On One Hand

November 20, 2009

Have People Always Been This Crazy?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 11:16 am
Tags: ,

According to a recent poll, 52 percent of Republican voters believe that Barack Obama didn’t actually win the landslide election that gave him the presidency last November 4, instead maintaining that ACORN and the Democratic Party conspired to steal votes and rig the election in their favor.

Meanwhile, 58 percent of Republicans doubt that President Obama was born in the U.S. or is a legitimate American citizen. In some Southern states the numbers of so-called “birthers” are much higher.

The polls are troubling for a number of reasons. George W. Bush lost the popular vote and achieved electoral victory amidst a controversy-ridden, incomplete recount in a state where his brother was governor – the election came down to as little as 500 votes, but was still considered legitimate. Why the hell is Barack Obama’s 10 million vote victory seen as tenuous?

Meanwhile, if a wave of enthusiasm among change-hungry college-aged voters, urban voters and diverse populations sent Barack Obama to national office in a transformative election, who might a wave of highly-motivated tea-baggers and birthers bring to Washington in 2012 or 2016?

One of the reasons why we see such a high percentage of Republican party members leaning towards extreme far-Right opinions is that Republican numbers have dwindled; between 21 and 32 percent of Americans identify as Republican in the first place, most others claiming to be independents or Democrats. “Moderate” Republicans have funneled out of the party to consider themselves Independent, leaving the hard-Right behind. And since the Republican party lacks a clear vision of its own (“low taxes and strong military” might be what they want, but it was a disaster under Bush so they’re reluctant to claim it), it’s main emphasis is to be anti-Obama so the most anti-Obama Americans will cite themselves as such in polls. That means that the half of the Republican Party that thinks Barack Obama is a Kenyan Muslim is the Right-most 10 percent of Americans, and not such a scary number anymore.

There’s a more insidious reason to suspect an apparent shift to the Right in America – the one that Glen Beck, Karl Rove and other GOP proponents insist has occurred. John Stewart hinted about it in his extended interview with Lou Dobbs this week. In one sense, Stewart points out, this is what happens whenever a Democrat is in the White House. (Remember the litany of allegations against the Bill Clinton in the 90s, which ranged from conspiracy, to rape, to murder.) In another sense (which Stewart leaves unspoken), the president’s skin color may have a big thing to do about it; after all, what people seem most nervous about is “change,” and a multicultural America is a significant break from the past that significantly challenges the racial privilege of white Americans.

Working-class rural Americans might not feel they have much going for them right now in our poor economy, so race becomes an especially poignant part of identity; to those who lean Right, they see Obama challenging their white privilege without reducing their economic un-privilege, leaving them with nothing. To add another layer, diversity is something you see in cities; rural areas tend to be homogeneous; so having a non-white president might be perceived as culturally challenging to exurban and rural lifestyles.

In fairness, we should also point out that there are wingnuts on the Left, too. A pretty hefty number of Americans thought 9/11 was a conspiracy when the Bush administration was in power; a good bunch of the so called “9/11 truthers” were Ron Paul-ites and some of the same anti-government extremists who dominate the healthcare forums today, but it’s safe to assume that many of them are liberals who voted for Obama, or are too far to the Left to even vote (a significant number of non-voters refuse because they see both parties as slaves to corporate money).

But somehow the message that reached the general public was different in that case. Even pundits on Fox News want to argue that the anti-Obama conspiracy theorists are somehow different from the anti-Bush ones. Popular liberal pundits and columnists dismissed the worst accusations against George W. Bush; popular conservative pundits put the fringe Right on a platform and claim they’re the new movement in American politics.

That’s partially what the Obama Administration wants, because having political enemies that virtually everyone finds distasteful helps position yourself in the mainstream. The Republican Party is now purging itself of moderates, which means the Democratic party can only grow and absorb annoyed Independents and Republican castoffs, as it has done with Republicans Arlen Specter and Lincoln Chafee and may do with the likes of Dede Scozzafava and Charlie Christ.

If the Republican party is left to nominate Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin to national office, that’s great for Democrats. But I don’t think it’s good for the country; most of our lives happen after election seasons, not during them. And in those months, debate and compromise have been replaced by bitterness and obstructionism – as the healthcare debate reveals. One of the most “moderate” and reasonable ideas in a clash between a public and private sector is a public option, letting people choose for themselves what to buy or support – but that has been a bitter fight supported by just one of 177 House Republicans. Republicans are off the radar for Democrats as far too far on the fringe to support any kind of reasoned compromise on big issues.

It’s not because conservative ideas are without merit – they’re not – it’s because the views of those supporting them are increasingly disjointed and antagonistic, and misrepresentative of where most Americans – who are pragmatic and persuadable – really are. That’s good for Democrats hoping to win office, who seem unpopular until they’re juxtaposed with even more unpopular Republicans. Notice how even Hillary Clinton, who’s likability had been below 50 for years, still won in about half of all polls against John McCain before the 2008 presidential election.

The unfortunate thing is, if centrist voters become discontent with the Democrats (over things that are hard to move, like the economy) and do decide that they’d rather take a risk than stay where they are, the far-right Republican party is the only thing they have to turn to. And that’s reason for us all to worry.



  1. Does it get crazier, or just more shrill as it gets more commercial? I have lost the ability to tell, I am so desensitized to hyperbole and what passes for ‘snark.’ The problem is, as you point out is, IT’S NOT A GAME.

    Everything isn’t NFL Us VS Them, Fantasy Football, and Mars/Venus, despite the Carnival of Profit and professional graphics that whiz by. Shit is real:

    And shit is scary/unreal, too.

    Comment by mwittier — November 20, 2009 @ 6:28 pm | Reply

  2. Yep. 😐

    Comment by kishenehn — November 20, 2009 @ 8:01 pm | Reply

  3. Appeal to the Ignorant

    I’ve come across too many who insist on watching Fox News exclusively. Toxic Reactionary Radio runs just as badly. To misquote Edmund Meese, they choose to be ignorant. They parrot everything they hear, instead of thinking for themselves. I was a product of almost twelve years of Catholic school, and it took me a long time to learn to think for myself. I went through the Reformation five times before I finally saw what was really happening. I finally left over the bullying on abortion, but the latest on homosexuality only confirms it.
    I get my news from many different sources. As the program called FlexBrain notes, other ideas keep the brain fit. Spewing out the same old views only leads toward dementia and Alzheimer’s, as the god Reagan has shown.

    Comment by poimen — November 28, 2009 @ 1:28 pm | Reply

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