Today's required reading: David Frum's Waterloo.
I started the "Worry" category because America hasn't seen this level of fear rhetoric in its politics since the Red Scare. Fox News, talk radio, and the right-wing blogosphere have become the sole source of truth for a large segment of the American population. This conservative entertainment industry has convinced its audience that all news media has been captured by the nefarious powers in charge.
Barack Hussein Obama is the very definition of "The Other." Foreign roots, dark skin, a strange name, and perhaps most importantly, a native culture (Ivy League education and faculty, black inner city community organizing) that baffles and infuriates Red State America. This massive segment is comprised of suburban and rural whites who don't know or trust people from those worlds, and words like "Ivy League" and "elite" are self-explanatory epithets.
The conservative entertainment industry's narratives on the Obama administration ranges from the benign ("elitist, arrogant, Ivy League technocrats want to tell you how to live") to the extremist ("Marxist, communist, foreign-born, Islamic, globalists adopting Nazi tactics to foment left-wing revolution").
But it's the latter narrative, which is literally unprecedented in its scope and virulence, that sends Tea Partiers into the streets and causes a run on ammunition. This is not a protest movement; it's a counter-revolution against a revolution that's not actually happening. This is the core of Worry.
And yet here we have Congress passing the most far-reaching reform of health care since Medicare, maybe ever. What happened to the counter-revolution? David Frum, who wrote speeches for Dubya, knows...
We followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat.
There were leaders who knew better, who would have liked to deal. But they were trapped. Conservative talkers on Fox and talk radio had whipped the Republican voting base into such a frenzy that deal-making was rendered impossible. How do you negotiate with somebody who wants to murder your grandmother? Or – more exactly – with somebody whom your voters have been persuaded to believe wants to murder their grandmother?
I’ve been on a soapbox for months now about the harm that our overheated talk is doing to us. Yes it mobilizes supporters – but by mobilizing them with hysterical accusations and pseudo-information, overheated talk has made it impossible for representatives to represent and elected leaders to lead. The real leaders are on TV and radio, and they have very different imperatives from people in government. Talk radio thrives on confrontation and recrimination. When Rush Limbaugh said that he wanted President Obama to fail, he was intelligently explaining his own interests. What he omitted to say – but what is equally true – is that he also wants Republicans to fail. If Republicans succeed – if they govern successfully in office and negotiate attractive compromises out of office – Rush’s listeners get less angry. And if they are less angry, they listen to the radio less, and hear fewer ads for Sleepnumber beds.
So today’s defeat for free-market economics and Republican values is a huge win for the conservative entertainment industry. Their listeners and viewers will now be even more enraged, even more frustrated, even more disappointed in everybody except the responsibility-free talkers on television and radio. For them, it’s mission accomplished. For the cause they purport to represent, it’s Waterloo all right: ours.
So, there you are. The flip side to the insanity. If the loudest voices in your party are those who are most appealing to the conservative entertainment industry, and everyone else is a Republican in Name Only, then you get shut out of actual policy creation.
Republicans simply cannot govern if any deal at all becomes a deal with the Devil.