Here’s why the arrogance of ‘centrism’ may destroy us all

Discussion in 'The Red Room' started by Nova, Dec 27, 2020.

  1. Nova

    Nova livin on the edge of the ledge Writer

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    This is as good and succinct review of the recent history of the Democratic Party as I've seen lately. I could amend it by stepping back one more president previous in that Carter was almost certainly a reaction against the perceived extreme leftism of McGovern and how badly he lost (when it was almost certainly more white backlash than it was some rejection of liberalism). Anyway...some excerpts:

    https://www.rawstory.com/radical-centrism/


    The philosopher George Santayana famously said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." One insight to draw from Santayana's oft-repeated aphorism is that the repetition of clichés is likely to have little effect, given the widespread tendency to ignore pithy advice and continue witlessly recycling, recreating and reliving history.

    ***

    Over the past few weeks, the Republican Party has proven itself hostile to freedom and democracy; its merciful incompetence the only thing saving whatever remains of our republic from the fascist insurrection of a con man. The absurdity of the cast members — from Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell to their incoherent Michigan "witness" and of course Donald Trump himself — have made the entire fiasco seem more like a satirical film than political reality. At the other multiplex on the Democratic side of town, every screen is running previews for the third version of a box office smash, "Centrist Failure," with Joe Biden taking over the leading role from his more charismatic predecessors, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

    The 1990s original had audiences entranced by a seductive Southerner, Clinton, who under the guidance of the Democratic Leadership Council rebranded his party as the "new Democrats," which apparently translates into "Republicans." Clinton cut social programs, ended "welfare as we know it" by making single mothers work low-income jobs without child care, signed a massively destructive and draconian crime bill into law, deregulated the financial industry, and approved NAFTA. Democrats throughout the mediocre commentariat largely applauded, on the grounds that right-wing policies with a friendlier face were the only way Democrats could win or maintain power, and prevent another Reagan-like figure from seizing control of the country.
    After all, they asked, wouldn't you rather have Clinton, with his paeans to social liberalism, administrative proficiency and obvious intelligence, than George H.W. Bush? Sure — but then along came Bush's son, holding the White House door open for the ghoulish likes of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, and proving himself far worse than his father. Two horrific wars, the criminal ineptitude of the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, and the financial crash created fertile conditions for radical reform, but instead the "hopey-changey" Obama administration committed the first error of national politics. They failed to act on the keen insight of the aforementioned Cheney, who once told a defiant Republican senator, "We don't negotiate with ourselves."

    Obama clearly enacted policies that improved American life. The Affordable Care Act rendered an ongoing catastrophe somewhat less deadly, he doubled Pell grants (barely keeping pace with exorbitant tuition spikes), signed the Paris climate accords and negotiated a decent nuclear deal with Iran. He also staffed his Cabinet with corporate sycophants, allowing the same banking and high-finance bandits who had liquidated working-class wealth to manage the "recovery"; dropped the "public option" from his health care proposal without a fight; and spent years attempting to reach compromise with an obstructionist opposition that he eventually admitted — rather too late — had no interest in productive policy and governance.
    Obama was inarguably better for the country than a potential McCain-Palin administration would have been, let alone the planned corporate tyranny of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. But throughout his two terms in office, Democrats lost countless state and local offices, while obliviously arguing that demographic changes all but guaranteed their permanent ascension to power — a great victory that somehow always lies just beyond the horizon. Performing a cover version of the Clinton composition, mainstream politicians and pundits also insisted that any openings to the left would provoke a vicious backlash, manifesting in a menacing right-wing resurgence. In other words, if Obama had governed as a progressive, someone like Donald Trump might have become president.

