Hope you all had a fabulous holiday weekend. As we gear up for the final push of the semester, I want to call your attention to two terrifically smart articles that appeared in New York Magazine while the rest of us were busy eating turkey. I highly recommend that you read both articles and yes, to my Y103 students, they are both required. I know they are long, but you will be smarter for having read them.
In a way the two articles — one by Jon Chait about why liberals are unhappy with President Obama and one by David Frum about why conservatives are unhappy with President Obama — are bookends. Both are writing about how the most extreme elements of the party they identify have left the mainstream behind.
But in another way they are very different pieces. Chait’s liberals are pie-in-the-sky-dreamers who are disappointed that President Obama doesn’t just wave his magic wand to get things done — they don’t understand the rules of American politics that limit what a president can do and they won’t be satisfied with less than a full slate of liberal reform. They are doomed to disappointment as the world they live in fails to measure up to their ideals. The biggest danger they pose is to themselves and their fellow Democrats as their search for a progressive savior may very well mean that the pragmatic Democrat they put in the White House serves only one term.
Frum argues that conservatives, on the other hand, have lost touch with reality. A committed Republican, he nonetheless argues that members of his party’s base today are simply delusional — they aren’t disappointed in the world in the same way that liberals are because in a very real sense they live in a different world altogether. Their refusal to accept the facts that govern our lives mean that they pose a danger to all of us — in their willingness to let the US default on its loans, for instance, or their refusal to entertain any increases in revenue in the quest to balance the budget.
One conclusion from reading these two articles is that it is a false equivalence to say that both parties have a similar problem with the radical element of their bases. As David Frum himself would argue, the consequences of the radicalization of the American right are more severe and far-reaching than the consequences of the American left. Chait is exasperated by the extremists in his party; Frum is worried by the extremes in his.
For more on Frum, see the Profile in Citizenship in the KTR chapter on Parties for our interview with David Frum. We picked the former Bush speechwriter for our profile because despite his frustration with the current state of his party, he remains loyal to it and steadfastly believes that if he hangs on long enough, the party will cycle back to him and its original principles.