Ted Frier

Ted Frier
April 02
Ted Frier is an author and former political reporter turned speechwriter who at one time served as communications director for the Massachusetts Republican Party, helping Bill Weld become the first Bay State Republican in a generation to be elected Governor. He was Chief Speechwriter for Republican Governor Paul Cellucci and Lt. Governor Jane Swift. Ted is also the author of the hardly-read 1992 history "Time for a Change: The Return of the Republican Party in Massachusetts." So, why the current hostility to the Republican Party and what passes for conservatism today? The Republican Party was once a national governing party that looked out for the interests of the nation as a whole. Now it is the wholly-owned subsidiary of self interest. Conservatism once sought national unity to promote social peace and harmony. Now conservatism has devolved into a right wing mutation that uses divide and conquer tactics to promote the solidarity of certain social sub-groups united against the larger society while preserving the privileges of a few.


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MARCH 22, 2012 10:19AM

Mitt Romney and GOP: Wiping the Slate Clean

Rate: 19 Flag

By sheer coincidence, my nine-year-old begged me just the other day to buy him one of those iconic toys from my own childhood, the Etch-A-Sketch, which is manufactured by that equally quirky and iconic toymaker, Ohio Art.

And so, thanks to my son, I am now equipped to pile on like everyone else onto Mitt Romney's PR wingman, Eric Fehrnstrom.

Fehrnstrom, as by now everyone with access to YouTube surely knows, famously said this when asked by CNN's John Fugelsang how Romney intended to pivot from the Republican primary to the general election: "Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It's almost like an Etch-A-Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again."

It was a stunning, perhaps catastrophic, mistake. Rachel Maddow called it the gaffe of what has been a gaffe-prone campaign.  Not only was Fehrnstrom's answer supercilious and snarky. It also fed into one of the central narratives against Romney in this campaign, namely that he is an unprincipled fraud who will do or say anything to be president. And now Romney's top aide has said he agrees.  On the record!

Eric Fehrnstrom is living every press secretary's and publicity agent's worst nightmare. He's not only given his guy's enemies a talking point they can use against him.  He's given them a talking point with props!

I never much cared for the Etch-A-Sketch myself. I quickly tired of the toy once I discovered the best I could do by twisting its two white knobs was to produce a tedious succession of boxes and big city skylines. But somehow I am guessing that between now and next November Ohio Art's signature product will be the toy the political world just can't put down.

As Timothy Noah of New Republic says, Fehrnstrom may have just committed "America's first multi-platform gaffe."

What makes it so new and different, says Noah, "is its extreme ripeness for visual exploitation at the virtual dawn of a new era of social networking on proliferating varieties of gadgets."

Normally when a candidate or top aide commits a gaffe, says Noah, it enters some vast "echo chamber" either of words or images and is quickly forgotten as other words and images overwhelm and take its place.

But Noah says the Etch-A-Sketch gaffe is different. It provides endless possibilities for parody and visual mockery using an image familiar to most Americans to say something about Mitt Romney that has the virtue of being fundamentally true: that he's a fake, a fraud, untrue, what you see today is not what you get tomorrow. And that, says Noah, is a "fatally candid" combination.

As it turns out, I know Eric Fehrnstrom pretty well from our days in the Massachusetts State House Press Gallery when Eric covered politics for the right-leaning Boston Herald when Mike Dukakis was Governor.  

Our paths crossed again when Eric was State Treasurer Joe Malone's press guy in the early 1990s and again when Fehrnstrom ran the communications shop for then-Governor Romney.

I'm also guessing that despite the sort of grim sympathy a herd of wildebeest has for one of its own being devoured by a pride of lions, Massachusetts own political herd is no doubt watching the hard-ball playing Fehrnstrom being devoured today and is thinking to itself: This couldn't be happening to a nicer wise-guy.

But Fehrnstrom is simply too experienced a media pro for me to believe his epic gaffe occurred just because he'd let down his guard while savoring the satisfaction of another primary win. Something this big and stupid has to be cultural.

