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The Right’s Stealthy Coup

Posted on Apr 1, 2012

By E.J. Dionne Jr.

Right before our eyes, American conservatism is becoming something very different from what it once was. Yet this transformation is happening by stealth because moderates are too afraid to acknowledge what all their senses tell them.

Last week’s Supreme Court oral arguments on health care were the most dramatic example of how radical tea partyism has displaced mainstream conservative thinking. It’s not just that the law’s individual mandate was, until very recently, a conservative idea. Even conservative legal analysts were insisting it was impossible to imagine the court declaring the health care mandate unconstitutional, given its past decisions.

So imagine the shock when conservative justices repeatedly spouted views closely resembling the tweets and talking points issued by organizations of the sort funded by the Koch brothers. Don’t take it from me. Charles Fried, solicitor general for Ronald Reagan, told The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein that it was absurd for conservatives to pretend that the mandate created a market in health care. “The whole thing is just a canard that’s been invented by the tea party … ,” Fried said, “and I was astonished to hear it coming out of the mouths of the people on that bench.”

Staunchly conservative circuit court Judges Jeffrey Sutton and Laurence Silberman must have been equally astonished, since both argued that overturning the law would amount to judicial overreach. Yet moderate opinion bends over backward to act as if this is an intellectually close question.

Similarly, House passage of Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget, with its steep cuts in the tax rates on the wealthy and sweeping reductions in programs for the poor, is an enormous step rightward from the budget policies of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Faced with growing deficits, Reagan and Bush both supported substantial tax increases.

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A small hint of how this push to the right moves moderates away from moderation came in an effort last week to use an amendment on the House floor to force a vote on the deficit-reduction proposals offered by the commission headed by former Sen. Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, former chief of staff to Bill Clinton.

You only learned in paragraphs buried deep in the news stories that the House was not even asked to consider the actual commission plan. To cobble together bipartisan support, sponsors of the ersatz Simpson-Bowles amendment kept all of the commission’s spending cuts but slashed the amount it prescribed for tax increases in half. See how relentless pressure from the right turns self-styled moderates into conservatives? If there’s a cave-in, it’s always to starboard.

Note how many deficit hawks regularly trash President Obama for not endorsing Simpson-Bowles while they continue to praise Ryan—even though Ryan voted to kill the initiative when he was a member of the commission. Here again is the double-standard that benefits conservatives, proving that, contrary to establishment opinion, Obama was absolutely right not to embrace the Simpson-Bowles framework. If he had, a moderately conservative proposal would suddenly have defined the “left wing” of the debate, just because Obama endorsed it.

This is nuts. Yet mainstream journalism and mainstream moderates play right along.

A brief look at history suggests how far to the right both the Republican Party and contemporary conservatism have moved. Today’s conservatives almost never invoke one of our most successful Republican presidents, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who gave us, among other things, federally guaranteed student loans and championed the interstate highway system.

Even more revealing is what Robert A. Taft, the leader of the conservative forces who opposed Eisenhower’s nomination in 1952, had to say about government’s role in American life. “If the free enterprise system does not do its best to prevent hardship and poverty,” the Ohio Republican senator said in a 1946 speech, “it will find itself superseded by a less progressive system which does.” He urged Congress to “undertake to put a floor under essential things, to give all a minimum standard of decent living, and to all children a fair opportunity to get a start in life.”

Who can doubt that today’s right would declare his day’s Mr. Republican and Mr. Conservative a socialist redistributionist?

If our nation’s voters want to move government policy far to the right, they are entirely free to do so. But those who regard themselves as centrist have a moral obligation to make clear what the stakes are in the current debate. If supposed moderates refuse to call out the new conservatism for the radical creed it has become, their timidity will make them complicit in an intellectual coup they could have prevented.


E.J. Dionne’s e-mail address is ejdionne(at)washpost.com.
   
© 2012, Washington Post Writers Group


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By Don Farkas, April 4, 2012 at 12:35 pm Link to this comment

While no reasonable person doubts the rightful power of Congress to pass a comprehensive national health care law supported by tax revenues on the basis of Congress’ constitutional General Welfare powers, the issue we are debating
here is whether Congress my use its Commerce Clause powers to force individuals to take a specified action (i.e., purchase private health care insurance or else pay a penalty) on the asserted basis that their failure to do so would otherwise substantially affect interstate commerce. 

