The GOP’s Self-inflicted Wound

Ezra Klein flags an interesting Gallup result showing rare uniformity in American public opinion. Turns out near everyone, Republicans included, thinks the GOP is intransigent. And they don’t like it:

[Twenty-two] percent of Democrats, 17 percent of independents, and fully 26 percent of Republicans complained that the GOP refuses to compromise. That’s rather remarkable: It turns out that the GOP’s rigidity is the top complaint of both Democrats and Republicans. It easily beats “nothing,” even among Republicans!

This reminds me of a Twitter back-n-forth I had last week with frequent commenter and blogger in his own right, CK Macleod. Specifically, we were talking about Ben Carson; but the general topic was same-sex marriage (SSM) and the odd spectacle of seeing the conventional wisdom shift right in front of our eyes. Not even 10 years ago, campaigning for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage was a clear winner for an embattled incumbent Bush.

And now? Now most Republicans — excluding the Bachmanns, the Kings, the Brouns and basically all the Congresspeople ThinkProgress makes bank shaming every single day— greet expressions of homophobia with silence or vague distaste. Cool. But their fundamental opposition to SSM is unchanged. Their silence is not their assent to changing social norms over sexuality and marriage. It’s much more like closing one’s eyes and hoping the world outside can’t see, either.

Anyway, as CK and I note, Republicans made a strategic error in regards to gay marriage when they settled on total opposition. Rather than get pro-family policy concessions along the lines of those advocated by Rick Santorum — things like tax credits for children — Republicans have simply stood athwart history, yelling no, and losing ground bit by bit. The same can be said of the GOP’s response to Obamacare, financial reform, Lilly Ledbetter and dozens of other Obama initiatives.

Republican obstinance hit its tragicomic peak-nadir, of course, during the summer of 2011, when the GOP said no to a Grand Bargain well to the right of anything remotely acceptable to any Democrat not experiencing abject terror over the prospect of losing reelection. I shudder to think of the consequences if that “deal” had been struck. But thankfully Republican intransigence has been liberals’ best friend as much as conservatives’ worst enemy. And if these Gallup results are to be believed, none have internalized that fact more than Republicans themselves:


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68 thoughts on “The GOP’s Self-inflicted Wound

  1. A very good post. The Republicans may have to do some nimble dancing in the next few years. This however struck me as a little off:

    Anyway, as CK and I note, Republicans made a strategic error in regards to gay marriage when they settled on total opposition. Rather than get pro-family policy concessions along the lines of those advocated by Rick Santorum — things like tax credits for children — Republicans have simply stood athwart history, yelling no, and losing ground bit by bit. The same can be said of the GOP’s response to Obamacare, financial reform, Lilly Ledbetter and dozens of other Obama initiatives.

    The party never really cared about (adding even more) tax credits for children. That’s because (adding even more) tax credits for children wouldn’t get the base to come out and vote. Attacking gay marriage would, and did, at least for a while.

    There’s an enormous degree of cynicism here, particularly when one realizes that for the most part, the party elite is either quietly resigned to same-sex marriage or else never had any personal problem with it at all. The whole thing was a means to an end, and the end was getting elected.

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    • Exactly! For a number of years putting an anti gay marriage initiative on the ballot was a sure way of getting their base out to the polls. On one level, it was a winning strategy for them. On another level, I think it helped bring the whole concept of gay marriage out of the closet, so to speak, to make the existence of long term gay relationship and gay families real for a lot of people, and therefore a lot less scary. Had Republicans left the issue alone or compromised on civil unions, the movement might have been blunted and never got as far as it has now.

      I’m also thinking that the movement of evangelical Christians into the base with their insistence on imposing their moral and religious values on everyone else may have turned a lot of people off Christianity.

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    • Yes, exactly.

      For the portion of the GOP’s constituency that is highly motivated in opposition to marriage equality, its opposition is predicated on religious objection. Same-sex marriage is, in their interpretation, giving literal license to sinful, deviant behavior, and any compromise is anathema. Offering tax credits as a sop would be a total non-starter.

