The Left: What Needs to ChangeBy
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.