Entry from April 19, 2011

Further to my last post, the view that conservatives and Republicans are out of touch with reality looks like becoming the latest meme of the left about the right — and not only with respect to the Paul Ryan budget plan. Fred Hiatt of The Washington Post puts skepticism about global warming — or, as he would have it, “climate change denialism” — right up there with birtherism and the Ryan plan as evidence that conservatives are strangers in the real world. And, of course, the hit jobs on Congressman Ryan just keep coming — today even The Wall Street Journal has got one from Paul Krugman’s Princeton colleague, Alan Blinder — each of them with some such stipulation as Mr Blinder’s to the effect that poor Mr Ryan has “received vastly too much praise from people who should know better.” If that’s the case, how come everything I read seems to treat the congressman, as Mr Blinder himself does, like a dupe or an idiot?

Another of the left’s media memes in recent weeks, timed to coincide with the sesquicentennial, is that the Civil War is still going on — and that the GOP is the South. Leave it to Andrew Sullivan to put the argument in its most disingenuous form in the London Sunday Times

Wonder why the federal courts — especially the Supreme one — have remained targets of withering conservative scorn since the 1960s? Without the courts, segregation would be alive and well in many parts of the country. . . The red-blue divide is really a new manifestation of the Confederate-Union rift. And in 2008 you could even see the backbone of the old Confederacy, the rural white Appalachian states, swing against the rest of the country and vote in greater numbers for a Republican than ever before. Was it a coincidence that this occurred when a black man was at the top of the ticket? Somehow I doubt it.

Of course “the rural white Appalachian states” — assuming there were any states of which this is an accurate description — have been voting Republican for 45 years, and often in greater numbers than they did in 2008. A couple of them, Virginia and North Carolina, even went for President Obama. But Mr Sullivan was only echoing a theme that had already provided much grist for the mills of MSNBC in recent weeks. As Matt Philbin of the Culture and Media Institute has written:

Led by Chris Matthews, MSNBC’s prime time hosts — Ed Schultz, Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O”Donnell and Keith Olbermann (and Cenk Uygur, Olbermann”s replacement) — are obsessed with drawing modern parallels to the politics that tore the nation apart a century and a half ago. The election of the nation’s first black president, their theme goes, has awakened — especially in the South — the latent Confederate sympathies and secessionist tendencies of conservative America.

As a variation on the theme, and without explicitly calling the opposition to President Obama racist, newly- (and oldly-) elected Governor Jerry Brown of California told a local reporter in Los Angeles that “he believes the country hasn’t been this divided since the Civil War.” In short, he thinks that because California Republicans don’t think much of his proposals to solve the state’s fiscal problems, “the legitimacy of our very democratic institutions are in question.” Meanwhile, Harold Meyerson of the WaPo finds that today’s GOP union busters, like Scott Walker of Wisconsin, are in a straight line of descent from the slave-owners of yesteryear. No surprises there then.

It is, I think, against this background that we should look at Professor Krugman’s proclamation in yesterday’s New York Times, that he has had quite enough of civility. In a column headed “Let’s Not Be Civil,” he lets it be known that, after accusing the Republicans and Sarah Palin in particular of being accessories to murder only three months ago on account of their allegedly uncivil language, his own hatred for Congressman Ryan’s budget plan has led him to abandon even the flimsy pretense that he himself had ever had any time for civility. His particular target in this column was the Heritage Foundation, which supplied Mr Ryan with some of his figures and which thereby demonstrated — you’ll never guess — how out of touch with reality it was. “The point is that the two parties don’t just live in different moral universes, they also live in different intellectual universes,” writes the professor, “with Republicans in particular having a stable of supposed experts who reliably endorse whatever they propose.”

I love that “in particular.” But, leaving aside the merits of this argument, the professor’s own years of shilling for the Democrats shows that this is no less (though it may be more) true of the left. What’s dropping out of our national intellectual life is any reliably neutral or non-partisan forum which, as The New York Times or Princeton University once aspired to do, could evaluate rival proposals for dealing with the budget deficit on the merits and still be respected by both sides in the debate. In other words, the two memes come together here. The pretense that one’s opponents are unacquainted with reality is, like the Civil War analogies and Professor Krugman’s precipitate call for an end to civility, in effect, an acknowledgment of the end of common ground. It’s partisanship all the way from here — which, if not quite tantamount to civil war, is intellectually the next thing to it.

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