Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Freak Show

Megan McArdle links to a Financial Times piece by Clive Cook which includes the following quote:
The gap between the right of the Republican party, which is providing the angriest critics of the reforms, and the left of the Democratic party, which thinks the proposals too timid, is unbridgeable. These groups do not merely disagree. They despise each other. Their differences are only secondarily about policy. They hold each other’s values in contempt.

These snarling extremes are nonetheless somewhat alike. They have an equal and opposite penchant for conspiracy theories. Almost a third of Republicans, according to a recent poll, believe the unsupported story that Mr Obama was not born in the US (in which case he would be disqualified from serving as president). But remember that more than a third of Democrats subscribe to the even more outlandish theory that the Bush administration knew about the attacks of September 2001 in advance.

One of the annoying qualities of national debate over the last several months (which seems to increase as Democrats become more desperate about their flagship legislation) is the attempt to find the very looniest possible elements of the right and portray them as being mainstream. Recent weeks have seen left wing commentators pretending that one of the major GOP issues is President Obama's birth certificate and dredging up "right wing militias", and inspired renouned prose stylist Harry Reid to create the ringing phrase "evil mongers" for those who question their legislators in town hall meetings. It's been a staple of "enlightened" liberal commentary since the election that the Republican party is now a spent force, a bankrupt regional party whose only adherants are a few inbred racists who can't read well enough to find their way out of the trailer park and join the local Hope & Change brigade.

Reality is, of course, a bit different. The number of set adherants of each party has remained roughly the same -- elections in the modern US swing not so much on committed partisans changing their minds but on the profoundly un-ideological (and sometimes just plain un-informed) middle swinging one way or the other based on their worries and affections every other November.

In that sense, all this posturing is irrelevant. But I can't help thinking that it does the general body politic harm when either major party either embraces the nuttier of its own members, or intentionally picks out the very nuttiest of its oppenents fringe members and treats them as if they were representative. Honestly, the 9/11 Truthers, the Trig Truthers, the Birthers, and such (not to mention even fringier elements such as militias and those who actively advocated fighting on the side of Al Qaeda) do not deserve to be paid attention to in sane society. Those who think they are helping their cause right now by trying to bring this parade of horribles into the mainstream in order to pin it to their opposition will hurt not only the country as a whole in the long run, but themselves too.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Darwin, the number of adherents to each party does *not* stay roughly the same over time. Right now the cohort of those 25 years old and younger - that is, those who came of age under President Bush - are the most strongly Democratic generation this country has seen since before WWII. I'm over 40 but I, too, registered as a Democrat for the first time just three years ago, after a lifetime of squishy non-partisanship and occasional flirtations with the Libertarian Party. I went D entirely because of Bush. And I'm sure you've seen those "Bush made me a Democrat" bumber stickers. It's not just a slogan - it's a fact of politics in the US. Leadership makes a BIG difference, for better or, in this case, for worse.

Also, I have to take exception to your claim that the crazies in either party are irrelevant. The crazies in the D party were noisy and numerous enough in 1968 to do grave damage to that party. And the crazies in the R party today are doing the same. If you doubt this, listen to Glenn Beck's or Sean Hannity's radio show, from beginning to end, just once. Or go to any Town Hall meeting hosted by a D congressman, and watch (and listen to) the protesters who show up.

I will readily agree that we would all be better off if these people were irrelevant, but we can't just pretend that they are because it makes us feel better. Sometimes the crazies have to be dealt with, and only the people in their own party can do it effectively. Alas, no one in the R party is stepping up to do the job.

Joel

DMinor said...

Joel,

I agree that the previous election was as much about distaste for George W. Bush as it was enthusiasm for Barack Obama. John McCain did not get as many votes in 2008 as Bush did in 2004. I don't think Bush will be making policy anytime soon, so the usefulness of basing a politcal movement on Bush-hatred is probably not going to have any longevity.

