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Sun

26

Apr

2009

Rising Craziness in America: I. Obama Has to Address It
Sunday, 26 April 2009 05:31
by Andrew Bard Schmookler

As the weeks go by, it becomes ever clearer that a non-trivial part of the American body politic is in the grip of irrational and destructive forces.

The kind of self-contradictory, reality-defying, paranoid political rhetoric that is usually confined to the very extreme fringes of American politics is nowadays increasingly characteristic of one of our two major political parties; it is being continually promulgated by mainstream media (including one of the four principle television networks); and it is bringing a substantial part (albeit a minority) of the American public under its influence.

All this could be readily documented, and indeed in various recent posts here it has been. But for now suffice it to say that America’s ostensible conservatives are couching their responses to Obama’s presidency now in terms of extreme accusations (of fascism and socialism), and are utilizing words that suggest the potential of violence (”armed and dangerous,” “secession,” etc.).

In another sign of the irrationality of the forces involved, the intellectual content of the complaints and criticisms consistently lies on the wrong side of the line dividing sense from nonsense.

The word “craziness” seems regrettably apt. And I will henceforth use that term to refer to what’s erupting these days on the right.

MOCKERY AND DISMISSAL AS RESPONSES

It is striking, and it is for good reason, that in progressive media –e.g. Olbermann’s COUNTDOWN, and various progressive blogs– the diatribes of the right get such extensive coverage.

This signifies a clear asymmetry: While on places like FOX News, one does not see substantial footage of what Obama or the pundits who support him have to say, the progressive media are only too glad to expose their audience to what the right is saying.

So pervasive is the irrationality of the right, the progressive media understand, that with audiences not swept up in the insanity the best weapon against the right is such exposure of what they’re actually saying and doing.


Add a few dollops of mockery to highlight the absurdities and the opponent can be dismissed. We can comfort ourselves with the thought, these people are off the wall!

But while this approach to the rising craziness is useful –it’s important to keep reflecting the craziness in the mirror of sanity– it is ultimately not sufficient. It does not suffice because the audience that recognizes and dismisses the pathologies of the right –though it may, in some sense, include a majority of the country– does not include those infected with the craziness.

And meanwhile the craziness continues to build. It builds perhaps not in numbers but in intensity– and in such things, intensity matters.

THE INADEQUACY OF ELECTORAL CALCULATION

Meanwhile, at least publicly, Obama himself ignores the craziness. He speaks sanely to the rest of the country, and by this means, he’s prospering politically.

The most recent polls (on Daily Kos) have him with a robust 69 percent approval rating, with only 27 percent disapproving.

The polls show, moreover, that the standing of the GOP is pathetic for a major party: only 24 percent have a favorable opinion of the Republican Party, with 66 percent reporting an unfavorable opinion. (By contrast, the Democratic Party is 52-42 favorable.)

In terms of normal American political calculation, Obama would seem to be on a winning course. And those normal calculations are valid and important: it does matter who wins the 2010 elections, and who wins the presidential race two years after that. And the Republicans and the right do appear to be digging themselves into a hole.

But these calculations are not enough, because what’s happening on the right is not normal for American politics, and because when abnormal forces become strong –even in a democratic society– politics is not just about elections, not just about the legal political process.

Craziness can break out of the legal framework of the established political process. Craziness threatens the society with violence and disruption. (We’ve already seen a few preliminary signs of this danger in isolated episodes of violence around the country.)

Even if the craziness consigns the political right to marginality in the electoral process, the craziness threatens the health of the American political system.

Obama seems to be governing with a holistic view of what it might take to heal our damaged society. That holistic view needs to include taking seriously the damaging effect on America of having these crazy forces unleashed into our public discourse, and leaving toxic thought-forms to fester in parts of the American body politic.

OBAMA NEEDS TO ADDRESS THE CRAZINESS

A small fringe –well under 5 percent, I would guess– is possessed by the craziness. But there’s another, larger group of people –perhaps on the order of 20 percent– that is being moved in that direction by the voices of their leaders, i.e. by political figures and by propagandizing broadcasters.

Those 20 percent are the people whom Obama needs to address.

It is not safe for America to leave so large a segment of our countrymen to the dark seductions of the likes of Limbaugh, FOX, Hannity, among the broadcasters, or of demagoguing politicians like Gingrich, Bachman and Perry.

Obama should in some way address the fears and the anger that are now being manipulated by the same political forces that already gave us the darkest, most lawless presidency in the nation’s history.

(In the second installment of this series, I will argue that both the Bushite regime and the present craziness on the right are expressions of the same “dark spirit” working opportunistically to subvert Wholeness in the American civilization.)

As for how Obama should address those people who, though angry and frightened and vulnerable to the politics of hate, are not fully possessed by the right’s craziness, I don’t now have specifics to propose. But Obama’s record thus far suggests that if he were to take on that task as a serious challenge, he would be capable of finding the right rhetorical approach.

And as for when Obama should turn his attention to the craziness, it might be now, but it almost certainly should be soon. Perhaps it has been useful, since the time of the Inauguration, when for a while those dark forces were quiescent, to let this infection develop and come further to a head– for by this means it’s nature becomes all the more visible to the American people. But this infection s not one that can be allowed indefinitely to run its own course.

The challenge isn’t to win over these people –the susceptible 20 percent– so much as to begin to reduce the building pressure, to lance the boil of this intense fear and hatred.

It may be only the violent few –like the neo-Nazi who shot the police in Pittsburgh– who would act out the craziness and make the headlines. But their actions grow out of a more widespread climate of hatred and fear, like the fruiting body of a slime mold.

If Obama wants to defeat the powers of darkness that, in the past decade or more, have done so much damage to this nation, he needs to attend not just to the poll numbers that can win election, nor just to the votes that can pass legislation, but also to the more general spirit of the political climate. And he can’t just let the storm build unaddressed.
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