Last week, Scott Gillespie, the Star Tribune’s editor … of the editorial page, which is I guess kind of like being chief custodial engineer of the custodians’ locker room … wrote a commentary comparing and contrasting events and Governors in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Maybe you read it … or maybe, you didn’t. Well, trust me, it was a minor classic of its kind. It was a paean to that largely mythical middle where people of deep convictions and good intentions only register tempered disapproval of the loudness and messiness of people … who aren’t too pleased with the status quo.
Here’s its essence:
The gubernatorial battle cries in these two neighboring Midwestern states could hardly be more different. And yet, in another sense, they’re similar. Both leaders are steadfastly appeasing one end of the political spectrum while infuriating the other.
More moderate Minnesotans and Wisconsinites might be wondering where it will all end. The Minnesotans have more reason to be hopeful.
The direct suggestion that a call for “taxing the rich” is out there at “one end” of the spectrum where extreme ideas foment is kind of amazing … if you stop and think about it. “Tax the rich” after all is merely a call for readjusting progressive taxation. A readjustment in the midst of an already deep and long-running recession. Moreover it comes with a renewed awareness among a growing chunk of the middle class of the dramatic shift of wealth from the them upwards to the richest of the very rich over the last generation. Gillespie paints this concept as “appeasing” to “one end” of the political spectrum and just as radical a notion as union-busting and the unilateral abrogation of lawful contracts is on the other end of the dial.
So okay, you shrug. What else do you expect, really? This is the kind of heavily rationalized thinking we’ve come to expect from the so-called “mainstream media”, certainly since newsrooms began being treated like just another division of some manufacturing firm.
Gillespie’s grasp of a sea change in public thinking on what is truly extreme and intolerable really doesn’t matter much. But it’s another powerful example of how badly commercial news organizations like the Strib are trailing the curve of events in Wisconsin and now elsewhere. (It also explains, I believe, why the Strib, which has deep conflicts of interest over a new Vikings stadium, will never recognize or take seriously resistance to taxpayer support for the thing.)
The thing is, if Gillespie really wanted to talk “extremism”, he could have wandered into a discussion comparing and contrasting his two opposing examples. There’s great grist and juice there.
The “extremism” of the Tea Party movement, embodied now by Scott Walker in Wisconsin, is kind of known entity. What exactly they would do with power if they got it was always the mystery. Now we know. but as I said in my last post, based on their campaign of scattershot, inchoate rage and anger, there was no way anyone could explain in detail what Tea Party-logic would mean … in practice. Therefore, union-busting came as a big surprise. Likewise the vigorous and focused reaction to it. (And, you gotta love Walker trying to backfill the idea that he ever mentioned collective bargaining on the campaign trail.)
An irony here is how often the Tea Party, which I suspect Gillespie would call “extreme” or at “one end”, is portrayed as a grassroots movement swelling up spontaneously all across the country. (Coordination and exploitation of all that rage by powerful, monied benefactors isn’t mentioned nearly so often.) By contrast, the “tax the rich” notion is left mostly unexamined, like someone’s feral stepchild. To the Gillespies and most other news organizations, enterprises committed to their “mainstream-ness”, re-dressing revenue imbalance by restoring the tax brackets of the Eighties is an idea with no “grassroots” foundations, no legitimate constituency and therefore something best quarantined off with the loonies yabbering about birth certificates, “death panels”, “socialized medicine” and keeping your government hands off my Medicare.
What if anything Gillespie thinks of polls that routinely show the public — which includes the mainstream, not just the “ends” — consistently supporting higher tax brackets for the wealthy, I don’t know. But if you need a refresher here’s this and this and this … and oh hell, this, too.
Point being, the belief that the wealthy should pay more is about as mainstream, or to use Gillespie’s preferred nomenclature, as “moderate”, as it gets. Name me three other ideas, besides motherhood, being nice to animals and hating the Yankees that regularly gets a 60%-70% consensus in this country?
The trouble is that mainstream news organization opinion leaders like Gillespie, other big city papers, and any of the broadcast news outlets are very much cogs in the “stewardship” fraternity of large-scale American business. Each plays a vital role in sustaining the other. And the conventional wisdom of that fraternity is that any plan to redress flaws in the rate of taxation that negatively impacts them is radical, extreme and out there on “one end” of the spectrum.
One other facet of Gillespie/the Strib’s blindered view is that you can also bet they will be among the last to recognize that what we’re watching in Wisconsin is a tide of “extremism” more politically potent than the Tea Party we have all followed so avidly. Why? Because with “one end” having showed and played its hand the other “end”, which is actually the middle that tolerated this nonsense in the abstract, has been slapped awake, and rapidly educated to what is actually going on. That “end” of the spectrum is now on high alert for everything else the “grassroots” Tea Party crowd may try to pull.
So yeah, extremism is on the rise in America. Except that this latest swelling tide is made up of bona fide, out there fringe radicals like teachers and nurses and cops and construction workers.