[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]
To say that the election of the first African-American President of the United States has brought the crazy and racist termites out of the woodwork would be an understatement. Angry, willfully mindless and hateful, they came scuttling to the surface before the last polls had closed back in 2008. Allegations of an illegitimate candidacy and other wingnut conspiracies exploded across the right side of the blogosphere even before the presidential oath of office had left Obama’s lips (both times), and the vitriol ratcheted up exponentially through the early days of his tenure.
It didn’t stop with the words. The Secret Service saw a dramatic uptick in violent threats within days of Obama’s election, and any rational person could make the correlation between the hate being spewed on the airwaves and the subsequent attempts at physical violence. While fanning the very inflammatory rhetoric they claimed they were the victims of, the Right’s windbag pundits such as Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Michelle Malkin, with the willing assistance of the quisling media more concerned with appearing “fair and balanced” than objectively reporting on these controversies, countered the reality-based community’s arguments with a more venal form of “I know you are, but what am I?”:
The preferred narrative when it came to these violent acts committed by right-wing extremists was that these were all “isolated incidents” with no connection, no set of radical belief systems that wove them together, and most of all, nothing to connect them to the hyperbole from mainstream conservatives. As Glenn Beck said, these were just nutcases who had nothing to do with anything he or his fellow right-wing pundits told people.
Perish the thought. If you dared harbor or express it — as Beck also made abundantly clear — then you were just trying to silence and oppress poor helpless right wing pundits. That was the conservative way, and it was about to become one of their favorite and most repeated themes.
Radio talk show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s ignominious departure from the air waves earlier this week is proof of this culture of reverse victimhood. After spending over 10 minutes berating a black caller with the “n” word, Dr. Laura was “forced” to resign. Her borg-like acolytes, shaking their ignorance of American constitutional law like a shiny new rattle, insisted that it was Dr. Laura, not the caller (and the African American community in general), who was the real victim here, and that her verbal abuse was protected by a heretofore unknown First Amendment right to yell “fire” in a crowded theater.
The “victimhood” populace’s unwillingness to think analytically, partnered with its eager gullibility and simmering racism, made it vulnerable to manipulation by the most cynical part of the Republican Party that, after 8 years of unchecked power, found itself outside the gates. The lies were spun with alarming speed and took root almost instantly. Even today, 1 in 5 Americans believe that President Obama is a Muslim.
The “scary black man” who was born in Indonesia, Kenya, and Hawaii, was simultaneously a Muslim, Christian, Fascist, Communist, Socialist and Marxist — did we mention he was black? — and was here to take their guns, their women, their money, and their rights. No matter that not one of these claims was even remotely justifiable. As Neiwert and Amato note, “it’s not easy to ‘debunk’ the existence of something for which there is simply no evidence of its existence in the first place.” What was important was that the far Right was energized and not used to critical thinking — which made for easy pickings by the craven, monied, right wing leaders who took advantage of this growing tide of nativistic anti-intellectualism. The Tea Party movement, with its roots in the conservative ideology of producerism, was born.
John Amato and Dave Neiwert are no strangers to this particular psychosis that afflicts the Right. Journalist, author, and blogger, Dave Neiwert has spent the past ten years covering the radicalized right wing for venues such as Salon, the Washington Post, and the Southern Poverty Law Center, as well as for his own blog, Orcinus. John Amato, founder of the highly influential and always informative political blog, Crooks and Liars, was the video blogging voice of reason before Youtube was a glint in its creators’ eyes. The two have combined their formidable reportage skills at Crooks and Liars, and we are all the better informed for it.
In Over the Cliff: How the Obama Election Drove the American Right Insane, Dave Neiwert and John Amato chronicle the Right’s rapid descent into madness, and it’s a hair-raising ride. Please join me in welcoming old FDL friends John and Dave to Book Salon.