Home National Politics An “Intensity Gap”: The Nation’s Problem Crystallized

An “Intensity Gap”: The Nation’s Problem Crystallized


This is appearing in newspapers in my conservative congressional district (VA-06).

Having spent a decade now trying to understand the sickness degrading America’s politics, I watch for developments that can help illuminate what’s gone wrong. Here’s one specific situation that crystallizes the larger problem.

It concerns the refusal of the Republicans in the Senate to consider any Supreme Court nominee that the President could put forward. Such unprecedented senatorial conduct would be reason enough for concern for our political system. But there’s another troubling piece of the picture.

According to a Washington Post report, the support from Republican activists for the Republican senators’ unprecedented stand is more intense than the support from Democrats for insisting that the confirmation process be conducted in accordance with America’s traditional norms.

This shows the two-sided nature of our political sickness.

Its takes both sides to create what the Post calls this “intensity gap”– a gap that can be found, regrettably, on a variety of other issues besides this judicial stonewalling matter. (Which is why this instance crystallizes much of America’s larger problem.)

This intensity gap is the product of both the passionate support of the right for tactics ripping apart the structures of good American governance and of the lethargy of the left in defending those structures.

In this way, the defects of both sides combine to allow the quest for raw power to displace the rule of law, and of established American norms, in our nation.

Part of the problem, of course, is on the conservative side.

Many who call themselves conservatives, for example, regard sabotaging the proper workings of our constitutional system as a form of patriotism.

Many in the Republican base also do not seem to care that each justification the Republican senators have offered for obstructing the normal process for filling a vacancy on the high Court has been exposed as hollow. It doesn’t seem to bother them that the reasons the Republicans give turn out to be hollow, mere pretense to cover a naked grasping for power.

Either they don’t know, or don’t care, about the damage such a pure power play inflicts upon the system our founders gave us for navigating our way forward together, peacefully, despite our differences.

But since nothing in our recent history suggests that this “conservative” segment of our body politic is open to correction by evidence or argument, I will focus instead on the defects of the liberal side– its blindness and weakness.

Liberal America fails to see that the sacrifice of political norms and the intent of the Constitution in the pursuit of power — by distorting “advise and consent,” for example, into an across-the-board “block any nominee” — is a serious does serious damage to the Constitution that our elected officials have sworn to protect and defend.

Liberals also seem unable to see how vital it is to protect that system — for the well-being of the nation, and of those who come after us. For the lives of our children and grandchildren will be impacted by whether that system has been preserved in good order or shredded by a sequence of such assaults as the current tactics of the Senate Republicans.

If Liberal America cannot be spurred to match the fighting intensity of the right in order both to defend of our constitutional system and to gain their rightful power on our highest Court, what would be enough to rouse them?

Which raises the question: What is it that keeps in check the intensity that liberals bring to the battle?

Perhaps there is fear of confrontation—fear growing out of years of experience in which Democrats have been consistently outfought and outmaneuvered by the likes of Karl Rove.

Some liberals may be restrained by the belief that “fighting is bad,” not acknowledging that sometimes waging combat is the best of the available options.

Both kinds of weakness appear to have hampered President Obama. Under continuing assault throughout his presidency, he has rarely fought back, and never with the intensity directed against him. And now, as his judicial nominee languishes like no other nominee has in U.S. history, the president has not spoken to the nation powerfully, in the stringent terms of moral condemnation called for by this unprecedented obstructionism.

He, and other liberals, seem to suffer from an insufficient capacity for moral outrage in response to outrageous conduct.

The distinction between right and wrong is of utmost importance for a healthy political system. Regarding this distinction, both conservative and liberal sides in America now show serious defects. The conservative side of our body politic routinely mistakes the wrong for the right. And meanwhile the liberal side responds without passion when the wrong is prevailing over the right.

That is a recipe for the degradation of the nation that we are witnessing in our times.

  • Speaking of intensity, check this out from the Republican Party of Virginia, courtesy of conservative blog Bearing Drift.


  • Andy Schmookler

    On Op/ednews, a commenter on this piece wrote, “On this particular issue, the current Supreme court nominee , I believe
    you would see much more support for Obama and more fighting against the
    Republicans if Obama had not chosen a Republican as his nominee. I
    personally see little point in fighting to get someone appointed who
    could just as easily have been nominated by Bush or Trump or whatever
    face the Republicans might present.”

    In reply, I wrote:

    I believe that your are placing emphasis on a distinction that is of
    little practical importance, and missing the distinction that is
    essential for the advancement of more progressive values..

    Whether the Justice is Merrick Garland, or the most
    progressive judge you could come up with, really matters little when 5-4
    decisions get handed down. The two would vote the same nearly all the time.

    Garland is probably at least as progressive
    as Bryer, and Bryer’s votes have only very rarely been disappointing
    from a progressive point of view.

    But whether the justice is a
    centrist liberal like Garland (of whom everyone speaks extraordinarily
    favorably, by the way, as both a man and a judge, which should be reassuring about the reasonableness and humaneness of his judicial temperament) or the radical justice of your
    dreams, what matters is whether we get more decisions like Citizens
    United and the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, –which the conservative
    5-4 majority foisted on us and made America a less just society — or whether a Liberal majority can dominate the court as it has not been in a position to do since the early 1970s..

    you think that you don’t have much at stake in whether it’s Garland or
    someone Trump appoints, you are missing the nature of this game, in
    which control over the court for the next generation is at stake.

    here we are, with the Republicans apparently getting away with cheating, failing to perform their clear
    constitutional duties, and grabbing for power in the most naked way that
    exposes them for the hypocrites that they are.

    This should be a
    major fight, for not only is much at stake, but the Republicans do not
    have any justification for their behavior and can be called out.This is something the public can be taught to understand, and thus properly besmirch the Republican brand in time for the election.