And while your info about youth party alignment is interesting, it is not necessarily politically relevant yet. Youth turnout had a small rise (as a percentage of their eligibles), but was still well below the larger, more senior cohort. See the graphs on http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3340/3486748363_5e50fbb8c0.jpg
to get a sense of the difference.

My age group was, in my youth, part of the great Reagan Realignment, which, as you can see, has not translated into perpetual majorities. The jury is still out as to whether the Obama election represents a true realignment to the left, or a blip, such as the election of Jimmy Carter after the Nixon fiasco.

More to the point of the post -- our attention to the crazies are what can be politcally relevant, not the crazies themselves. The birthers have no real traction, but they are useful to the opposition.

Sorry for the length, Darwin. I got carried away.

Anonymous said...

I read this morning that 45% of the public now believes in death panels. Tell me again why the crazies are irrelevant?

Joel

Darwin said...

Joel,

Trying looking up the percentage of the public that believes in UFOs or that the moon landing was a hoax some time...

I don't deny that silly things get said and believed. I spent the Clinton years assuring friends and relatives that although Clinton was a corrupt idiot he had not really sold the Port of Los Angeles to the Chinese, and he was not really going to require US soldiers to wear US uniforms and then use a UN army to take over the US and rule for life.

And I suppose somewhere out there there must have been sane Bush opponents who were willing to say that Bush had not planned 9/11 as an inside job, that Cuba is not actually a better place to live than the US, that the Patriot Act did not really give the government unprescidented new power, and such.

Personally, though, I think it's best to just explain reality to such people and then move on -- not spend lots of work trying to make the opponent's opposing crazies mainstream. Look what that got us with Al Franken. Now he's in the Senate...

On the death panels -- probably what allows the more exaggerated claims to spread so far is that there's truth involved as well. Obama's health care advisors _do_ support the idea of using data on life expectancy to decide how much to bother spending on patients (as is already routine in the national health care systems of the UK and similar countries) and many of them do also support assisted suicide laws. Given those facts, and the general tribalism of politics, and the fact that there are actual "end of life review" meetings funded in the bill, it's hardly surprising that the "death panel" meme spreads. Rumors that are more than half true and confirm your worst opinions about your political opponents generally do. And it's notable that Obama supports had no problem with that phenomenon when it worked for them.

Darwin said...

"US uniforms" should be "UN uniforms"

Something or other related to the Bosnia involvement got the idea spread all over that Clinton was going to turn the military over the UN and force everyone into UN uniforms.

Anonymous said...

darwin wrote: "there are actual "end of life review" meetings funded in the bill".

False. There was funding for citizens to create end-of-life directives. Funding, that is, for people to hire a lawyer or hospice advisor of their choice to create a legally workable document to provide directions for their family in case they become incapacitated. To prevent another Terry Schiavo fiasco, and to ensure that people make their end-of-life wishes clear before they reach the point of being unable to express them clearly. It's worth noting that most of the R leadership supported such programs right up until the day that President Obama included them in his proposal, and then they suddenly became death panels, a fascist and tyrranical threat to freedom and to life itself.

If you don't think the people behind this distortion are crazy*, then I respectfully suggest you need to recalibrate your crazy meter.

Joel

* No, I don't believe that Newt Gingrich or Chuck Grassley are crazy. They're just lying. It's all the others with them who are crazy.

Darwin said...

Joel,

Like any mistake, the "death panels" meme seems to be of complex origin -- half based on the availability of funding for medical providers to have boards to meet with seniors to discuss end of life options with them, and half based on the idea of setting up a board to review what procedures are worth funding under what circumstances.

And while I think with this bill, the fears are unwarranted, I certainly don't blame people for having these fears generally when a lot of the same people who support Obama and his health reform ideas also support the Oregon assisted suicide legalization, and admire the health care systems of European countries which do indeed routinely refuse highly expensive care to people who have low life expectancies.

