Saturday, May 30, 2009

The struggle for the soul of the Republican Party (and the conservative movement): It's the age-old war between crazy and stupid


Anyone who's tried to read the drivel penned over the decades by Peggy Noonan, or has been forced to listen to the "eloquent" speeches she's written for presidents and such, knows the feeling of trying helplessly to puzzle out: Is she just dumber than spit, or is she completely out of her pea-pickin' mind?

"We’re not talking fringe activists here; we’re talking U.S. senators. The truth is that lunatics have been running this particular asylum for years."
-- Paul Krugman, in a NYT blogpost yesterday (see below)

by Ken

I have been left mostly speechless (as some of you may have noticed) by the, um, "intellectual" climate of what now passes for political discourse in this great country of ours. As usual, I have my ups and downs with the people on Our Side, but what's struck me dumb is the total abandonment of even the slimmest pretense of sense or sanity by the Other Side.

I loved Howie's piece yesterday ("Cornyn Denounces Limbaugh and Liddy Denounces . . . Women," with a really terrific batch of comments) about what appears to be a pullback among Official Republicans, notably Texas Sen. John Cornyn (chairman of the GOP's Senate campaign committee), hardly a voice of moderation himself (as I understand it, he has been a principal architect of the GOP's "All No All the Time" strategy, and is more than anyone else responsible for keeping Al Franken from taking the Senate seat to which he was elected -- for the simple reason that, as he realized, he can prevent it), from the cliff over which, they finally understand, the Un-official Party, that passel of raving lunatics ringled by the Daddy of the Dittoheads, is leading them.

In part, I loved the piece because Howie is a lot more confident than I am about where the country is in all of this. Not only do I share commenter Balakirev's concern about the irreducible 24 percent "base" that appears to be willing to follow Rush and Glenn and the crazies over the cliff, I think the 24 percent figure seriously understates the portion of the public that's susceptible to the reign of craziness. Even if they're no immediate threat to regain power, I worry that 30 or even 40 percent of the country in the thrall of ignorance and insanity makes for a powderkeg that could blow up what's left of our democracy.

One of the things I've been trying to dope out is what part sheer stupidity plays, and what part evident insanity.

One should never underestimate the stupidity factor. Both Howie and I have written frequently about the stupidification of America, which he believes is the result of a careful right-wing master plan to turn the American educational system into poop for the conscious purpose of turning masses of Americans into retards who will cheer madly at the wackiest inanities passed off as policy prescriptions.

Me, I'm not so sure about the careful planning. I think if you elevate stupidity to a virtue, and make heroes of enough dimwits whose nitwittitude is their only virtue, you'll wind up at the same point, especially if you have enough "opinion leaders" -- in particular the kind who claim to get their guidance straight from God -- who have as their educational goal making their offspring as smart as they are. Throw in ruthless manipulators like Lee Atwater and Karl Rove, and the rest is history -- our history, from Reagan through Little George.

I've been trying for months to write something on this subject, and failing. So I was greatly cheered by a pair of delicious posts this week on Paul Krugman's NYT blog, "Conscience of a Liberal." The one I really loved was this one from Wednesday:

May 27, 2009, 6:40 PM
A note on identity politics

The attacks on Sonia Sotomayor are getting crazier by the minute. The pronunciation of her name is unnatural. Her fondness for Puerto Rican cuisine -- sorry, her "claimed" fondness (you never know) -- may cloud her impartiality. She doesn't have enough money in her retirement account.

But is this any crazier, when you come down to it, than the Cult of Bush that ruled much of Washington for years? It was positive, not negative (though there was plenty of that too), but it was similarly about identity politics -- you were supposed to support Bush, not because of how he did his job, but because he was, drumroll, a regular guy. Remember Peggy Noonan:
I was asked this week why the president seems so attractive to the heartland, to what used to be called Middle America. A big question. I found my mind going to this word: normal.

Mr. Bush is the triumph of the seemingly average American man. He's normal. He thinks in a sort of common-sense way. He speaks the language of business and sports and politics. You know him. He's not exotic. But if there's a fire on the block, he’ll run out and help. He'll help direct the rig to the right house and count the kids coming out and say, “Where's Sally?” He's responsible. He's not an intellectual.

Of course, a year and a half later there really was a fire on the block — actually a flood in New Orleans, but basically the same thing — and what he actually said was, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.” But I digress.

The thing that is really driving conservatives crazy, I think, is that their identity politics just isn’t working like it used to. Their whole approach has been based on the belief that Americans vote as if they live in Mayberry, and fear and hate anyone who looks a bit different; now that the country just isn’t like that, they’ve gone mad.

Paul is, of course, being kind to our Peggy. There isn't a word in her paean to her beloved George W., unless you count the declaration that her boy "isn't an intellectual," that doesn't mark her as the dumbest life form in the history of creation. (The "isn't an intellectual" comment merely marks her as someone implacably hostile to the thought process.)

"He thinks in a sort of common-sense way"?

This is a man who doesn't think, ever. He seems to have discovered at Yale, surrounded by all those smart kids, that thinking wasn't his forte, and that trying was only going to get him into trouble. Out of sheer laziness, mixed with the arrogance of a subhuman blob who believed himself as entitled as he is ignorant, he willed himself into an ignoramus, and that ought to be literally unforgivable -- not praised by pseudo-populists like drooling Peggy.

"He speaks the language of business and sports and politics"?

Uh, yeah, I suppose, but he knows only the tiniest, most superficial bit about sports, and nothing whatsoever about business or politics, unless you count "how to fake it."

