If there is a more tiresome phrase in the modern political lexicon than the one that cautions people “not to go there,” I know not what it is. I have been watching the rise of movement conservatism, and the resultant radicalization of the Republican party, for going on 30 years now, all the way back to the NCPAC campaigns run against people like George McGovern and Frank Church by that nasty closet-case Terry Dolan, and my experience tells me that they will always “go there” and, by degrees, they will take us all “there” with them, and, gradually, what seemed extreme will become mainstream. They first “went there” when Harry Dent told them they could win elections by energizing the inchoate rage of crumbling American apartheid. They gay-baited Tom Foley when he was Speaker. The Willie Horton commercial is now remembered mainly as an effective tactic, and not as the piece of racist slime that it always was. They managed to get the respectable press chasing down the most lunatic fake scandals regarding the Clintons, and birtherism had a longer run than it would have had in any political context that was in any way sane. Alex Castellanos conjures up the “Hands” ad to gin up racist anger against Harvey Gantt and in favor of the inexcusable Jesse Helms, and now Castellanos is a respectable commentator on CNN.
They always “go there.” They can’t help themselves.
Far be it from me to try to outshine Mr. Pierce, so all I can say is that if you or anyone else is at all surprised by this, then you haven’t been paying attention. In America, we always go to the extreme when it comes to selling something, be it corn flakes or political campaigns. The next campaign has to outdo the last one, and in the case of the Dr. Evil-style campaign plot hatched by the Chicago Cubs magnate (hasn’t that team suffered enough already?), the only reason they considered hauling out Rev. Jeremiah Wright from the cold storage of 2008 is because John McCain, that big wimp, refused to go there. He didn’t (but he gave us Sarah Palin, so that evens the score), so someone else will.
As Mr. Pierce notes, we are already “there.” The next step is for someone on the GOP side or in the halls of the campaign created by Citizens United to leave their dog whistle in their other pants and actually say that the president is a [n-word]. It will cause a week’s worth of kerfuffle on the cable channels; Chris Matthews will fulminate, Bill O’Reilly will factor in, Sean Hannity will justify it, Keith Olbermann will comment (oh, wait), and then, having crossed that line, we will all move on to the next one.