Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Even though more people think Republicans are not doing enough to reach bipartisan consensus, 54 percent believe the Democratic party should take the first step toward developing bipartisan solutions to the country's problems, the survey says. Forty-two percent say the GOP should take that first step.

--report on a new CNN poll

Did you follow that? On the question of who's causing gridlock, more people say the GOP is at fault (67%) than say the White House is (52%) -- and yet the Democrats are the ones who are supposed to do something about it.

I wonder if this way of thinking arises out of some version of the "just world" fallacy. You know about that -- it's the tendency to believe that, if something horrible happens to someone, that person must have done something to deserve it. Rape victims and abused spouses struggle to have their problems taken seriously because people can't get past the tendency to think there must be a reason why they've been attacked.

Obviously the rage against Barack Obama, Democrats, and liberals on the part of the right hasn't been like real interpersonal violence. But I wonder if the public is having an analogous reaction: Boy, those people are really beating up on the Dems. The Dems must really have done something to deserve it.

I thought about this as I was reading Driftglass's post describing a Chicago public television story on the tea party movement. Once again, as in the case of the NPR and New Yorker stories on the movement that I've written about, we were told that in the Chicago report that the teabaggers are just nice, normal folks who've been spurred to action by genuine affronts to their sense of justice. (In fact, all the interviewed teabaggers are right-wing operatives, a fact the story never seems to disclose.)

It's as the "liberal media" can't bear to imagine that Democrats are being attacked unfairly, by vicious partisans who simply want to make the country ungovernable in the midst of multiple crises because they think that's the most effective route to power. That would mean the teabaggers are attacking Democrats unfairly. That notion, apparently, is intolerable. Therefore, the "liberal" journalists seem determined to demonstrate that Democrats really have been, um, "asking for it."

Maybe if Democrats fought back passionately, in a partisan way (by which I mean in a way that says they truly believe their ideas are right), this wouldn't happen -- both sides would be attacking, both sides would be targeted by attacks, and we'd assess the competing claims. But the president, as we're reminded in today's New York Times, certainly doesn't operate that way:

... Mr. Obama has not been the sort to bludgeon his party into following his lead or to intimidate reluctant legislators....

"I wouldn't mind seeing a little more toughness here or there," said Representative Louise M. Slaughter, a New York Democrat, who contends that if Mr. Obama had pushed the Senate harder last year, the bill would have been law by now.

Like many Democrats in Congress, she praises Mr. Obama as intellectually gifted and a generous listener. But "if you are asking me if he dominates the room," she said, "I would have to say no."

... "He always starts off with a policy argument, making the intellectual case for his point of view," [Senator Evan] Bayh said. "Secondarily to that, there might be a discussion of some of the political ramifications, but he always starts off with, 'Look, this is why I think this is right for the country, and I respect your point of view, I know where you are coming from, but here's why I think we need to do it this way. Can you help me?'" ...

I'd also point out (as Aimai did yesterday) the complete lack of outrage by Obama and other prominent Democrats in reaction to the attack on the IRS office in Austin. Joe Stack may not have been a teabagger, a Republican, or even a full-bore right-winger, but he's been embraced by the right -- for instance, by GOP congressman Steve King, who

told a crowd at CPAC on Saturday that he could "empathize" with the suicide bomber who last week attacked an IRS office in Austin, and encouraged his listeners to "implode" other IRS offices, according to a witness.

If you fail to fight back against this kind of outrageous talk, the public must be forgiven for assuming that the rhetoric is reasonable, as was the act it defends -- that maybe the IRS agents, and the government they represent, really were "asking for it."

(Driftglass link via Rumproast; Steve King link via Steve Benen.)

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