Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The conservative movement is decaying…and progressives shouldn't be happy about it

Recently, two right-wing nut jobs named Erik Rush and Jim Garrow thought it would be a good idea not only to accuse Obama of planning to nuke America until three anonymous members of the the military blocked his plan (all with no credibly source of information to back it up, of course), but that Obama should be executed for treason based on their lunacy. Garrow and Rush are both regular writers for looney conspiracy sites such as WorldNetDaily, Canada Free Press, and (in Rush's case) Renew America.

This is only the most recent in a long line of deranged, bizarre claims by right-wingers. There was another guy named Gordon Klingenschmidt--he thinks he can identify which demons are possessing Obama. There's Frank Gaffney--a writer for Breitbart and Front Page Magazine and modern-day Joe McCarthy who sees a sharia law conspiracy in everything under the sun. There's the more famous nutters like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, and Michael Savage. There's some less well-known but even more frothingly insane wingnuts who write for several right-wing blogs--Jeffrey Kuhner, Pamela Geller, Joseph Farah, Erick Erickson, and Victoria Jackson.

And the biggest thing of all--the one that boggles my mind the most--is that all of these people have been featured on Fox News--the backbone of the modern conservative movement--on not infrequent occasions. Fox News is the most watched of all the major 24 hour news networks--it doesn't get much more mainstream than that. And yet they insist on allowing numerous know-nothing blowhards, ignoramuses, conspiracy nuts, and general buffoons to use them as a platform to spew out their cavalcade of batshittery. Erik Rush, who I mentioned at the beginning, has claimed that the September 16th Navy Yard Shooting was a false flag operation set up by Obama to cover up the "fact" that he was going to be arrested for attempting to set a nuke off in DC. No, I'm not making that up. Rush also advocated the arrest of "liberal" journalists and the disenfranchisement of people who disagrees with him politically. Rush's response to the Boston Marathon Bombings was to demand that all Muslims be killed--and this was before any details about the bomber were released. Rush wrote a book declaring that Americans suffer from "Negrophila." Seriously, just type that word into the Google search engine, you'll find Erik's Rush name and his book in seconds. But Fox News--a mainstream and NOT a fringe organization--regularly has him on. I just can't comprehend this. Do they honestly think that having people like Erik Rush on their side makes them look good? That is does anything other than wreck their credibility?

You'll see a similar thing with other pundits. Michelle Malkin seems to have mastered the art of turning Chronic PMS into political commentary that is read by tens of thousands of complete fucktards surely respectable and intelligent individuals. Rush Limbaugh--honestly you could write a full length book based around the idiotic things that have fallen out of his mouth--Al Franken did. Just take his most recent excretions about how Harry Reid's "nuclear option" is like being raped. Or the time Limbaugh said that advocating in favor of a contraception mandate makes you a slut. Or the time he claimed that Obama was exploiting the Haiti earthquake to build up his standing with the black community. There's also the time he imitated Michael J Fox's parkinson's disease, referred to Chelsea Clinton as a dog, and whatever the fuck kind of message he's trying to convey in this argument with William Shatner.

Ordinarily, I'd just make fun of cretins like these. But I've noticed that over the past few decades these types of cretins have increasingly become the face of the conservative movement. During the 2012 election midterms, several Republican candidates went on the radio show of Bryan Fischer--a bigot so hateful, fanatical, and deranged that, as far as I'm concerned, going on his radio show automatically disqualifies you from the Office of the PotUS.

These people are very similar to the John Birch Society of the 1960s. The Birchers were notorious for their bizarre conspiracy theories, claiming that John F. Kennedy was a communist agent (they said the same about Dwight D. Eisenhower) before he was assassinated, claiming his assassination was a communist conspiracy from inside the government after he was assassinated, and claiming that the Civil Rights Movement was a front group for a worldwide Communist Revolution. The Birchers are also the originators of such conspiracy theories about the United Nations planning a Marxist New World Order (subscribers of this theory include Glenn Beck, former Law and Order actor Michael Moriarty, and Tea Party superstar and architect of the government shutdown that almost caused us to default on our National Debt, Ted Cruz), the theory about our Universities being fronts for Marxist indoctrination of our students (subscribers to this theory include Glenn Beck (again) and David Horowitz, a neocon stalwart and rabid supporter of all wars started by Republican presidents and only Republican presidents), and the whole "War on Christmas" controversy (the Bircher's coined this decades before Bill O'Reilly decided to drum up some manufactured outrage over it in the mid-2000s).

