, global voter fraud, Wall
Street crony-ism, it’s all still there. insert a new
face for lieyering, and move on. spend a little tax
on me.

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By call me roy, August 23, 2010 at 7:37 pm Link to this comment

One of the top news stories on all the cable networks is: 20% - 25% of Americans believe that Barry Hussein is a muslim and 34% don’t know.

And Mr Dionne thinks that the Dems “Need to Run Against Extremism”?

What’s wrong with this picture?

Yea, that’s the ticket E. J. Great idea.

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Tesla's avatar

By Tesla, August 23, 2010 at 7:34 pm Link to this comment

E.J. Dionne has made want to puke for years now. He
truly believes he is a liberal and not the Eisenhower
Republican he displays at every turn.

Centrist IS the extremist view. Communists and fascists
at least have legitimate rationales for their
positions.

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By gerard, August 23, 2010 at 6:02 pm Link to this comment

Beg to differ, Mr. Dionne:  The Democrats need to run FOR something—and mean it!
  Something like jobs, or legal limits on corporate greed, or relief from interest on mortgages, or an end to wars in the Middle East.  Or all of the above.

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By Shift, August 23, 2010 at 5:36 pm Link to this comment

Obama is already running on extremism, he is an extreme liar whose arrogance is so great as to genuinely represent that he does not understand why progressives hate his guts.  While his corporate friends bathe in gold, the American People suffer in pain. E.J. get out of Washington and New York or suffer the sticks of millions of pins in your faulty propaganda piece.  Obama is an extremist.

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By Anarcissie, August 23, 2010 at 12:55 pm Link to this comment

‘Extremist’ refers to people who are scary because they won’t work within the system.  Could be Civil Rights activists, could be Nazis, could be pacifists, could be ‘little old ladies in tennis shoes’.

The ruling class decided that racism was not a good thing many years ago.  However, it’s always tempting for any of them, as an individual, to dip into the bucket for just one more hit.

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By Steve in TX, August 23, 2010 at 12:44 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“He seems hopelessly suspended in a bipartisan bid to ‘all get along’. He has a learning disability in this regard - which is why he has fallen out of favor. He does show his Democrat-typical complete absence of a spine or any clear vision. “

Why do some people, like this guy, believe that trying to work together as spineless?  I hated it when Bush rammed his policies (tax-cuts & welfare for the rich, two personal profit-driven wars, PATRIOT Act, etc) down everyone’s throat; so we don’t believe in the eye-for-an-eye doctrine will do anything but make us all blind.  But then I guess, after listening to people like Beck, Limbaugh, et al, that right-wingers support the idea of blind hate. 

I’m so tired of hearing the Republican lies, stupidity, and rancor.  Luckily for those of us in Texas, when we vote this November, we’ll be voting out the incumbent Republicans.  Starting with our disastrous governor…

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By tropicgirl, August 23, 2010 at 11:07 am Link to this comment

As usual E.J. is totally confused.

NO ONE is interested in centrism or non-extremism. Both the right and left are
FED UP with neo-con, neolib, centrist garbage.

E.J. whoever is paying you for this is really wasting their money.

And this distaste for centrism is now worldwide…

Australia just elected a dueling government that probably can’t get anything
done. And that is what the Australian people want. NOTHING MORE
DESTRUCTIVE DONE. It is deliberate.

England did the same exact thing. The people got tired of being played by
either side so now the dueling government CANNOT FUNCTION EXCEPT FOR
BASICS.

The American people are about to ENFORCE the MESSAGE OF NO this
November. We DON"T want any more destruction done. NO MORE PELOSI-
REID-OBAMA DANGEROUS LEGISLATION. Its over.

Germany just about booted Merkel off the cliff when she grabbed on in time
and booted the bankers. HANGING BY A THREAD.

France is getting nothing done, AND NO GMO still.

Iceland is about to prohibit the world bankers even if they have to take down
the government and rebuilt it again. NOT OPEN FOR BUSINESS.