And in reaching for the Etch-a-Sketch metaphor, Fehrnstrom was only doing instinctively what the Republican Party has been doing deliberately ever since George W. Bush ended his disastrous eight-year reign, which is to wipe the historical slate clean and forget all about it so that everything that's gone wrong before or since can be blamed on Barack Obama.

Fehrnstrom's cynical response on CNN is nothing more than of a piece with a Republican presidential campaign and a Republican Party that is steeped in cynicism and betrays a contempt for facts, a contempt for truth, a contempt for principled consistency, a contempt for American traditions and institutions and a P.T. Barnum-like contempt for the average American voter that you'd expect from a party that thinks it's found the secret to creating its own reality.

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I think what he meant to say--and in a botched manner said it--is the same thing Repub and Dem press aides have said for 50 years: the primaries are a family squabble, at the end of which the family unites behind the winner, wipes the slate clean, and goes united into the general election. He should have just said that, rather than try to be cute. Keep it simple stupid.
I was surprised to hear Foot-in-Mouth Fit Mitt saying Bush saved the economy, not President Obama. I guess nobody has pointed out that a large majority of Americans still blame Bush for wrecking the economy. The smart thing is to pretend Bush never existed.
The Etch-A-Sketch comment was stupid on steroids, even if Mitt didn't have a flip-flop perception problem.
Inventing new or "alternate" realities is a GOP habit/necessity. Run up massive debt and crash the economy? Invent the Tea Party as cover so the Party can condemn the debt they created. Too many people don't pay enough attention to know when to laugh and the brainwashed Party loyalist voters either don't know better or quietly approve the lying as a means to an end.

The GOP is a joke, but a successful joke, considering they can switch masks and largely get away with it.
Baltimore, I disagree. Flip flops matter. That was proven with John Kerry's campaign. And as to the the relative importance of Eric Fehrnstrom, ever since James Carville, candidates' handlers have become stars in their own rights. What they say matters. And Romney's "denial" only stated that the issues would be the same in the general election. He did not say that his stance on the issues would be the same. That matters.

In a perfect world of course we should confine our politics to the real issues confronting us, which you name. But have you also noticed that Republican demands for focusing on the really important issues confronting the country is nothing more than a cynical ruse used by conservatives to cover for the fact that when it comes to focusing on important issues, conservatives don't. Why waste your time criticizing us for the 1,000 bills we've filed to deny women contraceptives or to humiliate them whenever they legally seek an abortion, say conservatives, when there are so many other important issues out there, like jobs. I didn't catch the Republican congresswoman's name, but last night when Chris Matthews pressed her on why Republicans were wasting so much time on culture war issues like the Blunt amendment on birth control when there were important issues like jobs to take care of, the congresswoman berated Matthews for wasting time asking her why Republicans were wasting time on culture war issues when there were so many more important problems to worry about. It is all a cynical game.
One thing that many people may not have noticed yet is the fact that the Etch-A-Sketch's that Santorum and Gingrich were carrying around is clearly smaller than the ones I used as a kid.

They downsized it just like they do to everything to increase profit and reduce quality.

Also in addition to reporting that they exported the jobs due in part to a Bain Capital connection to Toys R Us this connection also applies to Legos and Lincoln Logs which has been repackaged since I was a kid as well. Apparently they make them in kits with limited options and they're part of a marketing and design campaign to increase profits by forcing the consumers to buy more to do a variety of things and restrict their choices.

This is just the beginning; I could go on with more details and sources about what makes Bain Capital and Mitt Romney child predators in more ways than one.

I don't mean that as joke they really are. a couple source that back this up is "Born to Buy" by Juliet Schor and "Consuming Kids" by Susan Linn.

It's complicated and it may take time to understand bu8t I have no doubt that the evidence is there; and this doesn't even include the child abuse involved in sweat shop labor in the sweat shops they're exported to.

