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Jared Lee Loughner’s Politics

Ad for Gabrielle Gifford's opponent

This will be a brief post and I hope it will be the last one I write about Jared Lee Loughner. In the New York Times this morning, David Brooks deplored the widespread speculation about Loughner’s politics in view of the fact that he “may be suffering from a mental illness like schizophrenia” and is clearly “locked in a world far removed from politics as we normally understand it.”

Brooks may be smug and disingenuous in his ostensible even-handedness, but I like him; I think he’s a genuinely thoughtful person, even if he does end up on the wrong side of almost every issue he engages. In the interest of civility, I will refrain from trashing him. But really–since when do “insanity” and “politics” occupy mutually exclusive spheres? First, as Josh Marshall observed on the Keith Olbermann show Sunday night, crazy people are the most vulnerable to the kinds of incitements–crosshairs and the like–that Giffords herself deplored.

Second, I spend an awful lot of time reading far right wing literature, and I can attest to the fact that a) Loughner’s allusions to hard currency and gold and the Constitution and so on suggest that he was exposed to some of it, and b) Many of the people who write that literature are stark raving mad themselves.

What’s truly scary about the Tea Party is that it borrows so many of its New World Order tropes from Protocols of the Order of Zion-type extremism of the sort that has historically been disseminated from the John Birch Society, the Liberty Lobby, Christian Identity churches, and neo-Nazi outfits like William Luther Pierce’s National Alliance–groups whose rhetoric was virulently racist and unambiguously eliminationist, and whose foundational ideology is based on clinically paranoid premises. No, I’m not calling Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck neo-Nazis–but their playbooks are filled with many of their old tricks.

Yes, it’s a ridiculous waste of time to parse Loughner’s politics for clues as to whether he’s a creature of the left or the right. But that doesn’t mean that politics had nothing to do with what happened either. What matters isn’t what’s going on in Loughner’s twisted brain, but what’s out there in plain daylight for anyone with eyes to see–on Fox News, at Tea Party rallies, and, for fairness’s sake, in the occasional nasty pseudonymous post at Daily Kos.

PS This afternoon Andrew Sullivan aggregated a bunch of particularly egregious (but hardly atypical) examples of these kinds of “incivilities”. “Note,” he says, “That these are not fringe characters. Reynolds has a hugely popular blog, Erickson is cited constantly as a key GOP activist, Bauer is a lieutenant governor of a state and Roger Ailes all but runs the Republican party and its media mouthpiece, Fox News. All of them dehumanize their opponents – animals or Nazis – and the undercurrent of the threat of violence is always there.”

Bagism redux

A PS to my post on Bagism, Dragism, etc.

Here’s John on the David Frost show in 1969, explaining Bagism in his own words:

John : What’s Bagism? It’s like…a tag for what we all do, we’re all in a bag ya know, and we realised that we came from two bags – I was in this pop bag going round and round in my little clique, and she was in her little avant-garde clique going round and round, and you’re in your little tele clique and they’re in their…ya know? And we all sort of come out and look at each other every now and then, but we don’t communicate. And we all intellectualize about how there is no barrier between art, music, poetry… but we’re still all – I’m a rock and roller, he’s a poet… So we just came up with the word so you would ask us what bagism is, and we’d say WE’RE ALL IN A BAG BABY!

Frost: Well now, you’ve got in a bag, you’ve got in a sack..

John : Well we got out of one bag and into the next, you just keep moving from bag to bag.

What Florida got from Dr. Rekers

Gay anti-gay crusaders are an old, old story, as we all know.

What stunned me in this case was what Florida–the only state that outright bans adoptions by gay parents–actually got for the more than (much more than) $60,000 of its tax payers’ money it transferred to the Reverend Rekers. Click here for this news story from NBC’s Miami affiliate, which contains a partial transcript of Reker’s expert testimony (which the court deemed “far from neutral and unbiased” and neither “credible” nor “worthy of forming the basis of public policy” and tossed out). Native Americans, it turns out, have just as much reason to be angry with Rekers as gay people do.

If it turned out that a majority of the individuals in the Native-American population, that a majority of them were high risk for one of these things happening [alcoholism, psychiatric disorders, unstable homes, violence] as a lifetime prevalence, there could be a parallel rationale for excluding them, as adoptive parents, because it would be not only them, they would tend to hang around each other. So the children would be around a lot of other Native-Americans, who are doing the same sorts of things, you know.
So it would be a high risk, and, in fact, since you can’t perfectly predict human behavior, the best you can do and the best the State can do is to look at risk levels, and if a particular kind of household poses multiple high risks for condition that would be detrimental for children, then that would be a rationale for excluding that group.

I’ve been reading about conspiracy theories promoted by American nativists in the nineteenth century. David Brion Davis noted how groups as different as Mormons, Masons, and Roman Catholics were described in the same licentious terms. “Why,” he asks, “Did nativist literature dwell so persistently on themes of brutal sadism and sexual immorality?” Nativists deplored their enemies’ supposed freedom from conscience and conventional morality, he surmises, “but they could not conceal a throbbing note of envy.”

“When the images of different enemies conforms to a similar pattern,” he writes, “It is highly probable that this pattern reflects important tensions within a given culture.”

Plus ça change, as they say.

New book

I am about to embark on a new book, tentatively entitled THE NEW HATE: The Old/New Obsessions of the Populist Right. I predict that I will be blogging either more, less, or exactly the same. It’s hard to say.

Conspiracism and political polarization

My op ed has been noticed at a couple of places. The Atlantic’s The Wire asks Why is America Polarized? and posts a link to my piece, as well as to articles by David Paul Kuhn at Real Politics and a post by Heather MacDonald at Secular Right.

The Week
asks Has the fringe gone mainstream? and posts links to my piece, as well as to articles by Eric Kleefeld at Talking Points Memo and David Greenberg at Slate.

Nice to be a part of the conversation!