    ***

    A rational observer might assume that the victory of a reactionary psychopath who upended all normative assumptions about politics would have introduced a little humility and introspection into the centrist consensus. That observer had best not hold her breath.
    Biden hasn't even taken the oath of office, and the centrist crew, including Obama and Biden himself, are blaming the left for Democratic losses in the Senate, House and state legislatures, citing the activist call to "defund the police" as the primary reason for the party's poor down-ballot performance. There is no data to support this conclusion. If anything, the available evidence actually suggests that candidates with progressive positions outperformed the so-called moderates.
    Lack of evidence has never stopped the centrists before. Now they've reached a point where information is an unnecessary impediment to their effort to overwhelm all legitimate political or ideological debate with a mélange of platitudes and bromides.
    John Harris, writing in Politico, chastises the "stupid second guessing of Biden" from the left over his corporate Cabinet choices, focusing closely on the early opposition to the potential appointment of former Chicago mayor and Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. Harris claims that progressives "don't know what they are talking about," and then attempts to prove Emanuel's merits by summarizing a book he co-wrote in the 1990s. He never mentions that Emanuel left Chicago as the most hated mayor in the city's long and colorful history, earning contempt for closing dozens of schools in poor neighborhoods and then covering up video footage of the police killing of Laquan McDonald, a Black teenager, which eventually sent the officer involved to prison.

    ***

    American life, for most citizens, has become a never-ending struggle, with essentials like health care, child care, and high-quality education all but inaccessible. As a recent report from NPR made clear for those sitting in the back, even many Americans who appear to have it made in the shade, earning relatively high salaries and owning substantial homes, still live paycheck to paycheck, frightened that an unexpected expense will drown them in debt.
    There's "stone cold rage in the hinterlands," Warren Haynes shouts in the Gov't Mule song, "Stone Cold Rage," capturing the way that entire American towns have collapsed into conditions that resemble war zone. Small villages that once had a vibrant communal center made possible by family farming, light manufacturing employment and small retail business have become ghost towns, without much hope for middle-class or even working-class resurrection. In a previously unprecedented and horrific development, "deaths of despair" — primarily meaning those caused by suicide, drug overdose, alcoholism and obesity — began to rise in the United States a few years ago, especially among men in rural areas.
    The inhabitants of these desolate and deprived outposts have accepted a theory, albeit a terrible and dangerous one, to explain their demise. Arlie Russell Hochschild, a sociologist who spent five years conducting lengthy interviews with poor people in the Louisiana bayou, summarizes it this way:
    Think of people waiting in a long line that stretches up a hill. And at the top of that is the American dream. And the people waiting in line felt like they'd worked extremely hard, sacrificed a lot, tried their best, and were waiting for something they deserved. And this line is increasingly not moving, or moving more slowly [i.e., as the economy stalls].
    Then they see people cutting ahead of them in line. Immigrants, blacks, women, refugees, public sector workers. And even an oil-drenched brown pelican getting priority. In their view, people are cutting ahead unfairly. And then in this narrative, there is Barack Obama, to the side, the line supervisor who seems to be waving these people (and the pelican) ahead. So the government seemed to be on the side of the people who were cutting in line and pushing the people in line back.
    Hochschild is not seeking to excuse the obvious racism embodied in this narrative, or to deny its pervasive influence on whites who support Donald Trump and other xenophobic Republicans. She only explains that nearly everyone she interviewed articulated some version of this "deep story," to use her words — "a story in which you lift away facts and moral judgment and just find the story that feels true."
    A massively funded apparatus of creative thinkers and skillful personalities inundate voters with right-wing propaganda on a daily basis, creating an alternative universe in which "facts and moral judgment" drift away to make room for the hateful scapegoating of all the people Hochschild identifies above.
    What is the centrist "deep story" that might respond to this? Is there even a centrist hypothesis to explain and alter the continual decay of American life?

    ***

    The progressive or leftist politics that Ocasio-Cortez represents at least offers Americans, especially those who suffer from poverty and despair, a "deep story." The leftist deep story has the benefit of being true. It doesn't require adherents to overlook relevant facts or suspend all moral judgment. It makes no room for racism or nativism. Instead it accurately surveys the reality on the ground, from the South Side of Chicago to the swamps of Louisiana, and offers real, actionable solutions, which double as an effective counterargument against the nationalism of the fast-rising far right.

    As psychiatrist Jonathan Metzl demonstrates in his book, "Dying of Whiteness," many white people in "heartland" America are so deeply committed to "racial resentment" that they will actively vote and fight against their own access to medicine, education, clean air and better wages. Many of the poor people Metzl interviewed essentially took the position that it is preferable to starve than to endorse policies that might better the lot of Blacks or "illegal immigrants."