Accepting the constitutionality of this legal principle underlying the individual mandate would have potentially dangerous implications.  For example, consider a different hypothetical situation of a future Congress also asserting these newly enlarged Commerce Clause powers as precedent for supporting the constitutionality of a new law abolishing the use of birth control and requiring that all pregnant women must carry their fetus to term.  In such a hypothetical case, Congress could also potentially justify its encroachment on individual privacy rights by asserting the substantial impact on interstate commerce that could very reasonably be expected to result by increasing the number and proportion of younger individuals expected to join the work force.  A compelling state purpose sufficient to override an individual’s Right of Privacy over their reproduction could be determined by Congress reasonably asserting that the economy needs new citizens to help support an increasingly demographically older population.

Although the above hypothetical was only intended to illustrate my point, it may actually not be very farfetched considering that a Republican candidate (i.e., Rick Santorum) who is currently seeking his Party’s nomination for President actually seems to be openly advocating passage of such laws.

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By moonraven, April 4, 2012 at 10:57 am Link to this comment

diamond:

It goes further back than that.  The first SC judge (sic), John Marshall, is the one responsible for legitimizing (sic) the rip off of indigenous-held lands and their extermination to that end.  he held the door open for Andrew Jackson’s genocidal Indian Removal Act.

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By moonraven, April 4, 2012 at 10:56 am Link to this comment

diamond:

It goes further back than that.  The first SC judge (sic), John Marshall, is the one responsible for legitimizing (sic) the rip off of indigenous-held lands and their extermination to that end.  he held the door open for Andrew Jackson’s genocidaql Indian Removal Act.

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By ardee, April 4, 2012 at 4:58 am Link to this comment

Americans are likely to make both the House and the Senate align with the White House. Which is a rare event in American politics, because it gives great power to the presidency.

Recent history indicates a rousing ..so what? One might recall two years in the recent past when Democrats had a majority in Congress and a President in the White House. Republicans still ruled the roost, defecated on any democratic attempt at legislation, and proved for any willing to heed, that our two party system doesnt work.

We know by now what we should have known four years ago. Obama does not walk-on-water. But what does he walk on? Cement would be nice, but he seems wishy-washy to a lot of people. Still, given the alternative the verbal-gymnast, Mittens, what alternative is there to a thinking-person? (Mind you, there are many thoughtless dorks out there.)

Another typical high handed bit of scorn from a loyal democrat who has no recourse to pointing at democratic accomplishments so must , perforce, diminish the ideas of others, even when those ideas are not mentioned only insulted in anonymity.

To say that Obama does not walk on water is to forgive an egregious lack of effort on his part to actually do something. Filling his cabinet with the very same folks who crashed our economy and offshored our jobs seems a bit much to describe him as “not walking on water”. The man is a phony from stem to stern. He speaks with a fluency that fools people in to believing him. The record is clear, however loyalists wish to mask it.

The choice is not only among the two principle candidates, it is a choice as to perpetuating a system, the two party joke, that clearly is leading this nation to third world status by favoring those who provide the money in an increasingly expensive political campaign over the needs of the mass of Americans.

Do not be fooled people, by these blind or agendized loyalists. The real choice is to demonstrate ones angst and to take the first step towards restoring our democracy by voting against the two party system. It matters not which of these corporatist phonies wins office, what matters is that we work to provide more and better choices.

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By heterochromatic, April 3, 2012 at 5:09 pm Link to this comment

There was indeed not a damn thing stealthy about the Reagan counterrevolution
to those with open eyes…..reagan was indeed the worst president to come from
california.


and still, this generation of conservatives are far fucking more reactionary and
know-nothing than ever RR was.

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By jimmmmmy, April 3, 2012 at 2:38 pm Link to this comment

The fact that youd didn’t notice the coup in progress under Reagan and Friedman doesn’t mean it was stealthy. The fact you made no mention of it as Cliton dismantled the social safety net and banking regs did not make it stealthy either. Only when Bush moved it into high gear did you begin to notice . Now that Obama is in the final stages of creating an imperial presidency, your in total denial. Preferring to spin against the horrors Obama is bringing into existence

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By jimmmmmy, April 3, 2012 at 2:37 pm Link to this comment

The fact that youd didn’t notice the coup in progress under Reagan and Friedman doesn’t mean it was stealthy. The fact you made no mention of it as Cliton dismantled the social safety net and banking regs did not make it stealthy either. Only when Bush moved it into high gear did you begin to notice . Now that Obama is in the final stages of creating an imperial presidency,your in total denial. Preferring to spin against the horrors Obama is bringing into existence

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By balkas, April 3, 2012 at 7:11 am Link to this comment

i am not crying, protesting, commenting after i read e.j.d, jr’s piece. will i continue
to read what this member of the 20% writes?  i hope not!

