Maiello: Defeat the Press
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In his book, What's the Matter with Kansas, Thomas Frank documented the emergence of an angry populist movement in the prairielands. Christian fundamentalists and anti-abortion activists had exploited the anxiety of working class midwesterners by fabricating a persuasive myth of persecution. According to the myth, a tyrannical minority of liberal elites in control of the media and judiciary seek to repress the religious practices and traditions of "regular Americans" whom they despise and disdain.
Though liberals represent the bogeymen in the conservative horror fantasies Frank described in 2004, they were not participants in the pitched political battles that roiled Kansas. Kansas has always been a reliably Republican state; there are no liberals to battle. Instead, the war in Kansas pitted right-wing conservatives against moderate conservatives, "Cons" versus "Mods." According to Frank, the Cons emerged victorious and effectively wrested complete control of Kansas politics.
But elsewhere in the country, the Republican establishment courted the Cons, regarding them as a potent political force against Democrats -- just as the Roman Emperor Valens invited the Visigoths to settle in Roman territory, seeing in them "a splendid recruiting ground for his army." And so, like the Visigoths, the Cons are now sacking the Republican establishment.
The conflict bloodily presented itself during the special congressional election of NY-23. Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman, a devotee of paranoid conspiracist Glenn Beck, challenged the moderate Republican candidate, Dede Scozzafava. Con leaders like Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh enthusiastically endorsed Hoffman and labeled Scozzafava a RINO -- Republican in name only. Limbaugh's taunts were even more vicious and puerile than his usual attacks on Democrats. He accused Scozzafava of "bestiality" for having "screwed every RINO in the country."
The result: Scozzafava dropped out of the race. Despite Hoffman's loss, Cons are trumpeting their success against the Mods and preparing 2010 campaigns against Mods like Florida Governor Charlie Christ. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs stated, "If you look at what I think is likely to happen next year, you already have Republicans -- some Republicans who are more aligned with the very conservative element of what's happening in New York saying, this is a model for what you'll see throughout the country."
As Republican Mods drift toward extinction, the Cons have not given up their persecution myths. As one Con writes, "The Republican Party has been hijacked. Conservatives have been driven underground by the RINOs..." (If the current explosion of right-wing paranoia constitutes being driven "underground," imagine what above-ground Cons looks like.) Hoffman even applied the persecution myth to his election loss, accusing Democrats of election fraud in the final hours of voting: "There are reports that they're bringing in the troops and they're bringing in ACORN. I think the Democrats are doing anything they possibly can to steal this election away from the 23rd district." (Hoffman thought that the tires of one of his supporters had been slashed. The culprit turned out to be a broken bottle on the road.)
Democrats, meanwhile, have celebrated Hoffman's loss and the turmoil within the Republican party. But like another Roman Emperor, Democratic revelers are fiddling as Rome burns. While the Cons' political ideology may not be shared by independents and moderate Republican voters, the differences do not mean that they will vote Democrat. American politics is cyclical, and the nation will sooner or later vote the Democrats out of office. If paranoid extremists like Doug Hoffman control the Republican Party at that time, the Bush years will seem like an era of unfettered liberalism.
Discover everything that you never wanted to know about conservative paranoia at my Persecution Politics series at dagblog.com.