    Of course progressives shouldn't assume that they will convert Trump followers to democratic socialism with a few Bernie Sanders speeches and John Mellencamp records. They may, however, begin to shift some political support with active and aggressive engagement throughout the country, explaining exactly why their "deep story" is better than racial inculpation and division.

    As for the centrists, they guarantee failure, offering exactly nothing other than their own arrogance and provably false prescriptions to ordinary people confused and outraged over the decline of their communities and the precarity of their own lives.
    Centrists insist that "moderation" is the only sensible approach to national politics in a large and diverse country. They might have an argument worthy of consideration if the world's problems were moderate. But the impending climate apocalypse is not moderate, nor is the dramatic and worsening economic inequality, on a scale not seen since the Gilded Age. Those things cannot be addressed with compromises or half-measures.
    Centrist equivocation will only alienate Americans from each other, while emboldening the forces of right-wing extremism, ignorance and hatred. From the 1980s onward, through recession, war terrorism, and ecological catastrophe, this story has repeated itself time and time again. How many times will the "sensible" centrists have to watch the country descend into chaos before they learn its lessons?
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  2. Fisherman's Worf

    Fisherman's Worf I am the Seaman, I am the Walrus, Qu-Qu-Qapla'!

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    He also famously said "Maria, Maria, she remind me of a West Side story. Growin' up in Spanish Harlem. She livin' a life just like a movie star."
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  3. RickDeckard

    RickDeckard Socialist

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    I heartily agree with every word.
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  4. oldfella1962

    oldfella1962 the only real finish line

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    you heartily agree with Fisherman's Worf's comment in post #2? Me too!
  5. Tererune

    Tererune Troll princess and Magical Girl

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    It is completely correct.

    Now how are we going to get @Quest and @garamet to read and understand it? They are going to die on that biden hill like the trumpistas.
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  6. Tererune

    Tererune Troll princess and Magical Girl

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    You just keep on making jokes. That is pretty much all you are good for.
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  7. Quincunx

    Quincunx anti-anti Staff Member Administrator

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    I mostly agree with the analysis presented in article. :shrug: There’s no value in adopting a position just because it’s perceived as centrist (or leftist or rightist for that matter). Progressives need to keep pushing for the policies they believe will provide the maximum benefit for all. They also need to recognize that our political system does not allow one faction to impose its will on the entire country, even if they are absolutely convinced they have all the best ideas. My desire for moderation is all about making the best of this imperfect, often frustrating system, and above all respecting and preserving the institutions which act as guardrails.
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  8. Raoul the Red Shirt

    Raoul the Red Shirt Professional bullseye

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    The review can be reasonably viewed in a lot of ways, but "succinct" IMO is not one of them.

    There are basically infinite think pieces from newspapers, think tanks, etc about the rise of Trump and what it means for politics. One can fairly argue that some or all are not sufficiently humble, deep or accurate, or whatever but it's just false to argue that there is not introspection on the point.

    There are polls and focus groups talking about defunding the police being a major turnoff to people who even might otherwise support the notion of redirecting funding from law enforcement to social services.

    See, for example:

    https://fivethirtyeight.com/feature...nding-the-police-more-than-the-slogan-itself/
    https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2020/11/defund-police-slogan-election-polls-democrats.html

    So it's just flat-out wrong to say there's no data that supports the conclusion that calls to defund the police did not alienate enough voters to be the primary reason Democrats performed poorly. (Which is not to say it's THE reason, or even necessarily a strong reason).

    Even if we were to pretend this data didn't exist, we know to a certainty that a) Republicans from Trump on down campaigned hard on the notion that people in the center actually supported defunding the police and/or would be too weak to stop the left who wanted to do so b) Republicans and plenty of centrists who are reliable voters generally conflate "defunding" the police with "abolishing" the police, and abolishing the police terrifies them.

    And where is this available evidence supporting this proposition? Oh right, the author doesn't bother to present any.

    The author links to an article that does not inherently support the notion that progressive positions outperformed moderates. What the linked article says in short is that the Democrats lost because they lost the voter turnout battle to Republicans. Which even taking it as gospel, does not address the issue that progressive candidates outperformed moderates. Now it could be that if one looks at the chart in the article that Politicians X, Y and Z who are progressive did better than Politicians A, B and C who are moderates. But the linked article doesn't make that assertion, only that the Dems would have won if they'd been able to better rally the progressive troops. Which probably is true, but is a proposition for which that author provides no data about how many registered progressives stayed home or switched sides or how many moderates contributed to the Democrats' total who wouldn't if they'd done more to reach out to progressives or how many conservatives stayed home or came out because/despite the Democrat's lack of progressive outreach.

