From margins to mainstream: the rise of Rush, Sarah and gang

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.


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  • I'm not sure what Jim Lane means about those supposedly looking in the wrong places. Those who are criticising Webb are not keeping the focus off the working class or the 2010 elections.

    Posted by Sean Mulligan, 09/13/2010 3:25pm (5 years ago)

  • Sam, there you go again. I am a critic of current CPUSA policy and at the same time building for October 2nd and the elections. Check with my District leadership about my role.

    Rather than upbraid the critics, why not an honest discussion of the differences. You dismissed the critics as louder than their numbers in pre-convention discussion and therefore concluded that addressing the differences was a waist of time.

    I know that many critics are mobilizing for October 2nd and do recognize the need to electorally defeat the right. The issue is the role of the Party in raising demands that can move the movement forward. I agree with Miss Edelman's statement, "This period of struggle is about gaining relief - forming demands and developing movements. it's about direction, it's all about direction." I believe the Party has backed off making advanced demands and taking initiatives. This is the rub, making reasonably sound analysis, but drawing the wrong conclusions.

    Posted by David Bell, 09/13/2010 9:43am (5 years ago)

  • Your are biased, clueless, and your premises have no support in fact what-so-ever. Lets see:
    1) All conservatives are right wing extemist. What a stretch.
    2) The movement is based upon 'hate'. Where the hell did this come from?

    Oh well. Thanks for continuing to flame the outrage with the press for this sort of reporting. Yes, I would say that is based on 'hate'. Do your homework and wake-up.


    Posted by John Hodgkins, 09/12/2010 7:16pm (5 years ago)

  • This is an interesting discussion. It's mid Sept. and the electoral situation across the country is tough. Tea Party-Republican gains play to a frustration in the population borne of of the crisis and reflect the relative strength of the forces. Left, liberal, socialist and communist people are taking note and the serious organizations and individuals are fully participating in this effort to defeat this version of the right. Time to take note. It's a conscious choice. About 7 weeks remain, still time to rebuff and or limit the impact of what has become known as the lunatic mainstream. The mood is dour but it can change on a dime. My thought about why now includes the current economic crisis and the reaction to the intractable problems. US ruling circles have prided themselves for more than 30 years(actually this position goes back to the end of WWII) with an approach that disses accommodation to realities that crimp their outlook in particular their profit outlook and their leading position. On the edge of our momentary sight is the development of China into the position of the world's 2nd largest economy. The nimble response of China to the world downturn and their subsequent recovery, the development of clean energy leadership, the flexibility in response to growing labor demands and so on. This is a big deal.
    Next on my list is the US economy's outlook - the stagnant economy coupled with the more or less permanent downturn and high unemployment. Now add to that the advance of working class consciousness. ( for more than half a century this was not the case. Actually the level of unity and action between the labor movement, African American, other peoples of color and a broadening array social and civic organizations is growing. No it's not a challenge to capitalism but it is a support base for the Obama administration. And it is a base for increasing the role of government in favor of peoples' interests, no matter the limited scale of that involvement. This period of struggle is about gaining relief - forming demands and developing movements. it's about direction, it's all about direction. We're not the first political party on the left in the world movement to call attention to and argue for all out support for all democratic forces(even those who are challenged). Keeping our eye on the rapidly changing politics is key to building a broader, stronger more robust movement.

    Posted by Beth Edelman, 09/11/2010 3:55pm (5 years ago)

