Yesterday I posted some thoughts about Byron Williams, a wannabe Right Wing revolutionary, pointing out that a false rhetorical urgency in political discourse is likely to contribute to the unbalanced thoughts of people like Williams.
I want to clarify the obvious. In no way should we pin the blame on the Glenn Beck and his form of political vaudeville. As I pointed out, there really are urgent political issues, ones we should get fired up about. But heading out to kill people in order to start a revolutionthats certainly not what Beck or other idea merchants have in mind.
That said, I also think its obvious that there is something pathological about the shrill and feverish mentality of many pundits and commentators on the Right, many of whom I probably agree with on a number of substantive points.
And not just feverish, but also unrealistic. Are we becoming like Europe? Hardly. In fact, we couldnt, even if Nancy Pelosi passed every bill she ever dreamed of. Nations are not policies, and America is a largely conservative society, unique in the industrialized world. We are at once more likely to endorse traditional social normsand at the same more likely to distrust government as the source of authority to secure obedience to those norms. Were moralistic libertarians, a national character trait unlikely to change.
In addition, Americans embrace a much higher degree of economic turmoil and disjunctionalthough not an infinitely high degree, which explains why, with the election of Obama, the pendulum has swung to the side of government intervention, subsidy, and regulation.
I think conservatives need to see these qualities for what they are sources of the continued political and social strength of conservative ideas in America. We need to be more confident, and therefore less reliant on sky-is-falling rhetoric about government takeovers. And we certainly need to give up on the tired tropes of denunciation.
That said, Im not optimistic about the future of political commentary. Over the last decade political spin and aggressive commentary have become a major form of mass entertainment. It pays to go extreme, because over-the-top verbal assault titillate listeners.
Although some people are genuinely hungry for ideas and find encouragement in sharply drawn postings, I sometimes think of the general trend of punditry toward denunciation and harsh judgments as what I call political pornographyan excitement of the will, a stimulation of commitment, a thrilling feeling of entering the fray. Ive felt it myself, and have written in the same spirit on occasion.
Thus the web. Shrill political commentary and pornography. They both make money.