not going to affect elections, it's not substantively important, and to the extent it's symbolically important...well, let's just say it's not symbolically important as a stand-alone issue in any significant way (at best, it's what Kevin Drum says, one straw -- so shouldn't we pay more attention to all that other straw?). I'm sorry to be a stick in the mud about it, but it just isn't actually a big story no matter how much it gets hyped. Okay?My response, which I'll be the first to admit lacks supporting evidence and doubtless needs work:
Gee Jonathan, I know you're an expert in the dynamics of public opinion and all that, but to second CSH, you sure seem wrong to me here.
Per a Ben Smith story, I think the Republicans completely repudiating Bush's efforts to differentiate Islam from Islamism is significant. I think Palin's success in bringing another poisonous meme to the eruption point is significant. I think that waves of hysterical demagoguery that hit fever pitch are significant. And I think that, as with torture, when it comes to defense of civil liberties leaders have to be better than the rest of us, because majorities will sell those liberties without a twitch for a modicum of relief from rage or fear. When one of our two major parties goes all out demonizing an entire religion and works assiduously to interfere with a local government's approval of a religious institution to be built on private property, that's dangerous.
We may never yet have witnessed a mature democracy essentially vote away its core civil liberties by rewarding politicians who trample them. But how do you know it can't happen, and that we're not on the way?
Your perspective here reminds me of your extremely utilitarian characterization of the right relationship between elected rep and populace: that the rep is a good rep if he essentially does what he promised, fulfills the outlines of her own "brand," as it were. That view seems to foreclose condemnation of a rep who fulfill his constituents' wishes even when those wishes are wrong - for example, by fighting to preserve segregation. Similarly, here, you don't seem to account for the possibility that leaders' pandering to voters' rage against or fear of Islam could do serious damage to our civil liberties, regardless of what they do or don't do to election results.
You may respond that McCarthyism did not ultimately erode our core liberties, that these fevers burn themselves out. Perhaps they do - -until they don't.