It's impossible to watch the vast ignorance, hate and extremism in this country right now and not almost despair. At a time of extraordinary challenges, the center is not holding.Nonsense. I'll stick with Andrew's Dissent of the Day, who has the excellent taste to cite B-1 Bob Dornan as an older comp for Michelle Bachmann. Seth Masket nails it:
We've always had our Joe Wilsons, Kanye Wests, and Serena Williamses. George W. Bush was regularly compared to Hitler by anti-war demonstrators. Bill Clinton was vilified as a murderous tyrant by the likes of Jerry Falwell. FDR was accused of stabbing America's soldiers in the back through his concessions to Stalin at Yalta. John McEnroe was a strutting ass on the tennis court long before it was fashionable.Seth (and others) cite the multiplicity of outlets for information today compared to fifty years ago; as he says, "this is a relatively good time to be a jackass if you like attention." Exactly.
And the center? It's doing just fine. This isn't 1968, or anything even remotely like it. There are no riots; there are no huge protests. The president isn't wildly popular, but he's hanging steady with approval a bit over 50%. Moreover, unlike 1968, what anger there is out there isn't directed against real government policies that really divide the nation (such as overthrowing almost a century of segregation, or prosecuting a pointless war that was killing thousands of Americans), but about mirages and hyped-up gibberish. Read anything from that older era (I'd suggest Updike's Rabbit Redux and Garry Wills, Nixon Agonisties), and you really do get a sense that people of the time couldn't see their way out of things. If Updike had lived to capture 2009, and I for one really am missing his decade update, I don't think he would have seen things that way at all.
Hey, I think a lot of us share Thomas Friedman's nightmare that all the crazy rhetoric out there might push a nut or two over the edge, and we'll have something horrific staring back at us, just as we did in 1963 and 1968, and then in Oklahoma City during the Clinton years. We fear that -- but it's worth remembering that two nuts tried to shoot Jerry Ford, of all people, and that terrorists attacked the United States Congress in 1954, which isn't exactly a year one would pick as the height of conflict.
Now, all that said, I do think there's something interesting going on. Stay tuned for the next post.