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    • “The party never really cared about (adding even more) tax credits for children. That’s because (adding even more) tax credits for children wouldn’t get the base to come out and vote. Attacking gay marriage would, and did, at least for a while.”

      Also, because more tax credits for children would mainly help the working and middle class, as opposed to the upper class.

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    • The great “secret” of the Republican elite is that they have the same credentials for the most part as the Democratic elite that they deplore. They also largely have the same coastal elitist likes and dislikes.

      For all their raving about East-Coast elitists, the Ivy League, and the lifestyle choices of the Brooklyn-San Francisco professional class, the Republican elite are remarkably similar. They were educated at the same schools, like the same restaurants, music, microbrews, etc.

      I find it rather galling.

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      • I believe it’s a rather open secret in Washington that a lot of the big-name GOP consultants, advisors, and top-level staffers are gay.

        How they square that particular circle is beyond me (the Log Cabin Republicans simply confuse me, although I suppose someone must tilt at windmills).

        I suppose it’s like quite a bit of the GOP’s…let’s call it “vice shaming” (the sins of adultery, sex out of wedlock, gambling, drugs, porn, or whatever hobbyhorse is the game of the day”) — it’s a very old tale. The smart, elite, leaders can handle their vices — but the rabble, the masses, must be protected from it.

        Or less charitably: What’s the point of being the elite if you’re not allowed to wallow in the things forbidden to lesser mortals?

        (Not that this is a problem restricted solely to the GOP. Or America. Or current times).

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        • How they square that particular circle is beyond me (the Log Cabin Republicans simply confuse me, although I suppose someone must tilt at windmills).

          I wonder about this, too. I have a theory, I offer it here, and I hope it doesn’t offend anyone, that’s not my intent:

          I have many friends who’ve been in long-term single-sex relationships; some going on 40 years. Often, the stereotype of ‘gay’ is the flamboyant gay-pride parade. But these people suggest a different tale; they’re so prone to experiencing discrimination because of their sexuality that they’re incredibly, nearly boringly, conservative in most other aspects of their lives. Rather than be ‘fringe,’ they’re as mainstream/conservative as they can possibly be.

          This is based on anecdotal observation, obviously. But I simply don’t know many long-term couples who are not conservative in nearly all other aspects of their lives.

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        • Gays aren’t necessarily single-issue voters. It irks me when gay activists dismiss people who vote for Republicans as Uncle Toms. There are many possible combinations of values, and a gay person that sincerely believes in the republican platform with the exception of gay rights can vote for them with a clean conscience, I think.

          (The real Uncle Toms are of course the ones trying to jettison the drag queens and crossdressers and poly and kinky people so they can get a cookie from the mainstream).

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      • The great “secret” of the Republican elite is that they have the same credentials for the most part as the Democratic elite that they deplore. They also largely have the same coastal elitist likes and dislikes.

        Just noticed that I said almost the same thing over in my latest “Off the Cuff” post. I think you’re basically right.

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  2. I find it interesting that Republicans are also bigger critics of their own party’s ability to select good candidates than are Democrats or Independents. Maybe that’s strategic thinking on the part of non-Republicans but I’ve never seen evidence of actual strategic thinking on the part of large numbers of voters before. Maybe the low overall numbers are evidence that people are satisfied with the candidates who step forward.

    But I don’t think anyone was particularly satisfied with Mitt Romney: during the primaries he seemed to be every Republican’s second choice and most non-Republicans seemed to react to his assuming the front-runner status with an arched eyebrow and a “Really? That’s who you’re picking?”

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    • “But I don’t think anyone was particularly satisfied with Mitt Romney: during the primaries he seemed to be every Republican’s second choice and most non-Republicans seemed to react to his assuming the front-runner status with an arched eyebrow and a “Really? That’s who you’re picking?””

      When you look at the rest of the freak show, …………….