  • Your article brought to mind several questions, so please indulge me as I play devil's advocate with myself. "Extremist" first of all, is a vague and relative term. It seems to be taking on the same meaning as "liberal" has in some quarters: a negative catch-all term lacking perspicuity, and thus merely a rhetorical device to "get" those who aren't skilled in critical thinking on their side. Many if not most on the other side resort to this tactic, and to their deteriment in the eyes of honest thinkers. But if all we want is to win, to garner large numbers, even if they represent mostly unenlightened people, then we are merely in a race to out-bamboozle the uninformed masses. I had hope we were better than this. I can see why this may be seem compulsory in a democracy and, in fact, may be democracy's chief shortcoming, but one could argue that if the masses do fall for the so-called extremist tactics of the right-wing, then the majority prevails, and, consequently, so be it. If they are unable to see the tactic for what it is, us calling it a name like "extremist" is uneffective, as I think we have seen. What we need to do is take the strongest arguments from our opponents, give them their fair due (i.e. no straw person stuff) and then set out to demolish them point for point. We must give them the benefit of the doubt by assuming they truly want what's best for the country. We just want to point out that their logic is incorrect. We should be after the truth, not just winning.

    Posted by Michael Synowicz, 09/11/2010 2:49pm (5 years ago)

  • The point of this article was to try to elevate the critical importance of the coming elections and address some political/ideological issues that are preventing a full moblization against right.

    Next week I will have a column on the symbolic meaning of the election of Barak Obama and the growth of racism and an article on 10/2.

    If you read the pw online, you are already acquainted with how we view the significance of this broad people's action.

    On a practical level, members of the CPUSA are doing everything we can to bring people to Washington for the rally. Only a few days ago in a meeting I heard of a number of concrete initiatives that we, along with others, are taking to fill buses for oct 2.

    So far things are looking good, although everyone will have to keep their feet to the pedal to insure a huge turnout.

    Hopefully, critics of the CPUSA will spend more time in the coming weeks mobilizing people for Washington and less time rhetorically upbraiding us.

    We'll see; in terms of the latter for full disclosure there track record isn't stellar.

    See you all in Washington!

    Posted by sam webb, 09/11/2010 2:39pm (5 years ago)

  • one thing you can say about kenny and cloonan is that they are consistent: they have been singing the same tune since 2000. The only problem is that nobody, including the main organizations of the working class and people, are listening to them.

    But who knows - maybe there is some satisfaction doing one's politics in an echo chamber on the margins of political life.

    I wish Kenny (a psuedonym), who repeatedly says that we should build independence and a real party of struggle would tell us what he is doing to build up the revolutionary consciousness of the working class and its organization in day to day life.

    He can speak for himself, but one comment: it's not easy to do if you are underground.

    Posted by sam webb, 09/11/2010 9:56am (5 years ago)

  • Finance capital rules both major parties and adjusts donations tactically. See the Center for Responsive Politics ("Wall Street Aggressively Filling Republican Coffers After Many Months Supporting Democrats" By Dave Levinthal on September 7, 2010 )

    Finance capital adjusted its campaign donations in summer 2008 when it became convinced the Democrats would win. It's doing so now. It evidently thinks the Republicans will win in November.

    US Communists should be talking up, advocating, and building the political independence of our class and its main organizations, not choosing from monopoly's menu of "Evil" and "Somewhat Less Evil."

    A good way to start to do that is to demonstrate in Washington DC on Oct. 2, demanding what working people need, not setling for whatever this Administration is willing to give us.

    Posted by Thomas Kenny, 09/11/2010 8:42am (5 years ago)

  • Did you hear the press conference of President Obama? Corporations clearly control both political parties.He championed a permanent tax cut for business promulgated by the McCain campaign coupled to a renunciation of MLK/LBJ poverty programs and vision. Is it any wonder that the masses are distracted by lady gaga,reality tv and pro football when there are two republican parties and the communist party only has the energy to bash sarah and rush to their ever shrinking base of obamaphiles? Read the WSWS analysis of the President Obama press conference. WE NEED MARXIST ANALYSIS not dem cheerleading.

    Posted by ed cloonan, 09/11/2010 5:24am (5 years ago)

  • The danger the Tea Partiers pose is real, but the President and his party share a large part of the blame for the Tea Partiers success, with his support of the Wall Street bailout and failure to champion progressive issues such as real Wall Street reform, single-payer or at least a public option as much as he should have.

    Posted by , 09/11/2010 12:01am (5 years ago)

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