The Rise of Extremism

In the wake of Mitt Romney’s selection of Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his running mate in the upcoming presidential election, I was browsing through some newspapers and blogs, taking in the news and views on offer. Almost all of it was exactly what you would expect, everyone was spouting the clichés and platitudes that went with their political positions, whether as professional pols, pundits, consultants, or whatever.

Suddenly, however, a blast of fresh air: a blog called Right Condition had a different take. Its name tells you its game, but this blog was not fulsomely pro-Ryan, spelling out why Ryan was such an asset to the Romney ticket. On the contrary, it went for Ryan with no holds barred:

Paul Ryan, to be sure, is an impressive politician.  He has a perfect pedigree, is good looking and probably considered to be the premier fiscal wonk of the Republican party.  His budget is considered by many to be the boldest and most courageous attempt at tackling America’s most pressing issues, entitlements.  Of course there is always more than the shiny facade pimped by party loyalists and for those that have bothered to investigate Ryan’s record the picture becomes a bit murkier.

For starters there is the very pressing and disturbing votes of the Bush legacy.  Specifically Ryan’s support of:  TARP, Medicare Part D and No Child Left Behind (NCLB).  All three are wonderful examples of how the Republican party only fights for fiscal sanity when they are a minority party, the second they become the majority they expand Government programs at an alarming rate…

Nuff said. For Mr Right Condition, Ryan is not the right-wing bogeyman portrayed by the Democrats and their supporters. He certainly isn’t the right-wing hero portrayed by the Republicans, either. He is actually a wolf in sheep’s clothing, pretending to be a staunch, unbending adherent of conservative principles – but in reality, when push comes to shove, he will bend and even snap. He is, it is implied, of the George W Bush ilk, and we all know what Dubya did when the time came to stand firm on his right-wing, conservative principles…

Obviously, Right Condition is not the mainstream. Indeed, as its author notes about himself, it is very far from that, declaring itself ‘fiscally conservative and socially liberal’. But that’s not the point. What R.C. illustrates very clearly is first, that in the immediate context of the election, Romney’s Ryan gambit will be a flop, since it will lose him many votes in the centre and among senior citizens, whilst failing to solidify the Republican party behind his candidacy.

But far more important than that, or than Romney’s looming defeat to an incumbent president who is highly unpopular, widely considered to have failed – and hence eminently beatable, it highlights the deep and intensifying sickness in American politics. To an increasing degree, the agenda and the tone are being set by the extremists on both sides and any attempt by moderates to pacify or appease extremists is doomed from the outset, because extremists are by definition unappeasable and will always demand more.

Paul Ryan, therefore, is not good enough for the true believers making the running on the Republican right. For them, Ryan is a wimp or, worse, a traitor to the cause. Salvation – defined as minimal spending on public goods and (of course) social welfare, lower taxes and as little government as possible – will not be achieved through co-opting him onto the ticket. On the contrary, it just proves that Romney is untrustworthy, a closet liberal, a promoter of spending on ‘socialised medicine’, etc.

If it were only the Republican party that had gone mad and was determined to sacrifice electability in the pursuit of ideological purity, then that would be its problem, not that of America as a whole and hence not that of the wider world. However, the Democrats are in just as bad shape, in the sense that they, too, are under the influence of the extremist wing of their party and it is the extremists whose agenda, and particularly their vetoes, are shaping policy.

The net result is that not only is the election campaign failing to push the candidates to present realistic solutions to the country’s deepening socio-economic crisis, it is making it more likely that even after the election, no solutions will be developed, adopted and implemented – because the political system whose function it is to do those things has been hijacked by extremists from both sides. The only point of agreement between the opposing extremes is that the only way forward is their way, thereby ensuring that paralysis reigns.

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