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Hullabaloo


Friday, January 10, 2014

 
"Avowedly with them" redux

by digby

Ed Kilgore pointed me to this article at the Monkey Cage about the difference between what we ordinarily think of as "polarization" and the scorched earth style of politics we see in our politics today:
I have been studying party polarization in Congress for more than a decade. The more I study it, the more I question that it is the root cause of what it is that Americans hate about Congress. Pundits and political scientists alike point to party polarization as the culprit for all sorts of congressional ills. I, too, have contributed to this chorus bemoaning party polarization. But increasingly, I’ve come to think that our problem today isn’t just polarization in Congress; it’s the related but more serious problem of political warfare….

Perhaps my home state of Texas unnecessarily reinforces the distinction I want to make between these two dimensions. Little separates my two senators’ voting records - of the 279 votes that senators took in 2013, Ted Cruz and John Cornyn disagreed less than 9 percent of the time (the largest category of their disagreement, incidentally, was on confirmation votes). In terms of ideology, they are both very conservative. Cruz, to no one’s surprise, is the most conservative. Cornyn is the 13th most conservative, which is actually further down the list than he was in 2012, when he ranked second. Cornyn’s voting record is more conservative than conservative stalwarts Tom Coburn and Richard Shelby. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz disagreed on twice as many votes as John Cornyn and Ted Cruz.

The difference between my senators is that when John Cornyn shows up for a meeting with fellow senators, he brings a pad of paper and pencil and tries to figure out how to solve problems. Ted Cruz, on the other hand, brings a battle plan.

Kilgore links to this Strategy Memo he and some colleagues at the Democratic Strategist published a while back on this subject and it's well worth reading. He writes here:
We discerned this tendency in the willingness of conservatives to paralyze government instead of redirecting its policies, and in the recent efforts to strike at democracy itself via large-scale voter disenfranchisement initiatives. And while we noted the genesis of extremist politics in radical ideology, we also warned that “Establishment” Republicans aiming at electoral victories at all costs were funding and leading the scorched-earth permanent campaign.

All I’d add at this point is that it’s not terribly surprising that people who think of much of the policy legacy of the twentieth century as a betrayal of the very purpose of America—and even as defiance of the Divine Will—would view liberals in the dehumanizing way that participants in an actual shooting war so often exhibit.

This crystallized for me during the 90s, when they impeached a president over a sexual indiscretion and then manipulated the system to win an election to win the presidency they hadn't legitimately won. It's especially interesting that today so many Villagers consider traditional acts of civil disobedience to be a grave threat to the security of the nation, even as these same people have accepted the blatant destabilization of our system and the escalation of undemocratic political behavior on the part of the Republican party.

There have been a few grave threats to the nation over the years. But there is another one that nearly succeeded in destroying the country. Our president at that time explained the dynamic very well in this famous speech. I can't help but come back to it whenever this subject comes up. The sad fact is that this has happened before:

And now, if they would listen - as I suppose they will not - I would address a few words to the Southern people.

I would say to them: - You consider yourselves a reasonable and a just people; and I consider that in the general qualities of reason and justice you are not inferior to any other people. Still, when you speak of us Republicans, you do so only to denounce us a reptiles, or, at the best, as no better than outlaws. You will grant a hearing to pirates or murderers, but nothing like it to "Black Republicans." In all your contentions with one another, each of you deems an unconditional condemnation of "Black Republicanism" as the first thing to be attended to. Indeed, such condemnation of us seems to be an indispensable prerequisite - license, so to speak - among you to be admitted or permitted to speak at all. Now, can you, or not, be prevailed upon to pause and to consider whether this is quite just to us, or even to yourselves? Bring forward your charges and specifications, and then be patient long enough to hear us deny or justify.
[...]
You charge that we stir up insurrections among your slaves. We deny it; and what is your proof? Harper's Ferry! John Brown!! John Brown was no Republican; and you have failed to implicate a single Republican in his Harper's Ferry enterprise. If any member of our party is guilty in that matter, you know it or you do not know it. If you do know it, you are inexcusable for not designating the man and proving the fact. If you do not know it, you are inexcusable for asserting it, and especially for persisting in the assertion after you have tried and failed to make the proof. You need to be told that persisting in a charge which one does not know to be true, is simply malicious slander.

