26 April 2009

The Express Train to Crazytown

Has anybody noticed that the loyal opposition to Our Dear Leader is, well, a little ... um ... unhinged?  And not so loyal, for that matter.

This is an interesting, and maybe a little scary, and almost unprecedented in my experience.  Clinton had a core of rabid opponents, and there were the crazy allegations about the "murder" of Vince Foster and the White House Christmas tree that was decorated with condoms, but those were fairly isolated and kind of harmless.  Most of the Clinton hate was at least theoretically sourced in flaws in Clinton's character, some of which were borne out to be correct, and the perma-investigations were purely politically calculations.   With W, there was the so-called Bush Derangement Syndrome.  On the other hand, it didn't spring into existence from January 2001 -- there was a consensus at the time that Gore's gracious concession had smoothed things over and that we had to put the election behind us.  No, the Bush derangement syndrome grew slowly over eight years from the stolen election to a war pretexted on lies, to torture, wiretapping and cartoonish levels of arrogance and incompetence. During the immediate post 9/11 time, democrats did rally around Bush to a degree that is in retrospect quite remarkable.

But now.  Wow.  We are not yet 100 days into the Obama administration, and the right is sinking to depths that previously I could never have in my wildest dreams imagined.  There was a fair degree of crazy stuff in the run-up to the election, the whole secret muslim, palling around with terrorists, birth certificate things.  I wrote that off as being due to the fervor and heightened emotions that the elections engender.  I sort of assumed that the froth would settle down over time.  But it seems to be getting worse -- crazier and more intense.  Some examples off the top of my head, which are representative but by no means inclusive of the stuff out there:

Early on Rush went on record saying that he wanted Obama to fail. I don't have a problem with that as a nuanced policy critique, which it wasn't, but it was a striking turnaround from the recent times in which anybody daring to criticise the President was tarred and feathered as unpatriotic.  More astonishing was the three or four prominent republicans who publically criticized Rush and were obliged to issue groveling apologies shortly afterwards.  Ditto to the notion that partisanship ends at the water's edge, as countless prominent republicans criticized Obama for imagined gaffes on this overseas trips.

Teabagging -- yes it's good for puerile double-entendres, and populist tax protests are a fixture every April 15.  But the "protests" were kind of surprising given that the Obama budget actually gives most people a tax cut.  It's hard to put too much weight on this, given that only like a couple hundred thousand people showed up nationwide, but it's worth a passing mention.

Michelle Bachmann expressed concerns about a "one world currency". Yeah, she's a loon in the best of times, but this comes from somewhere.  She didn't invent this slightly paranoiac concern out of thin air.

The word "socialism" has been thrown around so much in reference to Obama and his policies that it's actually lost all meaning.  It's a convenient epithet, feeds on right wing deep seated fears, and rallies the amen corner.  But again, wow.  The occasional leftie who referred to Bush as 'fascist' was generally shunned and shouted down as an unserious, divisive, deranged, unpatriotic dirty fucking hippie.  In this brave new world, it's such a pervasive topic that the first question posed by the New York Times in their first interview with Obama was, "Are you a Socialist?"  Friday, the headline in the WSJ was "RNC Chair Steele won't call Obama 'Socialist,' unpsetting some."  The some, in this case, were some RNC members and Republican members of Congress (!) who want to make the "Democrat Socialist" party the standard term of reference for the Democratic party.  This, presumably includes Rep McCarthy Bachus, who claims to have "a list" of seventeen socialists in Congress. Again, people have the right to criticize, and it's mostly theater and posturing, but isn't it amazing how this is previously extreme verbiage is finding its way into the "mainstream" of political discourse?

Speaking of fascism, that too is one of the epithets that is commonly being levied against Obama.  (I'm so old I remember when Dick Durbin was compelled to apologize on the Senate floor for an implict comparison between Gitmo and the Nazis.) If there were any justice at all, we could just invoke Godwin's Law, close the thread and declare rhetorical victory.  Glenn Beck, who really is seriously and painfully mentally ill, had a lovely bit where he warned that "they" are marching the United States towards fascism, helpfully illustrated with Nazi imagery on the screen behind him. 

This was, I think, shortly before he pretended to douse his colleague with gasoline and set him on fire.  Seriously, Glenn, get some help.

