Monday, August 03, 2009


I've been thinking lately that the ever-angrier right wing in America is on the verge of replicating the trajectory of the left in the '60s and early '70s: at this moment, the right seems to be where the left was in maybe the mid-'60s, staging large, raucous demonstrations, shouting down politicians, and offering increasingly radical analyses of contemporary problems. It seems quite likely that in a couple of years the stereotype of a right-winger will be someone who'd much sooner firebomb a building than vote in an election, because that's the kind of thing a lot of wingnuts will be doing as they get angrier and more oppositional -- and in the meantime, the stereotype will be someone who's proudly insolent and disruptive and opposed to ordinary civility. (Readers of Rick Perlstein's Nixonland will know exactly what I'm talking about.) If that's how we come to see the right, it's going to lead to a backlash and the discrediting of conservatives for decades.

Or is it?

Right now, teabagger types are following the recommendations of industry-linked strategists and disrupting town hall meetings featuring Democrats, like one held over the weekend by Congressman Lloyd Doggett of Texas -- and House Minority Leader John Boehner is cheering them on. Ordinary Americans don't like this kind of incivility, right? Isn't this going to discredit the right even more than it's been discredited in recent years?

I think so -- and then I think about Matt Bai of The New York Times and his theory about "Krazy Glue moments." He's talking about individual candidates, but what he says, I think, also applies to political wings:

Here's a political postulate for you: whether or not a bad moment sticks to the candidate depends on how closely related it is to the core rationale of that candidate or his opponent.... if it substantiates the most relevant thing that your rival would have us believe about you, then it has the potential to become a serious problem. If, on the other hand, you do something completely idiotic that is tangential to what voters most hope or fear about you, then you tend to get a pass.

I worry that if right-wingers cause chaos -- first just at small gatherings, then in the streets in a couple of years -- it won't create an image of them as dangerous, scary anarchic radicals, because our preconceived notion is that only left-wingers are dangerous, scary anarchic radicals. I'm afraid that even if they're regularly starting riots and engaging in violence against people and property -- which I think is quite possible -- their movement won't be seen as an assault on society, because they're still seen as the pillars of society (or "the real America," as Sarah Palin says), even though we'll be the peaceful Silent Majority this time.

I don't really know how it'll play out. It's possible the right won't go utterly crazy, and it's possible that we'll see rightists for what they are if they do go utterly crazy. But for now I worry that they're going to be seen as the upright defenders of the social order even if they try to destroy the social order.

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