Sunday, December 23, 2012

Making The Extreme Mainstream

Friday's press conference by NRA head Wayne LaPierre was so over the top that it took a couple days to absorb.

Sure, he was talking to his constituency rather than the larger public. That much was obvious. But how was he able to feel like he could more or less get away with rhetoric that extreme - doubling down on no restriction at all?

Anyone on the left with a position of equal significance who took the polar opposite position - repeal the Second Amendment - would be hounded out of their job within a news cycle. The extreme left limit in this debate is assault weapon bans, tighter background checks, and ammo clip limits.

As I've thought that through, it fits into a grand unifying theory.  In general, here in the Twenty Teens, the extremes of the right are part of the mainstream dialog, while the extremes of the left are not.

It hasn't always been like that. Maybe in the Sixties the extremes of the left were more in play, though that may just be my cultural bias since it's the pop culture remnants of the 1960s left that stood the test of time. The month of the Chicago convention riots, August 1968, the Doors and "Classical Gas" coexisted on top of the charts. Which would you rather remember?

The extreme may be out of reach, but it changes the dialogue. The theory called "the  Overton Window":

The political viability of an idea is defined primarily by the range of ideas that the public will find acceptable, rather than by politicians' individual preferences. At any given moment, the “window” includes a range of policies considered politically acceptable in the current climate of public opinion, which a politician can recommend without being considered too extreme to gain or keep public office.
And on issue after issue after issue, the right is so much winning the battle of the window that we can't even conceive of an equivalent on the left.

Look at the fiscal cliff. The right left "extreme" is defined as tax hikes on quarter-millionaires and Clinton-era rates in the 30s percentages, not Eisenhower-era rates that topped out at 91%.

On the Middle East, Chuck Hagel's mild views that maybe, just maybe, we shouldn't have a policy of Whatever Netanyahu Wants are getting framed as "anti-Semitic." And we all saw what happened to Helen Thomas when she questioned the premise. But on the right, "a Greater Israel stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the River Jordan has always drawn strength from some American supporters."

In presidential primary politics, a rogue's gallery of fringe extremists were not only highly competitive, each in turn, but Rick Santorum emerged as a guy who could win states. The equivalent Democrat wouldn't even be Dennis Kucinich. It'd be Mike Gravel.

Republicans win state level primaries, if not general elections, by taking absolute anti-choice positions: rape, incest, save mother's life, no exceptions. On the left, we pro-choicers have to hem and haw and say safe legal and rare. No  one has ever campaigned on "life begins whenever the woman damn well says it does."

Even when it comes to ridiculous fringe conspiracies, the right is moving the window. Birtherism is alive and well, and seems to serve as a culturally acceptable way to say "I can't emotionally handle the concept of a black president."

I can't name a elected politician who's pushing the equivalent batty theory, 9/11 Trutherism. Maybe you can throw one counter-example at me. But that's not the point. The point is, they're not getting the attention.

"If it's crazy for calling to put armed police in our schools... then call me crazy,"  Wayne LaPierre said this morning on Meet The Press. (Here's my number, call me crazy.) But he's not crazy. He's defining the limits of debate and making the extreme mainstream, and without an equivalent push from the left, that right edge is going to change the outcome.

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