So do I think people worried about "death panels" are crazy? No. Given the embrace of abortion, euthenasia, etc. by the Democratic party and by other progressive parties in other countries it's hardly crazy. It just happens to be incorrect in this case. I'd say if anything it's less crazy than the people convinced that the Patriot Act meant the Dick Cheney was reading their email. And it's a hell of a lot less crazy than believing the moon landings were faked, the government is covering up UFOs, or that AIDS was created and spread by the US government -- all of which are fairly popular beliefs in the wider population.

So I'm certainly not going to lose sleep over it. If Obama had wanted to avoid all this silliness, he should have worked on getting a better bill, communicating better, and alienating his opponents less. (Ironically, pretty much the same blame that can be put on Bush for a lot of his failures.)

Anonymous said...

Darwin, go take a look at Rod Dreher's Crunchy Con blog. His top story (as of 1:21PM today) illustrates what I'm talking about.

Joel

Darwin said...

The main thing that strikes me is that the clip shows one rather scared-sounding woman sounding almost as stupid as most of the left did for most of the last eight years. I don't know how many times I heard "Bushitler" or saw pictures of bush morphed into a chimp, or saw bumpter stickers saying "Kill The President", but it was a lot. And clearly, as the election of Obama shows, the hardest core group of a party's supports being totally insane does not prevent the wider population from flocking to a party if they put up a candidate who speaks to people's worries of the moment.

Do I think the lady at that townhall came off sounding foolish? Sure. Am I very worried about that? Not so much.

I think most people who are not hard core Democratic partisans can tell that she's not an example of what serious conservative thought is actually like -- just like Obama was not expected to publically denounce and drive from the public square people like Michael Moore and Maxine Waters (much less every dumb person who ran around saying that Bush was the greatest threat to liberty our country had ever known) just to prove the he himself was not as loony as they are.

Darwin said...

I'll certainly say this, though:

- I don't like the fact the issue is being demagogued, even though in this case the short term results (defeat of ObamaCare) may be good.

- I think that the fake "town hall" rallies at which politicians answer questions in a folksy way from constituents who may well never have seen them before in person, and may well never again, are overall a bad idea and just serve to lower the tone of political discourse from its already low level. I have little faith that "ordinary folks" gathered in a convention hall are best able to sort out complicated issues.

We've come down a long way since the days of Lincoln and Douglas.

CMinor said...

Whoa--Darwin--
That young woman was no conservative fringe crazy. She was a Larouche fringe crazy. And he is hardly a conservative.

Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...

If the rest of the quoted piece is as horribly researched as that quote, why are you spending your time reading it?

The survey:
The Dan Jones poll done for KSL-TV and the Deseret News shows one-third of those questioned either do not believe or are not sure if Pres. Obama was born on U.S. soil. (they're a Utah firm)

Meanwhile, the Rasmussen report from '07 has 35% of the self-ID'd Dems saying Bush knew ahead of time.

Oh, the Kos guys commissioned this survey, but...yeah. Poorly phrased, and it's from Kos, with a survey company without anything like Rasmussen's rep, and their site doesn't fill me with confidence.

Darwin said...

Oh, the Kos guys commissioned this survey, but...yeah. Poorly phrased, and it's from Kos, with a survey company without anything like Rasmussen's rep, and their site doesn't fill me with confidence.

I'm wondering what the point of their one other question is: "Do you believe that America and Africa were once part of the same continent?"

I think what they must mean is "Do you believe that America and Africa were once part of the same land mass?" referring to the theory of continental drift. but given that they used the wrong terminology in the question, the correct answer is arguably "No".

And I'm not clear why they think that continental drift goes with their other question.

Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...

Given that it's Kos, I think they pay for a bunch of surveys to get results they can then tout as "look how stupid X group is!" Kinda like how I don't give much credence to nightly news polls, they wouldn't talk about them unless the results were handy for their purpose.

CMinor said...

Oooh, those clever KOmmies...they're obviously setting out to find a link between the "Birther" conspiracy theory and young-earth creationism!