Quick follow-up to my blog yesterday, about the patterns of right-wing rage that spring up after the election of Democratic presidents. A new book has just hit the shelves, by Philadelphia Daily News columnist Will Bunch. The title: The Backlash: Right-Wing Radicals, High-Def Hucksters, and Paranoid Politics in the Age of Obama.
Bunch -- also a senior fellow at the left-leaning research group Media Matters -- notes, too, that right-wing radicalism and Democratic presidents are often two peas in the same political pod, but makes special note of one new element: mainstream acceptance.
His book takes a quick tour of right-wing hysteria -- while asserting that Republican leaders in years-gone-by had often sought to distance themselves from these fringe ultra-conversative elements. In a review in the New York Times, critic Michiko Kakutani points out that well-credentialed conservative Barry Goldwater kept an eleven-foot pole between himself and the radical John Birch Society during the 1964 presidential campaign -- going so far as to call upon William F. Buckley Jr. and his National Review to marginalize the Birchers.
Says Bunch: "For many decades, there were grown-ups involved in the conservative movement who tamped down the flames of extremism rather than fanning them."
Those were the days. Now, Bunch notes, mainstream Republican leaders are tools of Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck -- not the other way around -- and have unhesitatingly leaped on the Obama-is-Evil bandwagon.
Good point -- but I would add this all started not with Obama, but with President Clinton. Newt Gingrich held nothing back against Clinton; when then-Senate Republican leader Bob Dole tried to play by the old rules, the "Gingrich Revolution" pushed him out, told him he'd make a fine candidate for President in 1996, and replaced him with the more-extreme Trent Lott.
All of which does, however, illustrate that right-wing rage is a tricky thing to manage: the Gingrich takeover began to fizzle when Newt himself was pushed out as the impeachment campaign against Clinton heated up. Seems the Georgian was not sufficiently eager for impeachment -- we found out later, this was because he, too, at that very moment, was having an affair. On his second wife.