by AndrewMc | 8/08/2009 08:52:00 PM

The other day I happened to be sitting in the dentist’s office. Naturally Fox News was on the television in the waiting room, and there was no way to get it changed. The staff prefers it, as do most of the customers. So, I played a bit on the iPhone and kind of watched the circus out of one eye. Their “news” reminds me of a clown car at a circus: it’s like an endless stream of stupid piling out of the mouths of the hosts. And you can’t believe that it just doesn’t stop.

Anyway, they were reporting on the “protests” at the health-care town hall meetings organized by Democrats. Protests in Tampa and elsewhere were covered as straight news, with no mention that the protests were organized by right-wingers. It was followed by some kind of “statistic” showing that “most Americans” don’t want health care reform.

It got me to thinking . . . .

One of my favorite books is The Tyranny of Printers by Jeff Pasley. One of the most interesting points in that book, I think, is that the press has been partisan since the beginning of the Republic. And although Tyranny stops in the Early Republic, the implication is that only recently have we come to believe that the press ought to be as unbiased as possible. Fox New, then, returns us to an earlier tradition.

And to be certain, Fox News is not really a news organization. They don’t even claim to be. They are entertainment, and as they have stated in court, they are not bound by the truth, and feel free to make stories up as part of their entertainment mission (a list of links is at the bottom of this post). The problem is that a large segment of the American public watches Fox and believes everything they “report.”

The reports on the protesters, as well as Fox’s coverage of the heath care debate, of the Obama election (where report after report told viewers that McCain was doing well), of the Franken election (where Fox reported, time and again, that Norm Coleman was the rightful winner), and a whole host of other false stories got me to thinking about Abraham Lincoln.

In the election of 1860 Lincoln wasn’t even on the ballot in most southern states. And yet he won the election and in March, 1861, was sworn into the presidency. White southerners felt betrayed—as if the election and their country had been stolen from them. Violence followed. In some ways this isn’t surprising. How could a man who wasn’t even on the ballot become president? It was as if the election had been stolen out from under white southerners. It was as if they had no voice in their own government any more.

In some ways the present situation recalls the election of 1860. The Republican Party is increasingly the party of Southern whites. Fox News spins its version of events in order to appeal to the base of the party, and they either lie or distort the truth so badly that it has little resemblance to reality.

And it’s dangerous. The so-called “protests” at the town hall debates are organized by right-wingers, and advertised and encouraged by Fox and Rush Limbaugh, and others in the right-wing media. And those protests are turning violent. Yet Fox “reports” on these protests as if they represent grass-roots America. And they spin the polls to make it seem as if Americans don’t care for the public option or health care reform. So imagine the reaction if health care reform passes, and includes a public option? It will be as if they had no voice in their own government, as if the government did exactly the opposite of what most Americans (at least according to what they see on television) wanted.

Sure, the government doesn’t always listen to us. Sure they do things we don’t always want. But Fox News, over the past six months, has set up a steady progression of “stories” that would have its viewers believe that Barack Obama and the Democrats in Congress are acting, time and again, in direct contravention to the wishes of the American people. Not much different from what white Southerners thought they faced in 1860.

The parallels aren’t exact, of course. But the truth is that right-wing violence is on the upswing. Barack Obama receives more than twice as many death threats as previous presidents. His Secret Service detail is stretched to the breaking point. Fox News doesn’t help the situation. It would be one thing if they were reporting news. But they aren’t. They are making stuff up—by their own admission.

The First Amendment recognizes their right to do this. But living in a Republic carries with it responsibilities as well as rights. What Fox News is doing is dangerous. Their First Amendment rights don't make it OK.

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Blogger Ahistoricality on 8/08/2009 11:47 PM:

Funny, given what else I'm reading lately that Robert Paxton considers the KKK to be the first fascist organization in world history (though I think Ivan IV's oprichniki actually qualifies).

We're not supposed to believe in cyclic history, are we?


Blogger AndrewMc on 8/09/2009 7:32 AM:

Yikes! That is one disturbing article. Holy sh*t.


