U.S. Political Extremes Are "Alarming"

The New Yorker editor compares the current atmosphere in the U.S. to what happened in Israel under Yitzhak Rabin: the far right stirred things up so much that the political atmosphere became, literally, murderous.
  • Transcript


Question: How far left is Obama?

David Remnick: I think the notion that Barack Obama is a radical is preposterous. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who is quoted in my book as saying that the only radical thing, the only true radical thing about Barack Obama is that he’s African-American. And I think that’s true. That his politics are center/center-left, they come out of the tradition of the Democratic Party. In many ways they are continuations of lines taken by the Clinton Administration. You know, look at the healthcare bill itself. This is a more modest healthcare bill than many proposed by others. He got what he could get and he succeeded. Look at the so-called radical nuclear arms treaty just signed with the Russians. There’s a lot of criticism on the right saying, Barack Obama is giving away our security. He is stripping us of our capacity to project strength in the world and to protect ourselves, and in fact, the great left-winger Ronald Reagan was far more radical when it came to nuclear arms policy.

Remember, Rekjavik in the period, I think Gorbachev-Reagan period were those two men who were intent on reducing nuclear stockpiles to nothing. And here we’ve reduced it by a third. I mean, the notion that Barack Obama somehow came out of a radical cauldron in Chicago and somewhere in his desk drawer, in the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office is a copy of Marx and Gramsci and Lenin is just obscene. It’s ridiculous. And there are just too many elements in the media and in politics trying to stoke these fires for those absurd notions to disappear.

Question: Will the Republicans win in the midterm elections?

David Remnick: It’s very difficult to see. Look, I think there is a legitimate conservative opposition, as you would expect. Of course that’s going to happen. There’s going to be a legitimate Republican opposition, there’s going to be battles. What concerns me is not that so much. What concerns me deeply is the outer edges of it and the nature of the outer edges of it, and the way the outer edges are provoked by certain politicians and certain parts of the internet and television, cable television and all the rest. And the end result of some of that kind of ugliness can be beyond our reckoning; really beyond our reckoning. And I don’t want to be too alarmist of it, but I remember, for example, in Israeli politics during Yitzhak Rabin’s time, when the far right there stirred things up to such a degree that the political atmosphere in certain quarter became quite literally murderous.

So, I think we need to be very careful about lumping everybody together in, even the Tea Party Movement. I might not agree with any of it, but the extremes of it are really alarming.

Recorded on April 9, 2010