All you really need to know about the state of American politics today is that President Obama has been pilloried by Republicans for the past four years as a wild-eyed radical because he is a staunch defender of the status quo.
In a sane world such continuity would mark Barack Obama as a "conservative." And indeed, when the political scientists at VoteView dug into the history and tallied up the score Barack Obama rated as "the most moderate Democratic president since the end of World War II," while George W. Bush came out as "most conservative."
As Obama's place in history testifies, what's changed over the last 30 years has not been the behavior of Democrats or even the pedigree of their ideas but rather the lens through which we now grade our political leaders.
Weighed according to the metrics of the documented history Americans have actually lived, President Obama is exactly what the good folks at VoteView say he is: a thoroughly conventional, mainstream, even conservative Democrat.
Viewed through the prism of a radical right wing Republican Party that has never made its peace with the New Deal, nor with settled American law and practice over the past 50, 70, even 100 years, President Obama becomes some scary Euro-socialist intent on preserving a centuries-old status quo that conservatives despise.
New York Times conservative David Brooks perfectly illustrates the intellectual muddle now so prevalent on the Right.
In a recent column, Brooks perpetuates the right wing pretense that the conservative ambition to dismantle the social democratic American nation-state in place since the New Deal, constitutes the sensible, centrist position in American politics while those who want to retain Social Security, Medicare, government policing of the financial markets and other worker protections that have existed since at least the 1930s have marooned themselves on some remote far left ideological island.
Brooks, for example, scolds President Obama for the narrowness of his vision these past four years, saying Obama could have been great but instead "championed mostly conventional Democratic policies" and so has limited his support to those within the President's own party.
Sure, Tea Party Republicans are a bunch of knuckle-dragging obstructionists, admits Brooks. But Obama could have "isolated" these right wing Neanderthals if he had only built "a governing center-left majority" by adopting an "unorthodox agenda" that Brooks is sure would have won over pragmatic patriots across the political spectrum who are eager to move beyond partisan gridlock and get things done.
America, says Brooks, is undergoing an economic transition similar to the one that produced the Gilded Age in the 1890s, with its widening inequality, corrupt political system, "unsustainable" welfare state and "dangerous level" of family breakdown and broken social mobility.
And so what Brooks says Obama needed to do to win over the hearts and minds of America's Vital Center was abandon the progressive agenda Democrats used to reform the first Gilded Age, such as the activist state and Keynesian stimulus economics, and embrace instead Austrian-school austerity as a down payment on future prosperity.
It's therefore on closer inspection that one discovers the "unorthodox agenda" Brooks insists would support a new "center left coalition" turns out to be, instead, a reasonable facsimile of the Republican Party's own far right platform, with its calls for "reforms" of the tax code, reductions in "entitlement burdens," and shifts in government resources away from "the affluent elderly (read Social Security cuts) to struggling young families and future growth."
And so, when Brooks talks about Obama "isolating" the anarchists and nihilists in the GOP what he really means is capitulating to them.
Former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum makes such capitulation explicit.
The reason Americans should vote for Mitt Romney, says Frum, is that Congressional Republicans "have shown themselves a destructive and irrational force in American politics" and will only get worse if President Obama is re-elected.
If anything, says Frum, electing Obama to a second term will aggravate and empower these extremists, perhaps even provoke them into causing another impeachment crisis. By electing Romney, says Frum, we can avoid all that and discourage Congressional Republicans "from deliberately pushing the US into recession in 2013."
Holy cats! says Mother Jones' Kevin Drum, that's "the most overt form of the surrendering-to-terrorists argument that I've seen yet." Vote out Obama, Frum seems to be saying, or else "Republicans will go completely ape and destroy the country."
As they have shown again and again, today's Republicans no longer want to govern America so much as radically remake it.
Political "saboteur" is not an imprimatur I would have imputed to Republicans until the summer of 2011 when their hostage-taking of the debt ceiling in stubborn defiance of even the anguished alarms of their own conservative economists not only put the full faith and credit of the United States in Harm's Way but also provoked the first credit downgrade of US debt in the nation's history.
That was the turning point for me. It was then I realized all bets were off as a self-righteous, radical right Republican Party had somehow managed to convince itself that its utopian vision of a "severely conservative" future was worth every sacrifice, however destructive.
The debt-ceiling crisis was also the moment when the scales finally fell from President Obama's eyes, says Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, as Obama "relinquished his last illusions that the current, radical version of the Republican Party could be dealt with as a governing partner."
The needless fight over the debt ceiling was the "breaking point" when Obama finally awoke to the fact that Republicans were willing to endanger even the nation's financial standing to achieve its ideological aim of dismantling the federal government and putting Wall Street oligarchs in charge of America's economic destiny, says Dionne.
