Approximately a bazillion commentators have pointed out, rightly, that the right-wing of the conservative movement holds sway over the political right, in the US; whereas the left-wing of the left-wing party, the Democrats, is so wimpy, comparatively, that it sounds funny even calling the Democrats ‘left-wing’, per se. Of course, conservatives say the opposite. They are the moderates blah blah blah. I don’t know what truth would have the tremendous force needed to burst their epistemic bubble, so let’s move on, talking among ourselves.
Here’s a non-obvious (perhaps because it is incorrect) thought about the dynamics of having a right-wing dominated by its extreme right-tip, to the point where it doesn’t really have much of anything but a right-tip. You’d think it would automatically NOT be like that. You’d think such a dominant right-tip would not only generate a more moderate middle but also an ‘acceptable’ right to its right. That is, whatever is the center of political gravity – which is now on the extreme right – would sort of end up ‘moderate’, by definition, so long as you adopt a relative definition. That is, folks would figure that if Ted Cruz is ok, then Ted Cruz’ dad is probably ok. Because, what the hell, they aren’t THAT different. (By contrast, Obama really didn’t seem much like Jeremiah Wright. The shocker there was going to have to be that this association proved he believed stuff totally different from what he said.) Overton Window 101. But this doesn’t actually seem to be the way of it. Rather, what we get is this big weight of conservative opinion, this huge clump of conservative grass-roots, right at the edge of what is considered at all acceptable, in US political discourse. There is a very narrow range of things you can say without being, on the one hand, a RINO squish; or, on the other hand, having to say it was all ‘taken out of context’ when David Corn or Media Matters gets wind of it.
This isn’t a total mystery. Moderate conservatism is too soggy to serve as fuel for the conservative disinfotainment industry – talk radio fire-breathers and all that. (This is not a sufficient story, but it’s part of the story.) But what is it that keeps the range of acceptable right-wing opinion from naturally spreading out ever further to the right, as much as you might expect? Screw David Corn! ‘We’re here! We’re sincere in our belief that the President’s a communist! Get used to it!’ Why is the ‘normal’ Republican so frequently walking right up to the line, risking getting caught out saying something he’ll have to walk back? Why doesn’t that very fact make it normal and uncontroversial to say these things?
I’m tempted to say: because it’s just dumb, and you can’t make dumb normal. But that’s obviously not right.
Is it a left-wing media conspiracy, journalists to some degree managing to hold the line against norms of acceptability shifting? Is it that conservative politicians now always have this straddle they need to pull off: the base is way out there, and you have to please the base. But you also have to win some portion of the middle. And there’s just a lot of air between base and middle. So the recipe is to say things that please the base without getting noticed by the middle. That is, there’s not a normal, bell-curvey distribution of ideological positions on the right because there just isn’t such a distribution in the population?
Or maybe I’m wrong and the Overton Window is shifting rightward more than I think?
What do you think?