Grand Old Paranoids

Andy Sullivan is shocked at the anger of righties.

The hysteria on the far right (is there any other sort any more?) about the immigration bill is remarkable to me. It’s not that there aren’t obviously good arguments against amnesty; it’s the fever-pitch mania that drives these people. I have to say I find it baffling – not the position as such but the anger and rage.

Lord, Andy, what planet have you been living on lo these many years? The American Right has been a cauldron of destructive emotion for decades. Get past anger, rage, and hysteria, and you find contempt, hostility, resentment, greed, jealousy, bigotry, paranoia, self-pity, and fear. Everything — and I mean everything — the Right is about springs from a bubbling stew of negativity.

Of course, I’m not telling you readers anything you don’t already know. It’s just that it stuns me whenever someone who has been running with these mutts steps away and realizes — suddenly — they’re rabid. (Hello, reality?)

Not that you’ll ever get the bulk of the Rabid Right to admit this. One of their favorite conceits is that their opinions are based on logic and rational analysis, while lefties operate purely on emotion. Projection, anyone?

Awhile back a Pew Research poll concluded that conservatives are “happier” than liberals. How did Pew come to this conclusion? Conservatives say they are happy more than liberals say they are happy. As George Will noted,

A survey by the Pew Research Center shows that conservatives are happier than liberals — in all income groups. While 34 percent of all Americans call themselves “very happy,” only 28 percent of liberal Democrats (and 31 percent of moderate or conservative Democrats) do, compared with 47 percent of conservative Republicans. … Republicans have been happier than Democrats every year since the survey began in 1972.

Will goes on to speculate why conservatives are happier, but leaves out the obvious (to me) reason for the poll results. Conservatives on the whole are less introspective and more conformist than liberals. Thus, they are more likely to say they are happy because (a) they’re in denial about their own unhappiness, and (b) that’s what they think they’re supposed to say.

Andy goes on to say that rightie views on immigration policy are “obscured by emotion.” Do tell. Then he says,

But I do want to address David Frum’s smear that I am now part of a “Blame America First” crowd, because I think our experience in Iraq and the huge damage we have done to our image in the Arab world requires us to rethink some aspects of our war-policy – like torture and open-ended involvement in the Iraqi civil war. I’ve been extremely clear that I believe that the US did nothing to “deserve” 9/11. But Frum tries to smear me anyway.

In fact, unless Andy linked to the wrong Frum post, Frum didn’t smear Andy much at all. The primary smear was aimed at Ron Paul; Andy was smeared by association. But righties cannot countenance disagreements with their opinion, no matter where the disagreement comes from. It is unfathomable to them that an opinion differing from theirs might be based on facts and logic. No one may disagree with a rightie without getting his morals, character, and motivations called into question.

You see that in the Melanie Morgan-Jon Soltz encounter of the past week. Morgan’s “intellectual” position is based on a self-perception that she is standing alone on moral high ground. In her mind, she represents the people who really love America and support the troops and Soltz does not. Her part of the “debate” consists entirely of her drawing that (imaginary) distinction between herself and Soltz. That Soltz may, in fact, love America and the troops as much as she does is utterly beyond her comprehension. (And, of course, it’s possible a psychological dissection of Morgan would reveal her devotion to America and the troops is less than pure, but I’ll leave that alone for now.)

I like to think that, once upon a time, politicians from across the political spectrum could work together and come to rational decisions about governing America. Surely there must have been stretches of time in which most people understood that their political opponents did not “hate America” but just had different ideas about what was best for America. Of course, there were also times in the past that were less than congenial; the Civil War does come to mind. Politics has been rife with demagoguery, corruption and backstabbing ever since man invented government. But I can’t believe our form of government could have survived as long as it has, and our nation accomplished what it has accomplished, if national politics were always as poisonously partisan as they are now.

I have a jaundiced view of all political ideology. Rather than ideology, my political positions are based on values that shape my understanding of the relationship between citizens and government. Beyond that, I’m open to whatever might be good for America. Decisions about whether government should expand or shrink, whether taxes should go up or down, whether armies should be engaged or not, depend entirely on the situation and circumstances we face at the time.

Further, I do not believe any one person or group or faction ever has all the answers. Where people of many diverse perspectives can reason together, there you can find pragmatism and maybe even wisdom. But where only the like-minded are allowed to speak, there you find fools. And that’s a finger I’m ready to wag at the Left as much as at the Right, wherever applicable. But our government has been dominated by extremist and fanatical right-wingers in recent years, which makes dealing with them our immediate concern.

My beef with most of the American Right is that they don’t think. Their worldview is as rigid and unquestioned as if they’d received it from God carved on stone tablets. Their reaction to everything and everyone outside the rightie tribe is entirely visceral. Whatever ain’t with ’em is agin’ ’em, in their view. And it matters not how much experience and empirical evidence piles up to prove their policies don’t work. Their minds will not change. Whether you’re talking about “supply side” economics or the Iraq War, a true rightie can no more admit to a mistake than a fish can tap dance. And, yes, they anger me, because for some time now these fools have been in charge. I am not angry because they disagree with me; I am angry because of the control they have over my country and my life.

