Tuesday, November 2, 2010

"Far to the left in American politics"? A Test Case

I sometimes poke around over at "The Next Right," a theoretically "reformist" conservative site (albeit one that, in practice, mostly ends up being SOS), and, this being election day, I thought I'd step over there and see if there was anything interesting.

I found a blog, there, from poster Ironman, about Rep. Chris Murphy, the Democratic congressman from Connecticut's 5th district. Posted yesterday, it advises people to "be pragmatic tomorrow--remove a radical from CT 5." Campaigns produce a lot of hyperbolic rhetoric, of course, and maybe it's best to chalk IM's words up to the feverish emotions of the moment and leave it at that, but something made me want to offer a few comments on it. Probably the fact that it's so perfectly emblematic of the very wrongheaded "thinking" of a lot of the contemporary American right.

IM's premise is that Murphy is some sort of wild-eyed lefty radical who is misrepresenting himself in his reelection bid:
"Chris Murphy's closing argument in his flagging bid for re-election is that he represents the 'pragmatic center' of American politics.

"I call B.S. on this. Let's count the ways Murphy is far to the Left in American politics--even beyond the usual Nancy Pelosi foot soldier."
His first example:
"Murphy is one of the most vocal opponents of the use of warrantless wiretaps to obtain information to thwart terrorist threats... [D]o we want to hamstring the people who keep us safe? Murphy evidently does."
Is this evidence of Murphy's radicalism?

Well, it should be said, right up front, that Bush's NSA wiretapping program was completely illegal--a blatantly criminal enterprise that was explicitly forbidden by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which had been on the books for decades, so IM's premise, that standing against government surveillance conducted with blatant criminality makes one some sort of radical, is, to put it as kindly as possible, shaky (another depressing sign of creeping fascism on the right).

What did the public think about Bush's criminal enterprise? In the immediate aftermath of the story breaking, the U.S. was almost equally divided. Polling showed that slim majorities either supported or opposed it based on the wording of the poll question, the more accurate wording producing stronger opposition than support. Murphy's "radical" opposition to it was in line with that of half the public.

That was just after the story broke.

As time went by, public opinion shifted strongly against the Bush administration on this matter. By Oct. 2007, a Mehlman Group poll found that 61% said the government should have to get a warrant before conducting this sort of surveillance; only 35% supported the Bush position. By Jan. 2008, another Mehlman Group poll asked the same question; 63% said the government should have to get a warrant (55% said they believed this "strongly"), with only 33% supporting the Bush position (24% "strongly"). By Feb. 2009, just after the beginning of Murphy's current term in office, 63% of respondents were telling Gallup they favored an investigation into the matter, including 77% of Democrats, 64% of independents, and even 41% of Republicans. Murphy's "radical" view, which IM says puts him "far to the Left in American politics," is, in fact, that of an overwhelming majority of the public--of Democrats, of independents, and of nearly half of the Republicans.

IM continues:
"Worse still, he favored letting the telecom firms that assisted the War on Terror face ruinous lawsuits from lefty lawyers "
The telecom firms in question "assisted the War on Terror" by illegally turning over private information on their clients to the Bush administration. They weren't ordered by a court to do so--Bush wanted it, and they just handed it over. Bush sought a bill granting these companies a blanket immunity from any legal action their enraged clients may bring against them. Murphy opposed this immunity.

Evidence of Murphy radicalism? Hardly. In that same Mehlman Group poll referenced above, 57% opposed granting immunity; 45% "strongly" opposed it. Only 33% supported it (22% "strongly"). The opposition to immunity cut across all political lines--liberals opposed it by 64%, moderates by 58%, and even 50% of conservatives opposed it.

So, again, IM is describing Murphy as a "radical" and "far to the Left in American politics" based on his holding the same views that are also broadly and overwhelmingly held by the public.

It's also worth, again, noting IM's premise in using this example; that Murphy is some sort of extreme lefty based on Murphy's opposition to blatant lawbreaking by the telecoms, turning over private information on the public to the government.

IM continues:
"Murphy is also one of the firmest opponents of keeping the detention facility at Gitmo open."
The public has been strongly divided on this question. In Jan. 2009, 53% told the ABC News/Washington Post poll they thought the U.S. should close the facility, with 42% supporting keeping it open. A CBS News/New York Times poll three months later showed an almost-even split--47% should continue to operate, while 44% said to close the prison. An AP/Roper poll two months later showed the public evenly split on the question--47% approved of Obama's then-goal to close the facility within a year, while 47% opposed it. Again, Murphy's view seems in line with about half of the public.

