It must be exhausting being on the right these days. The near-constant unfocused rage, the endless paranoia, having every little fear that lurks as a mere shadow in your mind amplified by guys like Glenn Beck until it becomes positively paralyzing; it's gotta be a tough life.
I hate to keep harping on this, but if you once again need a reason why it's so difficult for me to align myself with the modern right in this country even for a few minutes, even when I happen to agree with some of the basic tenets of conservatism, look no further than the torrent of crazy-and-dumb that gushed out of last week's Conservative Political Action Conference in DC. So much of the damn thing served as a really tragic reminder of just how thoroughly the inmates have taken control of the asylum of Republican politics. Within the span of just a couple of days, you had Tim Pawlenty obligatorily invoking the Almighty and hitting the usual high note with the red meat crowd by suggesting that it hit the boogeyman of big government with a golf club, this coming the day after a guy crashed a plane into the IRS building in Austin, Texas; Andrew Breitbart frothing at the mouth in one pissed-off tirade after another aimed at any ostensibly adversarial reporter who got within ten feet of him; and of course the aforementioned Beck, the belle of the ball, dragging out his chalkboard and going into full faux-Beale mode to the delight of the audience, who must've put it along the lines of finally seeing the Stones perform their greatest hits live.
Here's the thing, though: I'm not even inclined to give those guys a giant ration of crap anymore for their contrived Angry Everyman routines. That's because each of them has something to gain by being a professional shit-stirrer: Pawlenty wants to be president and knows he needs whack-job base-appeal to make it happen; Breitbart's readership is largely comprised of white college kids who love it when he snarls like a rabid pit bull at their perceived liberal wuss enemies; and Glenn Beck has made himself millions doing the best piece of living performance art since Andy Kaufman. It makes sense for them to give the audience what it wants because they get something in return. The problem, of course, is the audience. It's the fucking dimwits being used as stage props in this perpetual side show -- the ones who don't simply adopt the shallow opportunism of carnival barkers like Beck or even Sarah Palin as gospel, but who then act on those beliefs. The people who give standing ovations to Dick Cheney or hand conspiracy theorist Ron Paul a victory in the CPAC straw poll.
This isn't to imply that conservatives are dumb-asses by nature, since that's not the case at all, only that the movement is content to be based on stupidity and irresponsibility rather than cogent reality. And for those who would claim that the left indulges in the same kind of exploitation of its fringe, there's just no comparison, not these days; the truth is that most Democratic politicians run like scared little girls from the label of "liberal." Part of the reason the left is as divided as it is right now is that those who claim to carry the mantle of truly left-wing politics feel completely disenfranchised despite having had a supposedly friendly face in government for the past year. A byproduct of the right's admittedly impressive knack for sticking together and staying on message is that its fringe always has a voice; the left can't say the same.
There were of course a few real highlights at CPAC: unapologetic egghead George Will's speech was excellent, as was the round audience trouncing that homophobic fuckstick Ryan Sorba took when he went off on a rant against gays -- although a joke can easily be made that getting thrown offstage at CPAC for being anti-gay is like being Steven Adler, kicked out of Guns N' Roses for doing too many drugs.
Once again, though, the issue is the effect that some of the most virulent government-bashing and pissed-off-white-guy bloviating is having on a group of True Believers already suffering in a desolate economy and looking for someone to blame -- and the fact that the right continues to embrace the craziness of the fringe it's creating rather than denouncing it, because somewhere along the line the self-serving end of votes and money became a hell of a lot more important than what's good for the country. And who's being put at risk.
Mother Jones: Oath Keepers and the Age of Treason/April 2010
DXM: Protecting America from Whatever/10.21.09