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Commenting on the irrational female rage unleashed by the Kavanaugh confirmation circus, Stephen Green remarks: “The Democrats have worked hard to lock down the Trigglypuff vote, but at what cost of even slightly more moderate voters?” But do such voters really exist?
We are more than 25 years into a cycle of increasing polarization that arguably began with Bill Clinton’s election as president. Clinton’s radicalism — remember the so-called “assault weapons” ban? — sparked a backlash that cost Democrats the control of the House that they’d held for 40 years. Everything thereafter increased the partisan divide: The budget standoff that led to the government shutdown, the Lewinsky scandal and the impeachment crisis, the Florida recount in 2000, the Iraq War, the recapture of Congress by Nancy Pelosi’s Democrats, Obama’s election in 2008, the Tea Party movement, on and on.
It is not the case that America’s politics have become more divisive because the Republican Party has moved further right. Liberal pundits, commenting from within their ideological cocoons, habitually apply labels — “far right,” “extremist,” “white nationalist,” etc. — to depict the GOP as beholden to a dangerous fringe, but this is just paranoid propaganda. The typical Republican voter in 2018 is actually no more “extreme” than his father was in 1988. Nor is the policy agenda of the GOP now any more “far right” than it was in the presidency of Ronald Reagan. The cause of the increased partisan divide is not that the Republicans have moved right, but that Democrats have moved left.
What happened, when did it happen and why did it happen?
Go back to George W. Bush’s presidency. In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, there was a surge of patriotic sentiment that was politically beneficial to Republicans, who won the 2002 midterms and were able to re-elect Bush in 2004, when Democrats nominated the anti-war candidate John Kerry. Unfortunately for the GOP, Bush’s premature “Mission Accomplished” claim about Iraq proved false. As the insurgency raged and the death toll among U.S. troops mounted, the anti-war protests on university campuses radicalized many students, who went seeking for a Democrat messiah, and embraced Barack Obama as their savior. The collapse of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign in the Democrat primaries — which I witnessed firsthand on the campaign trail — was culturally significant in ways that were perhaps not entirely apparent at the time.
Who was it that enabled Obama to defeat Hillary? Young people radicalized by the Iraq War, in quite the same way as George McGovern’s 1972 campaign was driven by youth radicalized by Vietnam. While Obama also benefited from increased turnout by black voters, the true audience for his message of “Hope” and “Change” were under-30 voters, including a lot of white college kids who had no other frame of reference for politics and policy than the previous eight years of the Bush administration. Think about it: Those born in 1988 knew nothing of Reagan, and Newt Gingrich’s heyday occurred when they were in first or second grade. They were fourth-graders when the Lewinsky scandal made headlines, and barely into adolescence when 9/11 happened.
Given the notorious inadequacy of K-12 education in America, and the left-wing prejudice of university professors, were these young people ever taught anything about budget deficits or the actuarial problems of federal entitlement programs? Did their teachers ever expose them to any cogent criticisms of ObamaCare? I doubt it. The generation of youth who cast their first presidential vote for Barack Obama in 2008 were not motivated by any substantial knowledge of the public policy issues at stake. Rather, they were inspired by a sentimental attraction to an idea — Obama as the progressive Messiah who would save them from those evil Republicans, the party of war, greed, racism and homophobia.