Anonymous Anonymous on 8/09/2009 8:32 AM:

There are some potential traps in framing and language in discussing the townhalls. That there may be some organization going on by parties of interest, including some players in the health care industry, or by political advocacy groups, does not mean the people responding are insincere, of course. One can have deep seated anxieties and fears that are genuine and right there inside, ready to be tapped into by organizers. Some of those emotions and perceptions are benign, based on economic uncertainty or simple fear of change. Some less so, such as those that related to election of a black president. I saw on one message board a cry by a poster this week that everyone who voted for Obama should leave the country. Feelings of that nature can lead to some pretty serious rage.

Still, to focus largely on the astroturf nature of some of the protests is to play into the hands of those who are all too ready to bash Democrats and progressives. Those who sneer that when your side does it you present it as something benign, such as community organizing, when our side does it, you present it as negative.

If you listen to Fox and read right wing bloggers, you can see grievance and victimization woven through many of the presentations. Dismissing the protests as astroturfed plays right into that sense of application of a double standard.

I wouldn't overlook the extent to which ordinary people lack knowledge of how Washington operates, also. Or basic Constitutional concepts. You see it in the misuse of terms and concepts. For such people, it's easy to say "OK, we're in good hands" and ignore the details of the legislative process and formulation of policy and executive actions when the Republicans are in power. And then to convince themselves that a redistributionist dictator threatens everything they cherish and believe in and have worked hard for, when the Democrats are in power.

Some of that comes from basic lack of civic knowledge and education. I don't know whether historians can help with that. Presidential and government history don't attract as many historians as they once did. And many academic historians look down on popular history, the type that might make a small dent in some of the knowledge gaps among general readers. That many academics are progressives plays a role in the separation betwee potential teachers and their audience, as well. (How often do you see historians being invited to appear on Fox as opposed to CNN or PBS?) Of course, fewer and fewer people read at all these days -- an astonishing number don't read more than one book a year, if that much. That leaves niche news outlets on cable, talk radio, and the web as their sources of information.


Anonymous just an anonymous historian on 8/09/2009 9:19 AM:

Rep. Bob Inglis (R – SC), whose voting records tends to be conservative, and who opposes the Democratic health care reform initiative, recently told a town hall gathering, “Turn that television off when [Glenn Beck] comes on. Let me tell you why. You want to know why? He’s trading on fear.” The crowd booed him but Rep. Inglis later told a blogger, “The America that Glenn Beck seems to see is a place where we all should be fearful, thinking that our best days are behind us. It sure does sell soap, but it sure does a disservice to America.”

Political bloggers (which you are not, you're a historian) sometimes make the mistake of presenting the other side as a largely undifferentiated mass. Rep. Inglis's interesting observations about Glenn Beck, a star draw on Fox, show that there is some public pushback on his side. It may be hard for such people as Inglis to buck the tide. He's liable to catch it from his listeners, many of whom like and respond to Beck, and also from liberal bloggers, simply for being a conservative. Still, that he spoke up against Beck and told listeners to turn off the tv when he comes on on FNC is noteworthy.


Blogger AndrewMc on 8/09/2009 10:30 AM:

"If you listen to Fox and read right wing bloggers, you can see grievance and victimization woven through many of the presentations."

I recently read someone who described the modern conservative movement as more of a platform of petty grievances than of a coherent set of policies.

I'm not dismissing astroturfing out of hand. I'm saying that astroturfing is being portrayed by FN as spontaneous, grassroots, and representative of what some large group of Americans believe. That's the problem with astroturfing, and that's the danger inherent in FNs' reporting.


Blogger AndrewMc on 8/09/2009 10:34 AM:

@just an anonymous historian:

There are a few out there like Inglis, and in point of fact he has said other things along these lines that leads me to believe that he would like to see the discourse move in a better direction.

But the tide is against him.

And, as soon as I can find some sources, I'll do a post on the liberals' culpability in this phenomenon.

Until then I recommend the linked blog post by Ahistoricality above.


Anonymous Just an anonymous historian on 8/09/2009 11:43 AM:

Thank you, sir, I look forward to your future posts on the subject. Much thanks.


Blogger mark on 8/09/2009 12:57 PM:

Few protest movements are spontaneous, at least not for long. FOX is covering the conservative town hall protestors the way ABC, CBS, NBC etc. covered nuclear freezeniks, pro-choice and other left protestors back in the day - by ommitting the backstory of how orchestrated and staged these events really were - usually by political extremists.