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        • 1) The next best they had was a Governor of Texas, while we were still cleaning up the sh*tstorm from the last Governor of Texas.

          2) He got taken out like a bird caught by a flamethrower the first time he had a spark of humanity/awareness of where the USA is going as a people (immigration).

          3) Romney did better than a number of GOP Senate candidates. If anything, he was bearing their weight.

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          • Oh, and
            4) Even if there were a couple of decent guys, sharing a stage with Santorum, Gingrich, Bachman and Cain doesn’t make them look good. One thing I’ll lay money on for 2016 is that the GOP primary system will be (1) short and (2) restricted-access; only governors and current senators allowed.

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  3. This strikes me as a problem of the Republican primary system; where we’ve repeatedly seen the more extreme candidates beat moderate candidates.

    I don’t know the answer, but I see two options:

    More moderate voters participating in the primaries?

    I think the better option might be more moderate candidates running as independent/3rd party candidates; often an option that’s not D for voters who can’t stomach voting for a Democratic candidate but can’t stand the extremes the current GOP primary voters are choosing.

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    • The Republican primary system also produced Mitt Romney, who was probably the most moderate candidate.

      I think – for the GOP – the problem with their primary system is that is forces the most moderate candidate to say things that make them unelectable in the big show, which means that you need Something Else that is Pretty Big to occur to throw people off the opposing candidate.

      Since the economy wasn’t a big enough Something Else in 2012, that tells me that they’ve reached the tipping point. It’s going to take charisma to go up against somebody in 2016… unless the Democrats continue twiddling their thumbs and don’t get the next guy/gal set up soon.

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        • The Congresssional ticket issue I think is more a result of gerrymandering than their primary system.

          You carve out the districts correctly, they will produce freakin’ morons.

          (not that I generally disagree with your point that the Republican primary system is part of their problem; because I do agree with that. I just think they have a whole lotta problems)

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        • Daniels and Hunstman are no moderates. Maybe Huntsman is less of a culture war guy but he is still very far to the right economically and more of a believer in the Ryan budget than not.

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    • I don’t think the problem is structural. Or maybe that’s wrong: has the GOP primary system changed since Reagan and Dubya were candidates? Seems to me it hasn’t. If anything, it seems to me the internal self-destruction of the GOP is directly linked to Democracy in Action. For years (and years!) the GOP strategists have been pushing single-issue values voting and hatred of liberals as the two (and only two!) strategies to motivate the conservative base. I think what we’re seeing play out in real time is the logical conclusion of very calculated and opportunistic decisions made by party leaders a long time ago and even to this day. The party is being eaten by its own.

      Or as Cahalan put it: the victory condition the Tea Party has set for the GOP is self-immolation. {Pat, I hope you don’t mind me repeating that line. It’s so damn perfect.}

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      • as the GOP primary system changed since Reagan and Dubya were candidates?

        An excellent question.

        I think the change came with GWB; Rove’s outreach created a different base; shifted it from a mix of social conservatism/fiscal conservatism toward social conservatism. That shift is reflected in the growing numbers of establishment-backed candidates losing primaries to challengers to the right.

        But I would agree, it is Democracy in Action. (Bobble-Right Action Figures™ are available at a retailer near you.)

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      • In addition, the GOP primary system hasn’t changed, but with the rise of the Internet and sites like Red State/HotAir/etc. along with Citizen’s United allowing more SuperPAC ads, sins such as once voting for money that might have been in Planned Parenthood’s coffers for a few seconds can now be disseminated, hit on by a primary opponent, and repeated over a variety of ads from various conservative PAC’s.

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    • This seems to be a platform problem more than a people problem. The platform has gotten so extreme that the only people who even climb on stage for the primaries are lunatics or people who are cynical enough to pretend to be lunatics. At least at the presidential level the primary system still weeds out the lunatics and leaves behind the sociopathic manipulators. God help us when that last thin line of defense breaks down.