I meant no offense and I take you on your word that using culture war issues to distract from real concerns. I apologize for not knowing your past position on these issues. I was merely reacting to your comment here and noting that cynical conservatives have used objections that sound very much like yours to deflect criticisms of their own extreme culture war agenda.
Yes! I was thinking about the "reality based community" remark as a common element of this political etch-a-sketch culture.

The sad truth is that given the tight coordination between the RNC and Roger Ailes, and the legions of voters trained to wear "Don't believe the liberal media" buttons, they may nearly be in a position to pull it off. They really can tell people what to think.

Have you noticed the increasing number of books coming out now about the differences in the way that liberals and conservatives think? Seemed to have started with George Lakoff and his Elephant in the Room but now John Dean is in on the act and there is a new book out by Chris Moody now about the "Republican Mind" or something like that that looks interesting. The Boston Globe had another article this Sunday on the different ways that our unconscious values affect political calculations in ways we are obviously unaware off. When I combine the basic irrationality implicit in these works with the efforts of Catholic bishops here and Orthodox rabbis in Israel to push modern democracies back into traditionalist theocracy-based societies I wonder sometimes if the whole world isn't losing its mind.
Ted wrote: I wonder sometimes if the whole world isn't losing its mind.

I sometimes wonder why the whole world is not wondering if the whole world isn’t losing its mind!

We have gone nuts as a species.

Maybe I should stop wonder about this and begin wondering if this is natures way of correcting the human being imbalance screwing with the Earth.

Anyway...as to the Fehrnstrom gaffe specifically: I just cannot quiet the feeling that there is another shoe gonna drop...that this is just part of a very clever master plan. This just seems like much too big a gaffe for a pro to make.
Gee, a minor dust-up!
The fact is Romney will have more trouble returning to the middle after having an extended trip through the right-wing "who's more conservative" IQ limbo performance. The Etch-A-Sketch line may stick or not, but the erasable Romney thing will find purchase. When a plastic, anal-retentive personality is as off-putting as his, it's not hard to give people more reasons for not liking him. They're already looking for more reasons to support that sentiment.

But the right-wing will fall in line. It'll be humorous watching them making weakly qualified flips and flops of their own. There is a commercial aspect that will provide some level of pseudo-regret among the rightie punditocracy, just to keep the customers satisfied that they're truly conservatives who are committed (and should be).
The nice thing about the Republican propaganda system is they can always find a way to excite the terminally excitable wingers, so it's not as tragic a situation as it should be. Most of that operates sub-rosa, so it's not like most voters will know about the discombobulated babbling of the Right. They won't be praising Mitt so much as illuminating Obama's Marxist Socialist Muslim Foreign-Born Collusion with the Communist Radical Islamic Caliphate. Once you've hooked them in, it doesn't much matter what gets said. They'll believe anything.

It's the handful of indies and a large segment of women voters that will be difficult-to-impossible to convince.
The funny thing is the Right will blame Mitt when he loses, but will be the ones responsible for his loss. If he didn't have to jump into their red meat grinder, his odds of winning would have been far better.
Mitt Romney is a Titanic candidate.
I have noticed this book trend. Another instance is Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind. I haven't read it yet, but I've read a number of articles by him. He's been discussed in the Times recently and added his own Campaign Stops post a few days back. He's got a popular TED video as well.

I don't agree with all of his political conclusions or prescriptions, but I think his psychological framework for morality is instructive and useful in trying to understand the differences between liberals and conservatives.

