The Washington Post op-ed “Let’s Just Say It: The Republicans Are the Problem” by Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein is still generating buzz across the political spectrum, leaving the ‘false equivalency’ apologists groping for a credible response. Ornstein and Mann made a very tight case, but it’s worth revisiting a TDS strategy memo by Ed Kilgore, James Vega and J.P. Green for an important related observation.
As the authors note in “Wake up, commentators. The most dangerous group of “right-wing extremists” today is not the grass-roots tea party. It is the financial and ideological leaders in the Republican coalition who have embraced the extremist philosophy of “politics as warfare“:
….it is necessary to very clearly distinguish between two entirely distinct meanings of the term “extremism.” On the one hand, it is possible for a person or political party to hold a wide variety of very “extreme” opinions on issues. These views may be crackpot (e.g. “abolish paper money) or repugnant (“deny non-insured children medical care”). But as long as the individual or political party that holds these views conducts itself within the norms and rules of a democratic society, this, in itself, does not lead such groups or individuals to be described as “political extremists” by the media or society in general.
Libertarians and the Libertarian Party offer the best illustration. Vast numbers of Americans consider many libertarian views “extreme.” But, because the libertarians conduct themselves within the norms and rules of a democratic society, they are virtually never described by the media as “political extremists.”
The alternative definition of the term “political extremists” refers to political parties or individuals who do not accept the norms, rules and constraints of democratic society. They embrace a view of “politics as warfare” and of political opponents as literal “enemies” who must be crushed. Extremist political parties based on the politics as warfare philosophy emerged on both the political left and right at various times in the 20th century in many different countries and circumstances.
When the extremism of the Republican Party is now discussed, this distinction is often lost, but it is crucial to understanding what is genuinely “extreme” and different about them.
Despite their ideological diversity, extremist political parties share a large number of common characteristics, one critical trait being a radically different conception of the role and purpose of the political party itself in a democratic society.
In the politics as warfare perspective a political party’s objective is defined as the conquest and seizure of power and not sincere collaboration in democratic governance. The party is viewed as a combat organization whose goal is to defeat an enemy, not a governing organization whose job is to faithfully represent the people who voted for it. Political debate and legislative maneuvering are seen not as the means to achieve ultimate compromise, but as forms of combat whose objective is total victory.
It’s a critical distinction. A great democracy is supposed to synthesize diverse points of view through reasoned negotiation and compromise. But ‘Politics as Warfare’ seeks to annihilate political adversaries and allow no flexibility to address their concerns. And there can’t be much doubt that it makes bipartisan compromise for the greater good of our country all but impossible.