      “Why can’t we just get some normal, reasonable people who are willing to say that tax cuts always increase revenue, that the theory of evolution is false, that gays want to convert your children, and the Post Office is an epsilon step away from total communism? Why??”

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      • This seems to be a platform problem more than a people problem. The platform has gotten so extreme that the only people who even climb on stage for the primaries are lunatics or people who are cynical enough to pretend to be lunatics.

        This introduces a chicken/egg problem. Because the platform is a result of base voters, which is where we circle back to a primary problem; the same folk who are picking the primary winners are essentially crafting the platform.

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      • Why??

        Exactly Frog. Politically expedient myth defines the platform and reasonable people (by one definition of that word!) have a healthy appreciation for reality. That means two types of candidate are allowed: honest (but crazy!) true believers or deceitful grifters.

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      • Indeed.

        I get confused about the timeline, though. I _think_ one of the real first wack-a-do moments was opposing the first Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2007. That was such an absurdly anti-woman position to take. ‘As long as corporations managed to keep gender-based pay differences secret for 180 days, no one can sue over them!’ Yeah, that issue is rather easily understood by the public, and more specifically by _women_. A really dumb position. I’m not sure if that was idiotic base-appeasing, or idiotic Chamber-of-Commerce-appeasing, though.

        Someone needs to make a timeline of the GOP’s craziness, though. Did it _really_ change as fast as it appeared to in 2008?

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          • Terry Schiavo was just stupid, but the public at large did not have the slightest idea of what was actually going on, and no one (Or, rather, no voter) was negatively impacted. Same with the black helicopters. Those were both giant kabuki theatre to please parts of the base, and other people who _paid attention_ thought made the Republican look dumb, but really had no impact on anything.

            The Lilly Ledbetter Act, OTOH, was taking an issue which the American public could easily understand, and in fact _already_ understood because that actual court case was well reported before all that. Every single person understood the case very well, it was not complicated in the least. And everyone thought it was an idiotic travesty of justice. The only people who thought it was a good decision were some legal wonky people who actually care about status of limitations and thought it was technically correct, and misogynists.

            And the only people who didn’t want that fixed _fixed_ were misogynists. Period.(1)

            And Republicans looked at those misogynists, winked, and blasted their own foot off. I think it was one of the first time the Republicans look at an issue with a vast majority of the population on one side, and actual tiny amount of _assholes_ in their base on the other side, and picked the assholes choice for a _policy decision_, as opposed to talking points or idiotic running around for a brain dead woman.

            Looking back at it _now_, from Obamaland where Republicans are raging kooks, it seems downright trivial. We’d be surprised if they _didn’t_ do that now.

            But back then it was rather astonishing. I still don’t think it was _the_ first stupidity of that sort, though.

            1) I especially found the Republicans arguments against this law hilarious. ‘What if a manager comes in later and has nothing to do with the original underpayment? He shouldn’t be blamed!’ well, it’s a good thing she would be suing the _company_ instead of the manager then, isn’t it? Remember, folks, according to Republicans, we don’t need laws about corporate behavior, people can solve their problems with lawsuits…except when they actually start solving their problems with lawsuits, at which point we need to make sure they can’t do that.

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            • The Lilly Ledbetter Act, OTOH, was taking an issue which the American public could easily understand, and in fact _already_ understood because that actual court case was well reported before all that. Every single person understood the case very well, it was not complicated in the least.

              That’s clearly not true. The obvious counterexample, of course, is that you don’t understand the issue very well at all, as evidenced by your attribution of any disagreement with you to misogyny.

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              • And the reason to not want to pass a law changing the status of limitations is…?

                Please note I did explicitly say that there were perhaps legal reasons for asserting the status of limitation interpretation by the court was _legally_ correct. If someone says the law was technically incorrect and the court should follow the law, well, I think they’re wrong, but I can follow that position.

                Misogyny requires not supporting _fixing_ the law. It requires stating that people should have no legal recourse against pay discrimination as long as such discrimination can be kept secret 180 days.(1) If that is what you claim, please explain why and how that makes any sense.

