Warnings sound as hope turns to hate in US
Warnings sound as hope turns to hate in US
For the first time today, senior Republican Party officials will meet leaders of the anti-establishment Tea Party movement, which has galvanised opposition to President Barack Obama and recently held a convention addressed by the 2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate, Sarah Palin.
But former Republican political advisor John Avlon is warning that mainstream politicians need to confront, not court, political extremists and says it would be naive to assume that there is no racial element to this.
Mr Avlon is a former speechwriter for the Republican presidential hopeful, Rudolph Giuliani.
He has just written a book called Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America.
He told The World Today that while the Tea Party movement is not made up entirely of political extremists, the Republican Party needs to be careful that it is not getting itself into “a Faustian bargain”.
“Extremes are always their own side’s worst enemy,” he said.
“The Republican Party is playing a bit of a dangerous game, it seems to me, because they are trying to benefit from all this hyper-partisan anger against the administration.
“But I don’t think they fully appreciate perhaps the forces that are being unleashed.”
‘HOPE TURNED TO HATE’
Mr Avlon warns that politics in the US is in danger of being hijacked by extremists on both sides.
He says that while a lunatic fringe has always existed in US politics, 2009 will prove to be the year that “hope turned to hate” in the country.
“The difference is that now I think the wingnuts, as I call them, are more powerful for I think three different reasons. First of all, the two parties are more polarised than ever before and that has pushed power from the centre to the margins,” he said.
“Second, we have seen the rise of partisan media in the United States. Not just newspapers and magazines, but major television news shows which are run by opinion anchors whose supporters believe that they are truth tellers, and that everyone is a kind of lackey for mainstream media.
“The third factor is the internet and the internet has become, in many cases, an incubator for extremism.
“Those three dynamics have made the wingnuts, or the lunatic fringe, more powerful than I believe ever before in American politics.”
Mr Avlon says Democrats in the Congress are partly to blame because they “misread Barack Obama’s election as an ideological mandate and tried to move the legislative agenda far further to the left than the American people are comfortable with.”
The chasm between left and right was further widened by Republican tactics, which Mr Avlon says sought to delegitimise the President from day one.
WHITE MINORITY POLITICS
But it is not just ideology that divides the two parties. Mr Avlon warns there is a racial element to this backlash, something he calls “the birth of white minority politics”.
“Race has always been a fault line in American politics but what I believe is at work here is something more subtle than simple racism, and it is what I call the birth of white minority politics,” he said.
“I think there is an anxiety underneath this that President Obama represents the rise of a multicultural elite and the rise of a non-white majority in America.
“If you talk to many of these protestors in the field, one of the dates that keeps coming up is 2050, which is the date the US census estimates that there will be a non-white majority in the United States.”
Clearly the bitterness of recent political debate is driving some traditional political players to retreat from politics.
Yesterday, the Democrat Party was shocked by the resignation of the moderate Democrat from Indiana, Evan Bayh, who said he was sick of the partisanship in Washington.
Mr Avlon says Americans need to be jolted out of their complacency about their democracy.
He warns that if they do not confront the extremism now, it could lead to political violence.
“What happens is you have a lot of people using hate as a cheap and easy recruiting tool,” he said.
“You have got political figures who are saying that everyone in Washington disrespects the constitution daily, and what is troubling is that some of these people know that they are exaggerating.
“They understand that they are stirring the crazy pot in order for their own ends, their own political or personal gain.
“So it is important, it seems to me, to straighten our civic backbones and call it out, to take on the extremes on both sides.
“We have seen in the United States political violence, and we are always one bad day away from being 1968.
“We have been mercifully free of political violence for a long, long time.
“I would like to keep it that way.