Editor's note: John P. Avlon is the author of Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics and writes a weekly column for The Daily Beast. Previously, he served as Chief Speechwriter for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and was a columnist and associate editor for The New York Sun.
I'm trying out a new segment on "American Morning" called “Wingnuts of the Week.” It builds on a simple premise – the far-right and the far-left are equally insane.
What’s a Wingnut? It’s someone on the far-right wing or far-left wing of American politics – the professional partisans and the unhinged activists – the folks who always try to divide rather than unite. In our polarized two party system, they have disproportionate influence and too often define the terms of debate. With this segment, I'm going to try and take that power back.
In this first week, I'm naming two charter members of the Wingnut Hall of Fame who recently reared their heads in the news once again. I want to be an equal opportunity offender, punching both left and right, so both are members of Congress – one current and one former – and both are defended in their respective echo chambers on the far-right and far-left.
So drum roll, please: The Wingnuts of the Week for our inaugural edition are Michele Bachmann and Cynthia McKinney.
Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann first became nationally known in the late innings of campaign ’08, when she told Chris Matthews, “I am very concerned he [Barack Obama] may have anti-American views.” Undeterred by common sense or common decency, she followed that with a call to investigate all members of Congress for anti-American views. The media fallout made her, if anything, more beloved by conservatives. She was subsequently selected to be the master of ceremonies at the Conservative Political Action Committee’s Presidential Banquet. But the howlers have kept coming – recently put in a handy compendium by my colleagues at the Daily Beast.
This past week, in an interview with PJTV.com she took another leap too far, saying, “I find it interesting that it was back in the 1970s that the swine flu broke out then under another Democrat president, Jimmy Carter.”
Two things: First, the bemused reach for causality between pandemics and Democratic presidents is a great illustration of the Wingnut’s impulse to blame everything bad in the world on the opposite party. Second, she got her facts wrong. It was under the administration of Republican President Gerald Ford that swine flu last reared its porcine head.
But Bachmann’s had chronic trouble with facts, including a recent congressional floor speech in which she again confused a Republican for a Democrat, claiming that it was FDR who signed the “Hoot Smawley” tariffs that helped propel the USA from a recession into the Great Depression. The "Smoot Hawley" Act was signed by Republican President Hoover. To round out her week’s trifecta, Bachmann reached for an awkward metaphor when describing the generational theft of today’s unprecedented deficits and debt, saying “it’s the mother of all ironies… that the kids who voted en masse for Barack Obama are the ones being fitted with shackles and chains.” The “irony” of slavery metaphors to describe the Obama generation? Really? Really.
On the left, the Wingnut of the Week is the former six-term Democratic Congresswoman and 2008 Green Party Presidential Candidate, Cynthia McKinney. She’s a 9/11 conspiracy theorist who assaulted a Capitol Hill cop and whose father blamed “Jews” for her congressional defeat. Her exploits have been detailed in pages ranging from The Weekly Standard to Slate. Bottom line: Cynthia McKinney is what far-right conservatives imagine a far-left liberal sounds like.
McKinney’s been uncharacteristically quiet since the election, but she resurfaced in an April 30th radio interview for an internet station known as “the information underground,” which had previously featured such friendly topics as "Jewish Domination and the World as We Know It", "The Holocaust Scam", and "Jews Israel and 9/11" – to name just a very few. The hour-long interview – brought to light via the blog littlegreenfootballs.com was a veritable cattle call of McKinney’s greatest hits: 9/11 conspiracies, spies sabotaging her campaign, and the dominance of pro-Israel lobbies on all but one percent on the “535” members of congress as evidenced by vote totals for “anti-Sudan” legislation, by which she apparently means attempts to stop the genocide in Darfur.
When the host of the show confides that “DC is a Zionist occupied government,” there is not a hint of objection, nor when White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is described as having “Jew nationality and Jew loyalties.” McKinney just continues on in even tones, thoughtfully finding time to compare herself to Malcom X, Martin Luther King and – my personal favorite – Rosa Parks.
“She couldn’t find employment from any of the black institutions in Montgomery who shunned her because of the heat that came-down on her because she took a stand… Well it’s no different what happened to them to what happens to me on a daily basis.”
Beyond the strange tendency of some folks on the far left to reflexively compare themselves to Rosa Parks (a sense of historic perspective is not always a liberal strong suit), what’s most interesting about this resurfacing of McKinney is that it illustrates the way that the apparent opposites on the outer-reaches of politics tend to become mirror images of each-other, circling back to the same swamp of intolerance, conspiracies, and a rigid definition-in-opposition understandable only to fellow true believers.
If you’re a political Independent or a centrist – and frustrated by the way that the extremes of left and right dominate our debates, hijack our parties, and artificially polarize our nation – then I want this segment to act as your advocate. I want you to join the conversation – give us your suggestions to who should be named the next Wingnuts of the Week.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Avlon.