Teh Crazy: Now in Variety Packs!
Jesse Walker’s Five Laws of the Crazy Tree is good stuff, reminding us that no one has a monopoly on insanity in our political discourse, although I agree with Peter Suderman that at least in recent years the crazy coming from the Right has been scarier than the crazy coming from the Left, if only because the crazy on the Right is usually packing some heat. Still, the best and most important point is one that ought to be posted on every bulletin board in the country:
While I share Perlstein’s antipathy to the he-said/she-said style of reporting (“Is Gordon Brown an extraterrestrial? Tonight we bring you two views…”) I have no nostalgia for the days when the center could write off civic outrage as “extremist” and keep it out of bounds entirely. That was the way the centrist consensus protected itself not just against that bizarre (and partly Scientology-fueled) theory about concentration camps in Alaska but against legitimate criticisms of disastrous programs ranging from urban renewal to the Vietnam War. Such critics weren’t just marginalized: They were demonized, in a process that itself resembles the paranoia that Perlstein is decrying.
Focusing on only the crazies who support a particular position is a magnificent way of marginalizing any opposition to the centrist consensus. In placing all opponents in the same boat as the crazies, this method of argument relies on precisely the sort of conspiratorial thinking that it claims to denounce. Indeed, some of the nastiest and most extreme rhetoric against the anti-war movement during the Bush years came from self-proclaimed “moderate” Republicans, centrists, and proud “RINOs.”