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Lafayette's avatar

By Lafayette, April 3, 2012 at 3:54 am Link to this comment

THE AMERICAN MODEL IN DIRE STRAIGHTS

The jig is up for the Reaganite Conservatives - you know them, the ones who think only the Best deserve the Best and the Rest can go to hell in a handbag.

How do I know the music is changing? The polls know (from The Economist):

ABSOLUTE Strategy Research, a London-based consultancy, conducts a regular survey of the attitudes of US citizens. This election year, they have added a question about how respondents view the American “model”.

A remarkable 63% of those surveyed agreed with the statement that the model “no longer works for the majority of Americans” (30% disagreed) while 58% did not believe the model provided an equal opportunity for everyone.

With that much dissatisfaction amongst the grassroots of this nation traditional voting patterns will not matter that much. The dice are cast - the likely combination of which will show Great Disgust with the Gridlock in LaLaLand on the Potomac.

Such disgust could make them look for a viable alternative amongst Progressives.

Americans are likely to make both the House and the Senate align with the White House. Which is a rare event in American politics, because it gives great power to the presidency.

Well not quite yet. The opposition (plural) still has to get its act together. What is meant by plural is the rag-bag Dems and the Progressives.

We know by now what we should have known four years ago. Obama does not walk-on-water. But what does he walk on? Cement would be nice, but he seems wishy-washy to a lot of people. Still, given the alternative the verbal-gymnast, Mittens, what alternative is there to a thinking-person? (Mind you, there are many thoughtless dorks out there.)

The real battle is in Congress, that institution that is supposed to represent we, the sheeple. So, since when are sheeple represented to the tune of 47% of Congress by millionaires?

Boys ‘n girls, do you think these megabuckers (rhymes with mother… ;^) give a damn about the middle- and lower-classes that actually constitute 99% of the population? Not in our wildest imagination.

So let’s see what the Progressives can do to enhance the Progressive Caucus from 20% of Congressional Representation. In fact, all members but one are in the House and there’s poor Bernie Sanders all alone in the Senate. (I think, but am not sure he’s alone.)

The list that the Progressive Caucus site gives is here. The list is located under the button “About CPC”, then under “Caucus Members”)

MY POINT?

Keep your eyes on this group. If you have the slightest gleam in your heart for an Egalitarian America, these are the people who will be fighting for it.

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By ardee, April 3, 2012 at 3:45 am Link to this comment

Imagine, if you will, a political system in which there were opposing views presented, in which all sides of issues had fair and open hearing.

The rightward spinning of our democracy is possible because the Democrats have sold their souls to the corporate check book as much as have the GOP in turn sold theirs to the furthest right. There is not a single voice allowed a public forum to express the progressive or moderate view.

Even, no especially, our fraud of a President speaks with the morbid charm of a rattlesnake, expressing lovely plans and intentions, none of which are ever intended as more than a sop to the unreasoning hopeful than as an actual battle plan.

Now imagine, as we see in other nations, several political parties engaged in the business of democracy, representing all views and opinions and all compromising to bring a true democratic governance.

It can happen here. But first we must recognize the threat posed by those here who put forth the concept that there are only two possible ways to vote. One hears that voting third party is useless, all the while refusing to discuss the machinations of their own party in suppressing third party growth, a basically unscrupulous weakening of democracy itself.

Do not allow these partisan propagandists free reign to lie and distort. Challenge them and, by doing so, exposing them for the empty vessels they are. Third Party politics remains the only way to combat the fascist takeover by our corporations of our government, and of our two party system.

