Thursday, August 25, 2016

Hillary vs. Republican radicalism - oh, make that Trump radicalism

Earlier this week, I linked to a good article by Rick Perlstein that illustrated the intensity gap between Democrats and Republicans, in which the Republicans are more than happy to smear the Democratic Party in general and all its candidates, while the Democrats are hesitant to hang Donald Trump's radicalism around the necks of all his Party's candidates. Or even the Party itself!

Hillary Clinton provided a good illustration of this on Thursday when she took on Trump and his "alt-right" allies in a speech that was presumably well-received by her strongest supporters. But it's also obvious that she was giving down-ballot Republicans an alibi rather than lumping them together with Trump. Maria La Ganga reports for the Guardian (Clinton slams Trump's 'racist ideology' that ushers hate groups into mainstream 08/25/2016):

The speech, a kind of throwing down of the patriotic gauntlet, came eight days after Trump named Steve Bannon as the new chief of his struggling campaign. Bannon is a Breitbart News executive and a key figure in the anti-establishment revolt that has captured the Republican party.

“The de facto merger between Breitbart and the Trump campaign represents a landmark achievement for the ‘alt-right’,” Clinton declared. “A fringe element has effectively taken over the Republican party. All of this adds up to something we’ve never seen before.

“Of course, there’s always been a paranoid fringe in our politics, steeped in racial resentment,” she continued. “But it’s never had the nominee of a major party stoking it, encouraging it, and giving it a national megaphone. Until now.” ...

“This is not conservatism as we have known it,” she continued. “This is not Republicanism as we have known it. These are racist ideas, race-baiting ideas, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-women, all key tenets making up the emerging racist ideology known as the alt-right.”
Aside from trying to make this a Trump issue and not a Republican Party issue, it also strikes me as lazy speech writing. The Democrats in 1964 rightly charged that the Goldwater movement represented a "fringe element" that had "effectively taken over the Republican party," to use Hillary's words, a "paranoid fringe" whose 1964 version inspired Richard Hofstadter's The Paranoid Style in American Politics, which all the star reporters seem to have at least heard of, though it's doubtful if many of them have actually read it.

Richard Nixon made the "Southern Strategy" into a permanent feature of Republican politics, encouraging and exploiting white racial hatred against blacks and other minorities. When Reagan emerged in 1976 as a strong Presidential contender and then became the Republican nominee in 1980, Democrats were making similar arguments about how Reagan represented a "fringe element."

And all the while, the bounds of respectability in Republican politics kept being pushed further and further to the right. Now rightwingers like Ted Cruz and John Kasich appear responsible and sensible in contrast to Trump because they aren't quite so crass in their rhetoric. Kasich even got to position himself as the Last Moderate Republican during the Republican primaries.

But Hillary's rhetoric positions herself as though she's closer to the Real Republicans than Trump is. Letting a radical, obstructionist party largely off the hook for building the radicalism that resulted in Donald Trump as their nominee.

Adn there's this: "On Thursday, Reno’s mayor, Hillary Schieve, who describes herself as an independent, introduced Clinton to the crowd and endorsed the woman she described as 'a true consensus builder'." But those nice, reasonable Real Republicans Clinton's rhetoric assumes are phantoms. And the problem is not just rhetorical, though failing to frame major issues in Democratic terms is a genuine problem in itself. If Hillary Clinton is serious about having a chance to enact the things she's been promising, she's going to need Democratic majorities. And that means aggressively contesting Republican-held Congressional seats, not just now but in 2018, as well.

President Obama chased the legendary Moderate Republicans for his entire Presidency. After 7 1/2 years of dedicated obstructionism on their part, he still can barely give a speech without putting things a conservative framing, as thought those Moderate Republicans are still out there somewhere waiting to finally emerge. When they are actually about as much in evidence as the fabled "Syrian Moderates."

The Washington Post has made the entire prepared text of Clinton's speech available, Hillary Clinton’s ‘alt-right’ speech, annotated 08/25/2016.

Just to be clear, I do like the fact that she named names and called out some of the specific hysterical rightwing memes flying around. That part of it sounds like the Hillary that is willing to fight Republicans.

But she didn't frame the speech as an attack on the Republican Party, only on Donald Trump.

But then how can she also say, "This is not conservatism as we have known it." Yes, this is conservatism as we've known it since 1978-80. Even if the messaging coming from Trump is tackier than most. But is Trump's rhetoric very similar to, say, Sarah Palin's? You bet'cha!

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