They still do, though less blatantly. It is always fun to catch a snippet of a DC protest on a MSM channel, which will frame a 10 sec video snippet to look like a huge crowd, then go watch the same event on C-Span which often pans the "crowd" - which sometimes consists of less than two dozen people. Give you a whole different perspective on what events are considered to be national "news".

It is never good for one political side to have complete control the media. FOX may be clownish and rabble-rousing but the mere existence of a single conservative TV network prevents the rest from attempting to push egregiously false "stories" because the chance of exposure is certain. The blogosphere, right and left, also serves as a countervailing check on the tendency of the MSM toward herd mentality, groupthink and manipulation. They get away with less these days and resent their loss of control over public discourse.


Anonymous Just an anonymous historian on 8/09/2009 2:07 PM:

I have to disagree with some of what you say, Mark. I think FNC would be much more effective if it emphasized moral courage more than it does. To me, the brave and good man is the one who calls out his side when it overreaches, not always only the other side. Except for glimpses from Shep Smith, I don't associate that type of courage with FNC. It just doesn't come across as a manly outlet, in terms of the qualities to which I believe men should aspire.

I agree that there's a need for a strong conservative presence in broadcasting. But to date, I'm hard pressed to point to one that I would characterize as reliable, a tv or radio outlet I would want telling my story if I became newsworthy. There are some columnists who fit the bill (David Brooks, Kathleen Parker, David Frum) but they are print journalists, and pundits rather than reporters, at that. They do have the courage to tackle complex issues without falling back always on binary thinking.

By contrast, FNC mostly reaches for very low hanging fruit. It relies too much for my taste on comfort-providing schticks. It doesn't ask its viewers to stretch, to struggle with complex issues enough. Its approach weakens the public, it doesn't strenthen it. That's a problem sometimes with other cable and broadcoast outlets. It wasn't always that way -- broadcast channels actually used to show thoughtful "white paper' specials back in the 1960s.

I think FNC really missed an opportunity during the period when George Bush was President. It overplayed the sense of grievance and victimization, not letting go even when its side was in charge and it could have been projecting confidence, positive power, a desire to serve the interests of the nation as a whole. In fact, that "poor us" tone sometimes came across as silly, even laughable, at a time when the party it supported controlled two branches of the legislature. It wasted an awful lot of capital and good will on silly and superficial issues such as flag pins, and rarely looked deeply and squarely at complex issues. Over time, I just stopped watching. It seemed too focused on superficial matters and hoopla. And I actually sometimes vote for Republicans.


Anonymous Just an anonymous historian on 8/09/2009 2:35 PM:

In my posted comment at 2:07 on 8/09, that should be "controlled two branches of the federal government" not legislature.

During Bush's term, Fox's weakness and lack of strategic approach came through most of all in one area: how it handled critics of the Iraq War from 2003 onwards. Its hosts should have shown more desire for engagement, more desire to hear what the concerns were, more astuteness in recognizing public support might collapse. That they did not produced some blowback when the majority of the public decided it had not been worth it to go to war in Iraq.

Here's FNC's problem in a nutshell. It hasn't found an approach that works beyond its base. It missed an opportunity to do so after 9/11, when people felt a spirit of unity. What FNC and some other conservatives did wrong after 9/11 should have been obvious. It relates to basic human psychology. Most of us wouldn't want to date a person who tells us how unworthy we are and how there is only one path to goodness and it is the one they, not we, are on. Most people would ditch such a person after mere minutes in their company.

Democrats, while they don't trail the same baggage as the right in this area, need to watch out for that, too. Now that they are in power, they need to hold their base without scaring away the moderates and centrists. There aren't enough self-identified liberals or conservatives to gain the Presidency without appealing to moderates, as well. The Republicans blew it (the FNC approach probably was just a symptom, not really a cause). It remains to be seen what the Democrats do going forward.


Blogger AndrewMc on 8/09/2009 3:11 PM:

"FOX is covering the conservative town hall protestors the way ABC, CBS, NBC etc. covered nuclear freezeniks, pro-choice and other left protestors back in the day - by ommitting the backstory of how orchestrated and staged these events really were - usually by political extremists."

I don't think this parallel holds. First of all, the peace movements weren't being bankrolled by corporations in the same way the anti-healthcare debates are. Second, the staging was done by movement people--organizations of liberals who came together over an issue, but were still at their heart grassroots organizations. these aren't the same.

