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Why We Need a New and Very Different Opposition to the Democrats than the One We Have

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We need another, very different, center-right alternative to the Democrats--not the alternative we have now.

Paul Krugman:

Going to Extreme: Utah Republicans have denied Robert Bennett, a very conservative three-term senator, a place on the ballot, because he’s not conservative enough. In Maine, party activists have pushed through a platform calling for, among other things, abolishing both the Federal Reserve and the Department of Education.... [P]ower within the G.O.P. rests with the ranting talk-show hosts.

News organizations have taken notice: suddenly, the takeover of the Republican Party by right-wing extremists has become a story (although many reporters seem determined to pretend that something equivalent is happening to the Democrats. It isn’t.) But why is this happening? And in particular, why is it happening now?... I’d like to offer two alternative hypotheses.... Republican extremism was there all along — what’s changed is the willingness of the news media to acknowledge it.... [T]he power of the party’s extremists really is on the rise [because] it’s the economy, stupid....

[T]he new Maine platform is if anything a bit milder than the Texas Republican platform of 2000.... Somehow, though, the radicalism of Texas Republicans wasn’t a story in 2000, an election year in which George W. Bush of Texas, soon to become president, was widely portrayed as a moderate. Or consider those talk-show hosts. Rush Limbaugh hasn’t changed.... What’s changed is his respectability: news organizations are no longer as eager to downplay Mr. Limbaugh’s extremism as they were in 2002, when The Washington Post’s media critic [Howard Kurtz] insisted that the radio host’s critics were the ones who had “lost a couple of screws,” that he was a sensible “mainstream conservative” who talks “mainly about policy.”

So why has the reporting shifted? Maybe it was just deference to power....

To be fair... extremism... has more adherents now.... Why?... [A] troubled economy.

True, that’s not how it was supposed to work. When the economy plunged into crisis, many observers — myself included — expected a political shift to the left. After all, the crisis made nonsense of the right’s markets-know-best, regulation-is-always-bad dogma. In retrospect, however, this was naïve: voters tend to react with their guts, not in response to analytical arguments — and in bad times, the gut reaction of many voters is to move right.... The rise of the Tea Party, in other words, was exactly what we should have expected in the wake of the economic crisis.

So where does our political system go from here? Over the near term, a lot will depend on economic recovery. If the economy continues to add jobs, we can expect some of the air to go out of the Tea Party movement. But don’t expect extremists to lose their grip on the G.O.P. anytime soon. What we’re seeing in places like Utah and Maine isn’t really a change in the party’s character: it has been dominated by extremists for a long time. The only thing that’s different now is that the rest of the country has finally noticed.

And Doug Henwood:

Recessions: Better for Right than Left: For a long time, I’ve been critical of... radicals [who] have fantasized that a serious recession—or depression—would lead to mass radicalization.... I’ve long thought that was nonsense, and now there’s empirical support for my position.... Markus Brückner and Hans Peter Grüner showing that recessions boost the vote for extreme right-wing and nationalist parties.... Krugman’s little summary was tantalizing, so I tracked down the original.... 16 European countries... 1970 to 2002.... Brückner and Grüner speculate that a major selling point of far-right parties is “nontraditional” redistribution—not so much from rich to poor, but away from ethnic, occupational, or regional minorities. They don’t say why the appeal of “traditional” redistribution—from rich to poor—might not reflect the business cycle. Whatever the reason, recessions are not good for the left and are good for the right. A major exception, of course, was the U.S. in the 1930s, but that one took the unemployment rate up to 25%. And that Great Depression didn’t do much for the left in Europe. So please, let’s put this one away and stop hoping for the worst.

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