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.
Apocalyptic urgency and unhinged accusations are the stock in trade of the wingnut fringe. By pumping up fear and anger, they try to divide and conquer for political and personal gain. This week we’re taking a look at a new form of anti-Obama psychosis and a new low in the health care debate.
One of the worst in the political business is back peddling an entrepreneurial impeachment scheme. The culprit is Floyd Brown, a man memorably called “a slimy thug for hire” by George Stephanopoulos during the Clinton years.
You might have first become acquainted with his handiwork in the 1988 campaign, when he was the architect of the infamous Willie Horton commercial, which drew widespread accusations of race-baiting. He’s been disavowed by many sane Republicans, but also served as a delegate to past conventions and as an executive director of Young America’s Foundation.
Well, he’s trying to get back in the game with a noxious new Web site called Impeach Obama. Here’s a snapshot of the hysteria he’s peddling:
How long must we wait... how long should we sit back and permit Barack Hussein Obama to rip apart the fabric of this country before we take action?
Are you terrified at Barack Obama’s campaign to change our country into a third-world nation?
Are you willing to sit back and watch Obama bulldoze our great nation?
Are you willing to let him construct a totalitarian regime... fascism, socialism, Obamaism... take your pick?
It’s got all the telltale signs of Obama Derangement Syndrome – paranoia and pathological hate posing as patriotism. It riffs off race, totalitarianism and apocalyptic politics. In this case, Brown and Co. say they are trying to defend the Constitution by doing violence to it.
There were irresponsible calls for President Bush’s impeachment from the far-left during the last administration, continuing the ping-pong from Nixon to Clinton. Now it’s apparently a standard part of the hyper-partisan bag of tricks, trying to deny the legitimacy of the president from an opposing party by any means necessary. And what’s even worse is that there are folks trying to make a buck by pumping up the hate and hysteria of their fellow Americans.
One the many problems of these hyper-partisan attacks is that they inspire extremism on the other side as well. People look at the success of ranters on the other side of the aisle and say they can get into that game, profitably pushing their own equal and opposite hyper-partisan politics.
Take a listen to MSNBC host Ed Schultz in full political pugilist mode, talking about health care:
"The Republicans lie! They want to see you dead! They’d rather make money off your dead corpse! They kind of like it when that woman has cancer and they don’t have anything for her! My God, Democrats! What’s wrong with you?! You can’t deal with these people! At all!"
Couple of things here: Republicans and Democrats may have principled disagreements about the best way to reform health care, but I’m pretty sure partisan enjoyment of death isn’t in any of them. (For a reality check, look at Republican Congressman Paul Ryan’s health care proposal – no death wishes anywhere).
Shultz’s on-air rant is the mirror image of Sarah Palin’s infamously unhinged "death panel" Facebook post from this past summer. Can’t condemn one and excuse the other. And what’s particularly interesting is the way that both attacks were designed to not only fire up their respective base but to attack any idea of bipartisanship as not just naïve but negotiation with evil. When our political opponents are considered evil enemies, it may be good for party Whips or talk show hosts, but the country as a whole suffers from this divide to conquer strategy.
What’s worst is the way that the wingnut extremes are almost always defended by their own side with the tacit acknowledgment that they may be crazy, but they’re our crazies. This is an impulse that takes the old "my country, right or wrong" riff and degrades it to "my party, right or wrong." It’s an assault on the oldest idea our founding fathers gave us – e pluribus unum: out of many, one.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Avlon.