Back in the 1960s, the intellectual leaders of the conservative movement such as William F. Buckley, disassociated themselves with the John Birch Society because they knew such association would make them look foolish. Buckley never allowed any Birchers to write for his National Review. Today, right-wing pundits regularly make batshit crazy claims with no basis in reality, and yet they are not only accepted by mainstream members of the conservative movement, they are endorsed and promoted by them. Take Andrew Breitbart, who made himself famous by being the Rush Limbaugh of the internet and made himself infamous by editing a tape of Shirley Sherrod to make her sound racist and releasing it to the general public--an action that resulted in her getting fired. Breitbart also fantasized about armed conflict with liberals and that members of the military "have got his back." When he died, he was remembered not as the irresponsible, lying, rabble-rousing partisan hack that he was, but as a conservative hero and "truth-teller" by several mainstream conservative organizations like Fox News, Media Research Center, as well as by politicians like Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich.

Breitbart was a star at the CPAC conventions when he was alive. For several years now, the stars of CPAC have been the likes of Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, and other right-wing icons noted for their anti-intellectualism. Bashing of intellectuals is not new in American culture, but it used to be that it was mostly found in reactionary circles. Segregationist George C. Wallace, for example, slammed "pointy-headed professors" frequently in his speeches while running for President back in 1968. And although Ronald Reagan had no trouble pulling out platitudes and responding to complicated issues with simplistic phrases, you'd rarely here him explicitly railing against the intellectuals of society.

I'd say that it was around the 1992 election that anti-intellectualism became established in the mainstream conservative movement as it was that year that Rush Limbaugh exploded in popularity. It was also the year that Dan Quayle coined the term "media elite" as a way of blaming some "liberal media" conspiracy for the troubles faced by conservative candidates. Not only did this completely contradict that whole "personal responsibility"philosophy that conservatives allegedly favored, but the accusation was completely hypocritical because Quayle's father made a fortune selling newspapers.

In recent years, this anti-intellectualism has become so virulent that any serious conservative should be embarrassed that it is now a staple of the movement and spearheaded by the movement's movers and shakers. During the 2004 election, John Kerry's use of the word "nuance" actually made him vulnerable to a political attack. He was ripped by uber-dipshit Jonah Goldberg at Never mind his actual credentials, abilities, or lack thereof. He used a big complicated word so that makes him an elitist! We must SHUN him! During the 2008 election, Obama making a reference to Arugula resulted in the McCain campaign calling him an elitist. Michelle Malkin also took a swipe at him in this column, which I'm sure all the knuckle-dragging dolts in her fan base thought was hilarious. OMFG! He eats arugula!? How dare he! Who does that elitist snob think he is!? That's not even getting into the bullshit about the flag pins. What do you mean he's well-educated and intelligent? He is an unpatriotic liberal socialist elitist who drinks lattes and looks down on us Real Americans if he doesn't wear a flag pin! This kind of shit does not belong in any reasonable intelligent debate on public policy in this country--or any country for that matter.