A couple of years ago Digby compared today’s American Right to defenders of slavery — mostly Democrats — before the Civil War. She quoted long passages of Abraham Lincoln’s Cooper Union address of 1860 in this post. Lincoln described his political opponents in ways that seem all too familiar to us today. If you have time, go to Mr. Lincoln’s speech, scroll down about halfway to the sentence “And now, if they would listen – as I suppose they will not – I would address a few words to the Southern people” and read from there, and I think you’ll see what I’m talking about. Digby comments:

Lincoln had a keen understanding of the problem and he logically framed it in moral terms regarding the subject at hand, slavery. As it turns out this was not simply about slavery. It was about a deep and abiding tribal divide in the country that was originally defined by slavery but metatisized into something far beyond it, even then. Southern “exceptionalism” was always justified by its culture, which was assumed to be unique and unprecedented.

You can apply Lincoln’s arguments to any number of current issues and come out the same. There is an incoherence of principle that we see in every section of the republican party, the willingness to call to State’s Rights (their old rallying cry) when it suits them and a complete abdication of the principle once they hold federal power — while still insisting that they believe in limited government! They blatantly misconstrue the plain meaning of long standing constitutional principles and federal policies (such as Brit Hume’s abject intellectual whorishness in the matter of FDR’s beliefs about social security privatization) and show irrational, rabid anger at any disagreement. They see Democrats as “traitors” fighting for the other side, just as the Southerners of the 1850’s accused the “Black Republicans” of fomenting slave revolts. They brook no compromise and instead repay those who would reach out to them with furious perfidy unless they show absolute fealty to every facet of the program. It is loyalty to “the cause”, however it is defined and however it changes in principle from day to day, that matters.

The challenge to us is to wrest control of government and media away from the lunatics without becoming as crazy as they are. We must stop the Right from stomping on us, the Constitution, and democratic principles without becoming rigidly intolerant of all conservative points of view. The goal is not to impose our point of view but to level the playing field so that we have as good a shot at selling out ideas to the public as anyone else. And if we define “conservative” in the more traditional way — someone who is cautious about raising taxes, spending government money, and making big changes generally — then I believe strongly that conservative perspectives should be represented in government. Although I share the values of progressivism, in my experience progressives are just as capable of hatching dumb ideas as anyone else. You always need people around to blow whistles and challenge groupthink.

The title of Andy Sullivan’s post is “Circular Conservative Firing Squad Update.” The conservative coalition is, indeed, cracking up. For years an alignment of diverse and often contradictory factions — social and religious conservatives, neocons, paleocons, libertarians, survivalists, corporatists, bigots generally, and probably others I can’t think of — have banded together under the “conservative” banner. This coalition wasn’t held together so much by shared ideas and values as by shared resentments (and rage, anger, hysteria, paranoia, contempt, hostility, etc.). Those negative emotions were the only elements they all had in common. As long as they were fixated at hating Them (e.g., Communists, liberals, Islamofascists, France) they weren’t looking at each other all that closely.

But no more. The signs of impending rightie doom are all around us. For example, Hugh Hewitt accuses Peggy Noonan of bigotry. And Jerry Falwell is gone. Frank Rich notes,

Though Mr. Falwell had long been an embarrassment and laughingstock to many, including a new generation of Christian leaders typified by Mr. Kuo, the timing of his death could not have had grander symbolic import. It happened at the precise moment that the Falwell-Robertson brand of religious politics is being given its walking papers by a large chunk of the political party the Christian right once helped to grow. Hours after Mr. Falwell died, Rudy Giuliani, a candidate he explicitly rejected, won the Republican debate by acclamation. When the marginal candidate Ron Paul handed “America’s mayor” an opening to wrap himself grandiloquently in 9/11 once more, not even the most conservative of Deep South audiences could resist cheering him. If Rudy can dress up as Jack Bauer, who cares about his penchant for drag?

The current exemplars of Mr. Falwell’s gay-baiting, anti-Roe style of politics, James Dobson of Focus on the Family and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, see the writing on the wall. Electability matters more to Republicans these days than Mr. Giuliani’s unambiguous support for abortion rights and gay civil rights (no matter how clumsily he’s tried to fudge it). Last week Mr. Dobson was in full crybaby mode, threatening not to vote if Rudy is on the G.O.P. ticket. Mr. Perkins complained to The Wall Street Journal that the secular side of the Republican Party was serving its religious-right auxiliary with “divorce papers.”

Yes, and it is doing so with an abruptness and rudeness reminiscent of Mr. Giuliani’s public dumping of the second of his three wives, Donna Hanover. This month, even the conservative editorial page of The Journal chastised Republicans of the Perkins-Dobson ilk for being too bellicose about abortion, saying that a focus on the issue “will make the party seem irrelevant” and cost it the White House in 2008. At the start of Tuesday’s debate, the Fox News moderator Brit Hume coldly put Mr. Falwell’s death off limits by announcing that “we will not be seeking any more reaction from the candidates on that matter.” It was a pre-emptive move to shield Fox’s favored party from soiling its image any further by association with the Moral Majority has-been and his strident causes. In the ensuing 90 minutes, the Fox News questioners skipped past the once-burning subject of same-sex marriage as well.

