Ridiculous, except to the audience that counts

I’ve been watching a series of editorial cartoons in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, which surely appear elsewhere as well, making it clear that a lot of recent right wing nuttery is, well, nuts. I imagine it appears this way to anyone left of Attila the Hun.

After Joe Wilson’s outburst during President Barack Obama’s speech before a joint session of Congress, one might think that even the Republican leadership might acknowledge that maybe things have gotten a bit out of control. It might not be playing out that way.

The Washington Times, a very right wing publication, published articles critical of Wilson’s conduct but also sent out a fund raising mass email from Joe Wilson, complaining of liberal efforts to silence him. Yesterday, ABC News was compelled to issue a denial that they had, as Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, the group that organized an anti-Obama march to Capitol Hill, had claimed, ever reported the size of the protest at 1 million to 1.5 million people:

At no time did ABC News, or its affiliates, report a number anywhere near as large. ABCNews.com reported an approximate figure of 60,000 to 70,000 protesters, attributed to the Washington, D.C., fire department. In its reports, ABC News Radio described the crowd as “tens of thousands.”

We already know the importance these budding fascists attach to accuracy. All this is not even really about health care but at least about defeating Obama. More fundamentally, it is about who may hold power in this country. It is about race. It is about whether far left or far right voters will be disenfranchised. And for a president who promised to govern from the center, it is about a country more deeply divided than at any time in his famously divisive predecessor’s presidency.

Even if Obama manages to get a health care bill passed, Republicans have made clear that they exert more influence under a Democratic White House than Democrats ever did under a Republican White House. Supreme Court appointments will tilt to the right, just so nominees can be confirmed. And, as if it would have made any difference to progressives, the rest of Obama’s agenda may well be dead.

But even more crucial is that a certain vocal segment of the U.S. population takes to heart the hate speech we’ve heard so much of in recent weeks. The Republican leadership has encouraged these protests and condoned the lies. They see political advantage in what any reasonably astute person sees as hogwash.

The trouble here is not with the astute. It is with a stereotypical beer-guzzling football fan who pays little attention because it doesn’t do him or her any good anyway. These people don’t question the myth of the U.S. as a “shining city on the hill.” They don’t question the myth of the “American dream.” But they surely see their worldview as a fading memory.

A nation’s wounded pride is a dangerous thing. The 9/11 attacks led the world’s mightiest military power into two ill-conceived wars and it is losing them both. They illustrate a willingness to lash out in blind rage. And I fear the consequences of that rage even for Democrats I see as collaborators in the criminality of the previous presidency. These are dangerous times; I fear for Obama’s life and I fear a possible rise of fascism.

The richly deserved mainstream ridicule directed at the far right does nothing to move the range of acceptable discourse back from where Ronald Reagan shifted it. It does nothing to advance progressive ideals. And I don’t think it even touches the 60,000 or 70,000 protesters in Washington, D.C., the hecklers at “Town Hell” meetings, or the gun nuts outside Obama speeches.

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