Greece is PHYSICALLY PREVENTING THEIR GOVERNMENT FROM GETTING TO
WORK.

Mexico, as corrupt as it is IS INSTITUTING TARIFFS, THE ONLY MEDICINE FOR
NAFTA. So, no more trade deals for now.

The Muslim Middle East is trying to hold their own and keep the Globalists out.
It may take years but in Iraq, for example, THEY HAVE PUT THEIR GOVERNMENT
ON HOLD for now. Afghanistan and Pakistan NOT ON BOARD either. And Henry
Kissinger’s fake “Green Revolution” did not work.

And Israel, despite their fake extremism, which is really US-Israeli-Middle East
Globalism, are being left out in the cold, totally, with their stock market ready
to cave.

This is the ANTIDOTE for big, Globalist government that plays the parties
against each other…. STOP THEM IN THEIR TRACKS. Paralyze them. Vote in
opposing sides and watch them fight and get nothing done.

And just relax for a while.

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By secretarybird, August 23, 2010 at 11:07 am Link to this comment

Having had to work with extremists when I was a union officer, representing my work colleagues, I can offer one definition of an extremist: one who is not a democrat (note lower-case c). An extremist has no respect, and possibly no interest in, majority opinion. Of course, this on its own is not enough: I am against the death penalty, and this may put me into a minority in many societies, but does it make me an extremist?

So I must add a rider to my definition: extremists will seek to undermine democratically arrived-at decisions, by whatever means are within their power, if those decisions don’t suit their purposes.

That is why they are so dangerous: let them have what they want, and you will lose democracy itself.

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Paul_GA's avatar

By Paul_GA, August 23, 2010 at 8:40 am Link to this comment

@ ardee and RayLan—

I think it was Andrew Jackson who said, “Those who stand for nothing fall for anything.”

Me, I stand for peace, freedom and the end of the American Empire, plus restoration of the Republic.

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By Anarcissie, August 23, 2010 at 8:34 am Link to this comment

FiftyGigs, August 23 at 10:37 am:

‘“I still don’t know what Obama stands for…”

A fair statement. Here’s the answer. Obama stands for the American system of government. So, the real question is what do YOU stand for? ...’

What is the American system of government, though?  At the moment it seems to be operating a world-wide imperial war machine which is presently slaughtering people in Afghanistan and Pakistan and God knows where else; trashing what’s left of the old American Constitution; bailing out the rich and hanging out the poor to twist slowly in the wind; expanding surveillance, repression and propaganda at home and abroad.

I favor peace, freedom and equality, so that puts me in opposition.

But of course if I have to choose between the above and raving racists, bigots, religious fanatics and fascists….

It’s an interesting set-up.  Yes, the Democrats should run against the extremists who have been so conveniently supplied for them.

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By balkas, August 23, 2010 at 6:57 am Link to this comment

In these more perilous times than ever [or since evanescence of dinos by the hand of the universe]all MSM media still look at our panhuman problems from the narrowest look possible.

So, democratic, but not timocratic Democrats, would lose to democratic, but not honest Republicans!
But only for a while.
And during whatever while, Republicans do everything wrong and when as dishonest Dems as Repubs, get their while, Dems struggle to make some corrections perpetrated by repubs.

But s’mhow-s’mwhy, uncle never ever allows Democrats enough while not only to correct all ills repubs have perped but to enact new, improved uncle’s diktats.
Nice try MSM! But what the heck! Why not try it when it works!
Is this going to go on for another century or millennium? tnx

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By FiftyGigs, August 23, 2010 at 6:37 am Link to this comment

“I still don’t know what Obama stands for…”

A fair statement. Here’s the answer. Obama stands for the American system of government. So, the real question is what do YOU stand for?

The old politics of the Democrats offering you two chickens in your pot, only to be trumped by Republicans offering you three is the change we need. Do you really believe any of those idiot Republicans out there have a stand on anything that has anything to do with what you know would be good for you?