    [quote\Lack of evidence has never stopped the centrists before. Now they've reached a point where information is an unnecessary impediment to their effort to overwhelm all legitimate political or ideological debate with a mélange of platitudes and bromides.[/quote]

    Ad hominem.

    It is essentially the same "deep story" as progressives: that corporate indifference/greed/malfeasance, systemic racism, and short-term/narrow-minded thinking has limited the attempt to address these problems, and that government can and must be part of the solution to them. The difference is not really of belief but methodology.

    Biden and Obama and whatever other centrist you name at least pays lip service to these things (it is debatable, I guess, whether they believe them all). But they tend to try to build consensus and seek to reach across the aisle. By contrast, progressives are fine with just straight up fighting right-wingers and seek to mobilize apathetic or disgruntled people in the middle and the left.

    In terms of tactics of getting political power and getting stuff done, time will tell which is more effective. So far, the progressives have not IMO chalked up a lot of wins in terms of getting elected or getting legislation passed through the Senate, as far as I know.

    And here is the problem: given that millions of Americans are so hypnotized by racism that they will cut off their noses to spite their faces, what is the best way to get them to realize the foolishness of what theyare doing? To gradually wean them off that, as the centrists would do? Or to douse them with cold water over and over again, like progressives? I think it is an open question as to which would be the better approach.

    Morally better, sure. Better as in "more powerful"? Don't think so.

    Their prescriptions are generally similiar to those offered by progressives, only they have a higher possibility of getting passed in the current climate.
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  9. Spaceturkey

    Spaceturkey i can see my house

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    this is really what it has to boil down to.
    last election it was more important not to let the right wing gain control here, even with the additional checks on political power we have. A lot of people I know who'd vote for an ideal instead opted for strategically acceptable.
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  10. Diacanu

    Diacanu Comicmike. Writer

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    I've always wondered why Democrats guzzled a big egg-nog chug of corporatism, and became Diet-Republicans in the 80's.
    That's why!
    McGovern.
    Fucking cowards.
    Fucking boomer cowards.
    I knew the answer would be awful.
    Thank you, Nova.
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  11. Damar

    Damar Liberal Elitist

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    As much as progressives would love to enact change and level the playing field, they need to realize our country has been on the path towards plutocracy for quite some time now.

    Having deep, engaging conversations with those in the “heartland” will not change any minds. The way to change minds in 2020 is through online propaganda. I saw it daily in FL and it worked to great effect. So many bought into the lie that Biden was a socialist/communist because 1) they were too lazy to do their own homework and 2) why would my favorite tio share a false link?
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  12. Ten Lubak

    Ten Lubak Salty Dog

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    Centrists and moderates just bailed you out of another 4 years of Donald Trump
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  13. Torpedo Vegas

    Torpedo Vegas Fresh Meat

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    Right. The worst problem with American progressives is they make perfect the enemy of good.
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  14. T.R

    T.R Don't Care

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    Yep. That writer is full of shit.

    Far left progressivism wasn't even popular enough to win them a national primary in the democratic party. Two times tried, two times failed and that was with Trump looming each time driving their turnout.

    If you took Cortez or any of that group from the squad out of their safe, blue districts and put them in a statewide competitive race they would get their asses kicked in November.
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  15. 14thDoctor

    14thDoctor Oi

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    Agreed, but at the same time the centrists in the Democratic party fight progressives in the same party so much harder than they fight the right.
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  16. Rimjob Bob

    Rimjob Bob Classy Fellow

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    What progressives seem to miss is that, while America has a desire to go left on economics (which Trump exploited in 2016) it has no stomach for woke culture, "defund the police," and other social pet causes.