                Alternately, please explain why you think people should not be able to sue for gender discrimination in wages at all, and how _that_ isn’t misogynistic.

                Like I said…lawsuits…the great and powerful equalizers that the libertarian right insists will fix all harms without any sort of regulations at all. No matter how powerful the entity harming people , if they are wronged, they can just sue! Until, of course, people _do_ start suing, at which point that must be stopped immediately.

                1) Actually, it’s technically worse than that. All corporations would have to do is _slowly_ engage in discrimination and there would be no point that a lawsuit would actually be worthwhile. Hire men and women at the same pay, change men pay’s upward 1% a year and keep women’s the same, and after 10 years men are being paid 20% more but at no point could the women sue for more than the 1% pay difference she just got.

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    • “I think the better option might be more moderate candidates running as independent/3rd party candidates; often an option that’s not D for voters who can’t stomach voting for a Democratic candidate but can’t stand the extremes the current GOP primary voters are choosing.”

      I’d like to see that, but because it would lead to Democratic victories.

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  4. I stopped paying attention and caring about the Republicans when the Republicans spend more money than the Democrats when they were last in power. They helped make the mess we’re in and deserve 50% of the blame. The Democrats get the rest. It was at that time I realized that the Repubs were just as statist as the Demos.

    The only way they are going to get any traction is to get off this social agenda and get back to fiscal reform-but I’m not holding my breath.

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  5. If you look at the poll, it has 26% of Republicans saying that their party is intransigent. But you’ve got 14% saying that they compromise too much, 6% that they say one thing and do another, and 4% that they spend too much money. In Republicanspeak, that’s 24% saying that the party doesn’t hold to its platform enough. Considering that all the mainstream press and half the conservative press is talking about the need for compromise, that’s a pretty high level.

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    • I’m glad you did that math, Pinky. I was curious about the same thing. Something along these lines: if X% of registered Rs believe the GOP is too inflexible/intransigent and Y% believe its too flexible/transigent, and Y is greater than X, then what? The internal decision-making from the party leaders who decide what decisions should be made have a problem on their hands. Not an especially unique problem at the political level except for its size and trajectory.

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      • Sure. It’s the bit of lazy thinking that we all fall into that parties need to address “the” voter, or “the” primary voter.

        A two-party system does imply a smooth continuum of opinion, or something bimodal (with a caveat). But opinion isn’t like that on most issues. Even the idea of a continuum assumes that there aren’t three+ possible answers to a problem. And then you have to multiply that by the number of issues, and you see what a party has to deal with.

        The caveat is that a two-party system may be effective if people get their optimal outcome by acting like they’re normally distributed or bimodal.

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  6. I don’t think you can presume this from the survey; the 26% and 14% might be two different groups of responders, but I don’t think you can presume the other responses are all part of the 14% who think the GOP compromises too much. So I’m not sure it’s sound to presume this means the party varies from its platform too much.

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  7. The irony, especially regading SSM, is how tone deaf it was. If anti-SSMers had offered an alternative, some sort of other option, maybe they could have either prevailed or at least slowed down their loss. It was their absolution, however, that undermined them so badly. From your average SSM debater up to Maggie herself you’d see the question thrown “well if gays can’t get married what should they do?” and it would be answered either with a dodge or with silence.

    I’m on the record here as saying that the end of DADT would herald the breaking of much of the anti SSM logjam but I gotta say I’m astonished (and a little delighted) at how fast the ground is shifting.

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  8. What worries me is that 15% of Democrats circled “nothing” as a response to this question.

    I’d say this poll doesn’t really show much of anything.

    Roughly 20% (and surely there is some room for error here) of D’s, R’s, and I’s think the biggest problem with the R’s should is that they should compromise more.

    How much compromise? Compromise on what? Compromise with the left wing? Or the right wing of their own party?

    I’d rather have seen the options “Compromise more with left-wing Republicans and Democrats on economic issues” and “… on social issues” as options.