"It is always fun to catch a snippet of a DC protest on a MSM channel, which will frame a 10 sec video snippet to look like a huge crowd, then go watch the same event on C-Span which often pans the "crowd" - which sometimes consists of less than two dozen people."

Remember that Fox New is the MSM.

But to equate what Fox does with ABC, NBC, and CBS is way off the mark. The head of Fox News distributed memos to staff giving them talking points designed to help McCain/Palin in 2008, and Bush/Cheney in 2006. Their ties to the Republican party go way way beyond anything the other stations have with regard to any liberal group.

On top of that, the other three go after Obama way more than Fox ever did with Bush.

The point still stands, though. Fox panders to the base of the Republican Party in a way that CBS, NBC, and ABC do not do with the Democrats or liberal groups. And given the way they misreport and misrepresent, it's dangerous.


Blogger Unknown on 8/09/2009 4:14 PM:

There are few things more laughable than the spectacle of rich privileged white people believing they have grievances and are victimized.

I don't deny that they have grievances. I argue that they have no right to those grievances and that it is very dangerous for society to take those grievances seriously.


Anonymous Just an anonymous historian on 8/09/2009 5:07 PM:

Jeremy, I assume you're referring to the anchors, hosts, and some of the frequent guests on Fox. (All cable and broadcast star anchors are rich and privileged, when you come right down to it.) And not to some of the viewers, who of course aren't all rich, privileged white people.

When it comes to the viewers, I do think it would be a mistake for Democrats to ignore some of the sources of those grievances. They need to take a nuanced view, to recognize the differences between racial concerns and more benign anxieties.

Most of the Fox viewers are solidly Republican and conservative, you won't get many to peel off. But the Democrats do need to be careful how they respond to some of the grievances, how they frame them, address them. They shouldn't emulate the right, which erred in largely dismissing the claims of Iraq war critics by trying to marginalize them and paint them as un-American. Or scolding them for their effrontery in dissenting. That backfired as more and more people joined the doubters. Moreover, people do have a right to oppose government actions and proposed policies. Bush's surrogates erred badly in not stating that, whether they genuinely believed it or not.

Fox actually faces some challenges in this area which the progressives do not. It's base has shrunk to a group that is pretty monolithic. The liberal and moderate Republicans have left the party, by and large. Many now are Independents. The Democratic party has a larger umbrella, it is more accustomed to sorting through goals and objectives which party members view somewhat differently. Whether they are self identified Dems or Indpendents, the people who voted for Obama managed to come together in November 2008. The skill that candidate Obama displayed -- reconciliation of objectives and appealing to a group that was far from monolithic -- largely has atrophied for Republicans. But Dems still have to guard against arrogance, failure to consider the other guy's viewpoint (that's different from adopting it), and righteousness.


Anonymous Just an anonymous historian on 8/09/2009 5:54 PM:

I should have added the reason why it is important to consider the other guy's viewpoint. For many ordinary Republicans (not the blowhards or demagogues on cable tv or radio), a core belief is anchored in the value of hard work. You work hard, you make something of yourself, you provide for your family. Bedrock values there. Deeply entrenched among rural people, blue collar workers.

There are plenty of Democrats who value the same qualities. But it is the Republican party which appeals to its base by emphasizing the idea of self-sufficiency, of being able to provide, of being a man in the traditional sense.

With an economic crisis, people whose sense of self largely is tied to their ability to support a family really take a psychological hit. Especially if they are living paycheck to paycheck, are on the verge of losing their homes, or fear losing their jobs. (People who once held factory jobs -- or whose dads supported their families through them -- have taken an enormous psychological pounding over the last 30 years. It's genuiney scary and unsettling to see jobs just disappear -- that is, go abroad. To realize your dad had opportunities that you might not. To contemplate mid-life retraining and starting anew, at a time when much luckier people such as I are coasting along in senior positions in pretty secure jobs.)

That means they really thirst for respect. Fox gives it to them, with its images of flags flying, its talk of the real America. They bond with the network in ways that less "thirsty" viewers such as I might never do. Recognizing that thirst for respect doesn't mean you accept the world view of all such viewers, especially when it veers towards extremes. But if you do to them what the right did to many wavering moderate and liberal Republicans -- or former Republicans -- during Bush's term -- treat them with disrespect -- you lose the small number which still is open to listening.