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By Angel Gabriel, April 3, 2012 at 1:55 am Link to this comment

Oregoncharles,
Glad you came back with somewhat of an explanation of your initial comment!
It’s so often that conservatives and the AIPAC front Guard perform “hit & run”
maneuvers here and I apologize for categorizing you with a blanket assumption
based on the vacant and apparently clueless realization this wasn’t a Scheer
piece.
I fully understand where you’re coming from with your comment on the current
Administration. Unfortunately, all of the current Mob are the same in their
nailing the coffin shut on all but the Master’s who pay them.
It’s also unfortunate how the country has been degraded and pulled back into a
McCarthy era mindset of persecution and racism and Ideological divisions!
How do you see your way through making a choice for the next President? I’m
registered to vote in Oregon, but live overseas. I just got my absentee ballot for
my local Representatives and Judges running in the upcoming May Election.
There is not one single person I have any faith will work for anyone other than
their own personal interests. For the first time in my adult voting age life I have
to say I may not vote in the locals OR the Presidential National Elections. 
Oregon’s economy has been in the Dumpster for decades and without Major
Industry, or a thriving Industry for the future of our kids to grow into, I see no
improvements on the Horizon to hope for.  Can you see a glimmer of hope that
I’m missing in my absence?

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By oregoncharles, April 2, 2012 at 11:23 pm Link to this comment

@ Angel Gabriel:

I know exactly who wrote the piece; you note that he identifies as a “centrist?”  These days, that means right wing Democrat.

Nothing he says here is especially offensive, but the whole article is a scarecrow, meant to keep our eyes on the fading “conservatives” while our “liberal” President, aided and abetted by Democrats in Congress, takes us further and further into outright fascism, attacking civil liberties and handing yet more taxpayer money to the banks and insurance companies.

I’m a Green, not a conservative, like so many Democrats.  I’ve read a great many of Dionne’s articles; he cluelessly repeats the latest Democratic Party spin.

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By Don Farkas, April 2, 2012 at 2:14 pm Link to this comment

Supporting universal health care is reasonable, but those who mistakenly believe in the constitutionality of the current plan mandating individuals to purchase health insurance from private insurers ignore that this would be a new and substantial increase of Congress’ powers to actually compel individuals to take affirmative actions to engage in commerce on the basis of commerce clause powers.  If upheld as constitutional, the same principle of enlarged commerce clause powers could subsequently be used by Congress to further erode the right of privacy that protects individuals from unreasonable governmental interference. 

While the analogy sometimes cited about government forcing people to eat their broccoli is almost certainly too attenuated (since that would almost certainly not significantly affect interstate commerce to the same degree as mandating the purchase of health insurance), an alternate analogy of recognizing a new Congressional power to force all pregnant women to carry their fetus to term, for example, might not be as farfetched since increasing the number of new citizens would very definitely significantly affect interstate commerce.

The far right wing think tanks that helped create the notion of private health care insurance mandates in the first place to dangle enticingly in front of Democrats that have long sought to achieve universal health care coverage remind me of the spider that enticed the fly to step into its parlor.

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By Angel Gabriel, April 2, 2012 at 1:52 pm Link to this comment

oregoncharles, You might be surprised to learn that this is a EJ Dionne Jr. piece,
how is it that when there is an accurate Historical comparison of past
conservative President’s views, values and actions your mind switches to them
as coming from “Democratic Party apparatchik.”??
Apparently, you didn’t quite make it in reading comprehension - Did you
actually go to some form of educational facility, or were you home-schooled by
Arian Parents?  White is right??
Is it that you disagree with “Sharing the Wealth of the nation makes the nation
stronger”. Or, are you a Business owner that smarts at the thought that you
might have to share a bigger part of your wealth with the people that work for
you that make your business successful?
Where are you coming from with your statement below?  Are you the A-Typical
White Ore-geezer that feels threatened by the influx of Hispanic migrant
workers willing to do anything (Mow your Lawn, Cook your Food, Harvest your
crops, Clean your Toilet)  to feed their families?  My experience in the Pacific
Northwest was that most people were open minded, progressive, united in
helping others and drank Coffee, do you drink your Tea with milk and Sugar??
Doesn’t go very well with Jack Daniels does it?

