It's easy to make fun of the far right. Their obsession with guns, their desire to push their preachy religiosity on the rest of us, their denial of basic science, their weird focus on women's reproductive systems and their hypocritical self-loathing view of Americans make them easy targets. Facebook is full of memes poking fun at open carry ammosexuals, misspelled signs and all. Indeed, the far right would be funny, if they weren't winning.
The shrill voices of extremism are no longer caricatures operating at the fringes of our political discourse. Rather, they are remarkably effective at shouting down moderation and having an outsize influence at the ballot box, in our legislative process, and even at the courthouse steps.
Take immigration reform, for example. 71% of Americans support comprehensive immigration reform. Yet, the Tea Party, which only 22% of Americans identify with, successfully killed the bipartisan immigration reform bill in the House. Democrat-leaning policies enjoy similar public opinion advantages across a wide range of social and economic issues, yet it is the vocal minority of the far right that is dictating actual policy outcomes. And so, here we are in 2014 where it is easier to get a gun than a contraceptive.
How did we get to this point where it isn't majority, rather its volume that determines outcomes?
Barack Obama's election was a watershed moment for the far right. It galvanized and unified their opposition with such speed and efficacy, that by the 2010 midterms, democrats were "shellacked" in Obama's own words. The upstart Tea Party subsumed virtually the entire GOP into their ideological rigidity so quickly, in fact, that by 2012, respected congressional journalists Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein had this to say:
The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.
And, they have only gained steam. Just this summer, they ousted Majority Leader Eric Cantor just because he had the temerity avert financial catastrophe by not forcing a default on our standing debts. Wins like Hobby Lobby further energize the uber-conservative base by validating - to them - that their strategy is working and they are getting the America they want.
Meanwhile, centrist and left-leaning voters and policy makers are still in some stage of shell shock, seemingly content either to mock the other side, or still clinging to the notion that we'll eventually win because our ideas are better. Name one democratic lawmaker who has made any kind of "heroic" stand in favor of gun control immigration reform, action on climate change, or any cause that enjoys broad voter support. You can't. The far right have their Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. Progressive voters, instead, have lawmakers who shy away from the very policies they have passed, regardless of their popularity with the voters. How many democratic senatorial candidates this November are running away from Obamacare?
Worse still, Obama won the Presidency twice with the support of millions of young, moderate, women and minority voters for whom President Obama meant setting America on a course for the future. In other words, once he won, they felt their work was done. Six years later, with much of that future unrealized, those same voters are increasingly disenfranchised and disengaged while the opposition is energized with each victory.
How else can it be that the least popular Congress in our history, and the GOP's unprecedented obstructionism, is being rewarded with a more than 50% chance of regaining the Senate this November?
We can blame wealthy and manipulative special interests, big oil and the gun lobby, talk radio and the internet, but the much more sobering reality is this: right now, the far right seem to have a greater will to win. They are using our system of government to further their agenda, howsoever ludicrous we might think it is.
The progress we want is still out there to be had. We just have to want it badly enough. We can't sit smugly because our ideas are better. Our ideas are ONLY better if they are enacted. Let's not laugh at the opposition; let's be awakened instead. Let's jolt into action, and recapture the baton of American leadership.
Addressing climate change, reforming education, controlling gun violence, ensuring social freedoms, keeping church and state separate, investing in science and infrastructure and making college more affordable are all common sense national priorities that can secure our continued leadership and economic might in an energized world.
How much do we really want these things? November is just 3.5 months away. We'll soon find out.