It does seem like there is a loss of direction and a tendency to leave good governance and responsibility behind in favor of sticking to "principles" of ideological correctness. But I find (and I don't think this is just partisan blindness) that the right wing is particularly out of touch with reality. As far as I can tell Obama and a good portion of Congressional Democrats have shown a spirit of compromise on budgetary matters. The Republicans on the other hand are under the sway of Norquist style absolute inflexibility on taxes, Christian anti-gay anti-sex moral purity, while playing a dangerous political game by turning a blind eye to, or even abetting, the outrageous conspiracy theories that are standing in for the barely disguised racial hatred of a black President among certain southern contingents. The Republicans have turned politics into adherence to "principles", which is indistinguishable from absolute adherence to religious doctrine. In my view they've lost the ability to see that compromising to achieve some policy goals is reasonable governing behavior. They've settled into a take-no-prisoners all-or-nothing holy war style of politics that is all about manipulating messages and trying to gain power.

There are three main kinds of political derangement prevalent.
1. There is the right wing political religion which believes Obama is a socialist who wants to destroy America, cooperate with terrorist Muslims who want American Sharia, and he's anti-religion and anti-Israel and weak on defense, apologizes for America and is a wild fiscally irresponsible spender who wants to gut the defense department. All of these things are false, and some rise to the level of whacko paranoid delusions.

2. Then there is the left wing claim that Obama is a closet Republican, and that there is no daylight between the Democrats and Republicans, which is derived from their dissatisfaction in Obama's failure to entirely dismantle the Bush anti-terror military apparatus and PATRIOT act compromises on Constitutional rights, and the lack of prosecution and jail sentences for Wall Street bankers who destroyed the economy while pocketing untold billions. I admit the left has a strong case for dissatisfaction, but I disagree with the motives they attribute to Obama, or their claims that he has political consensus to enact their desired program. They want more than is practical in the current political environment. They are looking at the glass as half empty rather than pragmatically as half full. The glass will be empty if they abstain and let Republicans take over.

3. Then there is the centrist independent illusion that both sides are equivalently partisan and uncooperative and uncompromising, the false assumption our problem is that the Democrats are radical leftists and the Republicans are radical reactionaries and there are no reasonable parties willing to govern from the center. This is completely wrong. The Democrats are the center, and the Republicans have been playing a dishonest game trying to portray Democrats as radical leftists, and they've sold the right and a good portion of independent centrists on that lie. The Tea Party's Obama Derangement Syndrome has pulled the Republicans into the deep end of immoderate reactionary madness. Compared to that the Democrats may seem like leftists, but all you have to do is look at that hatred and hurt feelings of betrayal shown by the left toward our President to discount that theory in an instant.

So independents who are buying this left-right dichotomy stuff are helping Republicans to shift the Overton window way to the right in favor of a religious fundamentalist revival, support for Greater Israel rather than a two state solution, a radical dismantling of government protections for the environment and labor and consumers and health and education, and a libertarian non-statist paradise protected by God's benevolence and full of blond pink-scrubbed Christian families in their Sunday best and SUV navigating their way through free market Jesus' freedom world. But I fear it will quickly be revealed to be a corporate fascist nightmare that serves the interests of the plutocracy and locks in and amplifies the growing inequality and will create a massive peasant slave labor class in America if they succeed. If they have millions of uneducated Americans willing to toil all day for $30 they won't need to outsource to India or China anymore. Welcome to right-to-work America. All the praying in the world won't fix it either. That's whats at stake.
I don't think that this nickname will stick. Personally, I prefer the nickname for Mitt that I created; his full name is Mittwit "Mr. 1% Multi-Millionaire Mormon" Romney, and being a flip-flopper is the least of his problems. The fact that Romney speaks French fluently should be held against him, and I can't wait for the media to put Mormonism under the microscope.
Paul Haider, Chicago
Congrats on the EP and rated another fine piece. Also let me say that no one can top what old new lefty said.
My favorite nickname is Mitt Mormoney
Yes, I keep asking myself, what do they truly believe in? Where are some core values? Are they the new breed of sociopaths? And a chill runs up my spine when I think that it is possible that they will win. Not likely. Because the American people are not as dumb as they think. But fascism could gain ascendancy in the USA, as it did in germany in the 30s, IF, IF, the American people don't recognize the danger and vote their consciences. As I write this, I think of my namesake, Anne Frank...
Jeff J. and I disagree on many things…but I just wanted to compliment him on his post here. Amazing how fragmented we have become and how differently we look at one thing (Obama in this instance) when viewing from our different perspectives.

