Political "Craziness"

Sunday, Apr 24, 2011

One of the favorite self-affirming pastimes of establishment Democratic and Republican pundits is to mock anyone and everyone outside of the two-party mainstream as crazy, sick lunatics. That serves to bolster the two political parties as the sole arbiters of what is acceptable: anyone who meaningfully deviates from their orthodoxies are, by definition, fringe, crazy losers.

This behavior is partially driven by the adolescent/high-school version of authoritarianism (anyone who deviates from the popular cliques -- standard Democrats and Republicans -- is a fringe loser who must be castigated by all those who wish to be perceived as normal), and is partially driven by the desire to preserve the power of the two political parties to monopolize all political debates and define the exclusive venues for Sanity and Mainstream Acceptability. But regardless of what drives this behavior, it's irrational and nonsensical in the extreme.

I've been writing for several years about this destructive dynamic: whereby people who embrace clearly crazy ideas and crazy politicians anoint themselves the Arbiters of Sanity simply because they're good mainstream Democrats and Republicans and because the objects of their scorn are not. For me, the issue has... everything to do with how the "crazy" smear is defined and applied as a weapon in our political culture. Perhaps the clearest and most harmful example was the way in which the anti-war view was marginalized, even suppressed, in the run-up to the attack on Iraq because the leadership of both parties supported the war, and the anti-war position was thus inherently the province of the Crazies. That's what happens to any views not endorsed by either of the two parties.

The reason this is so significant -- the reason I'm writing about it again -- is because forced adherence to the two parties' orthodoxies, forced allegiance to the two parties' establishments, is the most potent weapon in status quo preservation. That's how our political debates remain suffocatingly narrow, the permanent power factions in Washington remain firmly in control, the central political orthodoxies remain largely unchallenged. Neither party nor its loyalists are really willing to undermine the prevailing political system because that's the source of their power. And neither parties' loyalists are really willing to oppose serious expansions or abuses of government power when their side is in control, and no serious challenge is therefore ever mounted; the only ones who are willing to do so are the Crazies.

If one wants to argue that Ron Paul and others like him hold specific views that are crazy, that's certainly reasonable. But those who make that claim virtually always hold views at least as crazy, and devote themselves to one of the two political parties that has, over and over, embraced insane, destructive and warped policies of their own. The reason the U.S. is in the shape it's in isn't because Ron Paul and the rest of the so-called "crazies" have been in charge; they haven't been, at all. The policies that have prevailed are the ones which the two parties have endorsed. So where does the real craziness lie?

Who are the real "crazies" in our political culture?, Glenn Greenwald, May 28, 2010, http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/05/28/crazy.

“I always use the word extreme,” Mr. Schumer said. “That is what the caucus instructed me to use this week.”

A minute or two into the talking-points tutorial, though, someone apparently figured out that reporters were listening, and silence fell.

On a Senate Call, a Glimpse of Marching Orders, The New York Times blog, March 29, 2011, http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/29/on-a-senate-call-a-glimpse-of-marching-orders/.