The political fringe

The views that our media depict as "centrist" and "serious" are ones that are rejected by increasingly large majorities of Americans.

By Glenn Greenwald

Published July 12, 2007 1:49PM (EDT)

(updated below)

The gap between (a) the core beliefs of the right-wing movement and their media allies and (b) the vast majority of American citizens is one that is vast and growing, and it now extends to virtually every issue of political significance. In virtually every area, the defining beliefs of the "conservative" movement (which are frequently synonymous with the conventional wisdom of our Beltway media) are now confined to a small fringe of the American citizenry.

The most recent polling data on the country's key political issues, including new data in the last week, conclusively demonstrates just how large the gap is between right-wing beliefs and the heart of the American public. Just compare the core views of "conservatives" to what the vast majority of Americans believe (in each case, the conservative view is bolded):

* Congress should not interfere with the President's prosecution of the Iraq war.

From Rasmussen Reports, July 2:

Have the Democrats in Congress done too much to change President Bush's policies in Iraq, not enough to change President Bush's policies in Iraq, or about the right amount?

Too much - 26%

Not enough - 53%

About right - 13%

* Mandatory time deadlines for withdrawal from Iraq are dangerous and misguided.

From the latest USA Today/Gallup Poll, July 6-8:

Do you favor or oppose removing all U.S. troops from Iraq by April 1st of next year, except for a limited number that would be involved in counter-terrorism efforts?

Favor - 71%

Oppose - 26%

* The "surge" in Iraq is working.

From Rasmussen Reports yesterday:

Was the troop surge a success or failure?

Failure - 43%

Success - 19%

Too early to tell - 24%

* The Democratic Congress is excessively investigating the Bush administration, which will harm Democrats politically.

From Rasmussen Reports this morning:

Have there been too many investigations of the White House, not enough investigations, or about the right amount of investigations?

Too many - 32%

Not enough - 39%

About right - 19%

* The U.S. attorney scandal is just an attempt by Democrats to harass the White House for political gain.

From Rasmussen Reports this morning:

Is Congress really seeking information about the firing of U.S. attorneys, or is Congress simply seeking to harass the White House?

Seeking information - 43%

Harass the White House - 32%

* Lewis Libby should have been pardoned.

From the latest USA Today/Gallup Poll, July 6-8:

From what you have heard or read, do you think President Bush was right to commute Libby's sentence, do you think he should have gone further and granted him a full pardon, or do you think he should not have intervened at all on Libby's behalf?

Right to commute sentence - 13%

Should have granted full pardon - 6%

Should not have intervened at all - 66%

No opinion - 15%.

* Invading Iraq was the right thing to do.

From <the latest USA Today/Gallup Poll, July 6-8:

In view of the developments since we first sent our troops to Iraq, do you think the United States made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq, or not?

Made a mistake - 62%

Did not make a mistake - 36%

Unsure - 2%

On every key political issue of the past several months, the defining view of the "conservative" movement and the conventional wisdom of the establishment press is one that is shared by a small minority of Americans -- in each case within the range of 19-36%, but typically hovering around 25-30%, representing the same small band of hard-core Bush followers and True Believers who provide the President with his 25-30% floor for approval ratings. Conversely, these defining right-wing views are overwhelmingly rejected by Americans in virtually every area.

And yet these are the views that receive far more representation than any other in our mainstream press and are treated as though they are the serious, centrist views. The disconnect between the political discussion conducted by our media and popular American public opinion is hard to overstate.

On the most critical political issues we face -- and especially on the issue of whether our most powerful political leaders ought to be investigated and held accountable for what they have done, typically in secret -- the beliefs that are repeatedly held up as the "centrist" positions are, in fact, radical and fringe. And what are depicted as the radical and fringe views are held by large pluralities, usually large majorities, of Americans.

Furthermore, the conservative movement for which our media stars have been trained to have such deep respect and which has politically dominated our country for the last decade (at least) has become a radical movement which centrally espouses views that are repugnant to most Americans. One would think that would be worth pointing out now and then. Even though our media stars virtually never do, Americans have come to realize this on their own.

UPDATE: These specific issue findings also highlight one of the most misused and exploited facts waved around by our pundits -- namely, that the approval ratings for Congress are as low as, if not lower than, the ratings for the President. That fact is used to imply that Bush's unprecedented unpopularity is merely a symptom of unfocused discontent with politics generally and/or that the Democratic Congress is unpopular because it is perceived as being too extreme, overzealous and radical in its opposition to the President.

In fact, the Democratic Congress is stuck at this depth of unpopularity for one principal reason: namely, because (as the polling data above demonstrates) it has done too little to oppose the Bush administration, both on Iraq and in exercising its oversight responsibilities. The low approval ratings for the Congress are due to dissatisfaction among Democrats that Congress has been too passive, not due to dissatisfaction among independents and Republicans that it has been too aggressive.

Just review President Bush's approval ratings by party breakdown from the latest CBS News poll:

"Do you approve or disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling his job as president?"


Approve - 66%

Disapprove - 23%

Unsure - 11%

Even as unpopular as he is, three times more Republicans still approve of his performance as disapprove. Compare that with the approval ratings from Democrats with regard to the Democratic Congress, from the same poll:

Do you approve or disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job?


Approve - 37%

Disapprove - 49%

Unsure - 14%

Plainly, the reason the approval ratings for the Democratic Congress are so low is because the rank-and-file of their own party disapproves of the job they are doing, by an unusually wide margin. It is Democratic discontent, grounded in perceptions of excessive passivity, which is responsible for the low esteem in which the Congress is held.

Thus, even the causes and meaning of the low approval rating for Congress are wildly misrepresented by our media's conventional wisdom. It is due primarily to the failure of Congress to restrict, challenge, investigate and limit the actions of the Bush administration, i.e., in its failure to go far enough in providing a desperately needed counterweight to the fringe movement and the corrupt government that has been ruling our country for the last six years.

Glenn Greenwald

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