LOONEY LIKE A FOX? (Or a Foxx?)
I've simply stopped believing the conventional wisdom regarding the looney right's "primary the GOP moderates" strategy -- under present circumstances, I think it absolutely can work. And yes, I believe that's true even if it means that highly electable Republicans are replaced by pitchfork-wielders who have nutball ideas most voters don't share.
Politico has the 8000th cautionary article about this subject:
In what could be a nightmare scenario for Republican Party officials, conservative activists are gearing up to challenge leading GOP candidates in more than a dozen key House and Senate races in 2010.
Conservatives and tea party activists had already set their sights on some of the GOP's top Senate recruits -- a list that includes Gov. Charlie Crist in Florida, former Rep. Rob Simmons in Connecticut and Rep. Mark Kirk in Illinois, among others....
Party strategists worry that well-funded, well-organized challenges from the right could ... force moderate candidates to adopt more strident positions early on that could haunt them during the final months of the campaign....
Activists contend that the only way back to majority status is to embrace the conservative principles that the party jettisoned during the past decades once it became too enamored of power....
I think the party strategists may well be wrong and the crazy activists may well be right. But not because America is a wingnut nation that believes in wingnut ideas, which is what the crazy activists believe. No -- the reason this works (or at least it seems to be working in the moderately right-wing New York 23rd district, where a hardcore Beck/Palinite is apparently about to win) is that full-throated wingnuttism is (a) anti-status quo (for now, at least) and (b, and most important) passionate and sure of itself.
Really, that's it: voters don't necessarily agree with the wingnut looneys on the details, but they respond to the fact that they're self-confident. Fellow wingnuts in the rank and file agree on the particulars -- but everyone else just likes (or at least respects) the vigor and forcefulness, particularly given the fact that it's directed against the woeful state of the country today.
And that's true even when what the wingnuts are saying is utterly insane.
This is the important point: there doesn't seem to be any downside to declaring yourself a card-carrying insaniac. We kept waiting all through August for there to be a broad-based backlash in response to the right's town hall excesses -- it never happened. We keep waiting for there to be broad-based revulsion at the idiot McCarthyism and unhinged emotionality of Glenn Beck -- it hasn't happened. We keep waiting for broad-based disgust at remarks like Congresswoman Virginia Foxx's assertion that "we have more to fear from the potential of" health care reform "than we do from any terrorist right now in any country" -- it's not happening, and it's not gonna happen.
Rachel Maddow-watching, Huffington Post-reading smarty-pantses like us know instantly what's wrong with what these people are saying, but the rest of America -- i.e, about 90+ percent of America -- doesn't. They just know they don't like the status quo. Any anti-status-quo rant that seems to have logic and coherence and patriotism, even it's wrong in every particular, seems, to a huge percentage of Americans, sincere and well-meant at least and thoroughly persuasive at most.
That's why we put out stories that say, "Look, Doug Hoffman is a card-carrying Beck groupie" -- and wait for the backlash in vain. It's not coming -- any more than it came in response to the tea parties and town halls.
Most Americans simply don't have a script in their heads that portrays this sort of thing as beyond the pale. They certainly have a script like that in their heads for our side. More than one script, really -- the DFH script, the tax-and-spend-liberal script, the angry-black-militant script, and the angry-bitch script to name a few. (On that last one, seen Nancy Pelosi's approval ratings lately?) It's easy for there to be an instant backlash against a leftist or liberal or Democrat. On our side, though, we wait and wait, and the backlash never happens.
We actually need to explain to the broad public why Glenn Beck is beyond the pale, or why Virginia Foxx is. We need to build a these-people-are-nuts argument from scratch. The general public (except possibly with regard to religious-right types, or Sarah Palin, and her mostly because she seems stupid) just doesn't have a well-cultivated idea of why these people are anything other than what they say they are, namely passionate patriots.
We also need to do a much better job of making the status quo less of a target, as Nick Baumann says in Mother Jones:
As the recent WSJ/NBC poll highlighted, Americans really don't trust government. Much of that, I suspect, is the result of the bank bailouts -- as Neil Barofsky, TARP's inspector general, pointed out last month, the bailouts did immense, lasting damage to the public's faith in their elected officials. "This cannot be seen as just a Wall Street bailout," Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the chair of the House banking committee, famously warned when Hank Paulson came asking for $700 billion last year. But that's exactly what happened.
Even though Paulson and George W. Bush asked for the bailout money, it's liberals who will pay the price in the long run. Liberalism is based on the idea that government offers solutions to people's problems. When you don't trust the government, Doug Hoffman's argument that there should be less of it seems awfully appealing.
This is why liberals' biggest priority should be restoring people's faith in government. Part of that requires actually solving people's problems. That means fixing the economy. It would also help to if Democrats avoided bailing out any more widely reviled industries, and maybe regulated some stuff.
But meanwhile, passion can work for the right, even if it looks like lunacy to politically sophisticated people on the left. The GOP establishment will just embrace the crazies -- and the crazies won't seem crazy to much of the public, and, yes, will have a good chance of winning.