    Those options (which is what you are thinking of when you read the poll) might not have fared so well with the R’s at all. Certainly, they would do less well than the generic “Compromise more.”

    Everyone gets that generic compromise is virtuous in the abstract, so a lot of uninformed voters were likely primed to see the word compromise and circle it.

    This poll is not very truth-conducive, IMO.

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  9. Good post, Elias. To give another example near and dear to my heart, take the issue of Sandy relief. The GOP (outside of its Northern contingent) ran around screaming (falsely) that the bill was all pork and thus needed to be reflexively opposed. Aside from the rank hypocrisy this involved, the reality is that there were very real flaws in the package, and a million ways that the package could have been improved without spending a single dime more, or even spending slightly less. They could have gotten concessions for the easing of environmental regulations to make rebuilding significantly less expensive; they could have signed on to tax relief for Sandy repair expenses; they could have directed that a sizable portion of the money spent go to homeowners for whom rebuilding with insurance money is impossible due to the added expenses of complying with new building codes. And so on and so forth.

    But they did none of this, instead choosing to insist on dishonestly calling the bulk of the package pork and refusing to negotiate.

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  10. Eh, take a look at 2nd place:

    Inflexible / unwilling to compromise 26
    Don’t stand up for their positions / give in too easily 14

    What’s a poor GOP-er to do?

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  11. Turns out near everyone, Republicans included, thinks the GOP is intransigent. And they don’t like it.

    Yet, what has the unpopularity of this intransigence cost them? The GOP may not have the White House, but they are well able to thwart any element of the President’s agenda they wish. They control the House and could well control the Senate after the mid-terms. The political center is far to the right of where it was 40 years ago on seemingly everything but SSM.

    If this is wounded, what is hale and hearty?

    I enjoy some schadenfreude as much as the next guy, but Democrats would be better served by celebrating the Republicans’ mistakes less and working harder to shift the political winds leftward.

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    • I’m actually with Scott here. The DNC needs to do the actual work of protecting and expanding the welfare state in the next generation so when the GOP finally does come around on gay marriage, a bunch of white guys and gals in purple states who still don’t like taxes and buy into “the governments budget is just like your family budget” nonsense will shift over into the GOP’s camp.

      However, I actually think center-left economic views actually have a good shot of surviving and expanding in the next decade or so, but only if the DNC doesn’t hand over the keys to the GOP in the next few elections. But, it won’t be because the Democratic Party had great political skills of actually shifting the Overton Window. It largely comes down to demographics and that Hispanics and Asians are largely more pro-government than the average white person.

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  12. I’m just getting to that point where I don’t care about both parties. I’ve seen both sides flip opinions now often. I don’t think they really genuinely care about the people. The country is not in a better position now because of Washington.

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    • As long as we’re explaining away our apathy: I no longer feel it’s worth engaging in conventional politics because the institutions are too corrupt to actual produce an outcome that’s a reasonable aggregation of the polity’s policy preferences.

      The simplest example is the deliberate malapportionment of the U.S. Senate. My vote as a Californian is worth about 1/76th the vote of someone from Wyoming. That is tyranny. Until it’s changed there’s not a lot that’s going to get done on the federal level (which is where the lion’s share of the power is). More important, until it’s changed the U.S. government has no democratic legitimacy.

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  13. “Now most Republicans — excluding the Bachmanns, the Kings, the Brouns and basically all the Congresspeople ThinkProgress makes bank shaming every single day— greet expressions of homophobia with silence or vague distaste. Cool. But their fundamental opposition to SSM is unchanged. ”

    Really?

    Because if someone interviews three Republicans about gay marriage, and one says “I hate gays” and the other two say “we don’t give a shit about it”, it’s hard to imagine that won’t be reported as “REPUBLICAN POSITION ON HOMOSEXUALITY STILL NEGATIVE”. Because, after all, one guy hates gays, and the other two don’t care about gay rights.

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