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By ssupak, April 2, 2012 at 1:39 pm Link to this comment

http://www.cepr.net/index.php/blogs/beat-the-
press/ej-dionne-inadvertently-gives-evidence-on-the-
qrights-stealthy-coupq

> Of course there were no deficit-reduction
proposals offered by the commission. The commission
never issued any proposals. The by-laws of the
commission clearly state:

“The Commission shall vote on the approval of a
final report containing a set of recommendations to
achieve the objectives set forth in the Charter no
later than December 1, 2010. The issuance of a final
report of the Commission shall require the approval
of not less than 14 of the 18 members of the
Commission.”

There was no vote taken by December 1 on any plan.
There was an informal poll of members on December 3,
2010. This poll found that 11 of the 18 commission
members supported the proposal put forward by the
commission co-chairs, Morgan Stanley Director
Erskine Bowles and former Senator Alan Simpson.

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By diamond, April 2, 2012 at 12:52 pm Link to this comment

Why would anyone be surprised at anything the Supreme Court does? This institution has been a tool of the right all the way back to slavery. Those judges were put there to serve the far right and they do. The VOTERS don’t want to move to the far right, 70% of Americans in poll after poll make it clear they want a publicly funded (out of taxation) national health care system. And if it is unconstitutional to attempt to serve the common good then the constitution needs to be altered.

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By bigchin, April 2, 2012 at 11:19 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Let me get this straight now… when you write of a conservative coup, you are referring to the decades-long take over of the Democratic party, currently led by our bellicose, corporate right-wing president, Barack Obama, yes?

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By oregoncharles, April 2, 2012 at 11:11 am Link to this comment

Mr. Scheer, I don’t understand why you continue to post this Democratic Party apparatchik.

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By gerard, April 2, 2012 at 10:51 am Link to this comment

Suggestion:  “Conservative” has long since gone around the corner to “destructive.” So, stop calling it “conservative.”  Instead, call it “cheap”
“sleazy”. “unworthy of our past traditions”,
“stiffling” “destroys private initiative” etc.

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By Marian Griffith, April 2, 2012 at 10:00 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

@Rixar13
—-What happened to moderate?—-

It got so scared for its re-election that in an attempt to avoid being tarred with the ‘socialist’ brush it tried to keep up with the most extremist right on their mad gallop towards the horizon of right wing nirvana.

Then the media who thrive on conflict and opposition kept redefining the ‘center’ as the midway point between these increasingly right wing extremist parties, so as tho have some form of conflict between the political parts to report (or foam at the mouth) about.

And the population, who by and large believes what the television tells them to believe, obediently kept shifting with the mad dash to the right.

Which leads us to today where 85pct of the population no longer even cares about the facts if they conflict with their opinions (or what they want reality to be). Soon the library of Congress can be torched because the only information worth hearing is what is told by Fox News and all those old books need to be destroyed before they can tempt one of the faithful to believe there is more to reality than what they hear by the almight television news.

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By DornDiego, April 2, 2012 at 9:57 am Link to this comment

Government has fallen to ownership.  The rest of us are out here searching for a
way to stay alive.

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By moonraven, April 2, 2012 at 9:33 am Link to this comment

All you suckers addicted to voting seem to have no idea that YOU are the ones responsible for electing the fascist tyrants that appointed these mossback judges.

Voting is for suckers who want to whine and pule afterwards that their rights are being truncated.

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By Jim Yell, April 2, 2012 at 7:52 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It may have just been my imagination over the last decades, but it has seemed that Supreme Court Justices were only appointed by Repbulicans and sometimes as compromise appointments by Democrats?

During these past decades I always had a bad feeling about this process. Now we are having to live with the last bastion of defense of the Rights and Guarantee of the American Peoples Freedom in the hands of Right Wing Justices. It is a scary thing.

Bigots, Fundementalists and Fools.

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By Paco, April 2, 2012 at 6:50 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

would amount to judicial overreach

Like when the Court agreed to hear Bush v Gore, clearly not a federal case, but strictly one relevant to an election in the state of Florida.

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By Salome, April 2, 2012 at 5:24 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“...a floor under essential things…”
What a radical concept!  If only all those people who shout their Christianity from the roof tops could care enough to demand “...a decent standard of living for all…”.

Capitalism doesn’t allow for compassion.

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By Rixar13, April 2, 2012 at 4:34 am Link to this comment

“If supposed moderates refuse to call out the new conservatism for the radical creed it has become, their timidity will make them complicit in an intellectual coup they could have prevented.”

What happened to moderate?

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