Sunday, April 19, 2009

David Axelrod--Wrong on Tea Parties, OK Otherwise

Former Obama campaign manager and now "Senior White House adviser" David Axelrod really blew it when he referred to the right-wing tea party protests as "unhealthy."

Axelrod was asked on CBS's "Face the Nation" about the "spreading and very public disaffection" with the president's fiscal policies seen at the "Tea Party" rallies around the country last week.

"I think any time you have severe economic conditions there is always an element of disaffection that can mutate into something that's unhealthy," Axelrod said.

Axelrod appeared to backtrack when pressed on whether the movement is unhealthy. "Well, this is a country where we value our liberties and our ability to express ourselves, and so far these are expressions," he said.

Backtrack indeed! Unfortunately, David Axelrod doesn't really get a chance to backtrack from this kind of statement. President Obama's political opposition is eager to portray him as a closet authoritarian and Axelrod just gave them a couple days worth of headlines that can't be taken back.

David Axelrod is also wrong on the merits. People have a constitutional right to assemble to express their opinions and doing so is also very good for the political health of the country and the Obama administration as well.

One of the underappreciated facts of American political life is the way in which the weakness of the Republican Party is functioning to bring the farther edges of the American right into the political arena. Suddenly liberated from Karl Rove's suffocating embrace, a wide variety of survivalists, secessionists, Ayn Randians, one world conspiracy theorists, and small government purists have been pushing forward into the public light.

And why shouldn't these folks get their moment in the sun?

What the tea parties accomplished was to give a cohesive political focus to a lot of people who would otherwise be very marginalized from American politics.

That's healthy.

I also think the Republican Party leadership is working to see if it can come to an accommodation with these kinds of constituencies. The Republican Party and its Fox News, talk radio, and right blogosphere affiliates seem to be feeling their way toward a political identity that's even more right-wing and less welcoming to independents and moderates than it was during the Bush years. Promoting the tea parties and bringing in all the marginal constituencies was their first big thrust in that direction and it did make at least somewhat of a splash.

Ultimately, that's healthy too. One could argue that it's not a good thing for the Republican Party to move farther to the margins of the right-wing? But the Republican Party wants to become more of a purist party and if they and their affiliates want to mobilize constituencies from the farther right to accomplish that goal, that's their decision. Perhaps Republicans are seeing that moderates and independents just aren't going to accept right-wing points of view anymore and are moving farther right in an effort to regain some kind of momentum.

The political landscape has changed significantly over the last eight years and the Republican Party needs to make a serious adjustment. If their first instinct is to lurch further to the right, I have no problem with them finding out if that works or not.

Given that nothing lasts forever, it's a healthy thing for the Republicans and the various constituencies of the right to be able to experiment with new ideas (or at least new versions of old ideas) and political line-ups.

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