In the wake of Tuesday's primary results, and a slew of political developments in the past few days (I do, as well, plan to talk about, um, ...Rand Paul? Is that his name?... in a separate post), I've been struck by the resumption of a familiar aspect of the recent deep partisan divides: that there are multiple conversations happening, each largely ignoring the others.
As a lefty, I notice it especially in the right's determined silence, and fleeing from, most discussions of Rand Paul, and more specifically, refusing to touch the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I mean - Christ - even Jeff Sessions (that's Jefferson Beauregard Sessions) came out to say the Civil Rights Act was basically a good thing and Paul was wrong about the regulation of private business. And that's more than most people on the right did.
The relative silence on Paul and his fairly pure approach to libertarian ideals (I even slogged my way through multiple pages of the usually nutty Redstate bloggers to be sure), seems to be a tacit admission that initial cheering for Paul's solidifying Tea Party power was premature. Cooler heads that long predicted Paul was a disaster waiting to happen turned out - sooner than I think anyone expected - to be more than a little accurate.
Still the buyer's remorse over Paul is kind of stunning - rarely, especially in these post healthcare reform anger months, have conservatives been forced to do their familiar "if we don't mention it, it's like it doesn't exist" approach to issues that don't cut their way. That the Royal Radio Threesome - Beck, Hannity and of course Limbaugh (I listened to hours of him to be sure, too - what I do for you, dear reader) - went dead silent on Paul and Civil Rights was as much an admission as any that for once they couldn't "blame the media" or "the gotcha left" for what were, essentially, Paul's own words being brought back to make the case for him.
That didn't stop Sarah Palin, natch, from trotting out the tired tropes anyway, proof too that she's still smarting from that one-two takedown by Katie Couric and Charlie Gibson. We'll see if right wing media types glom onto her logic - I doubt it - but even Palin more or less acknowledged the reality that Paul's Civil Rights position is untenable for the Republican Party to have any longterm hope of bridging its appeal gap.
But the non-discussion, while revealing, is also problematic: no one needs a fresh discussion of the need for Civil Rights than the kind of Rand Paul supporters who would, knowing this, still pick him. Indeed the immolation of Paul that came from many of the familiar lefty voices on these issues was a revival of the unproductive discussion we never quite have on race: venture a difficult or unpopular minority view on issues related to race... and first you will be labeled ("Rand Paul's a racist!") and separated form the herd. And then you, and your topic, will be shunned.
Meanwhile, though, while the right ignores Paul, I've been struck by the topic that will not die on Fox News and right wing radio in its place: the Arizona Immigration Bill and trying to tar all lefty opposition to as insufficiently serious about immigration enforcement.
That topic got fresh meat this week when President Calderon of Mexico mentioned his opposition to the law when speaking to the Joint Session of Congress convened for him, and got a standing ovation from Democrats (and let's admit... this standing O thing in Congress by one side only is beyond tacky, just now. What, were spitballs too juvenile?). And if, to me, all the dudgeon about Calderon's criticism being "unprecedented" seemed awfully, well, convenient, the reality is still that conservatives are exploiting the Arizona controversy for much the same reason liberals glommed onto Rand Paul: it does seem to poll well for one side.
After an initial burst of outrage over Arizona's law, and some fairly absurd promises to "take up immigration" in short order in Congress (not before the elections, and probably not after, either)... many lefties have pretty much shut up about it, stunned to silence, more than a bit, by the fact that large majorities of Americans don't see the law as bad, or immigration enforcement as the injustice that some liberals do (and here, too, is an uncomfortable reality: the silent, tacit admission by some lefties that they do, too, see illegal or undocumented immigration as a valid concern).
As I've said before, it's depressing that the Arizona debate has revived the "immigration debate" in essentially the same place we left it when the Bush proposals on Immigration Reform failed: a false choice debate between enforcement of controls at the southern border versus some sort of blanket "amnesty" solution for those already here. That debate, which sacrifices reasonable concerns on all sides (safety and economic concerns of many as well as reasonable requests for many immigrant families to address the practical reality of their being already assimilated into American life), ignores the real source of our problems: the incredibly byzantine, overly complex, and poorly managed processes of USCIS which hinder sensible attempts to have a comprehensible, fair process for all concerned.
By ceding this conversation to the right - and disastrously, letting them set the terms for discussing it - we're still moving nowhere, fast, on changing immigration policies. And as long the left continues to fear immigration debates the way the right is fleeing from arguments about race... real progress is impossible.
But perhaps the most nowhere conversation we're not having is any kind of comprehensible, sensible discussion of the Gulf oil spill; that, too became clear as the Rand Paul debacle unfolded, when Paul used an "accidents will happen" argument to dismiss moves by the Obama Administration to "hold BP accountable" for the spill. Aside from the fairly absurd suggestion that, if anything, the Obama folks are riding BP too hard, Paul turned out to be way off message from the GOP establishment, which has been mostly trying to tie the spill up as "Obama's Katrina" - responding too late, and too cautiously.
Nobody, really, wants to talk about the spill; at least not in the candid ways that admit the the bind we're in is probably worse than anyone wants to face, and can't be solved while we remain dependent, fundamentally, on oil products. The easy discussions - where we rage about the environmental messes, express familiar anti-corporate noises, blame lackluster government responses - are all over the pkace; but more than one (and nearly all) of these discussions have ended, I've nticed about the same: it's all bad, we have no idea how bad it is or how to fix it... so, let's move on.
It's easy to say, for instance, that further deep water drilling, certainly any new drilling, is unlikely to happen; but the reality is sometime soon, with the promise of "new technology" or promises to do better... drilling and further exploration will resume. We'll comfort ourselves that there's a commission, or renewed regulation or additional enforcement, that will keep oil companies in line. But those are fig leaf answers as long as we don't, in any serious way, fundamentally change a culture dependent on draining as much oil as possible from anywhere we can find it, as fast as we can. It's the need for the resource that drives our choices... and that, like many uncomfortable, unsustainable choices we've made, is one we can't seem to face in a national dialogue.
All these things some of us, or all of us, would just as soon avoid (oh yeah, how about some diverting debates about Dick Blumenthal and Vietnam... anyone? anyone?) talking about are not necessarily topics for extended, productive discussions: immigration on the old terms is pointless, racial issues are uncomfortable, environmental issues often unsolvable. But it would help if, on some national level, we did have a coherent, longer discussion... on something. Okay, not American Idol (especially in this lackluster season) or any of those Real Housewives programs... what were we talking about, again?