I will be talking to Markos tonight at 9pm Eastern on Virtually Speaking about his book American Taliban (autographed copies available). Among the topics that I will raise will be the negative response some progressives have had, sometimes in response to nothing more than the title. Glenn Greenwald discusses the issues that were raised, including the fairly peculiar idea that what the US has done in Afghanistan and Iraq somehow doesn’t seem to count as the acts of killers and terrorists in the eyes of many of those critics.
I will also want to talk about something I discussed with mcjoan and dday last night. And that’s the use of the word “crazy” to describe some Republicans. Markos uses the word frequently, to describe people who profess belief in things that are obviously false, like the people who say they believe that the President is a Muslim who was born in Kenya. This turns out to be a complicated question, because people frequently believe things that aren’t true, especially on political topics. For example, it doesn’t correlate with ignorance, or people we consider low information voters.
David Barstow of the NYT spent a lot of time with the Tea Partiers. I saw him on a panel with Glenn Greenwald and Daniel Ellsberg back in February. (Jane Hamsher was there too, although I didn’t see her.) He pointed out that there is actually a quite extensive literature that underlies false beliefs like those held by truthers, birthers, Roswellers and other fantasists. (Personally, I would add in the extensive literature involving widely held beliefs in the supernatural, like those held by Christians, Hindus, Jews and Muslims. But that’s just me.) So you end up with people like this providing collections of half-truths and innuendo that support rationalizations for stuff people want to believe anyway. It’s a lot easier hating Obama the secret Muslim out to destroy the nation with his socialist plots than the handsome, intellectual father of two charming daughters. So when people are offered reasons to profess belief in something that is objectively ludicrous, they grab onto them. When you add tribalism to the mix, then it’s not hard to get people to say they believe in crazy stuff.
So does that make them crazy?
This is becoming a topical question, because of the people rank and file Republican voters are nominating for the Senate. There is a growing snobby media (and progressive!) narrative that these are the GOP equivalent of dirty fucking hippies, invading the upper echelons of society, saying things that people just don’t say. Glenzilla again:
As Atrios also suggested, these Tea Party candidates differ not in their views but in their untrained, unsophisticated style of expressing those views. They just haven’t been groomed yet to comport themselves with Ruling Class mannerisms, which is what is causing most of the consternation. A perfect example of this occurred during the 2008 presidential campaign, when Palin said in an interview with Charlie Rose that the U.S. should be prepared to fight a war with Russia in order to defend Georgia and other republics, such as the Ukraine. That caused widespread outrage as Democrats everywhere rushed to condemn her as a crazed warmonger.
But as Matt Yglesias accurately pointed out in an interview I did with him, Palin’s view was more or less shared by both Obama and Joe Biden, both of whom had expressed support for admitting those countries into NATO, which would obligate the U.S. to wage war to defend them. As Yglesias explained, Palin’s real offense was that she used uncouth language — meaning language that was too honest and clear — to describe the implications of this policy:
Sarah Palin’s real mistake in that Russia interview, was being sufficiently inexperienced and unsavvy to just state plainly what’s become consensus American policy, which is that we should risk a nuclear war with Russia, that would kill billions of people, and possibly lead to the total end of human civilization, over boundary disputes about Abkhazia and South Ossetia, in Georgia. When she said it, it sounded a little bit crazy, and I think it is a little bit crazy, but Joe Biden just has a more sophisticated way of saying the same thing, and certain routine formulations about this.
Fast forward to “nutty” (Karl Rove) Christine O’Donnell.
Her views are right down the Republican mainstream. The sneering jokes about her rejection of masturbation, coming from both the media’s Church of the Savvy and from progressive voices as well (although our side is funnier, at least) are obscuring the fact that this is indeed a mainstream Republican view, that abstinence only programs were all that the Federal Government would fund under Republican rule. What she says in that video is right down the line of the party that provided Federal money to pay for those very creepy purity balls.
The same holds for people like Rand Paul who believe the promises that the GOP have been making for the last 30 years–that we can have a small Christianist government with low taxes, no deficit, no reduction in services and a mammoth defense establishment. If these people are crazy, then so is the entire party.
And, in my opinion, that is what Karl Rove and the Republican leadership fear most of all–that these true believers’ message will resonate with their voters, making it more difficult for them to hold the voters in the center.