In another thread, I recently said something along the lines of: Half the people in our country are DEMANDING things that the other half are stating flatly that they will die rather than accept.

There is no path to compromise through that forest.

And Patrick Frank...I respectfully suggest you may be very wrong when you say, ...when I think that it is possible that they will win. Not likely. Because the American people are not as dumb as they think.

Not that the American people are dumb...but even reasonably intelligent people can be fooled...and way too many are to suppose Obama will surely win in November.
A gaffe with props alright. "Etch-a-Sketch" is the sort of expression a clever opponent of Romney's would have loved to have come up with in a debate. Having it delivered to them by Romney's campaign is remarkable. It has a strong possibility of sticking around as a defining symbol of Romney, though he will just tell everyone to move along, nothing to see here, as one of your commenters has already done.

By the way, William Saletan in Slate has a longer article on Fehrnstrom. Here's the link:


Impressive comment. You are obviously very interested in organizing ideas so as to better understand how people think, as am I. You may therefore enjoy a post by someone who is a regular reader here, Ben Sen, who reviews a Tony Judt book, "Thinking in the 20th Century."

I've attached my comment that gives you a sense of what is being discussed. I also have a post around here somewhere on the Political Spectrum and how it disguises extremism that you may enjoy.

One of the best cartographers of American political thinking I've ever encountered is professor Ted Lowi of Cornell, whose book The End of the Republican Era was written before Newt Gingrich and the Southern Reactionaries took power. There has always been civil war in the GOP between "establishment" republicans and "movement conservatives," a conflict that really took off after WWII, first with McCarthyism and then white backlash against civil rights. And Lowi does a good job predicting the GOP's mutation from the other side of the liberal two-party coin into a genuine party of the theocratic, neo-fascist Right.

That is Lowi's key takeaway: The Republican and Democratic parties until very recently were both "liberal" parties for exactly the reasons you cite -- both were committed more to process (democracy, science, logic, reason, rule of law) in their political thinking than to faith, ideology and group solidarity as ways of attaining political truth.

Carrying that idea of a "liberal" two party system forward to Ben Sen's post, both parties were therefore committed to "politics" as a way of resolving differences rather than what we have today in America, which is brute force and war by other means -- including the victory at all costs, take no prisoners style of politics employed by the Right in which lying and deception are just politics as usual and amoral Etch a Sketch politicians like Romney do whatever it takes to win power.

The loss of the GOP as the Democratic Party's right-leaning "liberal" governing partner is also what we mean when we say that "moderates" (like me) are now RINO's no longer welcome in the Republican Party. Geoffrey Kabaservice's new book Rule and Ruin, which I have quoted several times on this site, details this civil war very well an explains why the right wing now controls the GOP.

Here is my comment on Ben's post. "Liberalism" and "Politics," both pretty much the same thing:

"The choice we face in the next generation is not capitalism vs. communism, or the end of history vs. the return of history, but the politics of social cohesion based around collective purposes versus the erosion of society based on the politics of fear."

That's a pretty good summary of what I think the central question is in our politics as well. That is why I've said there are really two parties in America: the Community-building Party and the Leave me Alone Party. It makes no sense in the sweep of history for the Tea Party to call Obama a socialist. But it does make sense in the context of right wing ideology in which any sort of collective action or interaction between groups who are different from one another is suspect.

