Obama’s Education Speech and the Fringe: Time To Stop Being So Damn Congenial

Now that the right wing has worked itself up into another frenzy about yet another non-issue, this time the President of the United States encouraging schoolchildren to try harder in school and to work to improve their communities, one has to wonder why people like Senator Baucus feel the need to negotiate with people who equate national service with National Socialism. Bipartisanship may be a noble goal at Youth Government conferences and may have been a workable goal when the Republican Party held more than seven moderates nationwide, but to believe that Democrats should work with a party that is driven by its lunatic fringe is worse than naive. It’s insane.

I can’t help but to be struck by a sense of wonder. National figures in the Republican Party are actually musing about the possibility of authoritarian government because of President Obama’s decision to give a speech or his decision to appoint czars, a rhetorical gimmick first popularized by their own party. Speech to children? Creeping fascism, to the same Republicans who had no worries about authoritarian government when their President and Vice President were detaining people without trials, authorizing torture, and wiretapping the American public.

It’s long been a trick of the Republican Party and its mouthpieces to present the Democratic Party as some fringe movement, taking an isolated examples of someone on the far left of the party and holding her up as a representative of the Party as a whole. When one person suggests that “Under God” be taken from the Pledge of Allegiance, Rush Limbaugh and his minions (in the Congress) demonize the totality of Democrats as unpatriotic socialists. Always socialists.

It’s been a remarkably effective, if incredibly dishonest, strategy.  The reality, of course, is much more complicated. The far left has always been a marginalized fringe within the Democratic Party. I don’t say that to demean them—in fact, my sympathies tend to lie with what Howard Dean called the democratic wing of the Democratic Party—but no honest analyst could claim that the far left represents the party. We tend to choose candidates from the middle, or even conservative side of the Party for both national and state offices. Limbaugh and his ilk, though, have been successful at painting the mainstream Democratic movement as something much more extreme than it is, or ever will be.

In fact, this strategy worked even as the Republicans were becoming the fringe they decry. Republicans have to run to the right to win primaries, some so far (like Senator McCain) that they become unrecognizable when compared to their former identities. The mainstream Republican Party is the extreme right, and its anti-school, anti-immigrant, anti-health care agenda doesn’t reflect even a large minority of conservatives, much less Americans — just a loud minority of activists.

In this context, constant efforts to compromise with the Republican Party are futile. No Republican in the Senate (except for the endangered New England variety) dares to actually move to the center on any issue, for fear of the loud base that dominates the Party’s discourse and dollars. Compromise has never meant appeasing the extremists on the other side, even as they distort, propagandize, and deceive. Efforts to do so just make the Democrats look weak and ineffective, playing into the hands of the Republicans.

The American public wants meaningful health care reform. They support public schools. They don’t want reckless, militaristic foreign policy. It’s time for Senator Baucus and  the Democrats in the Senate to give the American public what they voted for—real change—and stop trying to win awards for congeniality by being bipartisan.

Let the Republicans be the party of no. No reform, no ideas, no change. If we stick to our ideals, the ones shared by Americans, we can soon add “no future” to that list.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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