Unfortunately, this matter has been subject to a great deal of right-wing fear-mongering. The far right expended a great deal of effort telling the public that closing the facility would mean al Qaida prisoners would be dropped in their back yards, and when poll questions include nods toward this, NIMBYist sentiment kicks in. A USA Today/Gallup poll from May 2009, for example, asked, "Suppose the prison at Guantanamo Bay is closed. Would you favor or oppose moving some of those prisoners to a prison in your state?" 74% were opposed, with only 23% in favor. The results are usually less dramatic (around a 60/40 split), but large majorities do oppose closing the facility if the prisoners end up in their back yards, so on this matter, Murphy can be said to be out of sync with most people, if one doesn't control for NIMBYism.

IM continues:
"Chris Murphy has a problem with the health care bill. He doesn't think it went far enough. He is a strong supporter of the public option."
As was most of the public throughout the health-care debate. In a Time magazine poll from July, 2009, 56% supported the public option, 36% opposed. In a CNN/Opinion Research poll from Aug., 2009, 55% favored the public option, 41% opposed. In a Kaiser Family Foundation poll from Sept. 2009, 57% supported a public option, only 37% opposed. In a Quinnipiac poll from Oct. 2009, 61% supported the public option, only 34% opposed. In a CBS News/New York Times poll from Dec., 2009, 59% supported the public option, with only 29% opposed. This poll broke down the results by party, and found that support included 80% of Democrats, 59% of independents, and even 33% of Republicans.

So, again, Murphy is tagged as a lefty radical for being in line with most of the public.

And that's the whole of IM's substantive case against Murphy. He whines about Murphy attended a gathering of internet liberals, misrepresents a comment Murphy made to MSNBC [*], and concludes that "there are none [Democrats] more deserving of defeat than Connecticut's Chris Murphy."

It's clear IM doesn't like Murphy's politics, and, for whatever reason, he seems to personally despise the man, but he utterly fails to prove his premise that Murphy is some sort of "radical" who "is far to the Left in American politics." From IM's description, in fact, Murphy appears to be exactly what IM quotes him as calling himself, a representative of "the 'pragmatic center' of American politics." That IM sees this as "radical" says everything about himself, and nothing about Chris Murphy.



[*] IM's version:
"He [Murphy] told MSMBC that after he and his colleagues got past the voters in November they would return with 'steel in their spine' ready to cast more tough votes against the wishes of their constituents."
The actual comment, in context:
"Giving an upbeat scenario for Election Day, Murphy said, 'When we retain the House, some members are going to come back with some extra steel in their spines, having cast some tough votes and having survived what’s likely the toughest election of their career.'"
[NOTE: The polls I cited but to which I don't link come from Pollingreport.com]


Anonymous said...

I realize the point of the blog was to laugh at how absurd it is to call these extremely base-line liberal positions "the most radical positions ever". (By the way, according to his logic, just about every single developed country is ultra radical.)


Well, I gotta say, it just may be the most honest right-wing political blog I've seen this election. I mean, it's not like they're inconsistent. It's not some sorta lie, or hypocrisy.

They are on that side of the fence. The fence that sees the Patriot Act is awesome, the side that wants healthcare to be a privilege, that thinks the only way to beat terrorists is to essentially be terrorists yourselves.


They're just stating their side. I personally think it sounds terrible, and subversive to general human ethics, and also, the laws that govern the country, but that's OK. It is!

We can have that debate, and let people decide. It's how politics is SUPPOSED to work. Their side is A, ours is B.

Unfortunately, that doesn't happen anymore. As voters vote for people who see their own positions as such a political liability that they will run from the press in order to not expose their honest ideology, our country is based off of a "Chris Matthews"-type political system, where the winner is whoever is more manipulative, regardless of truth, factual basis, hypocrisy, or ethics.

On a different note...

Those're almost as funny as those ads that Republicans ran against each other.


'Niceguy' Eddie said...

I think the most emblematic example of this whole problem is the health care bill. Putting aside for the moment your own personal opposition to it, the story I keep hearing play out is this:

The Public (usually meaning conservatives) HATES it. BUT, when you ask them about specific items that are IN it such as 'keeping kids on your plan through age 26' or 'no lifetime maximums' or 'no preexisting condition' so on and so forth... Suddenly everyone LOVES it. Or... at least the love the individual PROVISIONS, but still some how hate the BILL itself. About the only thing that DOES meet with general dislike (amongst lib's and cons alike, including yourself) is the MANDATE. But then... as you've pointed out many times, that was a REPUBLICAN idea! There's nothing LIBERAL about it!

The Liberal alternative? The PUBLIC OPTION. Which had broad public support, would have lowered costs for everyone, and yet it's opposed by these fools simply for its being "liberal," and thus the WHOLE BILL ends up unpopular, even though everyone seems to like the INDIVIDUAL PROVISIONS, and the only thing that really angers ANYONE comes from the REPUBLICANS!

(Oh... but "we're opposed to all this LIBERAL policy!")

It's absurd. And the media, whether supporting it or opposing HCR, has grossly confused and misinformed the public about the bill, to the benefit of either PARTY, though more so to the Republicans. (Go figure.)