The less-favored but also present slur is "communist," which I guess lost a lot of its fear-inducing cachet since the fall of the communist regimes world-wide.

So, I get the message -- the members of the Party of Lincoln are unhappy with the direction of the country.   What's their solution?  Secession!  (Yeah, ironic, for the Part of Lincoln, I know.)  I'm sure it was just some obscure talk radio host who brought the whole thing up, though.  What?  Oh, sorry, it was the Governor of Texas.  Yeah, he was just joking, right?  Right, which is why Tom Delay took to cable teevee to explain that Texas actually can secede if they want to, and the Texas legislature is considering a resolution asserting Texas' sovereignty and instructing the federal government to "cease and desist."  I thought the whole "nullification" thing was settled along with secession back in 1865, but I guess not.  But it's just a few fringe maniacs and politicians posturing, right?  Mostly, except for the 48% of TX republicans who actually favor independence.  Maybe it's a lower number, but still, what should be an insane, fringe idea does have a surprising level of support down there.

So this is all just harmless talk, right? A little fun, slightly grandiose political theater -- don't be such a buzzkill, Shadowfax.  Let them blow off some steam, let them stamp their feet and make some noise.  That's pretty much what I thought, too, until I heard about this:

Ohio Militia Leader Calls for “Armed Million Man March” on Washington

This is a little chilling.  Yeah, I know, there's little likelihood that ten thousand, let alone a million armed militia members will march on the nation's capitol.   But in my understanding, an armed militia descending on a nation's capitol is more correctly referred to as a "rebellion," not a "protest." 

Then came Pennsylvania.  Richard Poplawski deliberately murdered three police officers with an AK-47.  He was a white supremacist, and a frequent visitor to right-wing web sites.  His motivation, according to a friend, was that he feared "the Obama gun ban that's on the way," and "didn't like our rights being infringed upon."  More recently, a Twitter user was arrested by the FBI after getting a little over-excited on the teabagging protests:
"START THE KILLING NOW! I am willing to be the FIRST DEATH!," read a
tweet at 8:01 PM that day. "After I am killed on the Capitol Steps,
like a REAL man, the rest of you will REMEMBER ME!!!," he added five
minutes later. Then: "Send the cops around. I will cut their heads off
the heads and throw the[m] on the State Capitol steps."
More disturbingly, this was in Oklahoma City.  Timothy McVeigh was also motivated by right-wing, anti-government sentiment.  And yet, the fact that the Department of Homeland Security is keeping an eye on political groups with the potential for violence somehow became an item of controversy.

Gary Kamiya writes, for Salon
Such obsessions don't come out of a vacuum. Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and the GOP have been whipping up hatred and fear of Obama and "liberal Democrats" for years. Joined by the National Rifle Association, which has run false and irresponsible ads claiming that Obama is planning to take away Americans' guns, they have encouraged and helped to create a pathological right-wing subculture in which free-floating hatred of "the government" mixes with a maniacal fetish for guns. Poplawski is the diseased fruit of that ugly tree. 

Yes, Poplawski dwelt in the most extreme part of the right wing. He is responsible for his action. You can't tar every conservative because a pathological murderer shared some of his or her core beliefs. There has been no epidemic of shootings carried out by whacked-out readers of "The Turner Diaries." [...]

With the collapse of the GOP into the party of Rush Limbaugh, and as Limbaugh and his ilk grow ever more reckless in their attacks on Obama, the boundaries between "respectable" right-wing paranoid hatred and "extreme" right-wing paranoid hatred are getting more blurred. Right-wing fanatic du jour Glenn Beck teased his recent Fox show with images of Hitler, Stalin and Lenin and said that he was wrong to say that Obama was leading America to socialism -- because Obama is actually a fascist. "They're marching us towards 1984," Beck intoned. "Big Brother, he's watching." [...]

If the demagogues on the right had any conscience, the Poplawski case would force them to realize that their shrill ravings border on incitement. But they won't. There are ratings to be maintained and a rabid base to be catered to. If every now and then some disturbed member of the base loses it, it's not their problem."
Should we be worried about this?  Is there potential for real violence?  What's the underlying cause?  Is it truly just something created and fueled by the right wing echo chamber, or are they tapping into a deeper feeling among American conservatives?  I note that Obama's approval is very high among democrats and independents, but his disapproval is just as intense among republicans -- is the extremism borne out of the severe polarization of modern politics, or is the right-wing media exacerbating the polarity and driving the craziness?

