Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Stephen Walt on extremism in America now

Stephen Walt has an interesting post entitled Lessons from the Weimar Republic Foreign Policy 08/23/2010, though there's only a passing reference to the German Weimar Republic of 1918-33. He's talking about extremism in American politics, in particular among intellectuals, though since he seems to be including Atlas Pam Gellar in that group, he's adopting a pretty broad definition. I was a little surprised to see the following, which seems to indulge the notion that Serious People have to pretend that any extremism on the right is balanced by something like it on the left:

The left has never been very influential in American politics, but disappointment with Obama is already reinforcing its disregard for existing U.S. institutions and may render it even less relevant going forward.
Well, yeah, there are cynical Chomsky fans out there who enjoy proclaiming that we should give up all hope. But I wondered who he was talking about, since one of the biggest complaints of anything I would identify as "the left" against the Obama administration is failure to defend American institutions, and the Constitution in paticular, against Cheney-Bush practices like torture, massive domestic surveillance and extreme government secrecy claims. So I was curious to see who he had in mind.

But he seems to have only been able to think of examples of the other kind. And he describes the problem well:

Meanwhile, the supposedly "conservative" American right is getting nuttier by the minute. Instead of serious policy debate, it indulges in bizarre theories about Obama's religious beliefs, and his supposedly "socialist" (or "Muslim") agenda and takes its marching orders from entertainers like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck (who once admitted he's only in it for the money). When the Party of Lincoln's leading lights include unprincipled opportunists like Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin, you know you're a long way from the days of Dwight Eisenhower or Brent Scowcroft.
He also mentions that "when I watch videos like this one, and I read the xenophobic bile spewed by hate-mongers like Islamophobe Pam Geller, then I can't help but hear echoes of the Weimar experience."

And he goes on to sound for all the world like one of the netroots Democratic bloggers wondering why a Democratic President and big Democratic majorities in both House of Congress so often can't manage to act like Democrats:

Meanwhile, where are the tough-minded and courageous defenders of the liberal values of tolerance, freedom of expression, and reasoned discourse? There are a few -- New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg comes to mind -- but how many prominent politicians have shown any genuine political courage or been willing to take a tough position and stick to it in the face of the mob? Extremists start to look admirable because at least they appear to stand for something (even if it is dangerous and fear-mongering bombast), while many traditional liberals seem all too willing to compromise whenever there is PAC money on the line or the poll winds shift.

Yes, I understand that politics is the art of the possible and some degree of compromise is inevitable, but wouldn't you like to see a few liberals really dig down deep and fight for something they believe in? Like the Constitution?

Apologies for the rant, but I really do think there's reason to worry. The U.S. economy is still in very bad shape, the Iraq War isn't over despite what you're being told, the war in Afghanistan still looks like a lost cause, and we've made zero progress on long-term issues like climate change. And don't even get me started about the Middle East peace process. [my emphasis]
He sounds like on of those darn freaking hippie bloggers! Well, he attended UC-Berkeley as a student so what do you expect?

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