Thursday, January 13, 2011

Butch Assurance

Harold Meyerson had an interesting column in the Washington Post yesterday that examined the right wing’s obsession with violence and paranoia.

Last October, Glenn Beck was musing on his radio show about the prospect of the government seizing his children if he didn’t give them flu vaccines. “You want to take my kids because of that?” he said. “Meet Mr. Smith and Mr. Wesson.”

Last April, Erick Erickson, the managing editor of the right-wing RedState blog and a CNN commentator, was questioning the legality of the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey on a radio show. “We have become, or are becoming, enslaved by the government…. I dare ’em to try to come to throw me in jail. I dare ’em to. [I’ll] pull out my wife’s shotgun and see how that little ACS twerp likes being scared at the door.”


The primary problem with the political discourse of the right in today’s America isn’t that it incites violence per se. It’s that it implants and reinforces paranoid fears about the government and conservatism’s domestic adversaries.

Much of the culture and thinking of the American right – the mainstream as well as the fringe – has descended into paranoid suppositions about the government, the Democrats and the president. This is not to say that the left wing doesn’t have a paranoid fringe, too. But by every available measure, it’s the right where conspiracy theories have exploded.

It doesn’t take a trip to Dr. Freud’s couch to see what’s behind this, nor does it take an advanced degree in psychology to understand it. There’s an adolescent fixation with that kind of culture because it radiates toughness and confidence, and it’s so patently overblown that it’s a cliche: the guy with the biggest, baddest pickup truck with the plastic testicles hanging from the trailer hitch or the high school bully who beats up the theatre kids and calls them “fags” are dealing with their own issues. To these folks, compromise and cooperation are seen as signs of weakness; hence the GOP’s steadfast refusal to go along even with their own ideas when it’s proposed by someone they perceive as weaker than them. House Speaker John Boehner “rejects” the word “compromise” not because he doesn’t believe in the idea of working together with the opposition (although there is scant proof that he does), but because as he stated quite clearly in his interview on 60 Minutes, the word itself conveys weakness, and he can’t be caught showing any sign of that. (Ironically, Mr. Boehner is known for crying.)

I have no idea — nor do I care to know — if Glenn Beck, Erick Erickson, or John Boehner are overcompensating, but what it means for the rest of us is that there’s not a lot of hope that we’re going to get beyond the name-calling as long as this goes on.