April 27, 2002


Voices of the far right : Was Le Pen’s strong showing an accident or a wake-up call? (Eric Alterman, 4/25/02, MSNBC)
While the U.S. and French election systems have almost nothing in common, the predicaments facing each society’s political system are similar. Both are characterized primarily by apathy. In both cases, the forces on the left are so divided that they are allowing a far-right minority to define the terms of the debate in the larger society while internecine arguments and self-recriminations dominate their thoughts and energies. The spokespeople for these allegedly liberal parties are terrified of saying anything of substance for fear of alienating any of these combative constituencies as well as the precious centrist or “undecided” voter. The result is that the base remains unmotivated, except on the fringes, and when apathy rules on the left, the right is able to steal not only elections, but also the entire political discourse.

Either the far right is stronger in France than it is here or it is dumber. In the United States, our right-wing extremists are better disciplined than those in France and our own Naderites. As the failure of the Buchanan campaign demonstrates, they were smart enough to work through the Republican Party in exchange for future concessions from the Bush campaign, rather than challenge their natural allies with the prospect of being a spoiler. They were ultimately rewarded when John Ashcroft - a far-right ex-senator who was so extreme that he managed to lose an election to a dead man - was named U.S. attorney general.

Apparently the answer to Mr. Alterman's question is ; no, it's not a wake-up call. One might think that he'd have noticed that he's saying the Left is "terrified of saying anything of substance" but that the "far right", like President Bush (?), does not hesitate to enunciate even its most radical policies. In a political climate where the radical rightists assume their program will appeal to the "centrist" voters while the leftists know theirs won't, you'd think the lesson a liberal would take away from all this is that his own ideas are the problem, not the other guys.

Liberals do seem to get this implicitly, as witness the repeated nominations of (relatively) conservative white Southerners (Carter, Clinton, Gore) to head the Democratic presidential ticket whenever they have a shot at winning (while offering up liberal canon fodder like Mondale and Dukakis when they have no prayer). But they seem unable to say it aloud or to face the full implications--which include the fact that conservative white Southerners (Clinton/Bush/ Perot and Gore/Bush) basically got every vote in '92 and '00.

Ralph Nader is the only serious candidate of the Left (see below) to run in a recent presidential election and he got about 1% of the vote. It seems fair to say that in modern America, the Right gets about 99% of the national vote, with close to 50% of even that vote consistently going to the Far Right (as Alterman apparently considers folks like Bush and Ashcroft to be), while the Left has nearly ceased to exist. In determining who's extreme and who's mainstream, Mr. Alterman might do well to consider that 70%+ of the American people think Attorney General Ashcroft is doing a good job, while Janet Reno (that icon of the Left) is about to get pummeled by a Far Right-winger in the FL gubernatorial.

The Left isn't just apathetic; it's brain dead. And the inability of folks like Mr. Alterman to come to grips with the unpopularity of the policies they believe isn't helping any.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 27, 2002 12:20 PM
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