I'm honestly a little worried about this.  As I said, we're only 100 days into the Obama administration, and the intensity of the rhetoric is already over the top.  What's next?  Where is this going?  What will be the talking points in three or six years?  Can the sensible, establishment Republicans re-establish control over their party?  Can the conservative movement walk this back from the brink?

For the sake of the nation, I certainly hope so.


  1. I've been wondering now, why, as the Nielsen ratings state, the Fox News programs have such high ratings but yet still the President's approval ratings are so high (67% on average). The so-called 'Fair and Balanced' channel is anything but. Is is that people only keep Fox News on for background noise? I personally watch Fox along with CNN and MSNBC just to gauge opinion. In terms of news I watch/ listen to, it's NPR and Jim Lehrer.
    Could it be that it is popular for the same reason that say American Idol is? People are actually educated enough to realize that Fox is just a high-end reality TV show?
    Initially, I though that the Limbaughs and Hannitys out there were simply trying to entertain. But from all indications, I think they actually believe the garbage they are spewing...and it's only 100 days. If that's so,we should be seeing an uptick in heart-related conditions over the next 4 years.

  2. I attribute the political extremism to the meltdown of professional journalism, factional news sources, and rejection of the educational/journalism complex. Forty years ago, we all got our data from one source: Walter Cronkite. Today, as you evidenced by your links, we get our opinions from bloggers and widely disparate "journal" sources.

    It's clear we've already transformed to "socialism lite". It comes from the grassroots, not from our leaders. We are no longer a nation of families. The Census Bureau tells us that 51% of women and 47% of men live alone, with no spouse/partner in the household. Without intimate partners, we rely on government as our Daddy substitute. We need government to be there for us, because men and women no longer can count on each other to fill this security role. 70% of AfricanAmerican and 30+% of babies are born to single moms. They need the Daddy substitute too. I honestly believe single moms are the scourge and take down agent of our society. They flourish only because we support them with home ownership, higher education, child care. Women don't need men; except to bail them out of their poor decisions, pay the taxes, and pay alimony when the marriage gets tough. I say this as a woman.

    So, back to your topic, we have become a socialist-lite country from the demands of the grassroots (single moms, divorcees, single households) up.

  3. I'm pretty middle of the road and don't get a gut feeling of us-vs-them with either party, so maybe I can put your fears to rest.

    Relax. I remember the dems saying the similar things about Bush from the beginning. Each side gets this in-group out-group thing going on where they think the other side is actually evil, not just wrong. (And don't recognize or remember when their own side is doing something shady). From my perspective both parties have some true, actual crazy people, but it's just a fringe. When you go back and read newspapers from 100, 200 years ago, you see the same type of partisan rancor.

    So, dude, I hope you can relax. To get some respectable news, read the NY Times and the New Republic for the lefty view and the Wall Street Journal and the Economist for your righty view, and that's enough. If you're spending more time than that on news and you're not a journalist, you're just using the news as a soap opera. More medical posts! Later, brother

  4. I blame the economy. When people are scared, they tend to react more strongly than in other situations. So those who would have been complaining to coworkers about economic policy are now marching and waving signs.

    I disagree with you about the main thrust of the tea parties. Most of the people I know who attended were not protesting a fictional tax increase. They were protesting unprecedented government spending - which will lead to increased taxes or economic collapse down the road.

  5. Mark,

    There's a false equivalency at play here. Was criticism of Bush intense? Yes, at times, and moreso as time went on. True. Was there ever a call for an armed march on washington? Was there *ever* *anyone* who suggested on cable TV that Bush was a Nazi (let alone with no rebuke)?

    You plumb the depths of the blogosphere, and yeah, there are dark corners on both sides. Point agreed. But the darkness on the right is in full display on FOX, talk radio, and even on CNN and MSNBC, to lesser degrees. It's mainstream. It's absolutely false to suggest that there's an "everybody does it" dynamic here.

    There were plenty of liberals who threatened to move to Canada if Bush was re-elected; there were no democratic governors who suggested secession or rebellion. Olbermann called Bush a war criminal -- Beck called Obama a Nazi. Do you see the difference in degree? More striking is that Olbermann (and others) have some legitimate if debatable merit to their accusations; the Nazi and Socialist talk is in advance of Obama actually doing anything to merit the accusations!

