by Jonathan Chait
August 24, 2009
I had an unusual thought not long ago while I watched a video clip of a screaming man at a town hall accusing John Dingell of effectively planning the murder of his disabled son. As I watched, the idea struck me that it was legitimately impossible to determine if the man was crazy merely in the political sense—as in, hoo boy, Rudy Giuliani's foreign policy ideas sure are crazy—or crazy in the more literal sense of a person whose mental health issues render him frequently unable to function. It was a total jump ball which kind of crazy he was. The two senses of the word had finally merged.
Genuinely curious, I watched the man—Mike Sola of Milan, Michigan—give a television interview. Sola accused Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer of having sent thugs to his home in the middle of the night and threatened to personally use "lethal force" on the next wee-hour thug home invasion. How awful, I thought. Fox News is exploiting a mentally ill man.
But then I learned that Sola came to his deranged fear by traditional, ideological venues. He had read an op-ed in the New York Post by Betsy McCaughey, the right-wing fabulist, who falsely claimed that the House health care bill would require patients to attend end-of-life counseling. Reports of this had spread throughout the conservative media, mutated into even wilder fears of government euthanizing the old and sick, and presumably lodged themselves into Sola's apparently sane (by traditional medical standards) head.
What we are witnessing is the convergence of the mainstream Republican culture with the right-wing political subculture. Last year, the two remained clearly distinct. During the presidential election last fall, angry people began showing up at John McCain's rallies, screaming out various lunatic conspiracy theories. McCain reacted to these supporters with discomfort or puzzlement. Here he was accusing Obama of massive tax hikes or palling around with Bill Ayers, and attendees at his rallies were shouting about Obama being an Arab or plotting to destroy the country. McCain would squint his face as if to wonder, "What are these people talking about?"
Now, mainstream Republican leaders are reading from the same hymnal. You don't need to rely on poorly written, all-capital-letter e-mails for your lunatic conspiracy theories. You can get them straight from the GOP and its message organs. ...