I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Fringe v. mainstream views

(updated below)

One of the most successful tactics used by Bush followers over the last six years -- and by the right-wing before that -- is to convince not just themselves, but also Democrats, that "mainstream, normal Americans" reject the views of Democrats, particularly on national security. Right-wing pundits reflexively operate from the premise that they represent mainstream Americans and that the views of "the left" (meaning critics of the Bush administration) are on the fringe, and Democrats can win elections only by hiding or diluting their beliefs. Many in the media, and large portions of the national Democratic political structure, seem to have internalized those assumptions.

The extent to which those premises are false cannot be overstated, and it is worth recognizing just what a seismic shift has taken place in American political opinion. A couple of days ago, Glenn Reynolds conducted a poll of his readers, asking them to vote on whether they want (a) Republicans to control both houses of Congress; (b) Republicans to lose one house; or (c) Democrats to control both houses. These are the results:

Republicans keep both houses - 78%
Republicans lose one house - 14%
Democrats take both houses - 8 %

Almost 80% of his readers want Republicans to maintain full control over the Congress. Compare those results to virtually any poll released over the last three months -- or even over the last year -- and it becomes quite apparent what a small minority these right-wing pundits and bloggers represent. From this morning's Washington Post:

Two weeks before the midterm elections, Republicans are losing the battle for independent voters, who now strongly favor Democrats on Iraq and other major issues facing the country and overwhelmingly prefer to see them take over the House in November, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. . . .

The independent voters surveyed said they plan to support Democratic candidates over Republicans by roughly 2 to 1 -- 59 percent to 31 percent -- the largest margin in any Post-ABC News poll this year. Forty-five percent said it would be good if Democrats recaptured the House majority, while 10 percent said it would not be. The rest said it would not matter.

Or compare the ongoing, steadfast support of the war in Iraq among most right-wing pundits with the views of most Americans from across the ideological and cultural spectrum:

It's two weeks away, and the 2006 midterm elections look like a referendum on Iraq, a war in which President Bush and his party have lost not just the political center but significant chunks of their base.

An improving economy notwithstanding, opposition to the war remains the prime issue driving congressional voter preference. And the war's critics include not just eight in 10 Democrats but 64 percent of independents, 40 percent of conservatives, 35 percent of evangelical white Protestants and a quarter of Republicans.

And compare their maniacal, virtually exclusive obsession with The Terrorists to the priorities of most Americans:

Twenty-seven percent of registered voters call the war in Iraq the top issue in their vote; 19 percent say it's the economy; 14 percent terrorism; 13 percent health care; 10 percent immigration; and 8 percent ethics in government.

The people who proclaim that The Terrorists pose an imminent an existential threat to our Republic and that the "war" we are waging against them is of unparalleled historical importance are wildly overrepresented on television, in newspapers and in the blogosphere. That is, unquestionably, a fringe view, as is the notion that staying in Iraq until we achieve "victory" is some moral and strategic imperative. Those are the views of extremists, of people who constitute a small and shrinking minority of the country. The more exposure their views get, the more they are rejected.

Among opponents of the Bush administration, one frequently finds high levels of cynicism and doubt -- all sorts of reasons are offered up as to why the array of media, political and economic factors prevent a fair hearing of anti-right-wing views and why the cards are so stacked in their favor. But Americans have gradually though fundamentally changed their minds about this administration, its core beliefs, and its followers. What were unchallenged and unchallengable beliefs back in 2002 and 2003 are now fringe ideas desperately clung to by a loud though discredited minority, and rejected as patent falsehoods by most Americans.

Whatever else might be true about how dysfunctional our political and media institutions are, it is indisputably true that huge numbers of Americans have drastically changed their political views on the most critical issues facing our country. That, by itself, ought to constitute proof that the Bush movement and its various appedanges are far from invulnerable, or that the deck is hopelessly stacked in their favor.

And those who strut around as defenders of mainstream American values and beliefs -- and who baselessly claim the mantle of serious foreign policy thinkers whom Americans exclusively trust -- have been exposed as fringe and radical figures who represent a shrinking minority. Regardless of whether Democrats take over the Congress in a couple of weeks, we are clearly witnessing the collapse not just of the Bush presidency -- that has been a fait accompli for some time -- but also the wholesale rejection of the defining premises on which it has been based.

UPDATE: To appreciate the depth and intensity of Bush's unpopularity among Americans, consider this aspect of the latest Newsweek poll, which -- as Greg at The Talent Show astutely points out (h/t Crust) -- shows that a majority of Americans favor impeachment of the President, while only 44% oppose it. That figure, regardless of one's views on the merits of impeachment, is rather extraordinary, since, as Greg says, "this far exceeds the numbers of a President that actually was impeached."

The Democrats may be infuriatingly passive and afraid and the national media hopelessly inept and biased, but Americans have clearly figured out -- largely on their own -- just how radical, inept and deceitful the administration is.

UPDATE II: How do Bush followers respond to this onslaught of data? With the same methods they used for several years (and still do) to pretend that things were going "remarkably well" in Iraq -- namely, by simply refusing to accept facts and insisting that they are the by-product of liberal bias. From Hugh Hewitt:

I get a lot of e-mail asking me why I point to polls like the one favoring Steele when I discount some polls favoring some Democrats.

Because this question comes mostly from lefties, I will pause to explain in as uncomplicated a fashion as possible.

Polling methodology and models favors Democrats.

So polls that show Republicans tied or ahead I see as indicating a race in which the Republican is in the lead.

Polls that show a Republican within striking distance I see as a poll indicating a dead heat.

It shouldn't be that hard to grasp, even for a lefty.

That is the mindest that has been running our country for six years now. That is how we heard for so long that violence in Iraq was wildly overstated by a Bush-hating media that exaggerated the bombings and the kidnappings and failed to report on the much more significant stories of all the school houses that were being painted and the candy dispensed by Marines to smiling Iraqi kids. There is really no other way to describe this mindset other than by quoting Stephen Colbert at the White House Correspondents Dinner:

Now, I know there are some polls out there saying this man has a 32% approval rating. But guys like us, we don't pay attention to the polls. We know that polls are just a collection of statistics that reflect what people are thinking in "reality." And reality has a well-known liberal bias.

Bush followers present a real challenge to satirists like Colbert because -- as shown by this intended satire, which is actually an almost verbatim recitation of Hewitt's claim, they are often beyond satire, particularly when it comes to their reality-denying abilities.

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