Just listen to the blustery arguments from the right these past few weeks, pre-emptively discrediting Obama's victory by suggesting it was effected thanks to mainstream media bias, and/or ACORN-abetted election theft. Or consider the personage of Palin, who immediately became the beloved heroine of the GOP's ever-shrinking base, thanks to her "bright eyed and unapologetic appeal to resentment and victimology" (as Talking Points Memo's Joshua Micah Marshall phrases it).
Remember the bile-spewing vitriol of the Clinton years? It's been a while, but it's worth reminding ourselves that when the Republicans are out of power, hunkered down in opposition mode, they go apeshit. If you thought the "Muslim" and "terrorist" and "socialist" smears against Obama were bad, just remember the "Clinton Body Count" and Dan Burton in his backyard with a pistol and a couple of watermelons.
But when all the insane rumors — Obama will take the oath on the Koran; Obama will raise everyone's taxes and redistribute them as slave reparations — end up not coming true, might some of his most vociferous right-wing opponents actually discover that (gulp) he's really sort of a decent president? Is it too much to hope things will be different this time?
Says Schaffer: "Wouldn't it be great if, four years from now, you had people coming back saying, 'I made a mistake, he was a great president, he brought us back from the brink?' "
It would be. In the meantime, the key is making sure the real extremists on both sides — the chanting mobs in those blood-curdling YouTube videos of Palin rallies, the howling radical feminist on the Washington Mall toting a EUTHANIZE CHRISTIANS placard — are ignored as best we can.
"People at those rallies are what we can't be as a nation," says Schaeffer. "That's what will kill us."
"You have to minimize them," echoes Roth-Douquet. "You have to make them the smallest element."
Marty Beckerman, author of the new book Dumbocracy: Adventures with the Loony Left, the Rabid Right, and Other American Idiots (Disinformation), has found himself on both sides of the divide in his 25 years. Early on, he writes, he "believed in maximum wage, racial quotas, the inherent evil of money, and censorship of right-wing preachers." Then, in reaction to what he began to feel was a censorious and sanctimonious sense of political correctness on the left, he swung the other way: "reading right-wing books, getting my news from biased conservative media outlets, and only conversing with people who kept the echo chamber buzzing."
Now he's swung back to somewhere in the left-center. In between the batshit extremes, he says, there are "intelligent and decent Americans on both sides of the spectrum," and "both are necessary for a healthy national discourse."
To research the funny and gleefully provocative Dumbocracy, Beckerman spent four years embedded with extremist activists confronting some of our most divisive issues: anti-abortionists, radical misandrists, neo-prohibitionists, and worse. It was a scarifying experience that showed him the lunatic lengths to which some people will go to advance and defend their ideas.