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February 13 2018

Counterintuitive: It Is a LACK of Ideology that Has Made Current Politics so Vicious

by Charlotte Hays

Quote of the Day:

Democracy dies when one side loses respect for electoral outcomes and comes to consider the other illegitimate.

--Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Shadi Hamid in today's Wall Street Journal

In a must read opinion piece in today's Wall Street Journal, Shadi Hamid of Brookings lays out an intriguing theory as to why our political atmosphere has become so toxic. It stems, he writes, from an inability to respect the outcome of elections. To some extent, presidents since Bill Clinton have faced at least some degree of this kind of opposition. But obviously it has intensified today.

You might be surprised to find where Hamid locates the source on this anger and bitterness: the center-left, which he says has become so immoderate not because of ideology but because of a lack of a clear and guiding ideology. Mr. Hamid acknowledges that locating the cause of the intensity near the middle is indeed unusual:

We generally assume the political “middle” to be more reasonable and rational—and less partisan. Ideologues are the ones less amenable to compromise. But although centrists are by definition skeptical of ideology, that does not make them any less prone to partisanship.

In polarized times, political competition comes to resemble tribal warfare. Everyone is under pressure to close ranks and boost morale. Lacking an animating vision beyond expert-led incrementalism, center-left politicians and pundits have few options to rally the Democratic base other than by attacking adversaries and heightening partisan divides. The other option—laying out an alternative that differs from what Hillary Clinton or even President Obama offered—requires ideological conviction.

That would explain why Rep. Adam Schiff —previously “known as a milquetoast moderate,” according to the New Yorker—has emerged as one of the most outspoken figures in the Russian collusion investigation. Before being appointed to succeed Mrs. Clinton in the Senate, Kirsten Gillibrand was an upstate New York representative who belonged to the Blue Dog Coalition. Her 2013 New Yorker profile was titled “Strong Vanilla”—and she now boasts the upper chamber’s most anti- Trump voting record.

Many Democrats are unwilling to accept that Mrs. Clinton actually lost to Donald Trump. Those who find her standard center-left technocratic worldview congenial are disinclined to accept ideological explanations, so they look for scapegoats: Russia, James Comey, even the voters who supported Donald Trump. Mrs. Clinton herself pre-emptively offered the last explanation in September 2016, when she consigned half of Trump supporters to “the basket of deplorables”—“they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America.” As 2020 approaches, Democrats run the risk of repeating that mistake, taking for granted, as Mrs. Clinton did, that Mr. Trump’s unique flaws will be sufficient to ensure his defeat.

The press is just as much a part of this as Democratic politicians:  

The mainstream media generally share a center-left worldview. Most reporters aren’t Marxists or even Sandernistas, and anti-Trump alarmism—what some scholars have called “tyrannophobia”—has become a consistent theme.

The idea of a Trump dictatorship may be compelling, but that doesn’t make it right, particularly when it distorts how one perceives actual tyranny. Consider the weekend’s fawning Olympic coverage of Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. “Despite Mike Pence’s sabotage, North Korea’s ‘charm offensive’ appears to be working,” reads a Sunday tweet from ThinkProgress—an affiliate of the Center for American Progress, founded by Mrs. Clinton’s 2016 campaign manager.

Hamid argues (and one may not entirely agree with him on this) that the more leftward members of the Democratic leadership, including Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who do have a guiding ideology, have concentrated more on such issues as inequality than on dislike of President Trump.

Hamid's final argument, however, is compelling and counterintuitive: Ideology has a bad name, but Hamid says that we need more politicians who are "committed to a set of ideas" because these are the men and women who lead rather than merely and constantly having to rally their base.

 

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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