    Ultimately, you're right that I should relax, take some perspective, and write more about medicine.

  6. I think that many people who voted for Bush (like my Mom for instance) voted because that way because they felt "safer" with him under the perceived continuous onslaught of islamic terrorist attacks on US soil. That and the fact that she does not want to pay so much tax. However, she eventually got disgusted with him and now voted for Obama. She is more typical of the slightly-right of centre Republican that does not like Rush or Sean and does not love guns. She and those like her still may call themselves "Republicans".... for now. And she and those like her still mostly support the president. The fringe people are more vocal now as they fall more into a minority - and of course people like Rush just rake in the dough the more out of control they get. Sooner or later I bet he crosses the line and either gets arrested for inciting violence or dies of a massive MI (the second one is definitely more likely in the near future given his drug addiction and obesity).

  7. And I just read this from good ole' hope-he-has-an-MI-soon Rush:

  8. The source of the hateful rhetoric is very significant. I heard plenty of people call Bush a fascist. I also have heard the Confederate Republican party bantered around as a way to reflect the fact that it is now a regional party and not a not a national party.

    But no Democratic governor suggested leaving the United States of America. That appears to be limited to Texan Governors and the spouses of Alaska Governors.

  9. I find it interesting That Gov Perry now wants federal help antivirals for the swine flu. That was a short secession. Maybe the right should take this as a message from God: Secede and a plague on both your houses.

  10. What is amazing is that you can shovel such a huge load of excrement without apparently even smelling it, and throw it without even getting any on your hands. That takes talent (or remarkable lack of self-awareness, or both).

  11. Bastiat's Ghost4/27/2009 6:04 PM

    After eight years of 9/11 conspiracy crapola, assassination fantasies and what amounts a firehouse of lefty hate vomit you're going to worry people acting crazy? I'm sorry but WTF? What rock have you been living under?

    Your commentary on the Univ of Chicago has spot on. You do great when it comes to writing about medical issues. Unfortunately you know precious little about economics. You need to devote some time to reading what Hayek and Mises wrote about the roles prices play in coordinating economic behavior. Here's a quick point to get you thinking. Medicare underpays for primary care based on how much it costs to provide the service. Medicaid even more so. Where do you think they end up?

    Google 'Economic calculation in the socialist commonwealth'. It's about 100 pages long and available for free in pdf. I'll email you a few links if you want.

    Nice to see you poking around Scapel.

  12. "After eight years of 9/11 conspiracy crapola, assassination fantasies and what amounts a firehouse of lefty hate vomit you're going to worry people acting crazy? I'm sorry but WTF? What rock have you been living under?"

    Was President Bush ever asked by a reporter if 9/11 was an inside job? That's the test. There is plenty of crazy to fill out the spectrum, no doubt. But the difference is where the crazy is coming from.

  13. I attribute it to ... the way Obama has been ruling.
    Bush wasn't great with the pocketbook, but he didn't step into office and spend of few trillion dollars that we don't have. (People will jump up here and say 'Bush didn't have a recession on his hands'. Recession or no recession, borrowing trillions of dollars is a legitimate reason for people to be angry with him.)

    Bush didn't go down to Mexico and apologize for letting our guns across the border (which isn't happening), and say he would push to ban a few mostly cosmetic features as a result. Though Bush did say he would sign an AWB if it came across his desk, he didn't go around parading the fact that he wanted to ban all AR-15's and AK-47's. Oh, and sorry, it doesn't just apply to those. It applies to any semi-auto gun, hunting gun or not, that you hold a certain way and the stock collapses.

    The Bush administration didn't propose that they have the ability to shut down the internet if they want.
    Bush didn't bow to Muslims (a sign of submission, not friendship). He held hands (a sign of friendship).

    Bush didn't suggest giving up our sovereignty as a nation by suggesting signing treaties with foreign nations, banning certain weapons here.

    Bush didn't sign a bill on his first day in office allowing gov money to be used to fund baby murders in other countries.

    My point in all these comparisons is this: as a nation we are bankrupt morally and financially far more than before Obama came on the scene. We have allowed all sorts of depravity, we have spent all sorts of useless money. Conservatives will be angry with this.


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