That's why its important for Democrats to treat such people not as marginalized or unconsequential people, but as fellow Americans, even when they disagree with them. Of course, when the subset that is motivated by racial anger and unreasonable rage speaks up, I, and I suspect most PH readers, would push back strongly. Speaking of which, this take on one person's townhall experience by Ta-Nehisi Coates ("The Tough Thing About Racism") is worth a look:


Blogger AndrewMc on 8/09/2009 6:53 PM:

"I should have added the reason why it is important to consider the other guy's viewpoint. "

Agreed. But if Fox News is lies, misdirects, and produces what can fairly be called propaganda for the Republican party, there's not much of a "viewpoint" to consider. It's an ever-shifting series of attacks grounded in no coherent philosophy except "we hate liberals, we hate Obama, we hate the Democrat[ic] party."

There's no reasoning with that, and there's not much reason to reason with that as long as it keeps up.


Anonymous Just an anonymous historian on 8/09/2009 7:40 PM:

Yes, you're entirely right, there is not much point in reasoning with Fox News, per se. I was thinking of some of its viewers, not the network. You're right to say forget Fox, I agree, it's too immersed in its schtick. Keep in mind that the person behind Fox is Roger Ailes, who first came to prominenace as a media consultant to Richard Nixon. He's a media guy, a salesman, not a policy guy.

No, I was thinking mostly about that part of the Republican party which used to be Reagan Democrats. Some have stayed in the party, becoming solid Republicans, others have wavered, some came over to the Democrats again in 2008. That's why I wouldn't treat Republicans and Fox viewers as inconsequential (typo in my earlier post).

The best way to ensure they remain or drift further rightward is to treat them with disrespect. To be the snobby, uncomprehending "elites" who don't understand the value of hard work. The stereotypical bad guys that the Fox blowhards keep wringing their hands over.

You'll never get through to many of the Fox viewers, just as some Republican pundits never will get through to progressives, but there's no point in falling into the traps laid by the Ailes-types. And, it goes without saying, it's not a good idea to go Cheney on all the Fox viewers. That's what the Ailes-types would love to see progressives do. Better to show some empathy ("I get that these are worrisome times, dude, I lie awake at night worrying sometimes, too"), something they and all other Americans deserve. Empathy is the tool that was missing from Cheney's toolkit (and Rove's). My advice to Democrats would be, if you hated being marginalized and demonized during the last 8 years, show that you can do better than those who belittled you did. Again, that doesn't mean give up on your principles.

But it means you take into account what Lee Atwater (who was associated with hardball Republican campaign tactics) said before he died: "long before I was struck with cancer, I felt somethig stirring in American society. It was a sense among the people of the country, Republicans and Democrats alike, that something was missing from their lives, somethig crucial. . . . My illness helped me to see that what was missing in society is what was missing in me. A little heart, a lot of brotherhood.”

Seeing the nation in a way that Lee Atwater couldn't in his heyday but only recognized on his deathbed is part of what got Obama elected last year.


Blogger Unknown on 8/09/2009 9:48 PM:

JAAH, I was responding to a comment far upthread that referred to the grievances and victimization of the teabaggers.

I don't deny that the teabaggers have grievances. I think we should ignore their grievances if possible, and crush them if not. The politics of compromise must end. There's no place in an enlightened society for the worries of people of privilege who think they don't have enough privilege. As has so often been said of the mythical "welfare queens," they need to suck it up and take care of themselves, and stop looking to their government to do it for them. Government rightly has other priorities.


Blogger Unknown on 8/09/2009 9:50 PM:

Having read the Sara Robinson article Ahistoricality cites, I think Robinson's being a little alarmist. This isn't the first time bona fide fascist groups have been supported by the official machinery of government -- think of the cross-pollination of Southern Democrats and the KKK, or the Prescott Bush-led coup against FDR. I'm not as afraid of the teabaggers as all that. They do represent a legitimate threat, but that threat shouldn't be overstated.


Blogger Ahistoricality on 8/09/2009 10:12 PM:

Here's the thing, Jeremy: I've been reading Robinson and Neiwert for a long time, and they've always seemed a little alarmist and they've always ultimately been right.

Go back and read Neiwert's The Rise of Pseudo Fascism [PDF, HTML] from a couple of years back. He got tagged with the "alarmist" label then, too, but the series holds up pretty well given what's happened over the last five years.

