....but I'm starting to think we've lost track of what it means.
Note: This post should not be taken as a position of policy, only as a critique of how certain people are commenting, blogging & reporting on it. How you feel regarding these issues is your own personal choice.
It's pretty easy to toss out the "extremist" card today. All it takes is an unedited blog and a total disregard for the meaning of the word. Jeff Balke's open letter to extremists on Houston Press Hairballs is example of that. In Balke's screed he takes on the so-called "extremist" positions of Pro-Life (supported (in part) by 55% of the electorate), gun control (where a super-majority supports "some restrictions" but 1 in 10 support both "no restrictions" and "total ban" equally), global warming (where 30% have "little to no" trust in science reports), health care (Where 51% oppose the Affordable Care Act), Taxation (where opinions are split 50/50) and (of course) GLBT marriages/civil unions (where 40% oppose said unions).
Following up on Balke's missive is the one man who most epitomizes the fall of Texas political blogging, Paul Burka. Burka's determination that one scientific study is proof of case discounts everything we know about the scientific method and his flawed logic in determining the intention of the founders is laughable. Given that Mr. Burka is held up as the "dean of Texas political reporting" you would think his analysis would be based on more solid footing.
None of this is to say that either writer is wrong in his assertions. There are mainstream arguments to be made on the issue from either side. Looking at both their posts however what is inherently clear is that, among Texas political writers, there is a frustrating trend of declaring every right-wing idea with which they disagree as "extremist". Not only is this incorrect, but it desensitizes us to ideas that are truly extreme. During the last election it was so bad that Democratic candidate for Senate Paul Sadler was allowed to say his Republican opponent Ted Cruz was "outside the mainstream" repeatedly with no-one in the media pointing out just how silly that assertion was. (Cruz beat Sadler by over 16 points. 56.6-40.5)
And this is not just a Texas-only trend in the manner of electing Republicans to office, it's a trend that's being replicated across the country in mainstream media outlets without question whether or not this rhetoric matches reality. As the numbers above illustrated, many so-called "extreme" Republican ideals are squarely in the mainstream.
Abortion: A slight majority (55%) agree that there should be some restrictions on abortion. 1 in 5 feel that it should not be available at all. While that number (20%) is far from the majority it hardly qualifies as "extreme". Unpolled in the link I researched were thoughts on whether or not abortion should be illegal in ALL cases, including rape & incest specifically. When the Washington Post surveyed on the matter they found that 25 percent (mostly evangelicals) are opposed. Again, while certainly not "majority" these people certainly make-up a sizable mainstream minority. That they are losing the battle over this issue right now is of no importance to their extremism or lack thereof.
Gun Control: This is the area of political debate where you could come closest to making the extremist argument, but for which you'd have to equally apply the standard to both sides. For example, in the polling link I referenced 10% of the responders stated that "all guns should be illegal" and 13% responded that "there should be no restrictions on firearm ownership. It's fair, statistically speaking, to categorize the 13% against restrictions as "extreme", but to follow that logic you have to categorize the 10% who are for no guns at all as equally, if not even more, extreme. For whatever it's worth, new polls, done in the wake of the CT school tragedy, only reveal 2-9% majority support for assault weapon's bans and bans of high capacity magazines. There are clearly a wide range of "mainstream" positions on gun control.
You can go on down this road on every issue, and make the case that what these so-called journalists (paid bloggers is closer to reality) are calling extreme are, in-fact, very mainstream positions that just happen to fall on the other side of the political aisle. It's a lazy man's way of arguing, casting your opponent as "outside the mainstream" and "extreme" but it's one that's been working because no one, in the media or otherwise, has had the gumption to stand up and say "Hey, wait, I may think they're wrong but that doesn't mean they're extreme."
The hard reality is that there are a lot of positions that exist up and down a continuum of mainstream positions. Most people are not political activists for one party or another and might hold positions (based on religious or moral beliefs) that place them at odds with their party from time to time. Balke can call AGW deniers or those against the Affordable Care Act extremists all he wants, he can make up Bible verses to mock the religious and can act like he's a beacon of reasonable, prudent discussion until his hands fatigue from writing so much but none of that will make his definition of extremist any more accurate. Paul Burka can continue to hid behind his self-created pragmatist label but he still can't obscure the fact that his writing betrays a lack of understanding of the Conservative agenda.
There's so much talk about "gridlock" in DC and rightly so. We're now to a point that there's no benefit for either side to reach out and compromise. What we ignore in that is the unwillingness of the media and those with a political opinion to frame their opponents arguments correctly. Republicans have a point when they suggest that raising taxes on the "rich" will do nothing to cure our budget woes, but they also err when they state that doing so will ruin the economy and destroy small business. No it won't. It's certainly not going to help matters any but that alone will not shut down, or significantly hinder, America's still-giant economy. Democrats running hither and yon stating that Republicans want to kill the poor or place them in internment camps are just silly. Nor is either side trying seriously trying to ruin America. However, you may feel they're going to due to disagreement with their policies but that's OK. We wouldn't feel so strongly that we were "right" if we didn't feel the other side was "wrong."
Yes, there are fringe groups out there that would do us harm, ecomentalists who want to shut down everything and return us to the 17th century for one, troglodytes who would have us tear up the Constitution and become a theocracy for two. The TSA, FDA and EPA for three, four and five. (kidding, just seeing if those of you on the Left are still paying attention) The problem is you hear about the fringe on the right, while the (very real) fringe members of the left are pooh-poohed as being insignificant to the point of no influence. That may (or may not) be true, but is it any more likely that the fringe on the right is going to exert more?
But even if they do, as some have said happened in the Texas Department of Education for instance, don't we still have the mechanism of the election to vote them out of office? Of course we do. We also live in an age where those who do hold extreme views are typically outed, Senate candidate Akin comes to mind. Unfortunately, in the House, the districts are gerrymandered to a point that it's becoming somewhat of a problem, but the sheer numbers outweigh Rep. Hank Johnson's fears that the US Navy will tip over Guam or Sheila Jackson Lee saying just about anything. We handled the whole DeLay/Abramhoff thing and we even survived the nutty fun of Ron Paul. All-in-all I'd say we're doing OK.
Unfortunately there's no electoral college for journalism, so (especially in Texas) we're just going to have to keep taking all of the bad with the little good that's popping up from time to time. At least if they could get the definitions correct that'd be a start. Perhap's we're long past time for another revision of the Texas Political Dictionary?