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?


steven said...

I agree that using violence and aggression to address political issues is crazy. It's also evil. The only justification for using violence is for defense or retaliation against aggressors. But it's important to remember that all states, including the United States of America, use violence and aggression to address political issues all the time. All states use violence and aggression to compel membership and to raise revenue. Regardless of how some states may compare favorably with other states in their use of violence and aggression, they all use it, and none of it is ever justified. We need to condemn all aggression, including that employed by our own government.

I would say that the increase in the level of government intrusion in the lives of Americans has much to do with the tone of political discourse here recently. More and more, our political system is used to reward some at the expense of others. People understandably resent that they are forced to pay for the wants and needs of other people and are forced to live their lives according to the moral codes of other people.

Daughter of Eve said...

Hey Anonymous, and Michael too, check this out. In the comment section there are very good arguments; Alex and Brett are two awesome, passionate 19-year-olds who fight for the truth. I hope I get to meet them some day. Here is the link:

~Queen Lucy~

Anonymous said...

Is the anonymous referred to by Friends of Narnia here the one you were arguing on the last post?
This is the same one, but unfortunately, like i stated before, we believe different things, and I'm not likely to be swayed. This also seems to be an inappropriate venue to pursue an argument, seeing as most of Mr. Mazenko's posts are predominantly political.
And in response to the article...
Unfortunately, living in a country where we can watch a man's limbs getting torn from his torso while leisurely helping ourselves to some buttered popcorn, we need extreme symbols to reach most of the country. Like many others, a stern letter isn't quite enough to sway me into believing in one side more than the other. That would (crazily) force me to decide on who i like from the issues, and in these beauty pageants we like to call elections, we can't rely on that alone. Symbols like burning flags, burning effigies, posters of Obama in clown make-up seem to be what reaches the voters, and therefore becomes the vessel of influence. Even considering that these mean nothing, and are about as intelligent as a "Yo Momma" debate between candidates, they still work better on the uninformed.
This country, at least as of late, does not force the decisions in the laps of the educated. It forces the decision on everyone, and not everyone understands government. Even those people who purport to be educated on the subject rarely know what they mean much of the time. In the last week, CNN aired stories on "end of life counseling", which somehow gets comically misinterpreted into "death panels." How this escapes even the news is outrageous, and yet there it is, aired on national television for all to see. It turns out these grim assessments are jumping on the wording concerning having assistance in writing a will.
About the same thing came out of boulder last week, when President Obama was answering questions at Colorado University at Boulder. Everyone from the news networks to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart jumped on the sound bite to a hypothetical answer, saying he was considering removing the public option when he was simply stating that whether the public option was there or not, the private sector would remain intact.
I agree that most of our country is a product of our ignorance, and i can only wait until one side decides to escalate what is a mud-fight between two not-so-different parties into a full-scale war.
No side is exactly more dangerous than the other, but the republicans absolutely receive more press coverage with those figure heads like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. The left has only practically only had comedians, protest groups that don't exactly receive coverage, the in the old days, the meek Hannity counter-part, Colmes.
I'm sure neither party is more at fault than the other for how the political system has become, But that is definitely something to consider. A message carried out can have a lot of consequences.

Anonymous said...

Friends Of Narnia,
I didn't mean to be crass in my last posting, and if nobody else cares, i find it interesting to argue with someone with such radically different views from my own. However, I had typed a long response to your last post, and i will gist it tomorrow when i have more time.

Daughter of Eve said...

I still don't understand, but it has been good for me to "speak" with someone who strongly disagrees with me. I want to learn how to debate this issue and educate people on it. Thank you for being *moderately* patient with me. ;) I just wondered what someone who thinks oppositely would think of that.

Queen Lucy said...

Wait, I just caught something that you said: "political" issues??? May I ask hwo that is NOT a political issue? I mean, our government is allowing it, and wants to give money to other countries to help them do it. I will not go into another debate (;P), but you can't say that's not a political issue.

Anonymous said...

Well,it concerns politics, of course, but not in the same vein.
Mazenko isn't exactly able to comment on abortion rights because it concerns religion and opinions more than the strict facts of how the government works and how the government is founded. The government implements of it are so much less important than the moral positioning of such an issue.
But either way,
wouldn't you say it's more moral to kill someone with potential of hurting more people than to simply let those people perish because of your inaction?
Let's go with Hitler, since you already brought him up in the last posting. Would killing a man such as Hitler be more moral than letting the sixty million caught in the genocide perish?

Queen Lucy (don't feel like logging in :P) said...

Hitler was evil and a man who had had a chance to change, to live life as it should be. He was given many warnings, and we're talking about 60 million people!!!!!!!!! *okay, I know I should not get angry but I'm sorry I am* We told him time and time again that he must stop, but he did not. There are times like that when that must be done, but those people have warnings and chances to repent. Those people do it willingly. A innocent, helpless child is SO different!!!! You're not giving them a chance to change, because there is nothing to change! You can't say "Stop trying to kill your mother or else." Because they are not trying to!!!!! And... OH!!!!! It's hopeless, you won't see unless you are willing. I'm sorry, I should be patient but it is so hard when INNOCENT HELPLESS lives are at stake!! I should stop talking now.

Dennis Fermoyle said...

Michael, I agree with what you say. I have tended to lean slightly Democratic, but I've voted for a lot of Republicans during my life. Right now, however, I am thoroughly disgusted with that party.