THE FINE LINE BETWEEN CONSERVATISM AND INSANITY

There are a lot of people in the political world with whom I disagree. If I was locked in a room for several hours with Richard Shelby or Bob Corker, for example, we'd probably argue when the conversation turned to politics. I think they are wrong about most things political. Fundamentally, though, I doubt there's anything wrong with them as people. They're of average or better intelligence, sane, and probably pretty nice to people who know them well. They're normal people; they're just wrong about a lot of things.

In a second category are the profiteers, the people in the political world whose primary interest is padding their own bank accounts. They're performers. They know what to say to get their mug on TV, land that precious talk radio gig, or become the next wingnut best-selling author. Sean Hannity, for example, was a garden variety, bland media conservative for many years before he figured out a few things about showmanship. He knows that people pay to see over-the-top, hyperbolic entertainment and angry catharsis, so he delivers. He knows which buttons to push, how, and when. As hard as it is to believe, Hannity probably isn't much like his TV character in private. He may still be a douchebag and an idiot, but I bet that one could have a normal conversation with him about fine Italian restaurants in New York or baseball or the iPhone or something.

Then there is a third category – the elected officials and pundits who, in all seriousness, appear to be categorically out of their fucking minds. Not "crazy" in the colloquial sense ("Man, Sean Hannity is crazy. Did you hear that bullshit he said yesterday?"). Not "crazy" because he or she makes shit up or is wrong about everything. I mean legitimately mentally ill and in need of professional help. While it's very Republican (or at least Bill Frist-ian) to attempt to diagnose medical conditions from afar, I cannot shake the feeling when watching some of these people that I am watching a person of tremendous power and influence whom a competent psychiatrist would consider unfit to be in society unsupervised.

Take Glenn Beck, for example. There are lots of right-wing talking heads on radio and TV. And I find nearly all of them to be complete jackasses. Beck, though…there's something wrong with that guy. Accuse me of whatever nefarious motive you prefer, but I have seen and heard enough legitimately mentally ill people in my life to suspect that he and reality have a strained relationship. Among the semicoherent rambling, the baseless and readily disproven paranoia, the increasing overlap with lunatic fringe fascist ideology, with and the bug-eyed thousand yard stare of the cult leader dousing the compound in kerosene while distributing the grape Flavor Aid, it's very difficult to imagine a psychologist or psychiatrist having anything but a field day with this guy. Telling the truth is one thing, being wrong is another and being wrong on purpose (i.e., lying) is yet another. Being unable to tell the difference is cause for medical intervention.

Beck is not alone. I'd add Michelle Bachmann (no, seriously), Helen "Black Helicopters are an important issue to my constituents" Chenoweth, B-1 Bob Dornan, and Jim Bunning among others. It's not that I think people with whom I disagree are insane; I think that people who regularly display multiple symptoms of mental illness are insane. I suppose this would be irrelevant (but fucked up) if people were only tuning in to Beck to mock him or if Michelle Bachmann was the kind of third party candidate whose repeated campaigning is encouraged for comedy value (a la Alan Keyes or Lyndon LaRouche). But listening to Beck and Bachmann talk about the impending One World Government it is important to bear in mind that he is a famous talk show host on a major network and she is in Congress. Their supporters represent a large group of Americans, Americans who either cannot tell the difference between sane and insane or can but don't care. Either reflects poorly on the health of our political culture.

Be Sociable, Share!

6 Responses to “THE FINE LINE BETWEEN CONSERVATISM AND INSANITY”

  1. Nate Says:

    I didn't know that I liked Shep Smith till I saw this. I'm still not sure I like him, but at least I know of two people (other one is Juan Williams) on Fox News that don't immediately trigger my gag reflex.

  2. Mike Says:

    I'm not sure if you are a Colbert Report fan, but if you are, please tell me you saw the Colbert "Doom Bunker" episode, where he expands on a Glenn Beck feature:

    http://www.hulu.com/watch/60861/the-colbert-report-wed-mar-4-2009

    (Starts at 5m mark). It is quite brilliant.

    I can imagine the producers and editors and cameramen who record Hannity and O'Reily sleeping ok at night – "it's entertainment, it's like wrestling for people who like politics, what's the harm?" The people who make Beck happen, I imagine they go to bed thinking "I think I just helped an insane person talk to million of people. What have I done with my life?"

  3. Hudson Says:

    But… But… Glenn Beck let us look deeply into his eyes!

  4. Kevin Says:

    A quote from today's NY Times article on Beck: “The truth is — that you are the defender of liberty,” he said. “It’s not the government. It’s not an army or anybody else. It’s you. This is your country.”
    As someone who has fought for this country nothing irks me more than so called "patriots", "warriors," or "soldiers" who've never served a day in their lives comparing themselves to those of us who have. Whether it's some moronic athlete or the pundit of the week claiming the title of "warrior" it still reeks of disregard for those who are warriors and who actually have fought battles. I guess in Glenn Beck's convoluted babbling he conceives himself to be the general of these like minded "defenders of liberty." The fact that people drink up his bullshit is mind blowing. The fear mongering is no different then McCarthy/ Nixon style red-bating. Can't we all take a big breath and advocate whatever it is we believe without having to use fear as the driving force?

  5. ladiesbane Says:

    Pass me the "uncool" hat, but I remember being thrilled about politics more than a decade ago, watching a panel of older congressmen talk about how it used to be. Both parties and all but the most distant ends were talking with David Brinkley (another smart gentleman with whom I disagreed on many things) about how they used to get things done.

    These guys were all calm, friendly, and secure (warmly dignified, if you will) and extremely courteous. Doesn't it seem as if a lot of current politicians have that "Always Be Closing" commission-only desperation? I can't help but think the hysterical commentators shouting about the Death of the Free World plays a bit part. But yeah…do they buy their own BS, or are they cynical manipulators? The Bush-Cheney model writ large.

  6. John Says:

    What you have to understand, Kevin, is that McCarthy-style — and, in a more general sense, medieval-style — rule-through-fear is how the far right gets its message across. It relies, wholly and completely, on ignorant and poorly-educated people being told by authority figures to be afraid of The Enemy. That The Enemy is going to destroy America with thier evil ways. You'll notice a lot of wingnut rhetoric makes very, very frequent use of "traitor", "treason", and other similar language (that aren't used in a modern, civil society) denoting an insidious threat from within, and it is this notion of opposing political ideology as a dangerous threat — rather than simply an alternative — that keeps them going. It appeals to the simpleton in most of their base that can't or won't concieve of alternative ideas, and instead breaks the world down into simply "Us" and "The Enemy".

    This is also why so many of them talk about "defending Liberty" or Freedom, or any other Big American Buzzword when they've never so much as looked at an *actual* enemy of the state that was *actually* trying to do harm to them or their "freedom". It's much, much easier to just pretend to be a brave patriot and let the idiots fill in the blanks.

    Notice how many right-wingers talk about "supporting the troops". Now how many of them do you see giving up their cushy, multi-million dollar radio/teevee gigs in their nice, safe offices to actually go down in the trenches and support the troops?

    Yeah, funny how that works. Everyone wants to "support the troops" when it's not their lives on the line to do the supporting.