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Tuesday, September 12, 2017


Focused like a laser

by Tom Sullivan

Jonathan Chait observes certain parallels one can draw between Republicans and Democrats. While those can be sufficient to uphold the media's commitment to both-siderism, the similarities are superficial, he argues. Commenting on a Vox essay by political scientist Lee Drutman that looks at the threat posed by increasing political tribalism, Chait writes:

It is certainly true that the psychological relationship between the parties has a certain symmetry. Both fear each other will cheat to win and use their power to stack the voting deck. “If Republicans win in close elections, Democrats say it’s only because they cheated by making it harder for Democratic constituencies to vote; if Democrats win in close elections, Republicans say it’s only because they voted illegally.” But while it is not true that Democrats have allowed illegal voting in nontrivial levels, it is extremely true that Republicans have deliberately made voting inconvenient for Democratic-leaning constituencies. The psychology is parallel, but the underlying facts are not.
The same extends to other beliefs vs. behaviors. For the left, one could argue, that is because of the structures the right has in place for advancing an agenda. The conservative media and its think tanks, to name two. Rush Limbaugh may boast he's working with half his brain tied behind his back, but he has the advantage of not being constrained by a regard for the truth. The left tries to please a media still "open to contrary facts," Chait writes, while right-wing media pushes a consistent narrative heedless of them:
In the meantime, whatever the very real flaws in the American political and electoral system, it is simply impossible to design any kind of a system that can withstand a stress test like a major party captured by a faction as radical as the conservative movement. Its absence of limiting principles to its ideology, indifference to empirical evidence, and inability to concede failings of its dogma lead to an endless succession of failures explained away to the base as faintheartedness.

The doom loop Drutman describes is, in reality, both sides responding to the phenomenon of Republican extremism. Republicans are sealed off in a bubble of paranoia and rage, and Democrats are sealed off from that bubble. Democrats fear Republican government because it is dangerous and extreme. Republicans fear Democratic government because they are dangerous and extreme.
The conservative movement has convinced itself and quite a large swath of supporters that the real problem in this country is people less well-off than themselves. When foreign Others wane as potent bogeymen, the poor are the go-to stand-ins. Even as many struggling not to fall out of the middle class believe the president speaks for them, he and his party will be laser-focused on worsening their lot and keeping them from voting if they do. The Constitution may guarantee protections for anyone born or naturalized, but some wielding power think there ought to be a club fee to keep out the riffraff, i.e., the rest of us.

Catherine Rampell provides yet another example for the Washington Post. Republicans are promoting "an innovative way to punish the poor and simultaneously increase budget deficits." She writes:
To pull off this impressive twofer, they would put every American applying for the earned-income tax credit (EITC) through a sort of mini-audit before getting their refund. This would both place huge new burdens on the working poor and divert scarce Internal Revenue Service resources away from other audit targets, such as big corporations, that offer a much higher return on investment.
Business-minded conservatives, one would think, would legislate with an eye for the country's bottom line. It's just that their political bottom line comes first. The ostensible purpose is to target waste, fraud, and abuse, the free energy device of conservative economics and source of unlimited budgetary savings for offsetting the one percent's tax cuts. The result of auditing EITC applicants will be additional delays and hurdles for the working poor.
Recall that Republicans have been steadily cutting the IRS’s budget, which is a silly thing to do if you’re truly a fiscal conservative who believes in “law and order.” The IRS brings in far more money than it receives, particularly in its work going after tax cheats.

And cutting the IRS budget is an especially silly thing to do if you’re also giving the agency an enormous new mandate likely to crowd out other enforcement activities — including those that bring in much bigger paydays.
But as with the voter fraud snipe hunt, eliminating the impact of the the miniscule amount of cheating is not the point. Nor is the country's bottom line.

All the while the message from the right's Mighty Wurlizer to the base will be that "those people," the lesser-thans, are the real targets, not them. Even as their paychecks buy less and tax cuts help less, the base will believe.

Conveniently, the GOP will have help in furthering that notion from outside its think tanks and media outlets. The Daily Beast reveals that not only did Russia promote fake news on Facebook to aid Republicans' 2016 efforts, it promoted events as well:
The Facebook events—one of which echoed Islamophobic conspiracy theories pushed by pro-Trump media outlets—are the first indication that the Kremlin’s attempts to shape America’s political discourse moved beyond fake news and led unwitting Americans into specific real-life action.

“This is the next step,” Clint Watts, a former FBI agent and expert on Russia’s influence campaign, told The Daily Beast. “The objective of influence is to create behavior change. The simplest behavior is to have someone disseminate propaganda that Russia created and seeded. The second part of behavior influence is when you can get people to physically do something.”
In the days pre-Facebook, I collected right-wing, "pass it on" emails from around the Net and wondered if, rather than just enthusiastic wingnuts, there wasn't a think tank somewhere churning them out and circulating them to conservative email lists. I wonder now has anyone looked at whether the shop might have been in Russia?

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