Last week, alert readers recall, we talked about the “silencing of the liberal American Jew,” the narrowing of the range of acceptable discussion in much of organized Jewish life. I hope you’ve all come prepared to continue our discussion this week. Pencils out, please.
Our primary theme wasn’t the suppression of unpopular minority voices, however sexy that topic sounds. Rather, we studied the suppression of the majority by a determined minority. Suppressing a minority isn’t pretty, but suppressing the majority is really ugly. In the case of Jewish community, we argued, its “main representative bodies” no longer speak out as they once did on the moral issues of social and economic justice that most Jews care about. They’re stymied by vehement conservative minorities.
This week, we’ll broaden our lens a bit and look at wider national trends that mirror the Jewish dilemma. Here the issue isn’t suppression of a majority, but something different: congressional gridlock and government paralysis, leaving us with a growing sense of helplessness in the face of fiscal and other crises.
The cause, it’s usually said, is polarization of the parties and the electorate. But even-handedness is misleading. Despite all the media chatter about the two parties moving toward their extremes, there’s mounting evidence that the radicalization is mostly on one side — the right.
We’re talking about hard, statistical evidence. It’s compiled by conservative as well as liberal researchers. For example, the center-right National Journal reported in its annual congressional Vote Ratings for 2011, released in February 2012, that for “the second year in a row, but only the third time in the 30 years that National Journal has published these ratings, no Senate Democrat compiled a voting record to the right of any Senate Republican, and no Republican came down on the left of any Senate Democrat.” The report didn’t pin blame, but the numbers spoke for themselves. Each lawmaker’s voting record for the year was computed on a 100-point conservative-liberal scale. The meeting point was around 52 on the conservative side. That is, the most conservative Democrats were more conservative than liberal, and the most liberal Republicans were to the right of that. Picturing the ratings like a football field, the midpoint was on the Republicans’ 48 yard line. The numbers for 2010 were even starker: Four Democrats were solidly conservative and the most liberal Republicans didn’t get past their own 40 yard line. The midpoint was on the Republicans’ 41 yard line.
Similar results appear in a study of voters released June 4 by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. The study tracked voters’ changing responses over a quarter-century on 48 different values questions, from abortion to the environment to government help for the needy. The report says self-described Democrats have moved to the left and Republicans have moved to the right. Looking at the numbers, though, the Democrats’ shifts are generally slight and occasionally rightward, while the Republicans’ overall shift is astronomical and uniformly rightward.
The most talked-about new political book this spring is the just released “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism.” Co-written by political scholars Norman Ornstein of the staunchly conservative American Enterprise Institute and Thomas Mann of the liberal Brookings Institution, it is essentially a searing indictment of the Republican Party’s drift to the extreme right, which it claims is the main cause of our national dilemma.