Robinson is actually studying futurology, the discipline which uses history, sociology, psychology, etc, to try to identify the relevant patterns of human group behavior. She doesn't, as a rule, jump to conclusions: she constructs them pretty carefully and shows her work.

You can call her alarmist, but can you tell me where she's wrong?


Blogger Unknown on 8/09/2009 10:46 PM:

I'm trying to figure out how to answer your excellent question, and it's proving surprisingly difficult. I do value the important work Robinson and Neiwert have done and are continuing to do on fascism. I do take concerns about the teabaggers seriously. And yet --

There are a couple of things at work here for me. One is that I don't really see fascism as a discrete entity, rather than as one that shades into traditional conservatism and authoritarianism. Fetishizing fascistic regimes as somehow different in kind, rather than degree, from other regimes is a kind of exceptionalism that I'm not comfortable with.

The other thing is that I approach these sorts of questions from the perspective of the footsoldiers. What makes the teabaggers do what they do? The standard explanation is mindless fealty to an extreme ideology, but I think that's a fallacy in itself. How can you support an ideology if you're mindless? I actually think both parts of the equation are wrong: they're not mindless, and they don't support an ideology.

I think the teabaggers need something to believe in (a crude turn of phrase, since I'm still formulating terminology that would be more specific). I think they exist in a marketplace of charisma, where different charismatic movements compete for the support of ordinary people. Lending one's support to a movement automatically gives it more legitimacy and power.

If the teabaggers are winning, it's not because we're approaching fascism -- it's because we're failing to do the two things that could stop them: crush the ideology that supports them, and produce a competing charismatic movement to win people over to the Left. Obama, for all his faults, did an excellent job of the second when he was running for President, but he's fallen down on the job. As for the first, only ending the politics of compromise will bring about the destruction of the teabagger movement.

If there's any meaningful distinction between fascism and non-fascism, it's that the state clamps down on the marketplace of charisma and stops the anti-state actors from creating competing charismatic options. The idea that this is happening now on the Right is ludicrous. Not only is the Right not clamping down on non-state actors, they don't even control the state. If anything, I'm suggesting that the Left needs to be a bit more fascist than it's been, not that the impotent Right is at risk of doing so.

So my disagreement with Robinson and Neiwert is pretty deep. I think what they say makes sense from their frame of reference. From mine, the teabaggers are a distraction from the real problem: the lack of a powerful alternative on our side, and the lack of will to bury the dying conservative movement while we still have the upper hand.


Anonymous Just an anonymous historian on 8/10/2009 6:22 AM:

What is missing in Robinson's piece is a strong affirmation that the U.S. needs a two party system. Over emphasis on crushing conservatism can be misinterpreted as supporting one party rule. The Democcrats need to have some of their ideas challenged. Everyone does. It makes you re-think or re-calibrate some policies and sometimes even to come up with better solutions. To dismiss this is to drift into self-righteousness, a belief in infallibility that is unrealistic for any human being to hold.

One can argue that the Republicans during the Bush years increasingly played to their base and had a tin ear for how some of their signature issues came to appear to moderates, who in 2008 made up 44% of the electorate. That they did themselves in as much as being bested by the presentation of alternatives by the Democrats.

Robinson over generalizes, equating Conservatism with the Republican party. That overlooks the fact that the party used to have moderates and liberals and that not all of them became Democrats.

That Conservative voices largely define the Republican party, and most moderate and liberal Republicans have left it to self-identify as Independents, obscures the reasons why many of them fled. Some of those who fled the party believed in holding down deficits, in fiscal prudence, maintenance of a strong national defense establishment. But some of them believed in pragmatism and prudence, not recklessness, in foreign pollicy. In the use of a combination of soft and hard power in world affairs, with war being a measure of last resort. And some leaned progressive on social policy and came to feel unwelcome in a party that insisted on litmus tests on social issues.

Conservatism during the Bush years came to be defined by tax cuts (whether it represented a belief that it encouraged jobs creation, or represented the desire of the the base not to have to give up any more of its earnings than it had to, or both). This mindset prevailed even after 9/11, and let to a huge imbalance in revenues and expenditures.

By opposition to business regulation and reluctance to take actions to counter climate change. By an emphasis on so-called "values voters," many of them creationist, anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, pro-abstinence only education. By a belief in pre-emptive war and a foreign policy which emphasized hard power.

