The Left: What Needs to Change


Among  the things that need changing in American politics is for liberals to start playing offense instead of letting the right wing set the terms and conditions of debate in this country. Meanwhile, lacking sane candidates and sane policies to run with in 2012, the right wing is throwing every social issue in its arsenal against the wall to see what, if anything, might stick. Well, of course they insist that President Obama’s contraception policy is a liberal assault on religious freedom! If the debate is about contraception (or your personal right to privacy), they lose. If it is about shrinking government small enough to fit in a woman’s vagina, they lose even bigger. Ask Virginia Republican lawmaker Dave Albo, who told Statehouse colleagues how their bill mandating transvaginal ultrasounds for women seeking abortions kept him from getting laid.

Rick Perlstein of Rolling Stone  dives into that topic in “Why Obama Needs to Change to Win.” While Andrew Sullivan and others thought the administration had “‘punked’ the GOP on contraception,” Perlstein believes that by being accommodating Obama legitimized his critics’ views when he should have repudiated them. He should have set boundaries, as I noted last week, and again failed to do so. House and Senate Republicans followed up by doubling down on efforts to further restrict access to contraception.

According to the Daily Beast , Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) offered an amendment to the Affordable Care Act that would allow any  employer “not just religiously affiliated ones, the right to refuse coverage of any services, treatments, or medications included in a health-care mandate” if it is, in the amendment’s words, “contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the sponsor, issuer, or other entity offering the plan.” KBR, Inc. or Bank of America, for instance — “persons” whose religious beliefs and moral convictions must be federally protected against yours. (Where are their  birth certificates?)

As Perlstein said, give an inch and conservatives will take a mile.

Without explicitly naming Overton’s Window, Perlstein describes how the right wing remolds reality to its needs (emphasis mine):

They plant their flag in an uncompromising position, and wait for the world to come around – which, quite often, it eventually does. This is because in a media environment based on the ideology of “balance,” in which anything one of the parties insists upon must be given equal weight to whatever the other party says back, the party that plants its ideological flag further from the center makes the center move . And that is how America changes. You set the stage for future  changes by shifting the rhetoric of the present.

This pattern is widely misunderstood by analysts. Republicans striking conservative positions are interpreted as “pleasing the base.” But this isn’t the main thing they’re trying to do. Much more so, such moves are aimed at shifting the way even those who don’t pay attention to politics — actually, especially those who don’t pay attention to politics: “independents,” “swing voters,” etc. — understand the world.

What the latest right-wing hissy fit succeeded in doing was rendering contraception used by 99% of women in this country suddenly and permanently “controversial.” Perlstein continues (again, emphasis mine),

This is precisely what has happened with abortion. American views on whether it should be illegal have held steady for 35 years – but that hasn’t kept states from passing a record number of abortion restrictions this year – 100, where the previous record was 35. Manifestly, Republicans have become more blatantly anti-abortion, and yet somehow, despite their defiance of public opinion, they still get elected. Such strategies rely  on their presumption that their Democratic opponents won’t plant an ideological flag but instead, like good liberals who don’t know to take their own side in an argument, will seek accommodation.

Liberals are forever bringing butter knives to these gun fights and a preference for avoiding conflict rather than standing their ground and making a “full-throated case” for their own positions. Five words describe that strategy.

Americans love fighters. And underdogs. It’s why “Rocky” beat out “All the President’s Men,” “Network” and “Taxi Driver” for Best Picture in 1977. Liberals had better learn to stand and punch back if they expect to hear cheers instead of jeers.


  1. shadmarsh says:


  2. Davyne Dial says:

    We need to start calling these tactics agains women what it is…… assault, bludgeoning, brutality. And those that condone or do not stand up to it, are complicit.

    Stop the war on women.

  3. Amen.
    BTW: Amy Meier on the LSOA last night makes some good points about Progressives being victimized by their own empathy and an assumption of equality in the face of the conservative emphasis on control and authority. Smart as a whip.
    archive: http://www.ashevillefm.org/little-shop-of-attitude-lsoa

  4. TJ says:


    I would use a stronger word: rape.

    I can’t even imagine what alternate universe they imagine this acceptable. Well, actually, I guess I can. But, I kind of hoped that George Orwell

  5. TJ says:


    I would use a stronger word: rape.

    I can’t even imagine what alternate universe they imagine this acceptable. Well, actually, I guess I can. But, I kind of hoped that George Orwell wrote fiction.

    How about a penile implant to show men what their sperm does to create the “need” for an ultrasound?

    My problem is I’ve aligned myself witb a nonviolent protest movement.

  6. Diogenes says:

    Dunno. There may be some wisdom in letting the current GOP candidates continue to hang themselves one-by-one by making the kind of reckless anti-populist statements they’ve done since they started the clowns-out-of-the-car debate schedule. Could anyone contrive an opposing message as good as a gov’t mandated transvaginal probe? Or ‘a coupla Cadillacs’ –one for every mansion Romney owns?

    Obama has never had a preemptive strike, or combative style. He doesn’t lead the fight, he hangs back.

    I don’t think he’s about to change. Why should he? He doesn’t care if the liberals & progressives feel good. He’s said as much, through his closest advisors.

    His best re-election strategy right now is to lay low and let the Republicans continue to shoot themselves in the foot one -by -one.

    Then, at the brokered convention, when Jeb Bush steps forward….

  7. TJ says:


    The only problem with that is tbat there are many people who would see that move as a victory for the “Right.”

    It’s a frightening prospect.

  8. Davyne Dial says:

    I’m starting to see commentary on the national level, that they’ve gone too far. Here’s one of the best recent observations.


  9. mat catastrophe says:

    They could also hold more beer parties.

  10. Davyne Dial says:

    Huckabee on the GOP’s grossly negative primary season, aka Silly Season.

  11. TJ says:

    “legislative rape?”

    They have done that in so many other ways, i.e., seizing land not their own, forcing all kinds of insane legislation, and expecting us to just “lay down and ‘take it,'” so, I guess forcing themselves on women is not much of a stretch.

  12. Davyne Dial says:

    Seriously, I hesitate to use the word “rape.”

    What I am comfortable with is bashing, badgering, battering, mental and psychological abuse in the harshest measure.

  13. Aaron Sarver says:

    Not sure the GOP is actually shifting attitudes on issues. Is their opposition to gay marriage going to prevent it from being widely accepted in the future? I don’t think it will.

    Interesting read to add to this discussion –


  14. Tom Sullivan says:

    There’s a quote for you, Chait vis a vis the GOP:

    A strategy of managing slow decay is unpleasant, and history is replete with instances of leaders who persuaded themselves of the opposite of the obvious conclusion. Rather than adjust themselves to their slowly weakening position, they chose instead to stage a decisive confrontation. If the terms of the fight grow more unfavorable with every passing year, well, all the more reason to have the fight sooner. This was the thought process of the antebellum southern states, sizing up the growing population and industrial might of the North. It was the thinking of the leaders of Austria-Hungary, watching their empire deteriorate and deciding they needed a decisive war with Serbia to save themselves.

    At varying levels of conscious and subconscious thought, this is also the reasoning that has driven Republicans in the Obama era. Surveying the landscape, they have concluded that they must strike quickly and decisively at the opposition before all hope is lost.

  15. Davyne Dial says:

    @ Tom….where will they all go after the implosion???

    Personally I think they’ve painted themselves into a corner. But I don’t see any of them willing or able to see their own misguided, obtuse mindset.

  16. Tom Sullivan says:

    Don’t count your implosions before they go “whump.”