An Open Letter to the Rest of the World
Posted by David Shorr
Dear onlookers around the world,
As politics in my country becomes dominated by a reckless tantrum over the simple matter of paying our debts, many of us are all too conscious of the doubts and concerns this is raising for the rest of you. Speaking as someone who has spent an entire career advocating for an American foreign policy of benevolent global leadership, I feel I should try to explain how our political system got here.
The simple explanation is polarization of the two parties, but that makes it sound like a problem of Republicans and Democrats moving farther apart from one another -- one party toward the right and the other leftward. No, the real problem is the steady rightward drift of the Republican Party over the last two or three decades.
Which wouldn't be bad in itself if the political culture stayed alert and aware, watching as the far-right wing veered out of the mainstream. After all if the rest of the system remains sensible, there's only so much harm that a highly ideological minority can do. Unfortunately, the extreme right took the mainstream with them. Not the mainstream views of average Americans, mind you, but the perceived political center of gravity.
In other words, a segment of opinion that's roughly quarter or a third of the public enjoys influence far beyond its actual numbers -- and has for many years now. In addition to their shameless propaganda and talking points often completely disconnected from the facts, the far-right wing has enjoyed two other advantages. For one thing, the political elite class and especially the media have indulged them, continually stretching the definition of what are considered reasonable arguments. The other thing that's helped the extreme right -- and hurt the country -- is the political reality that our most influential voters are those paying the least attention.
Let's talk about conservative hero President Ronald Reagan for a moment. He's been mentioned a lot lately, mostly because he raised the federal debt ceiling 17 times in his presidency. But that is hardly the only issue on which today's Republican party stands far to the right of Reagan. There are also his tax increases, tax rates, arms control treaties (yes plural), rapprochement with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, and reluctance to use force. Reagan would easily qualify as a moderate in today's context.