Maybe I'm just slow to adapt, but I don't believe that Noonanism has been banished from American discourse. Yeah, I saw Karl Rove, the master of this form of political manipulation in our time, pulling back from his earlier ritual smears of Judge Sotomayor. But I don't believe for a moment that he's lost faith in those tactics, or that they won't work just fine another time: "[insert name of latest defiantly ignorant blob of human waste] is the triumph of the seemingly average American man. He’s normal."

As I suggested above, I'm less than persuaded by John Cornyn's sudden conversion to reason in the matter of the Sotomayor nomination. Can the arch-loon in Cornyn really be put to rest so easily? Captain Courage he's not. I guffawed at the contribution of another commenter on Howie's post yesterday, Comrade E.B. Misfit:

"Coryn's apology to el Rushbo in 3....2....1..."

Um, yeah, Comrade, I hear you.


I mentioned that Paul Krugman had written a second blogpost on this subject, and I would be remiss not to direct your attention to it as well:

May 29, 2009, 11:46 AM
Same as they ever were

Obama is a socialist/fascist; Sonia Sotomayor is a racist, and La Raza is the KKK; there’s an evil plot against Republican car dealers. The GOP is sounding a bit, well, demented these days.

But here’s the thing: it always did. A few trips down memory lane:

Senator Tom Coburn:
In a tape recently released by Brad Carson, Coburn’s Democratic opponent for the Senate race there, Coburn is heard warning the good clean citizens of Oklahoma of the great lesbian threat to their state.

On the tape, Coburn tells how a campaign worker form Coalgate, Okla., told him that lesbianism is “so rampant in some of the schools in southeast Oklahoma that they’ll only let one girl go to the bathroom."
Senator James Inhofe:
Why did the UN cook up the idea of global warming? To “shut down the machine called America.” In fact, we learned, global warming is a plot to destroy the US economy and to initiate one-world government–a goal not only of the UN but of the American political left more broadly.

Establishing his Christian credentials, Inhofe invoked Romans 1:25 (For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever) to suggest that taking steps to ameliorate global warming would constitute a form of idol worship.

We’re not talking fringe activists here; we’re talking U.S. senators. The truth is that lunatics have been running this particular asylum for years. But in a classic case of emperor’s new clothes, it wasn’t acceptable to notice this until the lunatics lost power.

Thanks for that little stroll down Craziness Lane, Paul. I still can't help considering that if only, say, 40 percent of the insane blithering being blithered about Judge Sotomayor, by people who ought to know better (and, yes, some who probably don't), is being absorbed by the public, that still represents a staggering quantity of psychotic lies and filth.

[For the record: The world is anxiously awaiting word from Senator Doctortom Coburn (who like his unlamented colleague, former Senate Majority Leader Doctorbill Frist, is a physician, but more importantly is a beyond-certifiable kook, proud to be known as "Doctor No" for his tireless one-man crusade of obstructionism in the Senate) as to whether he will run for reelection. If he doesn't, can we expect that the Oklahoma Republican cult has someone of comparable, er, stature to slot in? We know that Oklahoma Democrats have nothing better to throw at the seat than unspeakable DINO Rep. Dan Boren.]

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At 10:42 AM, Anonymous Balakirev said...

Been wondering where you were. Glad to see the comments again, Ken.

"Me, I'm not so sure about the careful planning. I think if you elevate stupidity to a virtue, and make heroes of enough dimwits whose nitwittitude is their only virtue, you'll wind up at the same point, especially if you have enough "opinion leaders" -- in particular the kind who claim to get their guidance straight from God -- who have as their educational goal making their offspring as smart as they are. Throw in ruthless manipulators like Lee Atwater and Karl Rove, and the rest is history -- our history, from Reagan through Little George."

I remember reading in some history of the English Restoration (no, not remembering which, meaning I'll be losing sleep trying to recall it), the point was made that the Roundheads, for all their religious issues, insisted upon free public schooling. Charles II, once on the throne, put a stop to this, and rolled it back. He made some comment about a well-educated nation and the beheading of his father, and believed that keeping the public well-fed and entertained was far more beneficial to his reign than making them better educated.

Bread and circuses, in other words. It's always about that. Only now, with the economic chaos, the circuses part is losing its savor, and the bread is kinda hard to find. Which makes the real loons stand out just that much more than they did when most of us were prosperous and just shrugged. Oklahoma could afford a venal blowhard like Inhofe when times were good. Will they be stupid enough to keep employing him now?

My guess is: yes. The rural US is like the rural countryside in ancestral Europe: politically stolid and conservative, willing to slit its own throat by siding with a lie playing to fear and exclusivity rather than embracing better ideas that meant change.

You may be right about the numbers being higher for the bunker mentality crowd than were listed. And it's possible that as things get worse, or change more, some of the middle ground folk will take counsel from the Limbaughs, Becks, and other cynical manipulators, and join the hordes. I hope not, but history provides a ton of bad examples.

At 11:53 AM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Good thoughts all, B, and all part of this (vast) discussion.

What usually discourages me is that whichever thread of the discussion I pursue seems to wind up in the Triumph of the Stupids and Crazies.

Cheers --

At 12:05 PM, Blogger Igor said...

How you tell when politician lie?

Comrade Pelosi blink

Slick Willy rub nose

Dumb Donkey Gibbs laugh...Hehaw..he..haw..he..haw!

I Igor produce Barrack Milhaus Hussein Obama Birth Certificate at

At 12:14 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Case in point, ladies and gints. Is our Igor (see comment above) a stupid or a crazy?


At 4:14 PM, Anonymous Balakirev said...

I'm just amazed Igor didn't sign on as a member of the endless inbred Anonymii clan that shows up here regularly to pick its nose in public. Perhaps he was thrown out for bad manners.


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