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Can Democrats Stop Republicans from Winning Big in 2014 and 2016?

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Richard Hofstadter has examined the right-wing paranoid-style rhetoric in his classic study THE PARANOID STYLE IN AMERICAN POLITICS (1952).

In terms of American traditions of rhetoric, it strikes me that the American alternative to the paranoid-style rhetoric, right-wing or left-wing, has been examined by Sacvan Bercovitch in his classic study THE AMERICAN JEREMIAD (1978).

Among liberals and progressives today, Noam Chomsky and Al Gore would be notable exemplars of the American-jeremiad style rhetoric.

To spell out the obvious, the genre known as the American jeremiad is named after the ancient Hebrew prophet Jeremiah. The ancient Hebrew prophets such as Jeremiah were always dedicated to reminding their fellows Hebrews how they were falling short of meeting all the provisions of the covenant that bound them together in their theocracy under the rule of the monotheistic deity.

We Americans today often say that we are one nation under God, which sounds like we are living in a theocracy under God.

However, we usually say that we are living in a democracy and the rule of law made by humans, not by God, a form of government pioneered in ancient Athens.

Nevertheless, we also have a strong American heritage of idealistic goal-statements. As a result, our national covenant with one another is based on idealistic goal-statements, so that the American jeremiad usually involves reminding us in no uncertain terms of how we are falling short of living up to our idealistic goal-statements. In light of our idealistic goal-statements, we are probably never going to have a shortage of American prophets arising to remind us of how we are falling short of our idealistic goal-statements.

Mainstream, moderate right-center white voters today presumably buy into our idealistic goal-statements. No doubt both right-wing conservative commentators such as Patrick J. Buchanan and Rush Limbaugh, and left-wing liberal and progressive commentators such as Noam Chomsky and Al Gore will continue their efforts to appeal to mainstream, moderate right-center whites.

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As Edsall astutely points out, if the Republican Party were able to increase the number of mainstream, moderate right-center whites in the 2014 and 2016 elections, the country could take a sharp backward turn to Republican rule. In my estimate, Republicans are up to no good. If you happen to share my view of Republicans, then the prospect of a backward turn to Republican rule should fill you with fear and loathing, because Republicans got us into the gigantic economic mess that we are still recovering from slowly but surely and they also got us into unnecessary wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Moreover, Republicans have not yet repented for all their mistakes that got us into the economic mess and two unnecessary wars. As a result, we can only expect more of the same from Republicans.

However, as Blow explains, Republicans are at the present time once again up to no good as they try to figure out how to adapt their old views in ways that will appeal to more mainstream, moderate whites. Blow characterizes the current intra-party struggle as pitting purists against realists. Realists want to win elections, which Edsall sees as within the reach of the Republican Party if they can win over more mainstream moderate right-center white voters. But purists want to fight to the death for ideological purity, even at the risk of losing elections. So the purists can be characterized as "suicide conservatives," as the title of Blow's article indicates.

But are there also "suicide liberals"? You bet. Remember Ralph Nader in the 2000 election. Both the right-wing conservative paranoid-style rhetoric and the left-wing liberal and progressive jeremiad-style rhetoric can produce purists, instead of realists. Occasionally, purists of one kind or the other can win national elections. For example, President Lyndon B. Johnson won by a landslide in 1964 because of the enormous appeal of jeremiad-style rhetoric regarding the black civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, which President John F. Kennedy had supported before he was assassinated. But Johnson's Great Society legislation inflamed paranoia-style rhetoric about big government that culminated in the 1980 victory of President Ronal Reagan.

As mentioned, the economic policies under President George W. Bush and the two unnecessary wars set the stage for the enormous backlash that propelled President Barack Obama to office as a result of his effective jeremiad-style rhetoric. Despite economic conditions and other factors that did not favor his re-election in 2012, President Obama nevertheless won re-election by using his somewhat toned-down jeremiad-style rhetoric in his effective campaign for re-election. Indeed, the 2012 presidential election can be characterized as paranoid-style rhetoric versus jeremiad-style rhetoric, with the jeremiad-style rhetoric producing the ultimate victor.

But how many other viable candidates in the Democratic Party are masters of jeremiad-style rhetoric? And how many Democratic candidates in the 2014 and 2016 elections will be realists, instead of being purists?

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It is about 100% predictable that the Republican Party will run candidates in the 2014 and 2016 elections who will depend on paranoid-style rhetoric. The only question is whether they will be purists or realists.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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The Democratic Party will have to work mighty hard... by Thomas Farrell on Sunday, Feb 10, 2013 at 11:15:33 AM
Must be to show to the last deluded part of the el... by BFalcon on Sunday, Feb 10, 2013 at 6:15:32 PM
See PERSPECTIVES and a few other segments at http:... by Mark Goldes on Sunday, Feb 10, 2013 at 5:15:15 PM
Come on, does it really matter anymore who is in c... by Deborah Dills on Sunday, Feb 10, 2013 at 7:17:11 PM
This speaks volumes to me and should to every here... by Deborah Dills on Sunday, Feb 10, 2013 at 10:09:29 PM