Sunday, August 16, 2009
The Politics of Crazy
In the past eight years, I have been greatly disappointed - if not outright disgusted - at people comparing President Bush and President Obama to Adolf Hitler, or the Democrats and Republicans to Nazis. These sort of statements are not only absurd and inflammatory, they are immensely sad and disrespectful to people who actually suffered at the hands of one of the most evil men in history. I understand analogies and hyperbole as rhetorical techniques, but there is a point where political discourse simply veers into the land of "crazy talk."
That is the subject of Rick Pearlstein's op-ed in the Washington Post today. He begins with an irate citizen at a Congressional town-hall meeting. The citizen offered the following to his senator:
"One day God's going to stand before you, and he's going to judge you and the rest of your damned cronies up on the Hill. And then you will get your just deserts." He was accusing Arlen Specter of being too kind to President Obama's proposals to make it easier for people to get health insurance.
Now, that's just crazy. It's not only crazy, but it is so counter-productive and depressing.
Pearlstein's article is slanted toward criticism of the most recent outrage and protests at the town hall meetings. Thus the "crazy" is definitely more represented by conservatives and Republicans in this case. He follows with explanations of other outrageous behavior by conservatives, and he posits that the real craziness seems to happen more with conservatives and Republicans than with liberals and Democrats. As I read his piece, and think back over the past thirty years, I fear he may be right.
Granted, there are some real nut jobs on the left. From the Earth Liberation Front spiking trees and burning down resorts to the bombings by the Weatherman to the conspiracy theories about the Bush Administration allowing, or even planning, the terrorist attacks on 9/11, there are some nuts out there in Democrat-land. However, when I think of the most deadly American terrorist, Timothy McVeigh, I see the right-wing. While the Weatherman and the eco-terrorists have set bombs, they seemed to try and avoid killing people en masse. Not McVeigh. When a man turned up at a town hall meeting on health care with a gun and talked of shedding "the blood of tyrants," he was right wing.
The frivolous talk of "tyranny" - over something like government stimulus spending nonetheless - comes from the right wing. People who - bizarrely - yell at their congressman to "keep your government hands off my Medicare" (?) are right wing. People who tend to talk about the end of American civilization if we raise taxes are right wing. Immigration brings out rabid responses from the right. On the left, we've had immigration advocates speaking with heartfelt concerns about poor families being torn apart over immigration law, while on the right we had a congressman in Colorado callously say after two latino children who were hit crossing a street, that they wouldn't be dead if they hadn't broken the law. Really? That's a lawmaker's response to two children dying in a hit-an-run accident?
I admit that too many people on both sides let their passion get in the weigh of their politics. But lately it seems that the right is more likely to cross the line into crazy and violence - abortion-rights advocates haven't, as far as I know, bombed pro-life centers. I mean, passion is one thing, but hanging a congressman in effigy - over health care - is downright disturbing. Believing that the Bush Administration or the Obama Administration has sold out American sovereignty to the United Nations is crazy. Fearing that the program Teach for America is going to be used to indoctrinate an "Obama Youth Corps" is crazy. Telling your Congressman you don't want our country to become Russia is crazy. Believing for even a nanosecond about the possibility of "death panels" in a health care bill is crazy. And using violence and aggression to address political issues such as taxes and health care in the United States is crazy.
There is simply too much irrationality these days, and I believe much of it comes from ignorance and naivete. And I have to say that these days it seems like conservatives and the right wing of the Republican Party have the monopoly on "crazy." So, where is the most "crazy" - liberal Democrats or conservative Republicans? Which side is the least rational? Which side is the most likely to spout off bizarre, conspiratorial positions? Which side is more violent? Which side is most likely to be dangerous? Which side is more easily manipulated by their demagogues? Which side is more easily whipped into a frenzy? Which side is scarier? Which side of "crazy" is worse for America?
What do you think?