Oh, my.

A few years ago, George W. Bush became for righties the embodiment of an extended middle finger waved at everything they loathe (resent, fear, rage against, etc.). They more he smirked, the more he signaled the world and the Democrats they could kiss his ass, the more righties loved him. But today no less than Michelle Malkin herself sees the Finger turned on her.

The word for today, boys and girls, is dolchstosslegende. And since righties really don’t know how to process disagreement in a civil manner, they’re about to turn on each other with all the hysteria, anger, rage, etc., they used to reserve for us.

Pass the popcorn.

10 thoughts on “Grand Old Paranoids

  1. Lots of good things to talk about in this post. I’ll only pick on one.

    I like to think that, once upon a time, politicians from across the political spectrum could work together and come to rational decisions about governing America. Surely there must have been stretches of time in which most people understood that their political opponents did not “hate America” but just had different ideas about what was best for America…

    I once heard John Dean speak about his tenure in the Nixon administration. While waiting in the green room for a TV interview, there were a couple members of Congress also waiting to go on television. They were from opposite parties, and yet they chatted amiably, inquiring about their families, kids, activities and so on. Dean made the point that this culture of civility has largely and obviously disappeared, and of course our country is the poorer for it. Those of us who are old enough, remember this time.

    I mentioned earlier, The Fourth Turning. It posits times or seasons of intense disagreement, like the time we’re in now. It also posits times when people unify and pull together, and can accomplish great things. It usually takes a huge crisis for this to happen, for people to set aside their differences. One of the many memorable statements from the authors is the prediction that a future crisis is going to make our current Culture War disagreements look stupid and childish. We were almost at that moment for a few days after 9/11.

    Sidenote, do you remember the phrase “the Generation Gap”? It’s all but forgotten now, as eventually will be the phrase “Culture Wars”.

  2. Another great post, Maha. Although “Grand Old Hemerrhoids” might be a better description of those oozing pustules on the ass of humanity. And a minor correction: Lincoln’s Copper Union speech was given in 1860, not 1960!

  3. Sure, it’s quite possible that conservatives are happier than liberals. People who don’t ever question their fundamental beliefs are definitely a lot more comfortable in their own minds than those who spend time thinking about this. This condition is highly visible in religious fundamentalists, who are happy letting others tell them what to believe and who know they have found the ultimate truth. Knowing you never will own the ultimate truth is much less comfortable.

  4. I’m not surprised that righties say they are happier. That would be the point of embracing denial.

  5. Come to think about it, the wingnuts I know haven’t seemed particularly happy. Pretty cranky most of the time from what I have seen and that was before the republic party started smelling so bad even the msm couldn’t totally ignore it anymore.

  6. It seems to me that the one thing that used to bring us together was respect for the rule of law. Now, that the righties are the ones who are breaking the law, the rule of law seems to be sinking into the sunset. Crimes have been committed and no one has been held accountable. It sets a precedent. There used to be a sense of fair play. Not only is the sense of fair play gone; but, so is fair play. The only way the righties got where they are was by cheating, law breaking, and doing every thing to make sure the playing field was rigged in their favor. How do we go back to respecting and insisting that the rule of law be honored? Until the perpetrators of the crimes are held accountable the rule of law is a joke and only for those the ones in power don’t like regardless of innocence. The whistleblowers and the challengers to groupthink are the ones who are being hurt by the criminals.

  7. I wrote a post here that gets into happiness polls (for a different reason). It turns out that if you ask “Are you happy?”, you get a very different result that if you interupt periodically and ask “How are you feeling now?”. The context I wrote about was the rich (who say they’re happy, but really aren’t that much happier), but I’m sure the same thing applies to Righties for the same reason (as easily recongized as “I am NOT ANGRY!).

    Just watched a bit of Victor Gold (a Goldwaterite who can’t talk) talking to the Cato Institute (a think tank that can’t think). He was stopped twice by applause – when he dissed the neocons and the theocons. Yeah, the Rove base is hopelessly splintered. About bleeping time.

  8. Lord, Andy, what planet have you been living on lo these many years?

    Aw, Barb, you’re cute with the rhetorical questions and stuff. That would be Planet there’s nothing above the pecs to shave, why look?

    Honestly, why would someone who said that people who disagreed with him (on what he now admits was a disaster of a disastrously mismanaged unnecessary war) were an active fifth column against America and fervently fought the homeland battle against people who summer where he does (until he realized that when his buddies don’t make that useful faggy gay person/Andrew Sullivan distinction he’s so fond of) claim not to have noticed until now that his erstwhile political allies are unhinged?

    For the same reason that he published racist crap and then claimed to be outraged that his allies are bigots. Because a man who knows how to fail upwards gracefully never has to own his own shit, even when it’s smeared on his face.

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