You are right to focus on the issue of "politics" and the need for liberals to recover politics from ideological politics, which is no politics at all but just a brute display of force. While it is tempting to fight right wing ideological fire with left wing ideological fire you can't really be a liberal unless you embrace politics. And as unsexy as that may be, politics is a process not a fixed destination. I will never forget what professor Theodore Lowi taught me: Conservatism can only govern a society that is already homogeneous. Liberalism works in complex modern societies because it creates the values and processes that lets diverse communities to overcome and even embrace its differences to live together in peace. Conservatism is divisive by nature. But if liberalism implies politics, and politics presumes compromise as difficult as that may be with people as intractable as those on the right, then liberals cannot be true to themselves if they become ideologues like their right wing opponents.
Amen. That last sentence is so right on. Like most of us, I've had the urge to utter the clever bon mot that's been rolling around in my mind, even though I knew it was not the right time, place or audience, so on that level, I sympathize with Fehrnstrom. Seems like he fell prey to "I'm so clever" syndrome. It's ironic that he so perfectly encapsulated the public concern about his boss while doing so.
Anyone who attempts to parlay this statement of the obvious (as Good Scot has accurately described it) into some gaffe majeure will suffer a significant backfire when the elemental common sense of the American public kicks in.

At least Romney's changes in position take place over time and after an opportunity to consider something other than the latest poll. The spectacle of Obama twisting and turning over the latest oil polls is truly depressing and fools no one.

The positions that Gingrich and Santorum have taken show that they are a sort of desperate egomaniac that has no place in the White House which, after the past three years, is tired of the breed.
Thanks Laura,

Eric is a cynical wise-guy as a lot of former reporters are and I think that got him into trouble this time because at the end of the day you have to really care about the institutions and traditions you're trying to take over. Eric probably did think nothing Romney has said or done the past six months really matters. None of it is "operative" as Nixon's press guy once said.

Frankly, I think winning is all that matters to him. And I think the same may be true with Romney, unfortunately. It is hard to know how much of Romney's plastic hollowness is due to himself or the dysfunctional party he is trying to win over. Probably both.

But if Eric had a sentimental gene and cared more about ideas and America's institutions than he seems to, he might have had that inner voice instinctively telling him its a very bad idea to compare a political campaign for the most important office in the land (and one that is entirely about "character" as Andrew Sheppard said) to some sales job you can tailor or reboot to fit multiple audiences.

I know lots of amoral consultants just like Eric who seem to treat politics as nothing more than a business or a game.
What is very, very instructive about what passes for a Republican Party these days is that, had they nominated Romney for 08, instead of a Mummy & a Dummy, he most likely would have won with what at the time looked like sterling economic credentials. But they didn't. Because he's a Mormon. Also amazing they now are embracing a Mormon and 2 Catholics (both died in the wool) over a Christian, er, Muslim, er, follower of the Hawaiian Pantheon. Telling.

The Etch-a-Sketch metaphor will live forever because it is so realistically true. Sometimes you just nail it, and Fehrnstrom was swinging at at a ten penny nail with a sledgehammer. He, and Mittens, will never, ever get over it, and they shouldn't be able to.

The apologists are just like Eric and Willard, they never, ever interact with anyone outside their own group, and don't care to. What happens is quite simple- they talk this way among each other so often they get used to it, then, are actually and completely surprised and blown away when they discover how offensive they are to others. This is the insularity of 1% culture, and the previous examples are too numerous to list though they run from Roman Emperors to Marie Antoinette, ad nauseum. Herstory won't be kind, but it will be set in stone, this is a group which will go down in the record books as being the ultimate hypocrites in a thousand ways, notably being against allowing sick people to see doctors while supposedly being for Jesus Christ and his teachings. Wow, lau-lau, they'll be remembered as who they really are- some Frankenstein combination of as, mentioned here, P.T. Barnum/Bull Conner-George Wallace/W.R. Hearst/Dick Nixon/Herbert Hoover sans any actual Barnum-Hoover-Hearst actual accomplishments, and notable for being lying forging frauders a la Barnum/Wallace/Nixon ... such a legacy!!!