The Right's simply got nothing to offer here. And as you've pointed out, THEY'RE the ones that remain out of touch, once you get people beyond their self-identification and their obsession with the Lib/Con LABELS. For the life of me I'll never understand how people can be so gullble or how they can get so excited about Conservatism. I just don't get it.

classicliberal2 said...

@Dradeeus - I've been accused, many times, of overreacting to hyperbolic political language that I should just write off as an innocuous thing, merely a product of the politics of those offering it. I was accused of doing it just a few days ago in an argument with a right-wing columnist who claimed--among a great many other things--Obama has had an "ironclad grip on congress" the last two years, and that it was a "fact" that the stimulus bill "has only succeeded in slowing the recovery."

Maybe my fuse IS too short on that sort of thing. I suspect I so often feel compelled to respond to it rather than just letting it go because I have a major concern about the right's increasing contempt for reality. Even just poking fun at the nuttiness of something like what IM had written at least comments on it in some way. Politics in the U.S. has, indeed, been, for ages, all about who can be the most manipulative--that's part of the reason why we end up with a right-wing House of Representatives elected by a public that utterly rejects the views of those it has just chosen to put in power. IM was being manipulative. There's a line between merely hyperbolic rhetoric and outright fantasy. He crossed it, and I slugged him for it.

He can be praised for "honesty" in expressing his own views, but hardly for honesty in general.

Wow, that all makes it sound a lot bigger than it really is, doesn't it?

@Eddie - The parts of the health care bill people liked, in all of that polling, were the (relatively unimportant) liberal elements. People hated the mandate, and, if anyone had ever asked them about the larger structure of the bill (corporate welfare), they'd have been opposed to that, as well (apparently, though, no one ever did). The public option was one of its popular features.

Republicans set out to demonize and destroy the entire health care effort for the same reason they tried to demonize and destroy everything else Obama suggested--doing so moves the parameters of debate ever rightward, maintains a persistent atmosphere of their being something very fundamentally wrong with Obama and the Democrats, and prevents Obama and the Demos from achieving any sort of "victory" that could be referenced around election-time. And, of course, the far right legitimately hates the bill (it's the product of those pesky "moderate" conservatives they love to hate).

People were divided on the bill while it was being debated, but public opposition to it didn't become a plurality/majority position until the public option was dropped. People abandoned it in droves at that point, and the polling reflected that dropping the public option was the reason. A corporate welfare bill that had a mandate and that was going to raise everyone's health insurance costs--most people being "satisfied" with their insurance as a consequence of never having to use it--was always going to be a tough sell.

Anonymous said...

@Eddie Actually, according to polling and research I've seen, that applies to MOST LIBERAL POSITIONS.

Where people are like "I hate liberals!" But agree with many, if not most, liberal positions.

For instance, asked at the GOP website, the voters' main, #1 concern was tax breaks for companies who offshore jobs. That should be a pretty conservative position, but today that's seen as a liberal position. Why am I saying that? Because I think it's good, and therefore on my side?

Actually because a bill came up that addressed it, and every single Republican voted against it and filibustered it. Most of us know that today's conservative positions are actually based off of "if you can't leave corporations alone entirely, the only other thing the government should do to corporations is help them get richer."

Back to my main point, this applies to many, many things. Gun control. Regulations. Immigration. Social security. Education. War. And, interestingly enough, social justice.

That's right. Many Republicans believe that the wealth gap should be massively lower than it is, and not just a little. When asked without stating anything about "Democrat" or "Republican", many people asked, said they wanted the wealth gap to be less than or on par with... well, heavily socialist countries.

...Oh, the irony.

But they'll still vote Republican. Because of the wording and cherry-picking of facts, and their major news outlet's aversion to tough questions, a great many people literally do not know they are liberals. (At least, as the word is defined according to today's political spectrum.)

Some suggest that in their mind, there is a negative connotation that goes with the word "liberal" that turns them off, probably after listening to Limbaugh or Glenn Beck, where, even if they wanted to, they could not bring themselves to vote Democrat, no matter how much they agree.

classicliberal2 said...

@Dradeeus - Only days before the election, Gallup published a new poll that asked people what they thought the priority of the new congress should be. They offered to respondents four options, three of which were boilerplate conservative Republican boilerplate--cutting federal spending, extending all tax cuts, and repealing the health care law--but the one that got the most support, by far was "passing a new stimulus bill."

No one but political junkies even know those anti-outsourcing bills existed. It was something about which the Obama talked during the campaign, but, instead of making it one of his top priorities (at a time when jobs are THE issue), he didn't even put it to congress until this past spring. It quietly went through the process and quietly died in September, when every Republican lockstepped against it. I haven't even been able to find any public polling on it--I imagine it would have 80% or more support.

People are liberal. The reasons they vote for Republicans who totally disagree with them have very little to do with their own actual views.

It's all a big con game. Thomas Frank outlined it six or seven years ago (I think his book was called "What's The Matter With Kansas?").