Part 1—Kevin Drum asks: Yesterday, Kevin Drum asked a very important question. The question appeared in a headline to a new post:
“Why Are So Many People in a Blind Rage These Days?”
As it turned out, Drum really was asking a different question: Why are so many conservatives in a blind rage these days?
That’s an important question too, although it’s different from the question posed in that headline.
As Drum’s post proceeded, the actual shape of his question became more clear. He quoted a post in which Paul Waldman ruminated about the “craziness” of “Republican members of Congress.”
For ourselves, we think it tends to mark the end of discussion when one party declares the “craziness” of the other. That said, there’s been a lot of crazy conduct and crazy belief floating around these days—actually, for the past several decades.
(No, Virginia! Bill and Hillary Clinton didn’t murder a whole lot of people. Bill Clinton didn’t run drugs through the airport at Mena.)
“Why Are So Many People in a Blind Rage These Days?” As he continued, Drum gave the conventional answer to this question. Then, for reasons he didn’t explain, he said this answer doesn’t quite do it for him:
DRUM (10/1/13): This is conventional wisdom, of course. The reason the tea party caucus isn't willing to compromise is because there's no pressure on them to compromise. Their constituents are as crazy as they are. They want the safety net slashed, taxes cut, the EPA put out of business, and the Fed eliminated. They believe that Obamacare is the thin edge of the wedge that's driving America into decline and ruin. They believe this so strongly that they're willing to do anything to turn the country around. If that means government shutdowns and financial panic, so be it.Why is there so much “right-wing craziness” these days? Why are the people who elected those Republican congressmen so much crazier than conservatives used to be?
But why? There's always been a faction of right-wing craziness in America. It's part of our DNA. But how did it become so widespread? The usual answer involves the rise of conservative think tanks, conservative talk radio, Fox News, the Christian right, and racial resentment toward a black president. And maybe that's it. Somehow, though, it doesn't feel quite sufficient. But if it's not, then what's going on? What's happened over the past decade or two to spin up so many Americans into a blind rage?
Complaining about tea party congressmen misses the big picture. The problem is the people who voted them into office. What happened to them?
Drum gave the conventional answer, the one involving the rise of talk radio, partisan “think tanks” and of course Fox News. He even threw in “racial resentment toward a black president.”
Still, he said, these conventional explanations don’t feel sufficient to him.
Can we talk? Those conventional explanations do feel sufficient to us! In our view, the past few decades have constituted a remarkable experiment in the true nature of human nature. Here’s the way it has worked:
The so-called democratization of media has created a world in which it’s easy to hear crazy, dishonest, or partisan people telling you crazy things which fit your preconceptions. Back when there was less “right-wing craziness in America,” it was actually fairly hard to hear people say crazy things.
Walter Cronkite wasn’t crazy; neither was David Brinkley. If you wanted to hear crazy ideas or ridiculous claims, you had to seek them out. You had to go to the corner bar and talk to the crazy guy in the corner. You had to send away to John Birch or to similar orgs.
Now, The Crazy is everywhere; The Crazy is very big business. It’s very easy to hear crazy claims which fit your preconceptions. And uh-oh! In our view, here’s what we’ve learned about human nature as this experiment has played out:
It’s easy to get people to believe Crazy Things! You just have to let people hear them!
Plainly, Drum isn’t crazy. He strongly tends toward the sober; that's why we like his work. We’re just guessing: This may explain why Drum is so puzzled when he sees so many people believing so many crazy things.
To him, the picture still doesn’t compute. He understands the theory of the way The Crazy spreads. But to him, it still seems odd to think that we humans are prone to believing The Crazy to this impressive extent.
We’ve been surprised by the last few decades too, but the conventional wisdom does seem sufficient to us. In part, that may be because we’ve allowed ourselves to see The Crazy spreading a bit among our own tribe too.
In our view, Kevin’s post comes from an ancient tribal warp in which only The Others are crazy. His headline seemed to be ecumenical. His analysis was not.
In a very seminal post, Drum turns out to be explaining one of the race’s oldest questions: Why is the other tribe so crazy? We’ll suggest that, in this new piece by Joan Walsh at Salon, we see a wider swath of We the People behaving in Slightly Crazy Ways too.
All liberals know how to respond to such claims. We know that we should denounce such statements as “moral equivalence.”
This has become a Key Tribal Skill. And alas! It’s part of the ongoing problem!
All the way back into prehistory, we humans have always known one thing. We’ve always known that The Crazy and Vile can only be found among Them.
Tomorrow: In what way is Walsh’s piece perhaps just a bit semi-crazy? Also this:
Are writers like Walsh “in a blind rage these days?” Perhaps just a small tiny bit?
Still to come: King and Mandela!