Add to that a tin ear for how to appeal to voters outside their base (remember the Terry Schiavo case) and a hectoring, scolding tone on national security as well as on social issues after 9/11, and you see why the concept of being a Republican came to seem unattractive to some who once had called the party home. You can't win over the teabaggers (some of whom are fiscal conservatives, some of whom are motivated by less benign motivations than belief in keeping tax rates low and business regulation at a minimum). The challenge is not so much how to crush them, if you see that as necessary, as in how to sustain the support that many Independents gave Obama in 2008 while upholding progressive principles. It is the moderates and Independents whom you have to sell on a charismatic, attractive alternative to modern day Republicanism.


Anonymous Just an anonymous historian on 8/10/2009 7:07 AM:

Exit polls on self identification from November 2008


Liberal 22%
Conservative 34%
Moderate 44%

Party identification:

Democrat 39%
Republican 32%
Independent 29%

Anyone have any numbers which would show how this compares to party identification and ideological leanings within the academy? I know there is a perception that academics tend to lean progressive and that many more identify as Democrats than as Republicans. I don't know enough about Robinson to know whether she bases her take on Conservatism largely on what she has read and observed from a distance. Her professional observations aside, I don't know the extent to which she has had casual conversation with friends and colleagues who are conservative and who vote Republican. Her stance on Conservatives sounds very remote, unnuanced, and overly dehumanizing to me.

The exit polls for the general populace (those who voted in 2008) suggest that neither the progressives nor the conservatives can win if they insist on rigid ideologically based stances or litmus tests. Like it or not, both need to take moderates into account, whether that means winning them over to a progressive position on a case by case basis or compromising with them. The Democrats are less vulnerable to shrinkage through application of litmus tests because they have shown a greater williness over the decades to be a big tent party than have modern day Republicans.

None of this is to downplay the anger that infuses politics among some elements of the right at the moment. It's just a reminder that Progressives face challenges beyond those presented by hard core Republicans and Fox News fans.


Blogger Unknown on 8/10/2009 12:18 PM:

For the record, I don't believe in a two-party system, any more than I believe in a one-party system. Both are ideologically restrictive and filter out the best ideas before they can be enacted into law. I favor a no-party system, and while I generally think a multi-party system is the best stepping stone to that, the closest we've ever come to a no-party system was when we had ostensibly a one-party system (the 1816 election).


Blogger AndrewMc on 8/10/2009 12:57 PM:

"the closest we've ever come to a no-party system was when we had ostensibly a one-party system (the 1816 election)"

Gotta disagree. A no-party system essentially allows for nearly-equal expression and power by the greatest number of people. A one-party system is nearly the opposite of that. A multi-party system would be the closest, in that the power of individual interests are diluted.


Blogger Unknown on 8/10/2009 3:27 PM:

You're right, because I named the wrong election. I meant to say 1824 -- which was still ostensibly under the banner of a one-party system.

My point still stands: the Era of Good Feelings weakened party apparatus more than at any other time in our history. At no other time has a presidential nominating convention sanctioned by party leaders been almost totally ignored by so many members of the party. The closest equivalent would be in 1912, but that required the intercession of a former President to break down party structure -- and it still left one of the major parties intact.


Blogger Ahistoricality on 8/10/2009 11:47 PM:

Jeremy, it's a good thing that you're an Americanist, because only in US history can you actually ignore fascism or treat it like part of the normal spectrum of political behavior. Fascism is not simply an ideology -- as you note, it combines conservative social values with nationalism and authoritarian attitudes, making it a cultural and psychological stance as well as a political one.

Your comments about charisma are interesting, because a dynamic, charismatic leader is commonly a component of fascist regimes -- the Nazis refered to the Fuhrerprincip, the leader principle -- and it's right-wing media figures who are filling that void right now (c.f. Berlusconi).

Finally, you're mistaking Robinson's point entirely: it's not that the TEA party movement is fascist in all aspects, but that it represents a strong step towards the development of fascism as a complete system.


Anonymous Just an anonymous historian on 8/11/2009 6:29 AM:

I simply cannot agree that the Tea party movement represents a step (strong or otherwise) towards the development of fascism. To think that it does is to ignore the core reason why Republicans (most of whom are Conservatives) view taxes as they do. Many of the Tea party protestors believe in low taxes because they are small businessmen or people who hope one day to own their own business. They want to maximize profit and keep down the regulatory and tax burden. They believe in trickle down economics, that if you allow businesses to thrive and avoid a heavy hand, it helps with jobs creation. There is nothing fascistic in that.