The “change we can believe in” is believing in ourselves. In believing that good people will get off their behinds and go to the polls and elect good people. In believing that good people can come to a consensus about their needs and the greater good. In believing that their representative government will respond to their will.

All that will happen.

But NONE of that CAN happen unless we believe in our system of government. Two years ago, we had a huge turnout and what happened? We moved EVERYTHING in the right direction, not the least of which was installing a President who “got it”.

Do you realize how close we are?

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By RayLan, August 23, 2010 at 5:17 am Link to this comment

I still don’t know what Obama stands for even after his drawing up and passing a number of significant bills. He seems hopelessly suspended in a bipartisan bid to ‘all get along’. He has a learning disability in this regard - which is why he has fallen out of favor. He does show his Democrat-typical complete absence of a spine or any clear vision.

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By Inherit The Wind, August 23, 2010 at 4:54 am Link to this comment

The solidarity displayed by the GOP makes them powerful, even in the minority. To get Democrats to act in similar fashion seems impossible at first blush. Yet the same tactics that Repugs employ is available to Obama and the leadership; threatening to strip committeee appointments, refusal to aid in re-election campaigns , and in various ways. Yet one sees little of such flexing of muscle, and, if it occurs behind the scenes as one might expect it is singularly unsuccesful.

Thus I must come to the conclusion that the leadership of the Dems is happy with this cacophonic splintering, perhaps to assuage the powerful and wealthy who benefit most from this herd of cats situation and make it seem that this “mess aint our fault you see”.

What do Democrats stand for, anyway? The same things they stood for in decades past, if one limits oneself to reading campaign literature. But, standing up for something simply isnt the same as working towards something.
********************

Do the leaders WANT this mess or are they too short-sighted to see the ramifications of their spinelessness?  Clearly they think that enforcing party discipline will other cause members to flee to the GOP (!) or be unpopular with voters—as if being indecisive and wishy-washy ever got anyone elected.

And why are they afraid to stand on their record, and, when they do, manage to sound as dumb and slimy as Dilbert’s pointy-haired boss?

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By ardee, August 23, 2010 at 4:46 am Link to this comment

Inherit The Wind, August 23 at 7:43 am

Dichotomy alert

The solidarity displayed by the GOP makes them powerful, even in the minority. To get Democrats to act in similar fashion seems impossible at first blush. Yet the same tactics that Repugs employ is available to Obama and the leadership; threatening to strip committeee appointments, refusal to aid in re-election campaigns , and in various ways. Yet one sees little of such flexing of muscle, and, if it occurs behind the scenes as one might expect it is singularly unsuccesful.

Thus I must come to the conclusion that the leadership of the Dems is happy with this cacophonic splintering, perhaps to assuage the powerful and wealthy who benefit most from this herd of cats situation and make it seem that this “mess aint our fault you see”.

What do Democrats stand for, anyway? The same things they stood for in decades past, if one limits oneself to reading campaign literature. But, standing up for something simply isnt the same as working towards something.

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By Paul_GA, August 23, 2010 at 4:25 am Link to this comment

Interesting; when one party is in power, all it can think of to do is fight a “holding action” to retain that power while “playing it safe” insofar as it’s possible. When a party is out of power, all it can think of to do is fight tooth and nail and no holds barred to get power back, no matter how—hook, crook, every dirty trick in or out of the book.

And then, if there is a “revolution” at the polls, the party strategies are switched.

Interesting—and disgusting.

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By Mike789, August 23, 2010 at 4:04 am Link to this comment

ofersince72 is instructional in his “rational extremism”. Seems to echo B.Goldwater. The distinction is clear, although the Right has not employed anything akin to it or if they have it eludes MSM to make it apparent.

Citing E.J.Dionne: “Many of these incumbents don’t want to be associated in the least with the remarkable record their party has built in this Congress.”

Regarding this I’d have to say the Dems. abandoning their extistetial responsibility reflects doubt that they have initiated policy that will have a lasting beneficial effect. Nonetheless, the Right’s stonewalling has it’s inherent responsibility as well.