Go Mittens! The next OS open call can be an Etch-a-Sketch art contest: who can use the device to draw the best picture of Mitt cruising the freezing Canadian highway system with a Mitt-erable Seamus the Setter alternately heaving and soiling himself on the roof.

Imua (Onward)
You're right. And this guy will learn, I am sure, and painfully, what awkward honesty brings in political campaigns.
Honestly? I think it's water off a ducks back. The pros all know it's part of the game, and the rank and file don't care in the end who the GOP candidate is. They rarely do in the Presidential, but now that Obama is the target their candidate could be deaf, dumb, or blind, or just plain stupid like Bush. None of it matters. What does is whether "liberals" understand the threat, get off their high horse, and come out and vote. I still don't see much evidence, except for the recent deployment of feminists.
Santorum to the rescue! Before the Etch silliness had a chance to get any real traction, Rick steals the show with his suicidal suggestion that Obama and Romney are functionally equivalent. Thank you, Jesus!
It's shocking when a political operative speaks the truth, and the fact that it is says nothing good about politics.
As I think about it, I feel strongly the best news that has happened in months is the deployment of feminists, and I suspect the battle over contraception and health care is not an accident and was choreographed from the White House.

And while, as usual, Obama retreated a bit he still made his intentions clear. If he wins this election, and a plurality, the message is that his second term will not be like the first--regardless of the campaign rhetoric that is about to assault our ears.

The feminists who supported Hillary in the last election may hopefully be starting to see they have no other choice and sitting it out is only asking for more backsliding. The battle is certainly not won.

Check out Rick Pearlstein in Rolling Stone. He is a man after your own heart warning against liberal complacency. In a piece "Why are conservatives crazy after all these years," here is the money quote:

Here's the problem: To this way of thinking, the triumph of enlightenment liberalism is always inevitable. Now it’s demographics that's the inexorable force (I debunk that argument here); in the 1960s, it was the certainty that Americans would never consent to give up their big-government perks. And yet, somehow, alongside the ordinary tacking of American political preference between Democrats and Republicans, conservatism continues to thrive. That's because power begets power: Democrats can be counted on to compromise with conservative nuttiness, and the media can be counted on to normalize it. And it's because there will always be millions of Americans who are terrified of social progress and of dispossession from whatever slight purchase on psychological security they've been able to maintain in a frightening world. And because there will always be powerful economic actors for whom exploiting such fear, uncertainty and doubt pays (and pays, and pays).

Conservatism is not getting crazier, and it's not going away, either. It's just getting more powerful. That's a fact that a reality-based liberal just has to accept – and, from it, draw strength for the fight.
Yes, and as Judt points out the roots of conservatism is fear.

And if I was going to take an even deeper cut, I would say the loss of faith that resulted from the 20th century has also made a difference on a cultural level. With nothing to believe in any longer than the front pages, and the fear mongers, the "consensus" in this country is apocalyptic--whether from the left or the right--they agree on that.

The question is whether the middle will hold, or at least, take a stand. I honestly believe this next election is the watershed. More and more of my generation will disappear after it, and I think the new generation is even more skeptical. This is actually typical. Democracies often loss supporters as they age. The Greeks were even aware of it and there is little reason to think this nation is any different. The disgruntled have no idea what they are asking for. See my discussion with Kathy K. on my blog. I'll see if I can get her back, but it's a perfect example.
I read Ben's post, and commented there on discipline in politics, and how patient consistency and long term vision are key to success in democracy.
I'm wondering whether this "gaffe" wasn't intentional. This might be a way to reassure the voters in the sane middle that Romney isn't really buying the BS that has been hurled in the primaries. The problem is that the sane people in the middle-and the Obama campaign-will remember Romney's positions during the primaries and the fact that he didn't stand up to the nutty fringe.

I encourage Romney to come clean. Please see my latest post-an open letter to the Govenor.
Clearly I am missing something.

Comments that the american people are not dumb and other wistfully hopeful notions seem to ignore the fact that the american people elected GW Bush TWICE.