There is a simple formula for rightwing dominance of our national debate, even when Democrats are in charge: move the conversation as extreme right as possible, then compromise toward the far right. Negotiation 101.

Here’s how John Boehner does it:

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) will call Tuesday for the mass firing of the Obama administration’s economic team, including Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and White House adviser Larry Summers, arguing that November’s midterm elections are shaping up as a referendum on sustained unemployment across the nation and saying the “writing is on the wall.”

In one fell swoop, this becomes the starting point of a conversation. For Democrats it would be an end point — if they ever reached it.

It’s no accident that in 21st century America, torture has been mainstreamed; climate denial has taken firm hold; book burning, racial dog whistles and brazen religious intolerance are part of our discourse and par for the course. This is how the right plays the game, using Limbaugh, Hannity, Fox, Drudge, blogs, chain emails, talk radio, etc. to shamelessly and defiantly drag the conversation as far right as possible. And Republican elected officials are willing to take the heat to play the game as well, saying things no Democrat would be willing to say.

This is the reason the left is furious: when progressive positions are unnecessarily bargained away, Democrats are ceding the leverage that would move the national debate back to the center. After all, the counterweight to the right is not the mushy middle, it’s the principled left.

Progressive activists don’t expect a single payer health care system, bringing all Bush warmongers to justice, ending the looting of the poor by the ultra-rich, revitalizing the environmental movement, undoing Bush-Cheney’s executive power excesses, bringing about true social justice and stopping needless wars. No. They’re far more jaded and pragmatic than anyone admits. But at least make those the debate points rather than ditch them unilaterally.

Democrats run away from the left while Republican run to the right. The net effect is that the media end up reporting far right positions as though they were mainstream and reporting liberal positions as though they were heinous aberrations. And you wonder why America is veering off the rails?