If the Dems. have any intestinal fortitude, they will take the monetary advantage they’ve amassed and do some clever cut and paste employing the motley array of nonsensical remarks emitting [to this very day there is a trove] from the Reps. Should be a tragicomedy. Where’s the popcorn?

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By Inherit The Wind, August 23, 2010 at 3:43 am Link to this comment

ardee, August 23 at 6:55 am Link to this comment

If someone other than the usual thread filler can get a word in here…..

Decisiveness always appears more competent than its counterpart. Even though the general nonsense extremists on the right spew daily cannot stand up to the light of scrutiny it is given credibility by the Democrats seeming inability to stand up and challenge that nonsense.

One must wonder why.
*******************************

Yeah, I’ve been saying that for a long time. I think the short answer is two-fold:

1) The Democratic Party leadership can’t craft a position and a way to say that’s short and clever.  Gingrich’s “Contract With America” was brilliant marketing. It implied change, honesty, and a positive outlook. (of course, all it did was change things for the worse and shut down the government).  When you criticize the Dems, they reply with a list of things they’ve done that nobody’s interested in, and couched as “I funded studies to look into why single mothers are in poverty.” ie, a useless program that addresses the wrong problem. We KNOW why single mothers are frequently poor…but the pols are decidedly tone-deaf in the Democratic Party

So…Message

2) The Democrats lack party discipline.  When that twit apologized to BP for Obama’s “stick-up”, Boehner and Blunt, who PROBABLY agree completely, publicly made him retract that statement and apologize to the President, threatening to strip him of his committee seat.  Meanwhile all sorts of Dems are undermining the President and the party giving the idea-less GOPers something to attack. (BTW, coming up with a lie is not the same as having an idea). Dems have been spineless since 1980, when Ronald Reagan swept into power, took the Senate with him and was able to break Tip O’Neil’s iron grip on the Blue Dog Democrats. Then, despite to some recovery, they lost BOTH house in the debacle of 1994 and have been cowering in the corners ever since, afraid to challenge the Big R.  So…Discipline

The Dems need two things: message and discipline. (and a backbone made of something stiffer than Jell-o would help)

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By ardee, August 23, 2010 at 2:55 am Link to this comment

If someone other than the usual thread filler can get a word in here…..

Decisiveness always appears more competent than its counterpart. Even though the general nonsense extremists on the right spew daily cannot stand up to the light of scrutiny it is given credibility by the Democrats seeming inability to stand up and challenge that nonsense.

One must wonder why.

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By ofersince72, August 23, 2010 at 12:01 am Link to this comment

So that is the platform that you believe the Democrats
need to take,  the anti-extremists.  That will work good.

Except we haven’t defined extremists.  It has something
to do with zenophobia and racism I believe is what you
are getting at.

So we are going to keep this debate going on forever and
ever….A mosque, A immigrant, .......................
Sounds like all of America’s problems are going to be
solved once and for all.

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By ofersince72, August 22, 2010 at 11:53 pm Link to this comment

“irrational extremism” , is that supposed to be a

code term for racist?  If not, then what is irrational

about extremism?  And is extremism a position that is not

Centrist.  And are not the Centrists the ones that have

destroyed our country and murdered innocent human beings

all over the world?  And is that not irrational?

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By ofersince72, August 22, 2010 at 11:47 pm Link to this comment

E.J.  There is also a rise of

ANGRY “RATIONAL” extremism

and for good reason…...
probably for the irrational extremism too..
if we owned our airwaves, and had honest, investigative
journalism, the irrational extremism might get channeled
in a more positive manner.  But that is not going to be
the case,  we are going to remain what we are and what
we have become.
So lets build shrines and 2500 more fighter jets at
about $300 mill a pop, wait, they are our shrines.
Lets continue to send weapons all over the globe while we
speak of tolerance and debate mosques, churches and syngogs. 
Good luck to you going to the polls,  you’ll gettum this
time,  I am scared of the boogyman! !

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