Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Seeds of Meltdown

I listened today to an episode of Fresh Air with Terry Gross from about a month ago. I typically catch Fresh Air on one of several radio broadcasts during the day, and for things that I miss (or particularly interesting things) there is a podcast available for download. This particular episode, from September 10th, featured journalist Max Blumenthal, author of the recent book "Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement That Shattered the Party."

This is a pretty distressing hour. As ever, Gross's questions are calm and probing and thoughtful; the distress comes from Blumenthal's exposure of just how far from the middle ground of solid sanity the fringe Right has strayed (and is straying further), and especially, how these unhinged people are having a marked effect on broader media coverage of politics. They are succeeding in framing political debate in this country, despite espousing views which I believe most of us reject in raw form as lunacy. President Obama's entreaty to school kids to work hard and stay in school is subversive and brainwashing; Obama is not eligible to be President (either because he's not a citizen or, as Sarah Palin put it, "He's not one of us"); Obama is equivalent to Hitler and Stalin (never mind that they are political polar opposites); Obama wants to exterminate old people; Obama plans to put conservatives in concentration camps; the government is going to confiscate all guns. No claim is too outrageous to make, and none of it need be tethered to facts or even common sense. And people are mad as hell about the non-facts.

A couple points seemed especially interesting. We are fighting a global war against terrorism, and yet the membership ranks of far-right paramilitary groups--arguably, would-be terrorists in this country--has risen sharply since Obama was elected. Blumenthal attended gun shows where people were clearly trying to acquire stockpiles of weapons, including high-powered rifles like .50 cal. (which seems ludicrous for personal use). There is a huge religious element to the opposition to Obama, always riding a wave of invented paranoia backed up with mythological fervor. It seems telling that a common battle cry of these far-right groups is the claim that liberals seek to undermine the Constitution and destroy the very fabric of the country, and yet a number of the movement's leading lights are on record as desiring that our system of representative democracy be overthrown and replaced with a military theocracy (these two competing idiocies remind me of the angry signs at the recent "town hall" meetings, "Keep your government hands off my Medicare!"). I don't know how much more subversive one gets than that--to openly express a desire for overthrow of even the idea of democracy.

It would be easy to dismiss all this as silly extremist prattle--I think that is the tendency of most sensible people--if the lies and hysteria weren't making their way without even cursory journalistic checks into the mainstream media. It's like a malignant infection that our normal vigilance and sense of fair play are quite unequal to arresting the spread of. Even semi-respected journalists were near to joining the fray in demanding that Obama produce a birth certificate--something demanded by no other President in my lifetime--and, when he did so, the demand changed to require the non-fake document (like the creationist who, upon scientific discovery of a transitional fossil declares "Now there are TWO gaps!").

The podcast seems like stuff the world ought to know. We look the other way here at our peril.


wunelle said...

A fantastic and insightful review of this book by Jane Smiley on HuffPo.

Dzesika said...

Thanks for the tip ... will give me something to grumble about at work tomorrow. :)

wunelle said...

Always happy to, uh, well... darken one's day, I guess! ;-)

dbackdad said...

Fresh Air (and NPR in general) are great. I download the podcasts all the time and listen to them when I'm at the gym.

I heard this same show. Scary stuff.