As Dionne correctly points out, the blame lies in the rebirth of the old far right from John Birch Society days in the re-packaged form of the so-called "Tea Party movement."
Peal away the colonial costumes and Founding Fathers rhetoric and the Tea Party is nothing more than a "partisan movement seeded by right-wing billionaires, and a cry of anguish from older, middle-class Americans fearful over the speed of social change," says Dionne
The GOP establishment rode the Tea Party's temper tantrum to victory in 2010 but then paid the price as one well-respected Republican veteran after another endured humiliation and defeat at the hands of right wing populists simply because these "establishment" Republicans were patriots who preferred governing responsibly to treating our President as "a subversive figure."
And rather than take ownership for the failures of the George W. Bush presidency, Dionne says Republicans have disowned Bush along with their own culpability for the nation's downturns, preferring instead to take their party's setbacks "as an imperative to radicalize."
The good news, says Dionne, is that Obama, better late than never, now understands he is fighting for his political life and the nation's progressive legacy against a Republican Party "determined to bring the Gilded Age back and undo the achievements of a century."
The re-appearance of issue after issue once thought to be safely settled - from contraception, to abortion, to Social Security, to state-federal relations, even to torture - points to the revolutionary nature of a radical Republican Party that has little tolerance for compromise with Democrats (despite Mitt Romney's 11th hour appeals to bipartisanship) and even less for dissent among its own party members.
Democrats, at least, still believe in democratic politics and so regard trade-offs on such issues as taxes and spending as being a normal part of governing, writes Dionne. Yet, since Republicans only care about dismantling government and the taxes that go with it they are "prepared to accept standoffs -- and crises -- to reach those goals."
The big choice in this election, says Dionne, is between a return of the kind of government more suited to the Gilded Age than the 21st century and the "long consensus" Obama is battling to defend that has guided the American government since the Progressive Era - one "based on the view that ours is a country whose Constitution begins with the word we, not me."
There is another aspect to Republican extremism that Jonathan Chait of New York magazine raises when he says "barely any points of contact remain" between the Republican Party's economic doctrine and the consensus views of economists and other experts.
That is why, for example, Senate Republicans recently forced the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service to pull back a report that demolished supply-side economics by documenting that, since 1945, there has been no correlation between economic growth and tax cuts for the rich.
With their signature economic doctrine now in tatters, Chait argues that Republicans have lost the "capacity to respond to the conditions and problems that actually exist in the world."
While most economists agree monetary easing is needed to "pump liquidity into a shocked market," Republicans have embraced the gold standard and warn of imminent inflation. In the face of a consensus for short-term fiscal stimulus, Republicans "have turned back to ancient Austrian doctrines and urged immediate spending cuts," says Chait. In the face of rising global temperatures and a hardening scientific consensus on the role of carbon emissions, Republicans plan to "dig up and burn every last molecule of coal and oil as rapidly as possible." Confronted by skyrocketing income inequality, Republicans insist on cutting taxes for the rich while slashing Medicaid, food stamps, and children's health insurance.
And Republicans call Obama radical?
What stands out about all these Republican positions is that, looked at another way, they are not about economics at all but rather are the psychological manifestations of white survivalist fears - political positions you'd expect from people who are hunkering down in their bunkers, overcome by their primitive terrors of changing demographics that challenge the historic dominance of white Christians, and white Christian conservatives in particular.
Conservative attempts to paint President Obama as a radical leftist are "a myth," says John Avlon, former speechwriter for Rudy Giuliani. Such character assassination is the result "of hate-fueled hyper-partisan projection" much more than President Obama's actual policies or record.
In a more sane age, says Avlon, the fact that Obama embraced health care ideas proposed by the conservative Heritage Foundation and put in place by a Republican Governor would have been seen as triangulation and bi-partisanship. "But with President Obama, it is reflexively viewed as socialist instead of centrist," says Avlon, who adds: "This says more about Obama's overheated opponents than his presidency."
Yes it does. And by mistaking the most moderate Democratic president of the last 60 years for a radical socialist, today's reactionary Republicans may have finally earned the epithet given to them by the late, great historian Richard Hofstader more than a half-century ago when he called the radical right "pseudo-conservative" in order to set it apart from "the temperate and compromising spirit of true conservatism in the classical sense of the word."
These purveyors of hate on the radical right had little in common with the dominant practical conservatism represented by the Eisenhower Administration, said Hofstader, and "their political reactions express rather a profound if largely unconscious hatred of our society and its ways."
Super-patriots who hate their country and don't even know it. And these are the people so-called Republican moderates like David Brooks and David Frum want to empower? Since when has negotiating with terrorists ever been a winning long-term strategy?