Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Conservative Impulse, Circa 2009

The description of the town hall meeting of August 4 held by Rep. Todd Akin (R.-Mo.) comes from Steve Benen of The Washington Monthly:

"This particular meeting, in a way is a little bit unique," Akin said. "Different people from Washington, D.C., have come back to their districts and have town hall meetings, and they almost got lynched."

The conservative crowd thought this was great."I would assume you're not approving lynchings, because we don't want to do that," Akin said, generating more laughs as he put his hand to his neck.

The video of this remarkable exchange was highlighted by

Understandably, the first reaction is: this guy thinks it's amusing that Democratic legislators have been almost "lynched" when they've appeared recently at town-hall meetings in their district. And the second reaction is that Akins' easily amused constituents are mighty pleased these legislators have gotten yelled at, hung in effigy, and worse.

It's bad enough that Akins cavalierly invokes "lynching" as if that does not bring up thoughts of the worst manifestation of the greatest stain on the American character, slavery. Perhaps the right, or extremists generally, are characteristically insensitive to the historical implications of emotion-laden terms: the far-right, traditionally not enthralled with Jews, likes to refer to abortion as a "holocaust." Those who can't argue, trivialize suffering.

But there is something else going on here, as reported by The St. Louis Beacon. Julie Eckstein, described as a former director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services and now a project director with Newt Gingrich's Center for Health Transformation, received an approving laugh from the audience when, ridiculing health care freform, she said

How many of you think the government can run your business better than you do?

And apparently Akin also was auditioning for a gig as a stand-up comedian:

On the cap-and-trade bill -- or cap-and-tax, as Akin and the presenters termed it -- Akin started out by saying, "I hope you've enjoyed the global warming we've had here in St. Louis lately."

What do these comments have in common, a characteristic of the modern conservative movement?

The boldest (such as it is) and, possibly, defining characteristic of the reform effort is the public option. Still, Eckstein slammed reform by sarcastically asking whether "government can run your business better than you do?"

But is a public, government-run option tantamount to government running the business? Or is it government offering an alternative? Clearly the latter, as implicitly acknowledged by the health insurance industry and its lackeys when they claim that a public option would run the private suppliers of health care out of business.

And Akin, belittling the notion of climate change, chose to remind his audience of the recent weather, hot and humid, in the St. Louis area. Most of us are familar with global warming-deniers jumping on a cold wave to proclaim triumphantly: "aha, there's your global-warming! You enjoying this cold weather?" Sure, they are unaware, or pretend to be unaware, that a few days of unusually cold weather in one part of a country in one part of the earth means virtually nothing. But at least cold runs counter to warming. However, Akin- who reportedly was a big hit with the crowd- pointed to heat ("I hope you've enjoyed this global warming") to undermine the idea of a warming trend.

This is not your Republican Party of William F. Buckley or George F. Will- or even of Barry Goldwater or William Kristol. This has become a party allergic to reasoning- with those you oppose or even those with whom you agree. A party which finds thinking overly exerting, apparently dominated by a whatever-pops-into-the-mind conservatism, whose more conservative adherents and heroes (e.g., Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity) often exhibit a kind of ideological attention deficit disorder.

This doesn't apply to all conservative Republicans, obviously. Libertarians, though acutely misguided in their philosophy, tend to be somewhat thoughtful. Still, what understandably strikes some liberals as stupidity or ignorance in the right-wing really gives them too little, or too much, credit. Some of these guys and gals still win elections, and some make a whole lot of money. Look closely- it is more often a convenient lack of focus, a resistance to disciplined thinking and analysis which is at play.

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