CUTTING JONATHAN ALTER A BREAK
Digby, DougJ, and Atrios are disgusted by this Jonathan Alter post, but I'm going to defend it:
Oh, Ralph. If Ralph Nader hadn't gotten under Lewis Powell's skin, we wouldn't be having these arguments over whether the individual mandate in Obamacare is unconstitutional.
And "stand your ground" laws -- like the one at issue in the Trayvon Martin case -- wouldn't stand a chance in the rest of the country....
Yes, like Edward Lorenz's "butterfly effect" (where the course of a tornado can be traced all the way back to the flapping of a butterfly's wings thousands of miles away), it's all connected....
The butterfly flapping was Powell's seminal Aug. 23, 1971, "confidential memorandum" to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce titled "Attack on American Free Enterprise System."
Powell, two months before he was appointed to the Supreme Court, argued that 1960s-style attacks on free enterprise from college campuses, the pulpit, the news media, liberal politicians and consumer advocates like Nader (whom he singled out as “the single most effective antagonist of American business”) were "quite new in the history of America." ...
Powell's recommendation of a "more aggressive attitude" toward generating conservative books, articles, institutes and television programs bore fruit beyond his wildest dreams....
After that memo, Alter reminds us, we got the Heritage Foundation and a million other right-wing think tanks, we got the Federalist Society, we got billionaires investing heavily in ideological warfare, and we got ALEC, a legislation-generating factory that no longer limits itself to writing and promoting bills that are good for business -- for instance, it's the source of Florida's "stand your ground" law.
And Alter's saying that's all Nader's fault -- right? So he's a wanker, as Atrios says -- right?
I think what Alter is really saying -- not as effectively as he could -- is just that this is where the modern right-wing backlash politics started. I'm cutting Alter a break and assuming he doesn't literally mean to blame Nader for the good work he did then.
But even if you think I'm being too charitable to Alter, the column is still a useful reminder that the right is never fully defeated, and that our side should never let its guard down.
There was a point in the 1970s when Nixon was gone, the last copters had left Saigon, the CIA was on the defensive, and it was imagined that conservatism was on its last legs. That's when all this was just getting up to speed, and look where we are now. There was a similar moment after November 4, 2008, as Van Jones notes in his New York Times Magazine interview:
We thought we had everything that we needed when we had the White House -- 60 votes in the Senate and Pelosi, the best speaker ever running the House. It turns out that's only one-third of what we needed. We had no counter for either Fox or the Tea Party.
We also forget that it's extraordinarily difficult to sell a lot of our ideas to heartlanders because the right is uaually so fast off the mark. That's because the right has a forty-year head start in employing large numbers of people whose sole task is to make right-wing ideas seem like Mom and apple pie, while making our ideas seem like toxic waste.
Whatever Alter is trying to say, just remember that the right has a well-established, well-funded, high-functioning, forty-year-old Ministry of Information, and we're still way behind in that arms race. Even when it looks as if we've won, we have to keep fighting.
And if the Republicans flame out so badly in November that Democrats not only hold the White House and Senate but win back the House, that Ministry of Information will still be there.