What amazes me the most about these trends among the right is that the movers and shakers actually think that this is good for the conservative movement. They think it will reinvigorate the conservative movement and "honor the legacy" of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. I'd hate to break it to these guys--oh, who am I kidding, I'd love to break it to these guys--but Barry Goldwater was no anti-intellectual. I read several excerpts from The Conscience of a Conservative as part of my History 203 Class back in Spring, and I can tell you that Goldwater was an intelligent guy. Unlike Rush Limbaugh, Barry Goldwater brought up some decent points and was quite well informed on the topics he was discussing (with the exception of foreign policy and the use of nuclear weapons, where he was admittedly pretty loopy). I didn't agree with most of his arguments, but I could see where those arguments were coming from and I could respect him for being so intelligent in his presentation of those arguments. Can I say that about any big voice in the conservative movement today? No one at CPAC or the Values Voters Summit offers any sort of intelligent or well-informed argument other than simple platitudes, buzz words, and pseudo-populist philippics against some vaguely defined "elitists." Sure, some of these speakers are charismatic and energetic. But those are short-term assets. Intellect and reason are long-term assets. And a movement that has eschewed intellect and reason is a movement in decline.

The most recent impression set by the conservative movement is trying to co-opt the Tea Party into their message. This resulted in a brief surge in popularity in 2010 by voters unhappy with the weak economy  and the massive budget deficit, followed by several years of unbreakable partisan gridlock in Congress, most recently culminating in Tea Party firebrand Ted Cruz organizing a government shutdown only weeks before we were to reach our debt limit, with the hope that Obama would not only surrender Obamacare, but cave into all of the other demands listed in Ed Brayton's citing of Ezra Klein's op-ed here. Cruz and Tea Party firebrands deluded themselves into thinking that their little temper tantrum would get them someplace, while establishment conservatives like John Boehner and Eric Cantor, along with moderate Republicans like Chris Christie and NYC Mayoral candidate Joe Lhota, saw the opinion polls and knew that it would end badly for them. The shutdown ended a day before the debt limit would hit, and the Tea Party pretty much lost that little battle. But the next debt limit/budget debate looms in March, and I have little doubt that the Tea Party will try another stunt like this. The whole mess with the Tea Party reveals the deep trouble the conservative movement is in. When Ted Cruz, a freshman Senator in office for less than a year, is wielding more influence than John Boehner, the Speaker of the House and thus the leader of the opposition party, something is wrong. The conservative movement has embraced the anti-rational and zealous fringe…and it is decaying because of it.

Make no mistake. Ted Cruz and the Tea Party haven't learned a single goddamn lesson from the October shutdown boondoggle, and when they try it again next year, I have little doubt that it will cost them in the mid-terms. Some rank and file liberals and progressives would say that this is great. With the decline of the conservative movement, should that meant that the progressive movement might be able to shine again in ways it hasn't in several decades? While this might be an opportunity for the progressive movement to move back into the forefront of the American psyche, I would argue that liberals should not be happy about the decay of the conservative movement into zealotry, anti-intellectualism, anti-rationalism, and bigotry. I believe that the decline of the right robs us of any chance of having a reasonable, well-informed, intelligent debate on our differences in political opinions, the role of government, and how we should conduct our public policy. The sort of name-calling and juvenile partisan rancor seen in the mainstream media and on the internet is the exact opposite of a healthy national discourse.

The days of decent and intelligent debate between left and right are gone and neither side should be happy. William F. Buckley, though I disagree with him, wasn't an ignoramus like much of todays right-wingers. When he was insulting his political opponents, he had a way of being clever with his insults. The debates between Buckley and the liberal Arthur Schlesinger Jr. are prime examples of healthy political discourse, in contrast to the puerile shouting matches between Rush Limbaugh and Ed Schultz.   Another intelligent conservative, as I mentioned before, was Barry Goldwater. I didn't agree with much of what he said, but I respected his opinions because he brought them to the table in a respectable matter. I would have been honored to get into a debate with him.

Intelligent progressives need intelligent conservatives. There needs to be a balance of power between the two movements and a degree of civility in their discourse. But with the decay of the conservative movement into boorish willful ignorance and simple-minded platitudes, what can the progressive movement do to compete but follow the same path down into intellectual ruin? The bar by the right has been set so low now that the challenge for the left is go under it rather than over it. That is not how a movement thrives! That is not how a culture thrives! Nothing good can come from our political culture defining its standards downwards instead of upwards.

That is why progressives should not welcome the decay of the conservative movement.

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