    And as others have mentioned, progressives failed to capture a majority of even Democratic voters in the presidential primary. Some of that is because Warren and Sanders split the progressive vote while centrists strategically fell in line behind Biden. Still it was a failure.
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  17. Order2Chaos

    Order2Chaos Ultimate... Immortal Administrator

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    Even Warren dropped out after Super Tuesday. After that, Sanders has no one to blame but himself. He didn’t get a majority of the post-ST delegates. Warren didn’t cost Sanders a victory over Biden in any state except MA, IIRC. Progressivism is just not that popular.
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  18. Fisherman's Worf

    Fisherman's Worf I am the Seaman, I am the Walrus, Qu-Qu-Qapla'!

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    Wow, what a centrist point of view to take. I'll pray for you, hun.
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  19. Nova

    Nova livin on the edge of the ledge Writer

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    "Their prescriptions are generally similar to those offered by progressives" - only insofar as Progressives have raised hell for them. Where were the centerists on, say, a $15 minimum wage in 2015?
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  20. Nova

    Nova livin on the edge of the ledge Writer

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    That routinely show support at the box and in the polls for Progressive ideas - they have simply succumbed to the "OMG SOCIALISM!!!" narrative even when they aren't conservative.

    I think Warren's message would have done fine this year coming out of, say, Beto or Buttigeg - but Hillary poisoned the well for nominating a woman, voters were terrified of that IMO.

    Bernie, on the other hand, for all the media pairing, was NOT running on a very similar approach to Warren's - and they sure as fuck ain't gonna nominate anyone who says "Yeah, I'm a socialist" even if it isn't *real* socialism.
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  21. Lanzman

    Lanzman Vast, Cool and Unsympathetic Formerly Important

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    No, the general public, as has been noted, trends socially liberal (or "progressive," if you prefer) while being fiscally conservative. In other words, they want Stuff but they don't want to pay for Stuff. More generally, people want things to change and get better, as long as their little corner doesn't change too much.

    I'll say it again - the difference between "liberal" and "conservative" in America is that conservatives want change to come slowly, in small bites, so that adjustments can be made when things don't work out as hoped/assumed. Liberals want changes in great big whacking chomps that happen RIGHT NOW DAMMIT!!! and have no apparent grasp of the Law of Unintended Consequences.
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  22. tafkats

    tafkats scream not working because space make deaf Moderator

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    That's a nice thought, but the only group in this country that qualifies as conservative, the way you're defining it here, is the Pelosi/Schumer wing of the Democratic party.

    I've yet to see any sign of "let's bring about change slowly so that we can react in a measured way to unexpected circumstances" from the Republican party. It's more kicking and screaming, resisting even the tiniest bit of progress, demanding that we roll back the clock at least 60 years (on everything except tax policy), and an odd mix of religious extremism with worshiping at the altar of the ultra-rich.
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  23. Jenee

    Jenee Driver 8

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    Bullshit. The "Conservative" party wants to transport the US back in time to before Civil Rights and universal suffrage.
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  24. Lanzman

    Lanzman Vast, Cool and Unsympathetic Formerly Important

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    Both of you need to notice that I used little-C conservative and little-L liberal. Not talking about political parties - Democrats and Republicans are both pretty conservative in a different sense of that word - but rather schools of thought.
  25. tafkats

    tafkats scream not working because space make deaf Moderator

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    So basically, using those definitions, we have one party that is both liberal and conservative, and one party that's a bunch of extremist reactionaries.
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  26. Raoul the Red Shirt

    Raoul the Red Shirt Professional bullseye

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    Sure, the progressives deserve credit for dragging the party to the left in the last four years.

    But that has absolutely nothing to do with the notion that centrists are arrogant or are somehow dooming us. In fact, it cuts against that hypothesis by showing that centrists are willing and able to change, even if we accept the premise that they will only do so as a last resort.
  27. Lanzman

    Lanzman Vast, Cool and Unsympathetic Formerly Important

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    Pretty much, yeah. I mean, the Republicans have clearly lost their fuckin' minds, so . . .
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  28. Ten Lubak

    Ten Lubak Salty Dog

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    How so, provide examples
  29. Jenee

    Jenee Driver 8

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    Regardless. How does removing a woman's right to choose, that has been in place for more than 40 years, help evaluate any possible "unintended consequences"
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  30. Lanzman

    Lanzman Vast, Cool and Unsympathetic Formerly Important

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    Let's start with the blatant, disgusting hypocrisy of blocking Obama's late-term Supreme Court appointment while scrambling at insane speed to rush through Trump's.
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