Some of you admit that no Republican designedly aided or encouraged the Harper's Ferry affair, but still insist that our doctrines and declarations necessarily lead to such results. We do not believe it. We know we hold to no doctrine, and make no declaration, which were not held to and made by "our fathers who framed the Government under which we live." You never dealt fairly by us in relation to this affair. When it occurred, some important State elections were near at hand, and you were in evident glee with the belief that, by charging the blame upon us, you could get an advantage of us in those elections. The elections came, and your expectations were not quite fulfilled. Every Republican man knew that, as to himself at least, your charge was a slander, and he was not much inclined by it to cast his vote in your favor ... In your political contests among yourselves, each faction charges the other with sympathy with Black Republicanism; and then, to give point to the charge, defines Black Republicanism to simply be insurrection, blood and thunder among the slaves.
[…]
Your purpose, then, plainly stated, is that you will destroy the Government, unless you be allowed to construe and enforce the Constitution as you please, on all points in dispute between you and us. You will rule or ruin in all events.

This, plainly stated, is your language. Perhaps you will say the Supreme Court has decided the disputed Constitutional question in your favor. Not quite so. But waiving the lawyer's distinction between dictum and decision, the Court have decided the question for you in a sort of way. The Court have substantially said, it is your Constitutional right to take slaves into the federal territories, and to hold them there as property. When I say the decision was made in a sort of way, I mean it was made in a divided Court, by a bare majority of the Judges, and they not quite agreeing with one another in the reasons for making it; that it is so made as that its avowed supporters disagree with one another about its meaning, and that it was mainly based upon a mistaken statement of fact - the statement in the opinion that "the right of property in a slave is distinctly and expressly affirmed in the Constitution."
[…]
Under all these circumstances, do you really feel yourselves justified to break up this Government unless such a court decision as yours is, shall be at once submitted to as a conclusive and final rule of political action?

But you will not abide the election of a Republican president! In that supposed event, you say, you will destroy the Union; and then, you say, the great crime of having destroyed it will be upon us! That is cool. A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, "Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!"

To be sure, what the robber demanded of me - my money - was my own; and I had a clear right to keep it; but it was no more my own than my vote is my own; and the threat of death to me, to extort my money, and the threat of destruction to the Union, to extort my vote, can scarcely be distinguished in principle.

A few words now to Republicans. It is exceedingly desirable that all parts of this great Confederacy shall be at peace, and in harmony, one with another...Judging by all they say and do, and by the subject and nature of their controversy with us, let us determine, if we can, what will satisfy them.

Will they be satisfied if the Territories be unconditionally surrendered to them? We know they will not. In all their present complaints against us, the Territories are scarcely mentioned. Invasions and insurrections are the rage now. Will it satisfy them, if, in the future, we have nothing to do with invasions and insurrections? We know it will not. We so know, because we know we never had anything to do with invasions and insurrections; and yet this total abstaining does not exempt us from the charge and the denunciation.

The question recurs, what will satisfy them? Simply this: We must not only let them alone, but we must somehow, convince them that we do let them alone. This, we know by experience, is no easy task. We have been so trying to convince them from the very beginning of our organization, but with no success. In all our platforms and speeches we have constantly protested our purpose to let them alone; but this has had no tendency to convince them. Alike unavailing to convince them, is the fact that they have never detected a man of us in any attempt to disturb them.

These natural, and apparently adequate means all failing, what will convince them? This, and this only: cease to call slavery wrong, and join them in calling it right. And this must be done thoroughly - done in acts as well as in words. Silence will not be tolerated - we must place ourselves avowedly with them. Senator Douglas' new sedition law must be enacted and enforced, suppressing all declarations that slavery is wrong, whether made in politics, in presses, in pulpits, or in private. We must arrest and return their fugitive slaves with greedy pleasure. We must pull down our Free State constitutions. The whole atmosphere must be disinfected from all taint of opposition to slavery, before they will cease to believe that all their troubles proceed from us.

This has not changed. This faction of American politics, then the southern slave states associated with the Democratic Party, today the GOP, still centered in the South but ideologically organized throughout the nation, inevitably becomes frustrated that it is not universally acknowledged for being right. It is not enough that they can exert outsized power in the political system in proportion to their population. Our system was born of compromises that have always allowed them that. But it's never been enough. They simply cannot accept the fact that the rest of the country does not agree with them and at some point their bitterness and resentment boils over into this determination that they must declare war to solve the problem once and for all.

Obviously, this time it is a "cold" civil war rather than a hot one (although the amount of gun violence could be seen as an offshoot of the culture war in some respects.) But this attitude and the reckless strategy that stems from it is not unprecedented. The ideological descendants of those Southerners Lincoln so vividly describes are at the same psychological place they were in 1860. It makes no difference how much the Democrats compromise or try to split the difference. Unless these Democrats cry uncle and loudly proclaim that they are "avowedly with" the Republicans in every way, they will not be satisfied.

It's a psychological problem not a political one.

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