Let me begin with an obvious point: Right wing extremism is gathering strength and becoming more extreme.
Someone recently said with no hint of exaggeration that Rush Limbaugh and other like-minded, turbo-charged extremists are no longer on the fringe of the Republican Party, but comfortably nestle in its mainstream and shape its policies.
Both Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush possessed a conservative cast of mind to be sure, but this new right-wing gang is more reactionary and authoritarian, if you can believe it, than the two former presidents.
The political DNA of this grouping isn’t fascistic for now, but one can’t rule out such an evolution, given ongoing crisis conditions and intensifying struggles.
In any case, their growing voice in Republican circles re-positions the GOP further to the right and endangers to the extreme democracy and progress.
For doubters of the new status and influence of these former upstarts in elite Republican circles, a few examples will hopefully suffice to make my point:
• The defeat of the Republican Senate incumbent Lisa Murkowski in the Alaska primary by a tea party candidate.
• The rush to the extreme right by John McCain in his senatorial primary.
• The prominence and power broker status of Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, and Fox News.
• The growing strength and insider status of the tea party in the workings of the GOP.
• The growing notoriety of Glenn Beck.
• The surprising number of people who think the president is neither a Christian nor a citizen.
This march from the margins to mainstream by these amplifiers of hate, lies, resentment and unapologetic racism should compel us to rethink the coming elections and their importance.
If anyone thought they were routine, they aren’t. If anyone believed that they could be reduced to simply another round of the election cycle, they can’t. If anyone believes that anything else is more important at this moment, they’re wrong.
As I see it, if the Republican Party, weighted now in a more reactionary and authoritarian direction, gains control of the House and gathers momentum going into the 2012 elections, stormy days and difficult times are ahead not only for the Obama administration and the Democrats in Congress, but also for the American people, already locked into a protracted and deep economic crisis.
The terrain, on which they will fight, will no longer tilt in their favor. They will be running uphill. Their hopes of democratic and progressive advance will be much dimmer. And the window of opportunity that opened up in 2008 will be nearly shut. For how long, no one knows.
I can hear someone saying that if this occurs, the fault lies squarely with the president and his party. This is simplistic, if not outright wrong.
First of all, it ignores that the ruling class has swung decisively and overwhelmingly to the right-wing-dominated GOP in recent months.
It also is blind to the outsized role of the most extreme right-wing groupings in the mass media and their ability to use – racism, the “war on terror,” male supremacy, nativism, xenophobia, homophobia, selective historical memory, anti-socialism, anti-communism, red baiting, and the nostalgia of an idealized past – to create fear, confusion and division among tens of millions. While the right lost its grip on the presidency and Congress two years ago, the impact of its ideas on popular thinking didn’t simply disappear.
Nor does this political calculus (Obama is to blame) include the institutional weight and logic of a state (which includes more than representative institutions and the presidency) that resist progressive change.
Finally, it underestimates the gathering strength of Limbaugh and gang on the Republican Party and national politics.
Accounting for the above necessarily complicates the process of change as well as brings into sharper focus the old and new pressures for an anti-democratic, authoritarian, militarist solution to the current crisis.
But – and this is a big but – such an extremist solution becomes possible only if the Republican right (now on steroids thanks to the mainstreaming of Rush, Sarah, and crowd) is able to regain control of the Congress this fall and the presidency in 2012.
Said differently, the winning of the levers of executive and congressional power in this and the next national election is a necessary condition, if the newest version of the extreme right is to ruthlessly restructure the state and economy in favor of the top layers of the capitalist class.
Against this background, the Nov. 2 elections and the presidential elections in two years acquire a new and overriding urgency.
Frustration with the pace and depth of change is understandable on the part of the American people. After all, it’s hard to be sober minded when you are out of a job or can’t pay for groceries and medical care or face eviction from the home that you lived in your entire adult life.
And yet letting anger and frustration substitute for a well reasoned action plan to meet present and future challenges is akin to shooting yourself in the foot.
As we know in our personal lives, venting at an immediate target – a friend, a spouse, a family member, a co-worker – is, at best, a temporary fix to what usually is a much deeper problem requiring a more objective approach.
This is so in politics too. An objective class analysis is needed to gauge the balance of political power between contending groups, shine a light on who and what is blocking social progress, and identify the political forces that require further assembling if the country is to overcome the current crisis in way that favors working people and their allies.
Impatience and misdirected frustration (and I would add political generalities and sloganeering) will not cut the mustard in this regard; what they might do is cut our throats, figuratively speaking.
The point of politics isn’t to embrace the world as we want it to be, but the world as it is, a world filled with contradictions and complexities … and then figure out a path to expanded democracy, economic security, and a new burst of peace and freedom.
To be more concrete, the struggle to defeat the newest and more dangerous edition of right-wing extremism at the ballot box in November is the key link to open new vistas of freedom in every field of struggle – jobs, housing, public education, equality, peace and nuclear disarmament, environmental sustainability, democratic rights, and so forth.
The time to fight juiced-up, right-wing extremism is now when it still doesn’t control every lever of political power, not later when it does. And the immediate place to fight it is at the ballot box in November.