Part of the problem for the Tea party movement lies in the fact that it has come to be associated with the Birthers and the Deathers. There may be some overlap but there is not enough data to state that with certainty. The perception of overlap is more likely to be a net negative than a plus for the right as far as moderate, centrist voters are concerned. Such people may be willing to listen to discussions of tax policy. Assertions in other areas that are based on myths or lies are another thing entirely.

Not everyone on the progresswive side looks at these issues as Robinson does. Even the Deathers are a less monolithic group than one might think. The account at Firedoglake yesterday afternoon by Mike Stark of the town hall meeting held by Rep. Tom Perriello in Danville, Virginia provides some useful insights into their thinking. I won't link to it as I doubt PH readers would have time to read the whole thing. Instead, I'll use six sentences to summarize and quote from it.

The author, an Obama supporter, describes the fears articulated by some of the opponents of HC reform. He describes how the Congressmen validated the concerns of the questioners (only one of whom was a supporter of reform) and answered the questions with respect and sincerity, rebutting assertions as best he could. Stark observes that the meeting ended with cheers. "I chatted with a lot of the same people I spoke with before the town hall. I couldn’t find a person willing to say a bad word about the Congressman. Many still vehemently disagreed with his policies, but nobody I spoke with harbored animosity toward the man."

That's not a step on the road to fascism. That's not to say Stark's account is typical of all the town halls. Some clearly have degenerated into ugly scenes, as the Coates piece I linked to (which no one has had the time to click on, according to Shrinkster) suggests. It merely suggests that a broad brush view of the right may miss some needed nuance and result in unnecessary hype, just as do some of the rants about the left by cable tv and radio blowhards.


Blogger Ahistoricality on 8/11/2009 10:18 AM:

Many of the Tea party protestors believe in low taxes because they are small businessmen or people who hope one day to own their own business. They want to maximize profit and keep down the regulatory and tax burden. They believe in trickle down economics, that if you allow businesses to thrive and avoid a heavy hand, it helps with jobs creation.

If that was all they believed, and if they didn't present themselves as frothing maniacs, we wouldn't be having this discussion.

And Robinson has repeatedly engaged with conservatives (and moderates and progressives) who disagree with her in an unfailingly civil fashion. She's not trying to stifle debate or demonize Republicans, no matter how hard you try to make it look that way.


Blogger Unknown on 8/11/2009 2:04 PM:

Ahist, I'm afraid I'm going to have to leave it there for two reasons: one, I'm very poorly read on fascism at the moment (though my reading list will change that!), and two, a lot of the charisma stuff I'm discussing has to do with my dissertation, which I try not to discuss too much online. You have convinced me, however, that I need to engage with the fascism literature when I discuss this in my own work. Needless to say, I take a bit of a different view on charisma than do most scholars of fascism.


Anonymous Just an anonymous historian on 8/11/2009 4:55 PM:

You write "She's not trying to stifle debate or demonize Republicans, no matter how hard you try to make it look that way."

I never stated she was trying to stifle debate or demonize Republicans. I did offer observations on the composition and complex motivations of some of the Fox viewers. Ms. Robinson isn't a tactician or a political operative. Any tactical advice I offered about differentiating between the viewers and/or protestors was not directed at her. Those were general observations on my part. If it was not clear, I'll state in conclusion that those are matters that people on the operational side of such debates would do well to consider.


Anonymous Just an anonymous historian on 8/16/2009 2:49 PM:

Andrew McC, this thread petered out nearly a week ago but I saw an interesting take on Fox News today at the Washington Monthly. It occurred in an exchange between blogger Steve Benen and Bruce Bartlett, a Republican economics experts. Barlett's take on Fox, and how it and cable tv have changed, is well worth reading. In fact, Bartlett argues that the since traditional media have become more centrist, liberals need their own version of Fox. See

Bartlett's earlier exchanges with Benen on Saturday about Republican penance on economic issues also are very interesting.


Blogger AndrewMc on 9/21/2009 8:12 PM:

@Just; Somehow I missed your response. Thanks!

Also, this shouldn't surprise anyone: